Dell Looks to “Scale” While IBM Gets a “Fix”

Dell has quietly acquired Scalent Systems for an undisclosed sum.  Scalent was an early entrant into the world of management of the next generation data center.  In fact, Scalent had a bit of a rivalry with Cassatt (acquired by CA) as they competed for early adopters within the industry. 

Scalent’s flagship product, Infrastructure Manager, creates a dynamic infrastructure within your data center.  It provides end-to-end provisioning (server, network, and storage), rapid provisioning of images, server identity management, high availability, and easier deployment of virtualization.  Additionally, Scalent boasts a well designed user interface and has the capacity to power a cloud computing deployment.  However, like Cassatt, Scalent was ahead of their time and one must ask if that time has passed?  

Today, VMware has continued to work on their hypervisor while realizing the future lies within creating a manageable and effective next generation data center operating system.  VMware’s vSphere allows for application and infrastructure services that allow you to virtualize servers, storage, and networking, control service levels and on-demand applications while enforcing business priorities.  Doesn’t this sound a bit like Scalent’s IM solution?

In the end, Dell had a “try before you buy” strategy with Scalent as they have OEM’d the product since 2009.  Dell is expected to roll Scalent into their Advanced Infrastructure Manager (AIM) solution.  Dell has long understood the need for an open management platform and Scalent is a good purchase for them.  However, Dell will need to continue to improve their capabilities against their traditional rivals in HP and IBM.

Meanwhile, IBM has acquired BigFix for an undisclosed sum.  BigFix is a systems management vendor that specializes in systems and security tools.  Built from the ground up with security in mind, BigFix offers System Lifecycle Management, Security Configuration and Vulnerability Management, EndPoint Protection, and a Unified Management Platform.  Wait, Wait, Wait…Doesn’t IBM already have Tivoli?

While Tivoli has a formidable overall product line, they don’t have a great reputation for desktop management.  Perhaps suffering from “the innovator’s dilemma”, IBM lagged behind offerings from Altiris (acquired by Symantec), Lumension (formally PatchLink), and LanDesk (spinning off from Emerson Electric).  With the acquisition of BigFix, IBM acquires a company with a stellar reputation and solid customer base.  I’d suspect that IBM’s Tivoli sales teams and their customers/prospects are chomping at the bit to get their hands on BigFix.

Although IBM’s press release says, “IBM to Acquire BigFix to Advance Smarter Data Centers”, this is really not a data center play, yet.  Although BigFix has the capacity to manage servers, their real strength is within desktop management and the emerging mobile management space.  It’s a great pick-up by IBM and BigFix will fit nicely into the Tivoli product portfolio.  Given IBM’s resources, don’t be surprised if BigFix accelerates their capabilities within server management, virtualization management, and VDI.

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For the Datacenter, Forget E=MC^2, Sav= (MC^4+AV) Sec

Why do we need Cisco UCS, HP Adaptive Infrastructure, IBM Stratus, Liquid Computing, and more? 

Savings
equals…

Management
Management is a critical component of any datacenter.  A datacenter may be defined as a symphony of hardware and software spanning multiple disciplines that is expected to be “always-on” and never to fail.  If you couple this with advances in virtualization, the “green movement”, and the need to understand a complete Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) of datacenter operations, then management is the only answer.  Management is not intended to replace the human element, rather to augment it through automation that allows human beings to tame an ever complex environment.

Examples of this renewed interest in management are plentiful; HP buys Opsware and Mercury Interactive, BMC buys BladeLogic, Cisco partners with BMC, Cisco UCS Manager, EMC buys Configuresoft, Voyence, SMARTS, and Infra, and more.

Current
Current, also known as power, usage within the datacenter continues to increase at a staggering rate.  In fact, the price for said current may actually outpace both the IT equipment and the facility itself.  It’s not simply servers, but routers, switches, wan acceleration devices, security devices, sans, nas, lights, laptops, monitors, and more that cause the bills to continually increase.  Couple this with the additional demands of cooling and redundancy and you have a real crisis on your hands.

An example of changes in the industry may be seen in ActivePower’s efforts in the areas of power and environmentally friendly “green” solutions.  Additionally, we might have been given a glimpse to one answer to this problem, as Google has made a $10 million investment in eSolar; inventors of Utility-Scale Solar Power.

