If Private Cloud is dead. Where did it go? How did it get there? [JOINT POST]

TL;DR: Hybrid killed IT.

I’m a regular participant on BWG Roundtable calls and often extend those discussions 1×1.  This post collects questions from one of those follow-up meetings where we explored how data center markets are changing based on new capacity and also the impact of cloud.  

We both believe in the simple answer, “it’s going to be hybrid.” We both feel that this answer does not capture the real challenges that customers are facing.

pexels-photo-325229So who are we?  Haynes Strader, Jr. comes at this from a real estate perspective via CBRE Data Center Solutions.  Rob Hirschfeld comes at this from an ops and automation perspective via RackN.  We are in very different aspects of the data center market.    

Rob: I know that we’re building a lot of data center capacity.  So far, it’s been really hard to move operations to new infrastructure and mobility is a challenge.  Do you see this too?

Haynes: Yes.  Creating a data center network that is both efficient and affordable is challenging. A couple of key data center interconnection providers offer this model, but few companies are in a position to truly leverage the node-cloud-node model, where a company leverages many small data center locations (colo) that all connect to a cloud option for the bulk of their computing requirements. This works well for smaller companies with a spread-out workforce, or brand new companies with no legacy infrastructure, but the Fortune 2000 still have the majority of their compute sitting in-house in owned facilities that weren’t originally designed to serve as data centers. Moving these legacy systems is nearly impossible.

Rob: I see many companies feeling trapped by these facilities and looking to the cloud as an alternative.  You are describing a lot of inertia in that migration.  Is there something that can help improve mobility?

Haynes: Data centers are physical presences to hold virtual environments. The physical aspect can only be optimized when a company truly understands its virtual footprint. IT capacity planning is key to this. System monitoring and usage analytics are critical to make growth and consolidation decisions. Why isn’t this being adopted more quickly? Is it cost? Is it difficulty to implement in complex IT environments? Is it the fear of the unknown?

Rob: I think that it’s technical debt that makes it hard (and scary) to change.  These systems were built manually or assuming that IT could maintain complete control.  That’s really not how cloud-focused operations work.  Is there a middle step between full cloud and legacy?

Haynes: Creating an environment where a company maximizes the use for its owned assets (leveraging sale leasebacks and forward-thinking financing) vs. waiting until end of life and attempting to dispose leads to opportunities to get capital injections early on and move to an OPEX model. This makes the transition to colo much easier, and avoids a large write-down that comes along with most IT transformations. Colocation is an excellent tool if it is properly negotiated because it can provide a flexible environment that can grow or shrink based on your utilization of other services. Sophisticated colo users know when it makes sense to pay top dollar for an environment that requires hyperconnectivity and when to save money for storage and day-to-day compute. They know when to leverage providers for services and when to manage IT tasks in-house. It is a daunting process, but the initial approach is key to getting to that place in the long term.

Rob:  So I’m back to thinking that the challenge for accessing all these colo opportunities is that it’s still way too hard to move operations between facilities and also between facilities and the cloud.  Until we improve mobility, choosing a provider can be a high stakes decision.  What factors do you recommend reviewing?

Haynes: There is an overwhelming number of factors in picking new colos:

  1. Location
  2. Connectivity/Latency
  3. Cloud Connectivity Options
  4. Pricing
  5. Quality of Services
  6. Security
  7. Hazard Risk Mitigation
  8. Comfort with services/provider
  9. Growth potential
  10. Flexibility of spend/portability (this is becoming ever-more important)

Rob: Yikes!  Are there minor operational differences between colos that are causing breaking changes in operations?

Haynes:  We run into this with our clients occasionally, but it is usually because they created two very different environments with different providers. This is a big reason to use a broker. Creating identical terms, pricing models, SLAs and work flows allow for clients to have a lot of leverage when they go to market. A select few of the top cloud providers do a really good job of this. They dominate the markets that they enter because they have a consistent, reliable process that is replicated globally. They also achieve some of the most attractive pricing and terms in the marketplace on a regular basis.

pexels-photo-119661.jpegRob: That makes sense.  Process matters for the operators and consistent practices make it easier to work with a partner.  Even so, moving can save a lot of money.  Is that savings justified against the risk and interruption?

