Where ARE the Network Virtual Appliances?

A good friend of mine ping'd me by email on Friday, asking me about Allan Leinwand's article on GigaOM entitled

Where Are the Network Virtual Appliances?

As server virtualization moves into the enterprise and cloud data centers, networking needs to follow with virtual appliances.

I'm a long-standing believer in Allan's vision for network virtual appliances.

Yep. I've often taken to the soapbox and extolled the virtues of network appliances (though I tend to start with firewalls rather than routers and switches). I'm completely taken with the concept of appliances that can be virtualized and 'scaled up' to deal with demand, and 'scaled back' when demand was not great.

Allan's also making this very important point: the providers are making a real mistake with virtual network appliances by taking the images that have previously been poured into hardware and simply package them up as a virtual appliance (... i.e., without the hardware). That is a dry hole.

If a vendor is going to sell network virtual appliances, the nva's should be designed from the get-go to be scalable (both 'up' and 'out'), and designed with the notion that the 'appliance' is not just a physical appliance without the box. That is 'horseless carriage' product design, which casts new technologies in exactly the same roles as their precursors.

What Allan doesn't say is that this may require the wider deployment of network infrastructure designed specifically for virtualized appliances and converged IO. It's not just whitebox, commodity x86 hardware running general purpose virtual machine environments for server virtualization. Cisco's Datacenter 3.0 and UCS is a good place to look for guidance about how operating environments for network virtual appliances might evolve. Some interesting potential directions are showing up in product lines like Arista's vEOS and those of companies like 3Leaf. Yet another alternative future for nva's comes from the chip makers ... Intel in particular ... as they start putting more specialized virtualization support into their chipsets, so that running virtual network appliances on 'commodity' infrastructure is encouraged and enhanced.

Now's the time to develop the principles on which those virtual firewalls, load balancers, port filters, distributed virtual switches, etc. get designed and the building starts. If there's one area that clearly must be addressed, and for which network virtualization may also be the answer, it's security. The notion of 'spreading traffic', like DDOS attacks, across multiple firewalls that one can spin up or down at will is arguably the way all kinds of network-oriented defense and access control should be done.   I look to the efforts of people like Chris Hoff, Rich Mogull and Craig Baldling not only to throw light on the specific demands for network security that result from the adoption of virtualization and clouds, but also to help think outside the box on how virtual networks and virtual network appliances can be the basis of solutions.


Blodget on Apple's impending thrashing by Google ...

A friend sent me a URL to Henry Blodget's recent post in the Silicon Alley Insider, with the the cover question... Is this really going to happen? Is Apple about to get steam-rolled?

The premise of the article is that by the end of the 1990s, Apple had came close enough to landing in the Deadpool of Hell that they picked up souvenirs.

What was (Apple's) mistake?

The insistence on selling fully integrated hardware and software devices, instead of focusing on low-cost, widely distributed software.

Yes, Apple also made other mistakes--most notably, maintaining a premium price point, ditching its famous founder and spiritual leader, and developing clunker products. But the mistake that doomed its primary business, the Macintosh, to niche status was the insistence on maintaining complete control over every aspect of the product while Microsoft drove for software ubiquity. ...

It seems much too premature to make this comparison. And, as smart as Henry Blodget is, I'm surprised that this article reduces the competition to a single dimension.

Google will definitely be the big competitor in many markets, but Apple is not 'just insisting on selling integrated hardware and software devices', rather than focusing on low cost distributed software...

What this article does not take into account is how Apple used their high-quality, high-margin integrated products to create service businesses, and particularly content businesses that have (in the same 10 year period) completely changed the added value mobile service market and (.... wait for it ...) the recorded music business... and made a boatload of money in the process.

Google is going to have to capitalize on the Android platform in some very smart ways ... They will get a lot of ISVs and OEMs to use Android, but they have to make serious service and/or content revenues on the result. Maybe it's ebooks... Maybe they become the conduit that truly changes the 20th century model of newspaper and magazine publishing. ... Or perhaps (and I'd believe this) they actually get augmented reality right, and, in combination with their location-based information, turn the Android smart phone into everything from the Yellow Pages to turn-by-turn in car navigation to location based e-commerce. (I have visions of a Craigslist overlaid on everything from virtualized garage sales to real estate.)

I suspect that Apple, in the meantime, will be taking aim on becoming the preeminent conduit for video entertainment content -- television and movies. Apple may also go after 21st century hybrid publishing (... multi-media publishing done right). And, if I had to guess, this is where Apple and Google will go head-to-head.

There's no doubt in my mind that Google can capitalize on Android in a big way. But, Google is just as much at risk of becoming what Microsoft became in the realm of mobile handset platforms. (Remember Windows Mobile? ... Face it. WinMo sux and always has.) MSFT's ability to own a consumer content delivery has not exactly set the world on fire. So, if one follows the analogy, Google runs the risk of creating a platform for its partners that becomes fragmented and therefore becomes a nightmare to support.

(As an aside: Where has Microsoft succeeded? Well, the Xbox gaming platform could very well be described as a fully integrated hardware and software device, supported by a closely integrated networked service.)

Sorry, Henry. Your line of reasoning is too unidimensional, and SO 1990s. Creating a success based on a product platform is about content distribution and service delivery. Retaining the 'appropriate' amount of control and close integration is the challenge for both.



Blogging (... or not ...)

