Enterprise Grade Cloud Enabled by the Ecosystem

While investing in building new data centers all over the world and creating the management overlay in order to be able to sell their hardware, IaaS operators are also relying on their ecosystem to support the evolving enterprises that go to the cloud (e.g. the “Enterprise Grade Cloud”).

API First – The move to the cloud pushes the data center to re-invent itself within the new environment. It is a fact that, although the cloud is a pure revolution (at least in MHO), terms such as SLA, TCO and ROI are still valid in this new IT era. Thanks to industry leaders such as Salesforce.com that realize the notion of “API first”, vendors such Amazon cloud present new capabilities first through their APIs. In this way, the cloud operator platform enables development of its ecosystem.

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My View on CloudConnect 2012

Last week I attended one of the most popular cloud technology conferences in the world – CloudConnect. The CloudConnect conference started about four years ago. Attending the event gave me a clear understanding of the market maturity and evolution rhythm. Check out the following sections for the main points on what I heard and learned:

>  >  >  >  >  Cloud Performance 

The underlying infrastructure performance, round trip time, bandwidth, caching and rendering are to be counted as the major features of an online service performance. In an interesting presentation by @joeweinman (known by his famous “Cloudonomics” theory), it was claimed that latency holds the greatest weight among these faetures. I encourage you to check out his new research – As Time Goes By: The Law of Cloud Response Time presents some good formulas, methods and considerations with regards to online services’ performance and latency (including simple facts, for example, that people tend to prefer selecting from fewer options on an online page –  so you can have less content on a page and achieve a better browsing performance).

“Multi-tenancy leads to noisy neighbor syndrome” noted @jungledave, Founder and CEO at SolidFire. It is known that the lack of SSD storage components in cloud offerings (mostly due to its high cost) results in uncertainty in cloud storage performance expectations. I invite you to listen to @neovise’s recent podcast with Dave, which discusses solid state disks (SSD) and cloud computing. FYI, Amazon AWS already caught on to the need for fast and robust storage capabilities and deployed DynamoDB on SSDs, which have the benefit of offering predictable performance and greatly reducing latency across the board.

The best presentations are like movies; they should be based on real cases (keep that message in mind, I talk about it more later). One such case is Netflix. Netflix CTO, @adrianco presented methods and principles of scaling data in the cloud including Big Data management, availability, performance security, and more. I suggest checking out his presentation (a cool prezi one), to get the list of vendors and AWS components Netflix uses to optimize its data delivery over the cloud.

It was funny that only the last session’s presentation made by @lmacvittie pointed out the “obvious” first – start from understanding what cause the performance issues and only then try to solve them. I say “obvious” because it is a fact that the appealing ease of provisioning cloud apps and resources leads to the “unknown cloud” symptom (due to the uncontrolled sprawl) that contributes to the uncertainty performance. The “unknown cloud” as an issue found great support in the next day’s morning keynote presentation by @gevaperry, who noted that “a lot has already said about CIOs who don’t know about their own cloud use”. Geva presented a survey that clearly shows that the cloud computing adoption decision in an enterprise is made by the development or business units and not by the IT team – Are you surprised? Read more.

From my deep familiarity with the market, I can confidently add that despite cloud consumers’ recognition of the need to “cut through the fog” of the cloud, proven ways to actually do so are not really available in today’s young market. 

>  >  >  >  >  DevOps doesn’t exist 

I attended the panel “In Search of Mad Cloud Skills” led by the cloud-famous @DavidLinthicum and composed of four IT leaders. David presented some great but simple questions that the participants seemed to struggle to answer. One trivial question – “What do you need to find in the candidate for a DevOp?”  brought discussion around to the obvious need to have someone with development skills who also understands the business needs. The title of the session was aligned with the actual comments of the panel members, saying it is difficult (“Mad”) to find the right skills for their DevOp team.

For me, this session brought an end to the debate of NoOps vs. DevOps. The “DevOps team” is in fact  a development team that plays with virtual blocks in the cloud kindergarten. Integrating the product with the cloud is actually a task for R&D under the auspices of the CTO. That leads to the understanding that the enterprise CIO is actually the new enterprise CTO; if we talk about an ISV, then the CIO holds another position as a senior R&D team leader. NoOps rules and the CIO should look for architects and developers. Learning the building blocks of the cloud and the APIs is one task for the R&D (I remind you: “Research and Development”) team same as learning the overall software offering and the supported business workflows.