Haynes: This is the biggest hurdle that our enterprise clients face. The risk of moving is risking an IT leader’s job. How do we do this with minimal risk and maximum upside? Long-term strategic planning is one answer, but in today’s world, IT leadership changes often and strategies go along with that. We don’t have a silver bullet for this one – but are always looking to partner with IT leaders that want to give it a shot and hopefully save a lot of money.

Rob: So is migration practical?

Haynes: Migration makes our clients cringe, but the ones that really try to take it on and make it happen strategically (not once it is too late) regularly reap the benefits of saving their company money and making them heroes to the organization.

Rob: I guess that brings us back to mixing infrastructures.  I know that public clouds have interconnect with colos that make it possible to avoid picking a single vendor.  Are you seeing this too?

Haynes: Hybrid, hybrid, hybrid. No one is the best one-stop shop. We all love 7-11 and it provides a lot of great solutions on the run, but I’m not grocery shopping there. Same reason I don’t run into a Kroger every time I need a bottle of water. Pick the right solution for the right application and workload.

Rob: That makes sense to me, but I see something different in practice.  Teams are too busy keeping the lights on to take advantage of longer-term thinking.  They seem so busy fighting fires that it’s hard to improve.

Haynes:  I TOTALLY agree. I don’t know how to change this. I get it, though. The CEO says, “We need to be in the cloud, yesterday,” and the CIO jumps. Suddenly everyone’s strategic planning is out the window and it is off to the races to find a quick-fix. Like most things, time and planning often reap more productive results.

Thanks for sharing our discussion!  

We’d love to hear your opinions about it.  We both agree that creating multi-site management abstractions could make life easier on IT and relatable to real estate and finance. With all of these organizations working in sync the world would be a better place. The challenge is figuring out how to get there!

Why IBM’s hybrid “no-single-way” is a good plan

I got to spend a few days hearing IBM’s cloud plans at IBM Interconnect including a presentation, dinner and guest blogging.  Read below for links to that content.

As part of their CloudMinds group, we’re encouraged to look at the big picture of the conference and there’s a lot to take in. IBM has serious activity around machine learning, cognitive, serverless, functional languages, block chain, platform and infrastructure as a service. Frankly, that’s a confusing array of technologies.

Does this laundry list of technologies fit into a unified strategy? No, and that’s THE POINT.

Anyone who thinks they can predict a definitive right mix of technologies to solve customer problems is not paying attention to the pace of innovation. IBM is listening to their customers and hearing that needs are expanding not consolidating. In this type of market, limiting choice hurts customers.

That means that a hybrid strategy with overlapping offerings serves their customers interests.

IBM has the luxury and scale of being able to chase multiple technologies to find winners. Of course, there’s a danger of hanging on to losers too long too. So far, it looks like they are doing a good job of riding that sweet spot. Their agility here may be the only way that they can reasonably find a chink in Amazon’s cloud armour.

While the hybrid story is harder to tell, it’s the right one for this market.

Four Posts For Deeper Reading

The posts below cover a broad range of topics! Chris Ferris and I did some serious writing about collaboration and my DevOps/Hybrid post has been getting some attention. It’s all recommended reading so I’ve included some highlights.

#CloudMinds tackle the future of cognitive in Las Vegas huddle

Rob is part of the IBM CloudMinds group that meets occasionally to discuss rising cloud, infrastructure and technology challenges.

“Cognitive cannot and will not exist without trust. Humans will not trust cognitive unless we can show that our cognitive solutions understand them.”

How open communities can hurt, and help, interoperability

“The days of using open software passively from vendors are past, users need to have a voice and opinion about project governance. This post is a joint effort with Rob Hirschfeld, RackN, and Chris Ferris, IBM, based on their IBM Interconnect 2017 “Open Cloud Architecture: Think You Can Out-Innovate the Best of the Rest?” presentation.”

