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Can IBM Build a Strong Cloud Partner Ecosystem?

May 4, 2011 1 comment

Despite all of the hand wringing surrounding Amazon.com’s service outages last week, it is clear to me that cloud computing is dramatically changing the delivery models of computing forever. We simply will not return to a model where organizations assume that they will consume primarily their own data center resources.  The traditional data center certainly isn’t going away but its role and its underlying technology will change forever.  One of the ramifications of this transition is the role of cloud infrastructure leaders in determining the direction of the partnership models.

Traditionally, System vendors have relied on partners to expand the coverage of their platforms. With the cloud, the requirement to have a strong partner ecosystem will not change. If anything, partners will be even more important in the cloud than they have been in traditional computing delivery models.  This is because with cloud computing, the barriers to leveraging different cloud-based software offerings – platform as a service and Software as a Service are very low. Any employee with a credit card can try out just about anything.  I think that the Amazon.com issues will be seen in the future as a tipping point for cloud computing. It, in fact, will not be the end to cloud but it will change the way companies view the way they select cloud partners.  Service management, scalability, and reliability will become the selection standard – not just for the end customer but for partners as well.

So, I was thinking about the cloud partnership model and how it is evolving. I expect that the major systems vendors will be in a perfect position to begin to reassert their power in the era of the cloud.  So, I decided to take a look at how IBM is approaching its partnership model in light of cloud computing.  Over the past several months, IBM has been revealing a new partnership model for the cloud computing market.  It has been difficult for most platform vendors to get noticed above the noise of cloud pioneers like Amazon and Google.  But this is starting to change.  It is not hard to figure out why.  IBM believes that cloud is a $181 billion business opportunity and it would like to grab a chunk of that opportunity.

Having followed IBM’s partnering initiatives for several decades I was not surprised to see a revamped cloud partnering program emerge this year. The new program is interesting for several different reasons.  First, it is focused on bringing together all of IBM’s cloud offerings across software, developer relations, hardware, and services into a single program.  This is important because it can be intimidating for an ISV, a Value Added Reseller, or a systems integrator to navigate the complexity of IBM’s offerings without some assistance.  In addition, IBM has to contend with a new breed of partners that are focused on public, private, and hybrid cloud offerings.

The new program is called the Cloud Specialty program and targeted to cover the entire cloud ecosystem including cloud builders (hardware and software resellers and systems integrators), Service Solution Providers (software and service resellers), Infrastructure Providers (telecom providers, hosting companies, Managed Service Providers, and distributors), Application Providers (ISVs and systems integrators), and Technology Providers (tools providers, and appliance vendors).

The focus of the cloud specialty program is not different than other partnering programs at IBM. It is focused on issues such as expanding the skills of partners, building revenue for both IBM and partners, and providing go to market programs to support its partners.  IBM is the first to admit that the complexity of the company and its offerings can be intimidating for partners.  Therefore, one of the objectives of the cloud specialty program is to clarify the requirements and benefits for partners. IBM is creating a tiered program based on the different types of cloud partners.  The level of partner investment and benefits differ based on the value of the type of partner and the expectation of those partners.  But there are some common offerings for all partners. All get early access to IBM’s cloud roadmap, use of the Partnerworld Cloud Specialty Mark, confidential updates on IBM’s cloud strategy and roadmap, internal use of LotusLive, networking opportunities. In addition, all these partners are entitled to up to $25,000 in business development funds.   There are some differences.  They include:

  • Cloud builders gain access to business leads, and access to IBM’s lab resources. In exchange these partners are expected to have IBM Cloud Reference architecture skills as well as cloud solutions provider and technical certification. They must also demonstrate ability to generate revenue. Revenue amounts vary based on the mix of hardware, software, and services that they resell.  They must also have two verified cloud references for the previous calendar year.
  • Service Solution Providers are provided with a named relationship manager and access to networking opportunities. In exchange, partners are expected to use IBM cloud products or services, demonstrate knowledge and skills in use of IBM cloud offerings, and the ability to generate $300,000 in revenue from the partnership.
  • Infrastructure Providers are given access to named IBM alliance manager, and access to business development workshops. In exchange, these partners are expected to use IBM’s cloud infrastructure products or services, demonstrate skills in IBM technology. Like service solution providers they must use and skills in IBM cloud offerings, have at least $300,000 a year in client references based on two cloud client references
  • Application Providers are given access to a named IBM alliance manager, and access to business development workshops. They are expected to use IBM cloud products or services, have skills in these technologies or services, and a minimum of $100,000 a year in revenue plus two cloud client references.
  • Technology Providers get access to networking opportunites, and IBM’s cloud and services assessment tools.  In exchange, these partners are required to demonstrate knowledge of IBM Cloud Reference architecture, have skills related to IBM’s cloud services. Like application providers, these partners must have at least $100,000 in IBM revenue and two client references.

