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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.

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.



IBM’s hardware sneak attack

April 13, 2010 5 comments

Yesterday I read an interesting blog commenting on why Oracle seems so interested in Sun’s hardware.

I quote from a comment by Brian Aker, former head of architecture for MySQL on the O’Reily Radar blog site.  He comments on his view on why Oracle bought Sun,

Brian Aker: I have my opinions, and they’re based on what I see happening in the market. IBM has been moving their P Series systems into datacenter after datacenter, replacing Sun-based hardware. I believe that Oracle saw this and asked themselves “What is the next thing that IBM is going to do?” That’s easy. IBM is going to start pushing DB2 and the rest of their software stack into those environments. Now whether or not they’ll be successful, I don’t know. I suspect once Oracle reflected on their own need for hardware to scale up on, they saw a need to dive into the hardware business. I’m betting that they looked at Apple’s margins on hardware, and saw potential in doing the same with Sun’s hardware business. I’m sure everything else Sun owned looked nice and scrumptious, but Oracle bought Sun for the hardware.

I think that Brian has a good point. In fact, in a post I wrote a few months ago, I commented on the fact that hardware is back.  It is somewhat ironic. For a long time, the assumption has been that a software platform is the right leverage point to control markets.  Clearly, the tide is shifting.  IBM, for example, has taken full advantage of customer concerns about the future of the Sun platform. But IBM is not stopping there. I predict a hardware sneak attack that encompasses IBM’s platform software strength (i.e., middleware, automation, analytics, and service management) combined with its hardware platforms.

IBM will use its strength in systems and middleware software to expand its footprint into Oracle’s backyard surrounding its software with an integrated platform designed to work as a system of systems.  It is clear that over the past five or six years IBM’s focus has been on software and services.  Software has long provided good profitability for IBM. Services has made enormous strides over the past decade as IBM has learned to codify knowledge and best practices into what I have called Service as Software. The other most important movement has been IBM’s focused effort over the past decade to revamp the underlying structure of its software into modular services that are used across its software portfolio. Combine this approach with industry focused business frameworks and you have a pretty good idea of where IBM is headed with its software and services portfolios.

The hardware strategy has begun to evolve in 2005 when IBM software bought a little hardware XML accelerator hardware appliance company called DataPower. Many market watchers were confused. What would IBM software do with a hardware platform?  Over time, IBM expanded the footprint of this platform and began to repurpose it as a means to pre-packaging software components. First there was a SOA-based appliance; then IBM added a virtual machine appliance called the CloudBurst appliance.  On the Lotus side of the business, IBM bought another appliance company that evolved into the Lotus Foundations platform.  Appliances became a great opportunity to package and preconfigure systems that could be remotely upgraded and managed.  This packaging of software with systems demonstrated the potential not only for simplicity for customers but a new way of adding value and revenue.

Now, IBM is taking the idea of packaging hardware with software to new levels.  It is starting to leverage the software and networking capability focused on hardware-driven systems. For example, within the systems environment, IBM is leveraging its knowledge of optimizing systems software so that it applications-based workloads can take advantage of capabilities such as threading, caching, and systems level networking.

In its recent announcement, IBM has developed its new hardware platforms based on the five most common workloads: transaction processing, analytics, business applications, records management and archiving, and collaboration.  What does this mean to customers? If a customer has a transaction oriented system, the most important capability is to ensure that the environment uses as many threads as possible to optimize speed of throughput. In addition, caching repetitive workloads will also ensure that transactions move through the system as quickly as possible. While this has been doable in the past, the difference is that these capabilities are packaged as an end-to-end system. Thus, implementation could be faster and more precise. The same can be said for analytics workloads. These workloads demand a high level of efficiency to enable customers to look for patterns in the data that help predict outcomes.     Analytics workloads require the caching and fast processing of   algorithms and data across multiple sources.

The bottom line is that IBM is looking at its hardware as an extension of the type of workloads they are required to support.  Rather than considering hardware as as set of separate platforms, IBM is following a systems of systems approach that is consistent with cloud computing.  With this type of approach, IBM will continue on the path of viewing a system as a combination of the hardware platform, the systems software, and systems-based networking.  These elements of computing are therefore configured based on the type of application and the nature of the current workload.

It is, in fact, workload optimization that is at the forefront of what is changing in hardware in the coming decade. This is true both in the data center and in the cloud. Cloud computing — and the hybrid environments that make up the future of computing are all predicated on predictable, scalable, and elastic workload management.  It is the way we will start thinking about computing as a continuum of all of the component parts combined — hardware, software, services, networking, storage, collaboration, and applications.  This reflects the dramatic changes that are just at the horizon.