>  >  >  >  >  The Openness of Cloud 

Wednesday’s keynote included a panel with Redhat, Citrix and Rackspace, which was moderated by @acroll (a great moderator and presenter) discussing the “Open” perception in the cloud.

The great discussion about the Openness of the cloud actually led to some online #ccevent tweets including the phrase “Open washing”, strengthening the fact that some of the traditional mega vendors are actually “cloud washers” that present the “enterprise cloud” which is in fact an hosted environment supported by a traditional professional service. (You can check out my opinion of HP cloud offerings on a past post.)

“An enlightening panel at #ccevent was the “open cloud” conversation but not for the right reasons. ‘Open washing’ season has started.” tweeted @swardley 

These vendors not only struggle with the fact that Amazon is taking big chunks of their main market but also with the fact that it is hard for them to prove the profitability of real cloud delivery offering based on a real pay-per-use model.

“Citrix: we hate VMware. Red Hat: we hate Microsoft. Rackspace: we hate Amazon”, tweeted @acroll once he got off the stage

Cloud put the need for “Open” on the table. It makes the IT (including the traditional enterprise one) consumers to look for open systems including open source ones. The cloud force IT vendors to prove their low level of lock-in and robust API to enable their customers update and custom the application at a low cost with no touch – check MS Azure marketing messages in regards to their efforts to support open source frameworks (though I am not sure that they really “open”).

Open” is definitely one of the important criteria to decide to go with a solution vendor. The “open” cloud vendor shares its code with the community in order to help others come with better solutions including its own customers. The “open ISV” doesn’t afraid to “lose” its code propriety to competitors and find that being “open” actually increase awareness and positive view of its brand as well as the maturity of its offering.

>  >  >  >  >  “Amazon is Snow White” said @adrianco 

At first I was not sure why Amazon didn’t exhibit at the famous CloudConnect conference but after asking several important people this question, the simple conclusion is that as the strongest market leader Amazon can afford to leave the marketing efforts to the crowd. As the beautiful princess in town you attend only to your own parties and you definitely don’t want to position yourself among the dwarfs.

CloudConnect was really about the major IT market disruption Amazon has been leading for the past few years. In almost every session, the discussion about cloud was actually a discussion about Amazon AWS offering and its design partner – Netflix. Every other offering such as OpenStack, Rackspace cloud and IBM cloud offerings are always being compared with the AWS cloud. The final thought of suggesting they change the name CloudConnect to AWSConnect never entirely left my head (although this might make some of the@Clouderati guys really uncomfortable).

Q: What did the CloudConnect miss?  A: Real Case Studies 

I noted above that great movies are based on real stories, same here. I wasn’t in all the sessions but being a dedicated follower of #ccevent and listening carefully to some of the leading thinkers in the industry, I think that most of the sessions were still on more theoretic levels rather than practical ones. You are welcome to check these conference presentations. 

It is not surprising that the best sessions were those presented by organizations that already found their way to the cloud, whether fully public (Netflix), or mostly private (Zynga zCloud). I suggest you to find Zynga’s CTO Infrastructure lecture in the conference recorded videos list.

Personally, I think it would have been great if they had a greater number of sessions and stories based on actual cloud architectures, shifting legacy applications to the cloud, and actual stories of ROI optimization. The market is still totally immature and on shaky ground. Vendors don’t really know how to present their offerings and even the simple phrase “cloud cost” have several interpretations. ISVs and enterprises are misled by the mega vendors – this is one of the major factors that slow down cloud adoption pace. If six months ago I would have said 2-3 years to reach market saturation, CloudConnect made be more realistic and think more about 3-5 years.

CloudConnect was a great opportunity for me to meet all the cloud rockstars I had been twittering with over the last year – great cloud evangelists. Someone said that he felt like walking through the twitter home feed. I found the cloud in twitter – great performance, mobile, open and available. It proves cloud serves my actual needs for networking, communications and knowledge.

Yours,

@iamondemand

The Cloud is Alive: Integration, Collaboration and Eco-Systems

On a vacation you often find that the best way to enjoy is to try and disconnect from the regular working day routine. Part of my blogging tasks include searching for knowledge resources and publishing news and articles to my followers. I maintain communication with my readers using social communication means such as Twitter and LinkedIn. Setting that in semi-automated state with twaitter (so I can spend my time with my lovely wife and not with my iPad …) brought me to imagine a living, breathing independent cloud creature that “feeds” itself with information.