Cabling
Cabling is an essential ingredient to any datacenter design and one that has the potential to provide significant cost savings in the next generation datacenter.  It started with the blade server revolution including embedded switches, and may very well end with Cisco’s UCS, HP’s Adaptive Infrastructure, or IBM’s Stratus datacenter initiatives. 

Illustrating this point, Cisco has published a case study with Saint Joseph Health System (SJHS) in which the hospital claimed an 85% savings in cabling costs by using the Cisco Nexus equipment.

Cooling
Current generates heat, heat requires cooling, cooling requires current, and around-and-around we go.  In the old days, you simply purchased the appropriate amount of cooling to keep your datacenter at a cool and constant temperature.  Today, upwards of 40% of your datacenter energy bill is from cooling.  Additionally, we have “green” concerns and use PUE (Power Usage Effectiveness) and DCE (Data Center Efficiencies) metrics to calculate how well we are doing and compare datacenters against others.  Incidentally, chillers, humidifiers, and CRAC’s (Computer Room Air Conditioning) contribute handsomely to these calculations.

A concept called adaptive cooling is a promising technology to solve the cooling challenge.  The premise is today’s equipment manufactures build systems that are more reliable and are designed to “handle the heat.”  Sensors are used to form baselines and models that are used to optimize modern cooling techniques.  Yahoo improved cooling and energy savings of 31% by partnering with SynapSense.

Capacity
Once thought to be endless, datacenters are rapidly running out of capacity.  By capacity, I am referring to everything from floor space to power and cooling to facilities themselves.  This has lead to the innovation of a “datacenter in a box” which is offered by the likes of Sun, Rackable, HP, IBM, and more.  These containers allow datacenters to expand rapidly while offering innovative power and cooling options.  However, space alone won’t solve the capacity issue.  Therefore, the efforts by Cisco, IBM, HP, and others to create a new datacenter fabric that combines massively dense servers, storage, networking, security, and virtualization are so important.

Look no further than Facebook who has started construction on a custom datacenter with over 140,000 square foot capacity at a cost of $188 million.  Note that they are touting the efficiency of this new datacenter including the potential of power and cooling cost savings.

Agility
As Ronald Reagan famously said, “Mr. Gorbachev, tear down this wall!” so too can we proclaim the tearing down of the walls between the silos within the datacenter.  We no longer can allow storage, networking, servers, security, applications, facilities, and more to operate independently of each other.  By operating as a unified team, the datacenter becomes more agile, proactive, efficient, and better equipped to handle all challenges. 

Examples of this movement is detected within software vendors (BMC, HP) unifying the management of these disciplines and hardware (Cisco, Juniper, Brocade) vendors integrating the functions into a single chassis.

Virtualization
No equation of savings within the datacenter would be complete without discussing virtualization.  While the ideas of virtualization have been around for years, it’s the application of this technology that has changed the industry forever.  Advances in network, server, application, and storage virtualization impact cost savings across the equation.

Examples include VMware vSphere, Citrix XenServer, Sun xVM, Cisco UCS (Nexus 1000v), Arcadia (Cisco/EMC JV)

Security
Security has and will continue to be a major concern within the datacenter.  The number of attacks and sophistication of these attacks continues to rise.  With the advent of Cloud Computing or shared services running on a common platform, the potential risks of a security breach are enormous.  Additionally, security must span all the disciplines within the data center while taking into account user access/privileges, data (in-motion and at-rest), and more.  Finally, security must continue to evolve while adhering to compliance and regulatory pressures.

Recent activities in this area include Cisco acquiring Rohati, SAIC purchasing CloudShield, the growth of Tufin and AlgoSec, and next generation firewall providers such as Palo Alto Networks.

3 Ways for Dell to Rise Again

I’m not a big fan “top reasons to do x, or fix y” but I decided to go against my better judgment and publish three ways Dell can shake-up the industry.

One: BE DELL


Dell is a successful company that revolutionized IT by providing equal to superior products at a lower price while providing excellent customer support and service. Dell seized the opportunity to partner with companies like EMC to expand their footprint while continuing pushing costs down. Somewhere along the line, between AMD and Blade Servers, the competition caught-up and began to fight fire with fire. Meanwhile, Dell was left “Dell-less” and flat-footed; no longer nimble enough to change from the cha-cha to the tango.