When DevOps and hybrid collide (2017 trend lines)

“We’ve clearly learned that DevOps automation pays back returns in agility and performance. Originally, small-batch, lean thinking was counter-intuitive. Now it’s time to make similar investments in hybrid automation so that we can leverage the most innovation available in IT today.”

Open Source Collaboration: The Power of No & Interoperability

“Users and operators can put significant pressure on project leaders and vendors to ensure that the platforms are interoperable. “

Don’t Balkanize My Installer, Yo!

kubernetesLast week, RackN announced our enterprise support for Kubernetes using nothing but upstream Ansible from the project itself.  This effort represents years of effort by the RackN founders to keep platforms interoperable via open and shareable operations automation.

That’s why our Digital Rebar approach targets underlay challenges and leverages existing automation tools instead of investing yet another install path.

dcosThis week, we added Install Wizard templates to the DC/OS install automation we build in collaboration with Mesosphere last year.  That makes it even easier to run DC/OS on physical infrastructure.  Like our Kubernetes work, the Digital Rebar automation uses the same community dcos_install.sh that’s used in the community documentation.  The difference is that we’re also driving all the underlay prep and configuration automatically.

If this approach appeals to you, contact RackN and join in the open Day 2 revolution.

Interested in seeing the DC/OS install in action?  Here’s a demo video:

 

SRE role with DevOps for Enterprise [@HPE podcast]

sre-series

My focus on SRE series continues… At RackN, we see a coming infrastructure explosion in both complexity and scale. Unless our industry radically rethinks operational processes, current backlogs will escalate and stability, security and sharing will suffer.

Yes, DevOps and SRE are complementary

In this short 16 minute podcast, HPE’s Stephen Spector and I discuss how DevOps and SRE thinking overlaps and where are the differences.  We also discuss how Enterprises should be evaluating Site Reliability Engineering as a function and where it fits in their organization.

Open Source as Reality TV and Burning Data Centers [gcOnDemand podcast notes]

During the OpenStack summit, Eric Wright (@discoposse) and I talked about a wide range of topics from scoring success of OpenStack early goals to burning down traditional data centers.

Why burn down your data center (and move to public cloud)? Because your ops process are too hard to change. Rob talks about how hybrid provides a path if we can made ops more composable.

Here are my notes from the audio podcast (source):

1:30 Why “zehicle” as a handle? Portmanteau from electrics cars… zero + vehicle

Let’s talk about OpenStack & Cloud…

  • OpenStack History
    • 2:15 Rob’s OpenStack history from Dell and Hyperscale
    • 3:20 Early thoughts of a Cloud API that could be reused
    • 3:40 The practical danger of Vendor lock-in
    • 4:30 How we implemented “no main corporate owner” by choice
  • About the Open in OpenStack
    • 5:20 Rob decomposes what “open” means because there are multiple meanings
    • 6:10 Price of having all open tools for “always open” choice and process
    • 7:10 Observation that OpenStack values having open over delivering product
    • 8:15 Community is great but a trade off. We prioritize it over implementation.
  • Q: 9:10 What if we started later? Would Docker make an impact?
    • Part of challenge for OpenStack was teaching vendors & corporate consumers “how to open source”
  • Q: 10:40 Did we accomplish what we wanted from the first summit?
    • Mixed results – some things we exceeded (like growing community) while some are behind (product adoption & interoperability).
  • 13:30 Interop, Refstack and Defcore Challenges. Rob is disappointed on interop based on implementations.
  • Q: 15:00 Who completes with OpenStack?
    • There are real alternatives. APIs do not matter as much as we thought.
    • 15:50 OpenStack vendor support is powerful
  • Q: 16:20 What makes OpenStack successful?
    • Big tent confuses the ecosystem & push the goal posts out
    • “Big community” is not a good definition of success for the project.
  • 18:10 Reality TV of open source – people like watching train wrecks
  • 18:45 Hybrid is the reality for IT users
  • 20:10 We have a need to define core and focus on composability. Rob has been focused on the link between hybrid and composability.
  • 22:10 Rob’s preference is that OpenStack would be smaller. Big tent is really ecosystem projects and we want that ecosystem to be multi-cloud.