What does IBM want? IBM’s goals with the cloud specialty program is to make it as attractive as possible for prospective partners to chose its platform. It is hoping that by offering financial and technical incentives that it can make inroads with cloud focused companies. For example, it is openings its labs and providing assistance to help partners define their offerings. IBM is also taking the unusual step of allowing partners to white label its products.  On the business development side, IBM is teaming with business partners on calls with prospective customers.  IBM anticipates that the impact on these partners could be significant – potentially generating as much as 30% gross margin growth.

Will the effort work? It is indeed an ambitious program. IBM will have to do a good job in explaining its huge portfolio of offerings to the prospective partners. For example, it has a range of services including CastIron for cloud integration, analytics services, collaboration services (based on LotusLive), middleware services, and Tivoli service management offerings.  In addition, IBM is encouraging partners to leverage its  extensive security services offerings.  It is also trying to encourage partners to leverage its hardware systems. One example of how IBM is trying to be more attractive to cloud-based companies like Software as a Service vendors to to price offerings attractively. Therefore, it is offering a subscription-based model for partners so that they can pay based on usage – the common model for most cloud platform vendors.

IBM is on the right track with this cloud focused partner initiative.  It is a sweeping program that is focused on provides a broad set of benefits for partners. It is pricing its services so that ISVs can rent a service (including IBM’s test and development cloud) by the month — an important issue in this emerging market.  It is also expecting partners to make a major investment in learning IBM’s software, hardware, and services offerings. It is also expecting partners to expand their knowledge of the markets they focus on.

Yes, you can have an elastic private cloud

April 11, 2011 3 comments

I was having a discussion with a skeptical CIO the other day. His issue was that a private cloud isn’t real.  Why? In contrast to the public cloud, which has unlimited capability on demand, a private cloud is limited by the size and capacity of the internal data center.  While I understand this point I disagree and here is why.  I don’t know of any data center that doesn’t have enough servers or capacity.  In fact, if you talk to most IT managers they will quickly admit that they don’t lack physical resources. This is why there has been so much focus on server virtualization. With server virtualization, these organizations actually get rid of servers and make their IT organization more efficient.

Even when data centers are able to improve their efficiency, they still do not lack resources.  What data centers lack is the organizational structure to enable provisioning of those resources in a proactive and efficient way.  The converse is also true: data centers lack the ability to reclaim resources once they have been provisioned.

So, I maintain that the problem with the data center is not a lack of resources but rather the management and the automation of those resources.  Imagine an organization leverages the existing physical resources in a data center by adding self-service provisioning and business process rules for allocating resources based on business need.  This would mean that when developers start working on a project they are allocated the amount of resources they need – not what they want. More importantly, when the project is over, those resources are returned to the pool.

This, of course, does not work for every application and every workload in the data center. There are applications that are highly specialized and are not going to benefit from automation. However, there indeed can increasingly large aspects of computing that can be transformed in the private cloud environment based on truly tuning workloads and resources to make the private cloud as elastic as what we think of as a ever expanding public cloud.

HP’s Ambitious Cloud Computing Strategy: Can HP Emerge as a Power?

February 15, 2011 4 comments

To comprehend HP’s cloud computing strategy you have to first understand HP’s Matrix Blade System.  HP announced the Matrix system in April of 2009 as a prepackaged fabric-based system.  Because Matrix was designed as a packaged environment, it has become the lynch pin of HP’s cloud strategy.