Think out of the box and try to imagine the possibility that these lines were written by a smart algorithm utilizing the clouds and their enormous amount of information and logic. Imagine that humans don’t have keyboards but only screens to view what the “intelligent cloud creature” generates using smart BI algorithms running on a complex extremely wide integration. As we speak this integration is sprawling; basic logic routines and cross systems flows developed by humans as well as by machines.

The question “what I would like to eat for lunch ?” can be based on enormous amount of considerations such as who you are, who is connected to you, what you have already eaten today and how it fits with your diet, as well as what your best friend would like to eat because he can join you today while visiting nearby. All of these answers and more are already out there. The enormous growth in the number and the size of apps’ eco-systems, Big Data and the robust physical computing capabilities of the cloud leads to a form of intensive information calculation that can generate accurate intelligent results in an adaptive manner.

Traditional IT systems and logic were confined within their on-premise domain of variables. Collaboration wasn’t really an option and integration was (and still is) always a painful point with respect to huge investments and high risks. API deveopment task was one of the last things on the ISV priorities list. Today things can be different thanks to these clouds. The cloud accelerates the extension of eco-systems and can makes this fantasy a reality. I believe that we are heading straight into a second, even more exciting information technology revolution.

“Ask Siri to do things just by talking the way you talk. Siri understands what you say, knows what you mean, and even talks back. Siri is so easy to use and does so much, you’ll keep finding more and more ways to use it.”

The first time I checked this IPA (Intelligent Personal Assistant) agent was about less than two years ago. I was fascinated by the fact that besides the voice recognition and ease of use, Siri aims to generate its own intelligence using its great eco-system environment to generate suggestions and solve problems in a proactive and self-improvement manner. Eventually, I wasn’t surprised to hear that the most innovative company in the world integrated the solution inside its leading product operating system (I am just waiting for them to stop playing around and release it as part of the iOS, not only for the 4S version).

Another noteworthy example is Boomi. The company that was bought by Dell a year ago is a growing business for out-of-the-box “connectors” (the term they use for their integration widgets) platform. 

“Remember Data Integration is the key to the cloudy future. By having Boomi in its pocket, Dell is well positioned to handle these needs” wrote the cloud evangelist Krishnan Subramanian, in his article Quick Thoughts: Dell Acquires Boomi

I had a great discussion with Rick Nucci, Founder and CTO of Boomi regarding the company’s positioning and its strategy to become the heart of the enterprise business flow. The company’s offering enables the IT Organization to generate a full solution assembled from several systems. The company develops a platform that enables rapid provisioning of “connectors” that enable systems. 

“AtomSphere connects providers and customers of SaaS, cloud and on-premise applications via a pure SaaS integration platform that does not require software or appliances. .. Leading SaaS players and enterprise customers such as salesforce.com, NetSuite, RightNow, Marketo, Taleo, Zuora, Coupa, NASDAQ” Read more on Boomi’s site

Utilizing the cloud the company is able to host and maintain all of its customers’ connectors in its own cloud environment. The company takes responsibility for the connectors’ compatibly and provision them as a SaaS with a SLA. The traditional integration maintenance hassle becomes a small issue. SaaS start-ups are focusing on solving a specific problem and by so doing will not be able to solve a complete business flow. I believe that vendors such as Boomi can be positioned on top of the cloud food chain (I love that term – I encourage you to use it and comment what do you think about it), even before some of the above SaaS providers.

Traditional ISV must take action in regards to its eco-systems, both those it owns and those it participates in. Traditional ISVs have vast experience and owns data and logic that can be utilized by the new and agile SaaS developer. The ISV can leverage this experience in the cloud and take strategic steps to increase its public interface services to extend its eco-system and generate additional revenue stream. 

> > > > > Back to Reality

Without the crowd input, the user collaboration and the contribution of the fast running web developer the cloud content, systems integration and eco-system can not evolve and grow. The next IT revolution combined from the connected world and big data is just outside knocking on our door and it lies on top of a rapid pace of cloud innovations and evolution.