Now, about RackN, bare metal, Crowbar and Digital Rebar….

  • 23:30 (re)Intro
  • 24:30 VC market is not metal friendly even though everything runs on metal!
  • 25:00 Lack of consistency translates into lack of shared ops
  • 25:30 Crowbar was an MVP – the key is to understand what we learned from it
  • 26:00 Digital Rebar started with composability and focus on operations
  • 27:00 What is hybrid now? Not just private to public.
  • 30:00 How do we make infrastructure not matter? Multi-dimensional hybrid.
  • 31:00 Digital Rebar is orchestration for composable infrastructure.
  • Q: 31:40 Do people get it?
    • Yes. Automation is moving to hybrid devops – “ops is ops” and it should not matter if it’s cloud or metal.
  • 32:15 “I don’t want to burn down my data center” – can you bring cloud ops to my private data center?

Problems with the “Give me a Wookiee” hybrid API

Greg Althaus, RackN CTO, creates amazing hybrid DevOps orchestration that spans metal and cloud implementations.  When it comes to knowing the nooks and crannies of data centers, his ops scar tissue has scar tissue.  So, I knew you’d all enjoy this funny story he wrote after previewing my OpenStack API report.  

“APIs are only valuable if the parameters mean the same thing and you get back what you expect.” Greg Althaus

The following is a guest post by Greg:

While building the Digital Rebar OpenStack node provider, Rob Hirschfeld tried to integrate with 7+ OpenStack clouds.  While the APIs matched across instances, there are all sorts of challenges with what comes out of the API calls.  

The discovery made me realize that APIs are not the end of interoperability.  They are the beginning.  

I found I could best describe it with a story.

I found an API on a service and that API creates a Wookiee!

I can tell the API that I want a tall or short Wookiee or young or old Wookiee.  I test against the Kashyyyk service.  I consistently get a 8ft Brown 300 year old Wookiee when I ask for a Tall Old Wookiee.  

I get a 6ft Brown 50 Year old Wookiee when I ask for a Short Young Wookiee.  Exactly what I want, all the time.  

My pointy-haired emperor boss says I need to now use the Forest Moon of Endor (FME) Service.  He was told it is the exact same thing but cheaper.  Okay, let’s do this.  It consistently gives me 5 year old 4 ft tall Brown Ewok (called a Wookiee) when I ask for the Tall Young Wookiee.  

This is a fail.  I mean, yes, they are both furry and brown, but the Ewok can’t reach the top of my bookshelf.  

The next service has to work, right?  About the same price as FME, the Tatooine Service claims to be really good too.  It passes tests.  It hands out things called Wookiees.  The only problem is that, while size is an API field, the service requires the use of petite and big instead of short and tall.  This is just annoying.  This time my tall (well big) young Wookiee is 8 ft tall and 50 years old, but it is green and bald (scales are like that).  

I don’t really know what it is.  I’m sure it isn’t a Wookiee.  

And while she is awesome (better than the male Wookiees), she almost froze to death in the arctic tundra that is Boston.  

My point: APIs are only valuable if the parameters mean the same thing and you get back what you expect.

 

Composability & Commerce: drivers for #CloudMinds Hybrid discussion

Last night, I had the privilege of being included in an IBM think tank group called CloudMinds.  The topic for the night was accelerating hybrid cloud.cb81gdhukaetyga

During discussion, I felt that key how and why aspects of hybrid computing emerged: composability and commerce.

Composability, the discipline of creating segmenting IT into isolated parts, was considered a primary need.  Without composability, we create vertically integrated solutions that are difficult to hybrid.

Commerce, the acknowledgement that we are building technology to solve problems, was considered a way to combat the dogma that seems to creep into the platform wars.  That seems obvious, yet I believe it’s often overlooked and the group seemed to agree.

It’s also worth adding that the group strongly felt that hybrid was not a cloud discussion – it was a technology discussion.  It is a description of how to maintain an innovative and disruptive industry by embracing change.

The purpose of the think tank is to create seeds of an ongoing discussion.  We’d love to get your perspective on this too.