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.
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.
I spent a couple of hours today listening to Oracle talk about the long-awaited integration with Sun Microsystems. A real end of an era and beginning of a new one. What does this mean for Oracle? Whatever you might think about Oracle, you have to give the company credit for successfully integrating the 60 companies it has purchased over the past few years. Having watched hundreds and perhaps thousands of acquisitions over the last few decades, it is clear that integration is hard. There are overlapping technologies, teams, cultures, and egos. Oracle has successfully managed to leverage the IP from its acquisitions to support its business goals. For example, it has kept packaged software customers happy by improving the software. Peoplesoft customers, for example, were able to continue to use the software they had become dependent on in primarily the same way as before the acquisition. In some cases, the quality of the software actually improved dramatically. The path has been more complicated with the various middleware and infrastructure platforms the company has acquired over the years because of overlapping functionality.
The acquisition of Sun Microsystems is the biggest game changer for Oracle since the acquisition of PeopleSoft. There is little doubt that Sun has significant software and hardware IP that will be very important in defining Oracle in the 21st century. But I don’t expect this to be a simple journey. Here are the five key issues that I think will be tricky for Oracle to navigate. Obviously, this is not a complete list but it is a start.
Issue One: Can Oracle recreate the mainframe world? The mainframe is dead — long live the mainframe. Oracle has a new fondness for the mainframe and what that model could represent. So, if you combine Sun’s hardware, networking layer, storage, security, packaged applications, middleware into a package do you get to own total share of a customer’s wallet? That is the idea. Oracle management has determined that IBM had the right ideas in the 1960s — everything was nicely integrated and the customer never had to worry about the pieces working together.
Issue Two: Can you package everything together and still be an open platform? To its credit, Oracle has build its software on standards such as Unix/Linux, XML, Java, etc. So, can you have it both ways? Can you claim openness when the platform itself is hermetically sealed? I think it may be a stretch. In order to accomplish this goal, Oracle would have to have well-defined and published APIs. It would have to be able to certify that with these APIs the integrated platform won’t be broken. Not an easy task.
Issue Three: Can you manage a complex computing environment? Computing environments get complicated because there are so many moving parts. There are configurations that change; software gets patched; new operating system versions are introduced; emerging technology enters and messes up the well established environment. Oracle would like to automate the process of managing this process for customers. It is an appealing idea since configuration problems, missing links, and poor testing are often responsible for many of the outages in computing environments today. Will customers be willing to have this type of integrated environment controlled and managed by a single vendor? Some customers will be happy to turn over these headaches. Others may have too much legacy or want to work with a variety of vendors. This is not a new dilemma for customers. Customers have long had to rationalize the benefits of a single source of technology against the risks of being locked in.
Issue Four: Can you teach an old dog new tricks? Can Oracle really be a hardware vendor? Clearly, Sun continues to be a leader in hardware despite its diminished fortunes. But as anyone who has ventured into the hardware world knows, hardware is a tough, brutal game. In fact, it is the inverse of software. Software takes many cycles to reach maturation. It needs to be tweaked and finessed. However, once it is in place it has a long, long life. The old saying goes, old software never dies. The same cannot be said for hardware. Hardware has a much straighter line to maturity. It is developed, designed, and delivered to the market. Sometimes it leapfrogs the competition enough that it has a long and very profitable life. Other times, it hits the market at the end of a cycle when a new more innovative player enters the market. The culmination of all the work and effort can be short as something new comes along at the right place at the right time. It is often a lot easier to get rid of hardware than software. The computer industry is littered with the corpses of failed hardware platforms that started with great fanfare and then faded away quickly. Will Oracle be successful with hardware? It will depend on how really good the company is in transforming its DNA.
Issue Five. Are customers ready to embrace Oracle’s brave new world? Oracle’s strategy is a good one — if you are Oracle. But what about for customers? And what about for partners? Customers need to understand the long-term implication and tradeoffs in buying into Oracle’s integrated approach to its platform. It will clearly mean fewer moving parts to worry about. It will mean one phone call and no finger pointing. However, customers have to understand the type of leverage that single company will have in terms of contract terms and conditions. And what about partners? How does an independent software vendor or a channel partner participate within the new Oracle? Is there room? What type of testing and preparation will be required to play?
Just when it looked clear where the markets were lining up around data center automation and cloud computing, things change. I guess that is what makes this industry so very interesting. The proposed acquisition by HP of 3Com is a direct challenge to Cisco’s network management franchise. However, the implications of this move go further than what meets the eye. It also pits HP in a direct path against EMC with its Cisco partnership. And to make things even more interesting, it also puts these two companies in a competitive three way race against IBM and its cloud/data center automation strategy. And of course, it doesn’t stop there. A myriad of emerging companies like Google and Amazon want a larger share of the enterprise market for cloud services. Companies like Unisys and CSC that has focused on the outsourced secure data centers are getting into the act.
I don’t think that we will see a single winner — no matter what any one of these companies will tell you. The winners in this market shift will be those companies can build a compelling platform and a compelling value proposition for a partner ecosystem. The truth about the cloud is that it is not simply a network or a data center. It is a new way of providing services of all sorts that can support changing customer workloads in a secure and predictable manner.