So, what is Matrix?  Within this environment, HP has pre-integrated servers, networking, storage, and software (primarily orchestration to customize workflow). In essence, Matrix is a Unified Computing System so that it supports both physical blades as well as virtual configurations. It includes a graphical command center console to manage resource pools, physical and virtual servers and network connectivity. On the software side, Matrix provides an abstraction layer that supports workload provisioning and workflow based policy management that can determine where workloads will run. The environment supports the VMware hypervisor, open source KVM, and Microsoft’s Hyper-V.

HP’s strategy is to combine this Matrix system, which it has positioned as its private cloud, with a public compute cloud. In addition, HP is incorporating its lifecycle management software and its security acquisitions as part of its overall cloud strategy. It is leveraging the HP services (formerly EDS) to offer a hosted private cloud and traditional outsourcing as part of an overall plan. HP is hoping to leveraging its services expertise in running large enterprise packaged software

There are three components to the HP cloud strategy:

  • CloudSystem
  • Cloud Services Automation
  • Cloud Consulting Services

CloudSystem. What HP calls CloudSystem is, in fact, based on the Matrix blade system. The Matrix Blade System uses a common rack enclosure to support all the blades produced by HP. The Matrix is a packaging of is what HP calls an operating environment that includes provisioning software, virtualization, a self-service portal and management tools to manage resources pools. HP considers its public cloud services to be part of the CloudSystem.  To provide a hybrid cloud computing environment, HP will offer compute public cloud services similar to what is available from Amazon EC2.  When combined with the outsourcing services from HP Services, HP contends that it provides a common architectural framework across public, private, virtualized servers, and outsourcing.  It includes what HP is calling cloud maps. Cloud maps are configuration templates based on HP’s acquisition of Stratavia, a database and application automation software company.

Cloud Service Automation.  The CloudSystem is intended to make use of Services Automation software called Cloud Service Automation (CSA). The components of CSA include a self-service portal that manages a service catalog. The service catalog describes each service that is intended to be used as part of the cloud environment.  Within the catalog, the required service level is defined. In addition, the CSA can meter the use of services and can provide visibility to the performance of each service. A second capability is a cloud controller, based on the orchestration technology from HP’s Opsware acquisition. A third component, the resource manager provide provisioning and monitoring services.  The objective of CSA is to provide end-to-end lifecycle management of the CloudSystem.

Cloud Consulting Services. HP is taking advantage of EDS’s experience in managing computing infrastructure as the foundation for its cloud consulting services offerings. HP also leverages its consulting services that were traditionally part of HP as well as services from EDS.  Therefore, HP has deep experience in designing and running Cloud seminars and strategy engagements for customers.

From HP’s perspective, it is taking a hybrid approach to cloud computing. What does HP mean by Hybrid? Basically, HP’s hybrid strategy includes the combination of the CloudSystem – a hardware-based private cloud, its own public compute services, and traditional outsourcing.

The Bottom Line.  Making the transition to becoming a major cloud computing vendor is complicated.  The market is young and still in transition. HP has many interesting building blocks that have the potential to make it an important player.  Leveraging the Matrix Blade System is a pragmatic move since it is already an integrated and highly abstracted platform. However, it will have to provide more services that increase the ability of its customers to use the CloudSystem to create an elastic and flexible computing platform.  The Cloud Automation Services is a good start but still requires more evolution.  For example, it needs to add more capabilities into its service catalog.  Leveraging its Systinet registry/repository as part of its service catalog would be advisable.  I also think that HP needs to package its security offerings to be cloud specific. This includes both in the governance and compliance area as well as Identity Management.

Just how much will HP plan to compete in the public cloud space is uncertain.  Can HP be effective in both markets? Does it need to combine its offerings or create two different business models?

It is clear that HP wants to make cloud computing the cornerstone of its “Instant-On Enterprise” strategy announced last year. In essence, Instant-on Enterprise is intended to make it easier for customers to consume data center capabilities including infrastructure, applications, and services.  This is a good vision in keeping with what customers need.  And plainly cloud computing is an essential ingredient in achieving this ambitious strategy.

What’s a private cloud anyway?

February 4, 2011 2 comments

So in a perfect world all data centers be magically become clouds and the world is a better place. All kidding aside..I am tired of all of the hype. Let me put it this way.  All data centers cannot and will not become private clouds– at least not for most typical companies. Let me tell you why I say this.  There are some key principles of the cloud that I think are worth recounting:

1. A cloud is designed to optimize and manage workloads for efficiency. Therefore repeatable and consistent workloads are most appropriate for the cloud.

