Sunday, August 28, 2011

Are there No Rules anymore, or New Rules everywhere?

As I prepared to fly to Las Vegas for VMworld, I started thinking about which technologies I wanted to learn about, which start-ups I wanted to investigate and which strategic angles I needed to dig into more.

As I started thinking about various technology areas - networking, storage, cloud management, application development or usage (PaaS and SaaS) and Big Data  - it dawned on me that every one of those areas was under intense pressure to significantly change where it has been for the last 5-10 years. Technologies are always going through cycles of updates, but I can't remember a time when so many areas were going through potentially radical change at the same time.

Networking: The three biggest questions in networking today are focused on the server-access layer of the Data Center.
  1. Do new applications (web, big data, etc.) mandate a reduction of network layers and/or a simplicity of deployment/operations? Do we need new ways to partition networks?
  2. Where do custom ASICs belong in the Data Center vs. "merchant silicon" from Broadcom or Fulcom Technologies?
  3. Where do L4-7 services (Load-Balancing, Firewall, IDS/IPS, DLP) belong in these new architectures, and how should they be deployed (application-level, virtual appliances, physical appliances or integrated services in switches)?
  4. Are networks ready to be more automated? How broad or complex a "container" should be automated?

Unlocking the Microsoft Deathgrip on the Desktop?

At VMworld, I had lunch with an Enterprise CIO who told me that they had just written a high 8-figure check to Microsoft for a new ELA. While part of this included Server-side licensing for business applications and databases, the more interesting piece to me was the effects on desktop usage. The statement that really started the interesting part of our conversation was, "We have quite a few Mac users these days, but unfortunately they cost me just as much (in licensing) as any PC user I have."

Huh? How could that be?

Explanation: Any Mac user that uses an Outlook / Exchange account, accesses an IIS webserver, accesses an applications with a SQL database, authorizes via Microsoft AS or uses Microsoft Office (PC or Mac version) is taking up the same level of ELA licenses that a full-blown Windows PC user consumes.

We then talked about about the variety of SaaS or Microsoft-alternative products available in the marketplace. While some of them were being used, the bulk of them were not because of all the user-level retraining or interoperability issues. Getting out from those expensive handcuffs was going to be extremely difficult for them.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

There isn't a "Cloud Layer" ... Oh wait, maybe there is?

We're all familiar with the 9-layer OSI model - 7 layers of technology + Politics and Religions. This is the stack that makes up the Internet. Cloud Computing uses the same underlying technologies, but is often discussed in the context of the IaaS, PaaS and SaaS stacks.

Nowhere in the OSI stack do you see a "cloud layer". As my colleague and noted cloud computing expert James Urquhart likes to say (paraphrased), "There is no cloud layer (in a technology sense), it's all about new operational models."

For a while I accepted that statement without giving it much thought or rebuttal. But some activities over the last couple months have gotten me thinking that maybe this isn't actually true. Let me try and explain.

One could argue that the OSI model (the technical stuff, Layers 1-7) defines all the layers that make up the Internet. But as we all know, the Internet evolved in ways that the DARPA's founding fathers never intended or envisioned back in the 1960s. Things like NATs, or VPNs, or L3-over-L2 technologies, 4-to-6 tunnels, or other overlays like MPLS. Those technologies use the layers of the OSI model, but in reality they add new "layers" to the Internet stack to deal with either legacy designs or new usage models. Sometimes they solved problems and other times they created new problems and added more additional layers (eg. NAT traversal technologies for multi-media)

All of those "additional layers" of the Internet were focused on new ways to route packets, address or hide networks, manage legacy network transitions. Very network-centric issues.

In cloud computing, the more central issues are focused on APIs, mobility of workloads (or VMs), obfuscating layers of complexity, making workloads "dynamic" in scale or availability, and transitioning from legacy architectures to new architectures. Some of these involve new operational models (DevOps, "built to fail", etc.) as James Urquhart pointed out. But within that context, we're already starting to see some new layers emerge to be able to actually make the technology more useable or provide greater levels of flexibility. Let's take a look at a few examples: