Return of the Prodigal Blogger

I realize that I haven't been adding posts to the blog for quite a while. It's not that I haven't been working and certainly not that I haven't been writing.

Running a startup is time consuming, but I can now say that we're at the "next phase" of the company, in which everyone is not required to take responsibility for every function. With the enlargement of our engineering group and the establishment of a crack product management team, I actually find myself with time to think about strategy and actions with a time horizon greater than two weeks.

Among my other resolutions, I'll start to post more.


AWS EC2 gets more real(world)

The Amazon Web Services blog has announced some additions to Amazon EC2 that make it all that more viable for real world, production operations.

We just added three important new features to Amazon EC2: Elastic IP Addresses, Availability Zones, and User Selectable Kernels. The documentation, the WSDL, the AMI tools, and the command line tools have been revised to match and there's a release note as well.


The Elastic IP Addresses feature gives you more control of the IP addresses associated with your EC2 instances.


Availability Zones give you additional control of where your EC2 instances are run. We use a two level model which consists of geographic regions broken down into logical zones. Each zone is designed in such a way that it is insulated from failures which might affect other zones within the region.


Finally, the User Selectable Kernels feature allows users to run a kernel other than the default EC2 kernel. Anyone can run a non-default kernel, but the ability to create new kernels is currently restricted to Amazon and select vendors.

EC2 becomes more viable as a commercial grade, virtual data center utility with each new feature. I'll be interested to see what this does to the service's adoption by both corporate IT and SaaS players with SLAs to maintain.


HP's Data Center Transformation ... don't forget the network.

Reading through some of the articles commenting about HP's announcement of the their Data Center Transformation initiative, I came across this rather odd bit from Arthur Cole at IT Business Edge. He mentions that he's had the opportunity to speak with John Bennett, WW Director of Data Center Transformation Solutions at HP. After setting the stage for the conversation, he makes the point that, too often, data center refurbishments are done to meet short-term goals, and distinguishes HP's approach as being a good deal more strategic.

“Rather than think of it as one massive project, we’ll develop a strategic view first, and then use individual projects over time to build out the next-generation data center,” Bennett said. “You’ll achieve your tactical objectives on particular projects, but you’ll also lay out the foundation for years of compounded returns.”

Sounds right, and then Cole points out what, to him, seems problematic.

... About the only flaw in the plan that I can see is a lack of network support. With server, storage and virtualization as part of the mix, I was a bit surprised when Bennett said he hasn’t had many dealings with HP’s networking unit. It seems unlikely that a series of ProCurve switches couldn’t be brought in should the need arise, although that need could be substantial given the level of virtualization and consolidation that uses are likely to require. It might make sense to make networking a more integral part of the strategy.

(.... pregnant pause..... raised eyebrow.)


VMware: All (ok, some) your access network are belong to us.

Colin McNamara and Scott Lowe, two bloggers from Eplus Technology, have been doing an excellent job of pointing out the network gap created by VMware. McNamara, in a recent post, sets out the problem very well:

... Your access layer is no longer a top of rack Cisco switch, or end of row aggregation chassis. It is now a virtual bridge that exists logically within your VMware ESX server.

This causes an interesting question to come up in many customers - Who is responsible for the configuration and maintenance of this Vswitch?


We no longer have this well defined edge at the access layer. The access layer now exists virtually inside a server. More specifically, it is a logical devices running in a Linux server. This presents a challenge because it requires cross over knowledge. Whoever is responsible for this integration has to be fluent in Linux systems administration , and also fluent in network design and operations. Frankly this is a rare skill set to come across, as it requires and engineer who has attained high proficiency in both systems and network engineering.

I see this fuzzy line of demarcation often as a failing point for many VMware integrations. Many times I see network operations teams not involved in ESX cluster design because its a “server” , and systems operations teams generally don’t have the networking skills necessary to design and implement an fully functional system.. The solution to this problem is education and collaboration. ...

I'm not convinced that the solution to the problem lies only in "education and collaboration". It's the central, defining issue around which Replicate's products are being created.


HP and IaaS

Somewhere behind the shock of JPMorgan Chase buying Bear Stearns for $2 a share, there's the HP launch of a well considered Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) offering.... a virtual data center for enterprise class computing. Larry Dignan and Dan Kusnetzky do a nice job of summarizing the announcements.

As for the competition, what caught my attention is Dignan's reference to the Forrester Research list of players. With the exception of Amazon's AWS (which has some heft but appeals to a long-tail part of the market), that list of Cloud Providers looks terribly thin... not exactly what I'd call competition for enterprise computing offers. Sorry... this is a not yet a competitive market ... not by a long shot. HP's stolen a march on everyone, with the possible exception of those parts of the ecosystem we rarely hear about ... the big services outfits like T-Systems and their Dynamic Services for SAP Applications. That's the competition.

I'm looking forward to digging into the details of HP Insight Dynamics - VSE and Operations Orchestration, the software enhancements HP is really going to deliver. The (rhetorical ?) question continues to be asked as to whether "... business will bite on data center in the cloud?" (to use ZDNet's turn of phrase). My simpleminded analysis says that, given its current reliance on in-house data centers, enterprise IT can't and won't rely on virtual data centers / outsourced data centers until they have a technical and operational means of integrating both forms in a (dare I say it?) form of infrastructure collaboration.

The idea is that, when reallocating load for a SAP application or scaling out to meet the requirements of the end-of-month analyses, the systems which manage the application should be blind as to whether the resources are in the cloud or in the enterprise data center. This ability to span or bridge the in-house and outsourced data center operation is almost impossible today unless the data center infrastructure is purpose-built for just that kind of operation. The solution relies on interoperability of the outsourced service and in-house data center: they must both operate as utilities and have the same or compatible infrastructures.

Perhaps, if HP's offer gets adopted by enterprise for the in-house, next generation data center, they will create a demand for their IaaS . That strikes me as a limited market. Rather than a single infrastructure technology on both service side and in-house side, the necessity is one of "compatible" or communicating infrastructures. In order for collaborative data center infrastructures to come about, a piece of network virtualization infrastructure needs to come into existence.