2. A cloud is intended to implement automation and virtualization so that users can add and subtract services and capacity based on demand.

3. A cloud environment needs to be economically viable.

Why aren’t traditional data centers private clouds?  What if a data center adds some self-service and  virtualization? Is that enough?  Probably not.  A typical data center is a complex environment.  It is not uncommon for a single data center to support five or six different operating systems, five or six different languages, four or five different hardware platforms and perhaps 20 or 30 applications of all sizes and shapes plus an unending number of tools to support the management and maintenance of that environment.  In Cloud Computing for Dummies, written by the team at Hurwitz & Associates there is a considerable amount written about this issue.  Given an environment like this it is almost impossible to achieve workload optimization.  In addition, there are often line of business applications that are complicated, used by a few dozen employees, and are necessary to run the business. There is simply no economic rational for such applications to be moved to a cloud — public or private.  The only alternative for such an application would be to outsource the application all together.

So what does belong in the private cloud? Application and business services that are consistent workloads that are designed for be used on demand by developers, employees, or partners.  Many companies are becoming IT providers to their own employees, partners, customers and suppliers.  These services are predictable and designed as well-defined components that can be optimized for elasticity. They can be used in different situations — for a single business situation to support a single customer or in a scenario that requires the business to support a huge partner network. Typically, these services can be designed to be used by a single operating system (typically Linux) that has been optimized to support these workloads. Many of the capabilities and tasks within this environment has been automated.

Could there be situations where an entire data center could be a private cloud? Sure, if an organization can plan well enough to limit the elements supported within the data center. I think this will happen with specialized companies that have the luxury of not supporting legacy. But for most organizations, reality is a lot messier.

Lotus redux: a transformation in process

February 3, 2011 1 comment

I have attended Lotusphere for many years so it is very interesting to watch the transition. When Lotus Notes was first introduced in the late 1980s, it was a seminal moment in the evolution of collaborative computing. During those first few years, Lotus was able to establish a rich ecosystem of partners and really define the market for collaborative computing — before the general market even had time to think about the necessity for such a platform.  But a lot has changed.  Fast forward to 2011.  Today the ideas of collaboration platforms is now the norm. Individuals, virtual teams, and big corporations depend on collaboration platforms to get business done. For many years it was clear that Microsoft with its office franchise and SharePoint had captured the market. However, with the advent of cloud computing and Google’s push into Google Apps that the market dynamics were changing. Now, add social networking on top of that with services like Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn and the world gets a lot more interesting.

So, what does this have to do with Lotus? Actually a lot.  Companies that I have been talking to are frantically looking for ways to combine the spontaneity of social networking platforms with structured collaboration with customers, partners, and prospects. They are looking for new ways to expand their business flexibility and opportunities. This is where Lotus has an interesting opportunity. Lotus has traditionally sold Notes and Domino to the high end of the Mid-market and the enterprise market primarily as a communications platform — i.e. electronic mail.  That is what the typical user sees. But under that interface is complex applications that capture a lot of company intellectual property.  Over time, IBM has added a lot of sophisticated offerings for collaboration such as Quickr and Connections. Now add LotusLive, IBM’s cloud collaboration platform into the mix and things get interesting.  In addition to this new generation platform that brings together the traditional Notes environment with more dynamic collaboration and cloud computing, IBM is enabling analytics on the platform with tools from Cognos.

At the same time, IBM is being realistic this time around. It knows that it cannot displace Microsoft Sharepoint so it is enabling customers to make Sharepoint a component in an IBM driven collaboration environment. Likewise, it is allowing integration with various wireless smartphone environments as well.

But if I were to put a bet on one product that I think will have the greatest potential to bring IBM into the mainstream of social networking — or more specifically social business is LotusLive.  LotusLive in combination with the underlying sophistication of the Notes and Domino platforms, productivity solutions (Symphony), and partnerships and linkages with third party SaaS platforms will drive IBM’s place in the collaboration market.

IBM clearly has challenges getting existing customers comfortable with change and helping them to move their valuable assets to the new world.  But the components are in place. There are also important innovations coming out of the labs that will propel the environment forward.  IBM will have to gather a lot more partners and more adoption from customers who aren’t currently customers. But the opportunity is waiting.

What will it take to achieve great quality of service in the cloud?

November 9, 2010 1 comment

You know that a market is about to transition from an early fantasy market when IT architects begin talking about traditional IT requirements. Why do I bring this up as an issue? I had a fascinating conversation yesterday with a leading architect in charge of the cloud strategy for an important company that is typically on the bleeding edge of technology. Naturally, I am not allowed to name the company or the person. But let me just say that individuals and companies like this are the first to grapple with issues such as the need for a registry for web services or the complexity of creating business services that are both reusable and include business best practices. They are the first companies to try out artificial intelligence to see if it could automate complex tasks that require complex reasoning.

These innovators tend to get blank stares from their cohorts in other traditional IT departments who are grappling with mundane issues such as keeping systems running efficiently. Leading edge companies have the luxury to push the bounds of what is possible to do.  There is a tremendous amount to be learned from their experiments with technology. In fact, there is often more to be learned from their failures than from their successes because they are pushing the boundary about what is possible with current technology.

So, what did I take away from my conversation? From my colleague’s view, the cloud today is about “how many virtual machines you need, how big they are, and linking those VMs to storage. “ Not a very compelling picture but it is his perception of the reality of the cloud today.  His view of the future requirements is quite intriguing.

I took away six key issues that this advanced planner would like to see in the evolution of cloud computing:

One.  Automation of placement of assets is critical.  Where you actually put capability is critical. For example, there are certain workloads that should never leave the physical data center because of regulatory requirements.  If an organization were dealing with huge amounts of data it would not be efficient to place elements of that data on different cloud environments. What about performance issues? What if a task needs to be completed in 10 seconds or what if it needs to be completed in 5 milliseconds? There are many decisions that need to be made based on corporate requirements. Should this decision on placement of workloads be something that is done programmatically? The answer is no. There should be an automated process based on business rules that determines the actual placement of cloud services.

Two. Avoiding concentration of risk. How do you actually place core assets into a hypervisor? If, for example, you have a highly valuable set of services that are critical to decision makers you might want to ensure that they are run within different hypervisors based on automated management processes and rules.

Three. Quality of Service needs a control fabric.  If you are a customer of hybrid cloud computing services you might need access to the code that tells you what tasks the tool is actually doing. What does that tool actually touch in the cloud environment? What do the error messages mean and what is the implication? Today many of the cloud services are black boxes; there is no way for the customer to really understand what is happening behind the scenes. If companies are deploying truly hybrid environments that support a mixed workload, this type of access to the workings of the various tools that is monitoring and managing quality of service will be critical.  From a quality of service perspective, some applications will require dedicated bandwidth to meet requirements. Other applications will not need any special treatment.

Four.  Cloud Service Providers building shared services need an architectural plan to control them as a unit of work. These services will be shared across departments as well as across customers.  How do you connect these services? While it might seem simple at the 50,000-foot level, it is actually quite complex because we are talking about linking a set of services together to build a coherent platform. Therefore, as with building any system there is a requirement to model the “system of services”, then deploy that model, and finally to reconcile and tune the results.

Five. Standard APIs protect customers.  Should APIs for all cloud services be published and accessible? If companies are to have the freedom to move easily and efficiently between and among cloud services then APIs need to be well understood. For example, a company may be using a vendor’s cloud service and discover a tool that addresses a specific problem.  What if that vendor doesn’t support that tool? In essence, the customer is locked out from using this tool. This becomes a problem immediately for innovators.  However, it is also an issue for traditional companies that begin to work with cloud computing services and over time realize that they need more service management and more oversight.

Six. Managing containers may be key to the service management of the cloud. A well-designed cloud service has to be service oriented. It needs to be placed in a container without dependencies since customers will use services in different ways. Therefore, each service needs to have a set of parameter driven configurators so that the rules of usage and management are clear. What version of what cloud service should be used under what circumstance? What if the service is designed to execute backup? Can that backup happen across the globe or should it be done in proximity to those data assets?  These management issues will become the most important issues for cloud providers in the future.