In light of this, what does this say for HP’s plans to acquire 3Com? If we assume that the network infrastructure is a key component of an emerging cloud and data center strategy, HP is making a calculated risk in acquiring more assets in this market. The company that has found that its ProCurve networking division has begun gaining traction. HP ProCurve Networking is the networking division of HP. The division includes network switches, wireless access points, WAN routers, and Access Control servers and software. ProCurve competes directly with Cisco in the networking switch market. When HP had a tight partnership with Cisco, the company de-emphasized the networking. However, once Cisco started to move into the server market, the handcuffs came off. The 3Com acquisition takes the competitive play to a new level. 3Com has a variety of good pieces of technology that HP could leverage within ProCurve. Even more significantly, it picks up a strong security product called TippingPoint, a 3Com acquisition. TippingPoint fills a critical hole in HP’s security offering. TippingPoint, offers network security offerings including intrusion prevention and a product that inspects network packets. The former 3Com subsidiary has also established a database of security threats based a network of external researchers.
But I think that one of the most important reasons that HP bought 3Com is its strong relationships in the Chinese market. In fiscal year 2008 half of 3Com’s revenue came from its H3C joint venture with Chinese vendor, Huawei Technology. Therefore, it is not surprising that HP would have paid a premium to gain a foothold in this lucrative market. If HP is smart, it will do a good job leveraging the many software assets to build out both its networking assets as well as beefing up its software organization. In reality, HP is much more comfortable in the hardware market. Therefore, adding networking as a core competency makes sense. It will also bolster its position as a player in the high end data center market and in the private cloud space.
Cisco, on the other hand, is coming from the network and moving agressively into the cloud and the data center market. The company has purchased a position with VMWare and has established a tight partnership with EMC as a go to market strategy. For Cisco, it gives the company credibility and access to customers outside of its traditional markets. For EMC, the Cisco relationship strengthens its networking play. But an even bigger value for the relationship is to present a bigger footprint to customers as they move to take on HP, IBM, and the assortment of other players who all want to win. The Cisco/EMC/VMware play is to focus on the private cloud. In their view a private cloud is very similar to a private, preconfigured data center. It can be a compelling value proposition to a customer that needs a data center fast without having to deal with a lot of moving parts. The real question from a cloud computing perspective is the key question: is this really a cloud?
It was inevitable that this quiet market dominated by Google and Amazon would heat up as the cloud becomes a real market force. But I don’t expect that HP or Cisco/EMC will have a free run. They are being joined by IBM and Microsoft — among others. The impact could be better options for customers and prices that invariably will fall. The key to success for all of these players will be how well they manage what will be an increasingly heterogeneous, federated, and highly distributed hardware and software world. Management comes in many flavors: management of these highly distributed services and management of the workloads.
As I was pointing out yesterday, there are many unintended consequences from any emerging technology platform — the cloud will be no exception. So, here are my next three picks for unintended consequences from the evolution of cloud computing:
4. The cloud will disrupt traditional computing sales models. I think that Larry Ellison is right to rant about Cloud Computing. He is clearly aware that if cloud computing becomes the preferred way for customers to purchase software the traditional model of paying maintenance on applications will change dramatically. Clearly, vendors can simply roll in the maintenance stream into the per user per month pricing. However, as I pointed out in Part I, prices will inevitably go down as competition for customers expands. There there will come a time when the vast sums of money collected to maintain software versions will seem a bit old fashioned. In fact, that will be one of the most important unintended consequences and will have a very disruptive effect on the economic models of computing. It has the potential to change the power dynamics of the entire hardware and software industries.The winners will be the customers and smart vendors who figure out how to make money without direct maintenance revenue. Like every other unintended consequence there will be new models emerging that will emerge that will make some really cleaver vendors very successful. But don’t ask me what they are. It is just too early to know.
5. The market for managing cloud services will boom. While service management vendors do pretty well today managing data center based systems, the cloud environment will make these vendors king of the hill. Think about it like this. You are a company that is moving to the cloud. You have seven different software as a service offerings from seven different vendors. You also have a small private cloud that you use to provision critical customer data. You also use a public cloud for some large scale testing. In addition, any new software development is done with a public cloud and then moved into the private cloud when it is completed. Existing workloads like ERP systems and legacy systems of record remain in the data center. All of these components put together are the enterprise computing environment. So, what is the service level of this composite environment? How do you ensure that you are compliant across these environment? Can you ensure security and performance standards? A new generation of products and maybe a new generation of vendors will rake in a lot of cash solving this one.
6. What will processes look like in the cloud. Like data, processes will have to be decoupled from the applications that they are an integral part of the applications of record. Now I don’t expect that we will rip processes out of every system of record. In fact, static systems such as ERP, HR, etc. will have tightly integrated processes. However, the dynamic processes that need to change as the business changes will have to be designed without these constraints. They will become trusted processes — sort of like business services that are codified but can be reconfigured when the business model changes. This will probably happen anyway with the emergence of Service Oriented Architectures. However, with the flexibility of cloud environment, this trend will accelerate. The need to have independent process and process models may have the potential of creating a brand new market.
I am happy to add more unintended consequences to my top six. Send me your comments and we can start a part III reflecting your ideas.