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?
Storage: Virtualization rocked the storage world. 100%+ annual data growth is expanding the storage world. Big Data is making storage rethink data placement and caching capabilities. And Flash is turning storage economics completely upside down.
  1. The turbo-charging capabilities of FLASH (SSD, PCIe) can do amazing things to improve application performance, update metadata, eliminate bottlenecks. But where is the best place to put that capability? Should it reside in the server? Should it reside in the storage? Is it just a tier, or is it the core of the storage architecture? The answers are still to be determined. Some will be application specific, while others will change the architecture for broad usage models.
  2. What is the on-going role for the SAN? High visibility outages such as Amazon AWS EBS and Big Data architectures using onboard DAS are looming large. Massive unstructured data growth is unlocking new value for business. 
Cloud Management: The best Cloud Computing companies in the world differentiate themselves through their cloud management technologies. And almost everyone of them are using homegrown tools, processes and capabilities. It's their Intellectual Property. But as the mass market looks to adopt Cloud Computing, many companies are trying to fill the void by creating cloud management that can be used by Enterprises, Governments, Service Providers or Commercial customers. It's a crowded market, filled with both proprietary and open-source options.
  1. Is open-source a must have for Cloud Management to be successful, or just system extendibility via APIs?
  2. Will OpenStack succeed, fail, stall or fork? This open-source project has the potential to become the LAMP stack of cloud management, if the community comes together in positive actions (some podcast discussions about OpenStack, here and here).
  3. How many CIOs will begin to leverage multi-cloud management to move from "managing budgets against 'no'" vs. making "yes" their default answer to all business and technology opportunities.    
  4. Will we begin to see standardization of APIs between clouds or for specific cloud management functions, or are the industry still moving too fast to get bogged down in API standardization?
Application Development: When every person on the planet has a mobile device in their pocket, this leads to two interesting application challenges: (1) mobile, scalable, social applications are built differently, and (2) all those devices create a lot of data, and the analysis of that data is different than it was in the past. 
  1. How quickly will the PaaS revolution take off? With so many PaaS options today (Cloud Foundry, Heroku, OpenShift, Google AppEngine, Microsoft Azure, Amazon AWS, etc.), how quickly will consolidation happen?
  2. With Enterprises only having 15-30% of their budgets available to drive innovation, will they have the resources to adopt these new application and services models?
  3. How do Enterprises manage the transition from legacy environments to new environments?
Big Data: How big is too big for current BI/DW tools? Where does interesting information come from these days? Can any company harness the power of Google-like tools to analyze the mountains of data they generate?
  1. Hadoop seems to be the defacto "Big Data tool" of choice, but there are many versions (Cloudera, Hortonworks, EMC Greenplum HD, etc.). How are they different from each other? Is one version better than another?
  2. Since this technology seems to be applicable to almost every industry, how long will it take for this to reshape multiple technology architectures within Data Centers or Cloud offerings?
  3. How long will it take for SIs or IT professionals to get proficient in deploying and using this technology? Is "Data Scientist" a legitimate IT profession in the future?
All-in-One Vendors: Back in the day, vendors fit nicely into certain silos. Network, database, storage, middleware. Those days are long gone. Now every major vendor is not only trying to become a one-stop shop for their customers, but are also balancing multi-partner coopetition environments. So what's a customer to do? Should they strive for best-of-breed, or use single-vendor solutions, or outsource to public clouds? 
  1. How do companies hire or transition the skill-sets needed for these new converged environments.
  2. Can vendors succeed in environments that are outside their core technology skills?
  3. How will the roles of Systems Integrators and Cloud Providers change to fill capability gaps?
After making this list, I quickly realized that we're right at the brink of potentially massive shifts in our industry. Both in terms of technologies and potentially the companies that succeed &/or fail. It means the potential for incredible opportunities for people that are willing to learn and take some chances.

It's going to be an amazing week of learning, and the next 12 months are going to have some major, long-term changes in our industry.


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