The best thing about talking to people like this architect is that it begins to make you think about issues that aren’t part of today’s cloud discussions.  These are difficult issues to solve. However, many of these issues have been addressed for decades in other iterations of technology architectures. Yes, the cloud is a different delivery and deployment model for computing but it will evolve as many other architectures do. The idea of putting quality of service, service management, configuration and policy rules at the forefront will help to transform cloud computing into a mature and effective platform.



Eight things that changed since we wrote Cloud Computing for Dummies

October 8, 2010 3 comments

I admit that I haven’t written a blog in more than three months — but I do have a good reason. I just finished writing my latest book — not a Dummies book this time. It will be my first business book based on almost three decades in the computer industry. Once I know the publication date I will tell you a lot more about it. But as I was finishing this book I was thinking about my last book, Cloud Computing for Dummies that was published almost two years ago.  As this anniversary approaches I thought it was appropriate to take a look back at what has changed.  I could probably go on for quite a while talking about how little information was available at that point and how few CIOs were willing to talk about or even consider cloud computing as a strategy. But that’s old news.  I decided that it would be most interesting to focus on eight of the changes that I have seen in this fast-moving market over the past two years.

Change One: IT is now on board with cloud computing. Cloud Computing has moved from a reaction to sluggish IT departments to a business strategy involving both business and technology leaders.  A few years ago, business leaders were reading about Amazon and Google in business magazines. They knew little about what was behind the hype. They focused on the fact that these early cloud pioneers seemed to be efficient at making cloud capability available on demand. No paperwork and no waiting for the procurement department to process an order. Two years ago IT leaders tried to pretend that cloud computing was  passing fad that would disappear.  Now I am finding that IT is treating cloud computing as a center piece of their future strategies — even if they are only testing the waters.

Change Two: enterprise computing vendors are all in with both private and public cloud offerings. Two years ago most traditional IT vendors did not pay too much attention to the cloud.  Today, most hardware, software, and services vendors have jumped on the bandwagon. They all have cloud computing strategies.  Most of these vendors are clearly focused on a private cloud strategy. However, many are beginning to offer specialized public cloud services with a focus on security and manageability. These vendors are melding all types of cloud services — public, private, and hybrid into interesting and sometimes compelling offerings.

Change Three: Service Orientation will make cloud computing successful. Service Orientation was hot two years ago. The huge hype behind cloud computing led many pundits to proclaim that Service Oriented Architectures was dead and gone. In fact, cloud vendors that are succeeding are those that are building true business services without dependencies that can migrate between public, private and hybrid clouds have a competitive advantage.

Change Four: System Vendors are banking on integration. Does a cloud really need hardware? The dialog only two years ago surrounded the contention that clouds meant no hardware would be necessary. What a difference a few years can make. The emphasis coming primarily from the major systems vendors is that hardware indeed matters. These vendors are integrating cloud infrastructure services with their hardware.

Change Five: Cloud Security takes center stage. Yes, cloud security was a huge topic two years ago but the dialog is beginning to change. There are three conversations that I am hearing. First, cloud security is a huge issue that is holding back widespread adoption. Second, there are well designed software and hardware offerings that can make cloud computing safe. Third, public clouds are just as secure as a an internal data center because these vendors have more security experts than any traditional data center. In addition, a large number of venture backed cloud security companies are entering the market with new and quite compelling value propositions.

Change Six: Cloud Service Level Management is a  primary customer concern. Two years ago no one our team interviewed for Cloud Computing for Dummies connected service level management with cloud computing.   Now that customers are seriously planning for wide spread adoption of cloud computing they are seriously examining their required level of service for cloud computing. IT managers are reading the service level agreements from public cloud vendors and Software as a Service vendors carefully. They are looking beyond the service level for a single service and beginning to think about the overall service level across their own data centers as well as the other cloud services they intend to use.

Change Seven: IT cares most about service automation. No, automation in the data center is not new; it has been an important consideration for years. However, what is new is that IT management is looking at the cloud not just to avoid the costs of purchasing hardware. They are automation of both routine functions as well as business processes as the primary benefit of cloud computing. In the long run, IT management intends to focus on automation and reduce hardware to interchanagable commodities.

Change Eight: Cloud computing moves to the front office. Two years ago IT and business leaders saw cloud computing as a way to improve back office efficiency. This is beginning to change. With the flexibility of cloud computing, management is now looking at the potential for to quickly innovate business processes that touch partners and customers.