> > > Don’t forget to comment – What are the layers of the “cloud food chain” ? < < <

The Cloud Lock-In (Part 3): SaaS is Really Nice

This is the third and last post in regarding the cloud lock-in. In the first and the second parts I covered the vendor lock-in of IaaS and PaaS. The appealing registration and the low cost overwhelm the new SaaS consumers that often makes them forget that eventually the service will become something they just can’t live without. What will happen if one day your SaaS vendor goes out of business ? In this post I will try to cover the threats and the actions the enterprise should take in order to lower the level of the SaaS lock-in risk.

>  >  >  How does the lock-in of a SaaS application differ from a traditional on-premise application?  

SaaS use is actually the consumption of servers, operating systems, middle ware, network connections and more. Switching a SaaS vendor is much simpler as these are not located in your site – shifting to another vendor mainly includes migration of the data without the hassle of ripping and replacing the full app stack. This cheerful answer also provides a less costly and less complex switch than the painful effort and the risky investment of moving an on-site software.

Let’s consider a simple case where an enterprise uses a single application stored in a simple cluster, without any massive investment in middleware or integration. In such a case, switching from one SaaS solution to another is not so different from switching from one on-site application to another. The main issue regarding the SaaS vendor is to make sure that the data can be transferred to the hands of the enterprise at any time. Today the most common methods are to enable the export of reports in a CSV format and to download the full database. Even in this simple case the actual migration in the SaaS case will be easier because the company doesn’t need additional sets of hardware infrastructure for the migration to take place. Furthermore SaaS vendors develop import tools so that a new customer will can easily migrate the data, whether it is in a raw spreadsheet or even in the format of other SaaS vendors.

>  >  >  The SaaS lock-in story gets complicated when integration and customization are needed.

The advantage of the ready-made, easy-to-use online application can sometimes be a disadvantage. The SaaS application might not be flexible enough to support the business needs and the enterprise might need to customize it or integrate it with other services. This integration leads to an increase of the lock-in level as the enterprise develops dependency on professionals such as the SaaS vendor team or a cloud integrator that will stitch the different solutions together to support the business complete work-flow. In this case the enterprise might find itself locked not only on each individual SaaS app, but also on the integrator’s skills and services.

The integration needs might be solved by SaaS vendors that are surrounded by a large ecosystem of plug-ins and out-of-the-box integrations with other online services. In his recent short post Geva Perry talks about the impotency of the eco-system by demonstrating the huge advantage of a cloud vendor that has a great “pre-integrated eco-system”:

“I was recently asked to recommend a CRM system to one of the startups I am on the advisory board of. As much as I dislike the complexity and poor performance of Salesforce.com, I had no choice but to tell them it’s the only way for them to go — for the simple reason that it’s the only CRM SaaS offering that is guaranteed to be pre-integrated not only with every app they need today, but also with ones they will need in the future, which may not even exist yet.”

IT management and control must be implemented and balance must be kept to avoid the uncontrolled sprawl of online services without a rational and orderly structure. The loss of control can lead not only to an extreme lock-in but also to problems with compliance and security. Considering this risk, the enterprise might find that the use of PaaS make sense and can fulfill some of its custom needs. 

Learn more about PaaS Market and Vendor Lock-in

>  >  >  My Conclusion: In the cloud the customer decides.

Lock-in is one of the basic hesitations of  the enterprise when considering new technologies. Today, I can move my Power Point presentation to Google Docs or Slide Rocket. The developer can choose to store the DB on a local virtual machine or on an IaaS platform and later on migrate it into a DaaS platform. Experienced customers are burned out by the traditional IT vendors on the matter of lock-in and today they demand that the industry change and prove a low level of vendor lock-in.

Check out the following interview (brought to you by Bloomberg) with Mark Benioff, the CEO of Salesforce, the most veteran SaaS vendor in the world. Benioff talks about the Oracle false cloud and the traditional IT business in contrary to the new cloud world. In his words, I think that he brings the essence of what’s cloud is all about:

Cloud vendors invest a lot on making an intuitive UI/UX, to make sure that the learning curve of the new user will be short. They also develop and support migration tools and services to make it easier for the new customers to leave their competitors and quickly adopt their offering. Additional new online services are developed fast and the eco-system should not be compared to a traditional integration. It provides a real strategic business benefit for the customer as well as for the vendor and it is part and parcel of the cloud environment. Beyond all the considerations and thoughts I have in regards to cloud vendor lock-in, without any doubt the cloud supports a much more competitive and flexible IT world.