Given that I've not posted anything here for months, I sat back to consider blogging, and how I've been using 'the media" -- blogs, micro-blogs, feeds, streams, rivers, ... yeah... you get the idea.

For the most part, I've considered my contributions to be just a bit more than a pointer. It's why I've found myself using Twitter or Facebook more. I'm usually pointing to something others have produced and identifying a new source of [ information | opinion | entertainment | irritation ], or trying to amuse someone who might be following along. As a result, I haven't blogged.

Why? My micro-posts on Twitter or Facebook feel either obvious or of limited (short-lived) value. A blog post seems a more permanent, searchable, retained record with which I'm forever associated. As a result, I write much more cautiously. Why the caution? Here are my admittedly [ neurotic | cowardly ] reasons:

  • I hate showing off my ignorance. I'm an expert, right? If I open my mouth (or put fingers to keyboard), it should be authoritative. 
  • I might anger someone who is (or will turn out to be) important to me. What if I gore someone's sacred ox, only to find out I've just diss'd the next customer or partner?
  • I am (for better or worse) capable of appreciating the validity of opposing viewpoints. So, when someone takes issue with my position, I'll often acknowledge the worthiness of the argument... which then appears to be indecision, intellectual sloppiness, or cowardice.

Let's take these in order.

First, I've changed my mind before. The world has changed around me. New information is always coming to light. I can't be and won't always be the 'smartest person in the room.' Stating a position today doesn't mean I have to defend it until the day I die. If I'm uninformed or misinformed, I have to rely on the community to set me right. The lesson: Stop treating blog posts as though they're carved in stone. I'm not required to defend them forever.

Second, if the tussle of ideas devolves into a personal popularity contest we all fail. If I take a legitimate position that is interpreted as an insult or personal slight, that's the listener's serious problem. if I've attacked an idea or position with an ad hominem argument, then shame on me. You deserve to call me on it. The lesson: Don't equivocate. (Thanks, Alexis.)

Third, my reaction to opposing argument is two-fold: There's the ability to retain and operate in the face of uncertainty and with mutually inconsistent positions. And then there's empathy. You might be correct. I happen to have another position (at the moment), complete with my OWN premises, logic and supporting data. And, the best outcome is often to state the case in the extreme in order to let the adversarial and dialectic process work its magic... or at least provide entertainment. (I should have learned that a lot earlier from Bob Metcalfe.)

The overall lesson is one that my friend David Hoffman recently provided: First, be clear about what you care about. Then, be as complete as you can about why you care. For your own benefit and that of others, then be clear about how much you care.

I'll start blogging more.

Comments, better arguments and brickbats are welcome.  


SALabs October Silicon Valley Cloud Club Report [Part 1]

On Monday, October 3, the San Francisco Cloud Computing Club and Silicon Valley Cloud Computing Club hosted a joint session that was notable for any number of reasons. Someone described it as being involved in a Twitter / Clouderati twitterstorm, but face-to-face. Whatever it felt like, it was a great source of good thought and numerous, mutually respected points of view.

James Watters, of Silcon Angle acted as the MC and moderator for the session, and took it upon himself to capture the spirit of the session. He kindly invited me to add in my take on the meetup and we found ourselves with a jointly authored recollection of the conversation.

Here's a snippet. For the full version, take a look at Silicon Angle's site:


Q: What is the impact of internal private clouds on both enterprises and external cloud service providers? (Question submitted by Randy Bias)

James Watters: I got the "scrunch face" from Randy Bias, and James Urquhart when I suggested that private clouds need to adhere to public cloud standards to be really useful. I believe this is important because it keeps both the economics and usability innovations of the public cloud proximal to how users evaluate their internal private clouds, or as /Hoff said once, allows public cloud to be the forcing function for change.

If Private or internal clouds get really exotic, with proprietary in-house created management, deployment and consumption functions they won‚  play as easily with the coming wealth of interesting solutions created on top of public cloud standards.

The other point is simple: this is what really smart companies already have today. If you sit down with the top investment banking firms in the country many of them have highly sophisticated JeOS optimized application deployment, scaling, patching, and management functions for autonomic computing, but its expensive to create this kind of in-house IP.

Amazon sources tell me that over 40% of their revenues are driven by third party applications built directly atop their API. If you build an internal cloud not compliant to public standards you may be left without access to this increasingly important ecosystem of innovation.

Rich Miller: For better or worse, the adoption of cloud-oriented computing by the Enterprise and Small-Medium Business (SMB) will start as a transition from "the way things are done now," to in-house, on-premise clouds. IT organizations will get religion, in part through the widespread adoption of server virtualization, and start operating their in-house IT organizations like utilities: lots of self-service, pay-as-you-go, multi-tenancy. (Remember: cloud is an operating model, not just a technology model.)

But, in order to get there in an orderly fashion, the path will be evolutionary. And, in order to get there, some of the internal clouds will be mixed-bags of infrastructure-cloud offerings (especially in-house data clouds), platform-cloud offerings and application-cloud offerings.

To your point, James, one way in which coordination and compatibility with public cloud offerings may come about is if the management systems that the enterprise uses for their in-house operations are built to recognized 'standards‚' - those offered by the most powerful service providers (e.g. Amazon AWS) or technology providers (e.g. VMware). Over a reasonable period of time, the management of an in-house, on-premise cloud will morph easily into managing hybrids (both on- and off-prem). ...