If you have been anywhere near a briefing from VMware, Citrix, or Microsoft in the past few years, you are well aware of what “the cloud” is. You have probably already heard about the public cloud with the likes of Amazon and Google among others. The newest additions to the cloud vernacular are the private and hybrid cloud. The private cloud is where software companies like Citrix and VMware have developed solutions to allow an enterprise to keep their data secure, but still get the commodity model that has been advertised to their users in the consumer space. The hybrid model is the utopian integration and flexibility between the public and private cloud environments. As I sat through the second session of the Blogger Reality Show, which was focused on Converged Systems, it occurred to me that like so many pre-built platforms these days, the HP CloudSystem is exactly what the private cloud was envisioned as. Then the thoughts of all the other hardware vendors starting sneaking in and I got to thinking about what is really included in these hardware offerings. Are we seeing a revolution in the way that IT equipment is purchased or are we just seeing marketing spin by a few vendors that have joined forces to sell the solutions that are already available.
It’s a revolution
For the past few years, IT staffs have had their budgets cut, staffs shrunk, and been told that their focus needed to be on how to make the business more effective. This was a switch from the break-fix, IT-centric mentality of the .com age. Much like in our consumer lives, purchasing things in bundles makes our lives easier and more efficient. When we purchase a car we look for the luxury package, or the winter weather package, we do not want to buy the fog lights separate from the all-weather tires, and the heated seats. Producing a prebuilt solution that gives an IT department the ability to provide compute, storage, and networking resources all from a single purchase is very intriguing. This solution can then integrate directly into the public clouds being built by some of the largest service providers in the world. The likes of HP, IBM, EMC, NetApp, and Dell have all created an Infrastructure as a service model that can integrate with numerous cloud providers with the help of software from VMware or Citrix. Many of these solutions may not be actually owned or directly sold by these companies, however the solution package as a whole is often viewed as “their” technology. What these companies have not found a way to do yet is build a platform that integrates with each other. As I stated in my first post for the Blogger Reality Show, having replication not only between a single corporate platform but also between companies at a reasonable cost, will be the “holy grail” that could potentially drive one competitor to the head of the pack.
Pay no attention to the man behind the curtain
As a child we are taught that sometimes it is better to just believe what we see and not dig deeper. In the Wizard of Oz, we are not supposed to pay attention to what is behind all the magic. It seems as though the major vendors have also been watching the Wizard and are trying to showcase something that is not innovative, it is hardly even new. Some of the hardware from the vendors is new and in some cases there is a new software package to allow you to manage the infrastructure in a “single pane of glass.” However, the latest bundled offerings are no different than the solutions that admins and engineers have been putting together themselves to run enterprise IT environments for the last few years. As I dissected each of the offerings I found there were some very common platforms for each. All of the solutions used a traditional server platform, connecting to a traditional SAN through a traditional IP or fiber network. They all supported using VMware as the hypervisor that was providing this hardware as a utility.
If we could build all of these systems ourselves then what is the benefit of these canned platforms? The marketing spin would have you believe it is because of tried and true architecture, and joint support agreements. These are great concepts, except that no matter how tested the architecture is, hardware will have failures. These solutions do not provide a utopian environment that will never experience failure. If the failures can occur then you need the support from the vendors to fix it. Throughout my years as an admin and engineer, I was always able to get the support I needed. There were times when there was finger pointing between vendors but then I felt it was my responsibility to know my equipment well enough to point to the precise issue. When I was able to do this I was always able to get the issue resolved, without a joint support agreement. I became the middle man and made sure the products played well together.
Maybe it is both
A marketing department’s job is to make the products and services they support look as good as possible. The engineering team’s job is to make that product work as flawlessly as possible and to continue to make it better. The professional services team’s is tasked with making sure that it can be delivered without complexity and as efficiently as possible. These roles do not change with this new paradigm. In fact they only become stronger. The marketing team may possibly have moved ahead of the other two teams in this situation. We are seeing a vision that does not yet have the technology to support it. What you can be assured of is the companies like HP and NetApp that are building out these platforms will make sure that what they sell today blends into the utopian vision of what IT can be. These solutions may use traditional methods but they also include an innovative presentation that can only help drive technology forward.
This post is the second in a series as part of Thomas Jones (aka Niketown588) “Blogger Reality Contest”. The contest is sponsored by HP and Ivy Worldwide. As a contestent I will receive an expense paid trip and conference pass to VMworld 2011