Dell must make a critical choice; blaze their own path within this datacenter/cloud computing mess or follow HP, Cisco, and others. Currently, Dell has chosen the latter and has aggressively partnered with Juniper, Brocade, and others to attempt to match their rivals (similar to IBM’s strategy minus the power of IBM Global Services). Additionally, Dell continues to evangelize the concept of OPEN IT infrastructure. Ah, the old OPEN vs. Proprietary argument; does it hold water in the enterprise? Finally, Dell purchased Perot Systems as their long awaited entrance into services.

All these moves, while necessary, do not play to Dell’s core strengths. Why not use the vaunted Dell manufacturing capability to commoditize next generation hardware faster than the competition can recoup their costs; Cisco has spent millions on R&D and software development while HP has spent billions on R&D and acquiring complementary technology companies. If Dell could build a UCS-B/Nexus look alike with equal to superior performance at a lower price, then they could dominate the market.

Two: Public Clouds Need Not Apply

While the idea of public clouds is intellectually enticing, the reality is the money lies within private clouds. Does Google build their cloud infrastructure on commercial hardware from Dell, HP, IBM, etc.? By their very nature, public clouds are singular in nature; search, virtualization, CRM, etc. They require fine tuned operating systems and management capabilities that are linked to CPU, memory, power, and disk. In other words, go directly to the component manufacturers and build what you need. If something fails, weigh the cost of replacement vs. leaving it in place.

Private clouds require a delicate balance of performance, reliability, and management. Very few enterprises will entertain the notion of building their own hardware as they want the peace-of-mind and backing of giant corporations such as Dell. To capitalize on private clouds, Dell must blaze of new trail by concentrating on security, performance, reliability, management, and ROI.

How does Dell accomplish this? By calling BS on the current state of private clouds and offering real solutions to current challenges. How? Don’t just take tired old tools form 3rd party ISVs and announce that you have a cloud computing management strategy. Understand that cloud computing requires new paradigms within security, storage, networking, and compute power.

Three: Open Source Hardware

Open Source Hardware is a reactively obscure concept. Per Wikipedia, “Open Source Hardware is designed and offered in the same manner as free and open source software.” While HP Labs has dabbled within Open Source Hardware, Dell has the opportunity to take the lead.

Dell could offer a full line of Open Source Hardware publishing full hardware specifications as well as the software that runs these machines. Dell Laps and Open Source Division could work with customers to build cost effective systems. This is very similar to what they have done within their white label division; see Aster Data.

Wait, didn’t you say most customers won’t build their own hardware? Just because it is open source does not mean everyone will take advantage of this nor does it mean a lack of revenues; see Novell, Red Hat, etc. By publishing detailed specs and code, Dell becomes a revolutionary and IT professionals can finally make informed decisions. They may choose to have Dell build the systems, build them themselves, or purchase from a competitor. However, the thought leadership and vision comes from Dell

One area of low hanging fruit for Open Source Hardware seems to reside within storage. Rather than purchase expensive gear from EMC, IBM, etc. why not build a cost effective storage array? Of course, Dell would be cutting into their EMC partnership, but do they really want to work with a company that is dating Cisco?

In conclusion, I find Dell a fascinating company with explosive potential. Given the right vision and strategy, Dell could catapult ahead of the pack.

Cisco UCS: A Tech Hangover

Nearly 24 hours after Cisco officially released UCS to the world, I awoke to a “tech hangover.” My excitement of the prospect that “California” would redefine the datacenter for the next generation was shattered with the reality that it was simply a blade server wrapped with management capabilities. Furthering my hangover was the reality that Cisco’s datacenter vision is proprietary, exclusive, and filled with hubris.

To combat this tech hangover, Cisco is offering a marketing campaign, analyst coverage, and cutesy videos/data sheets of this groundbreaking solution. Furthermore, I am sure that Cisco University is busy writing books and papers in support of the eventual launch of certifications (CCIE-UCS).

In the end, Cisco will sell UCS-B systems, but to whom? Will server teams accept Cisco? Or, will UCS-B become the networking server (built for and designed with networking needs)? Is UCS simply a launch platform for Cisco’s software?

Cisco’s real challenge is competing against companies of equal or greater size and market power that represent a portion of Cisco’s overall revenue. Additionally, Cisco is betting the farm on VMware; will this bet pay-off?

As you enter the data center this morning, try to calm the nerves of your IBM BladeCenters, HP BladeSystems, AIX servers, HP-UX servers, and of course, the old man of the group, the obsolete mainframe. Oh, try not to disturb the Junipers, Brocades, or ProCurves because ignorance is bliss.

EMC Getting Defensive

EMC confirmed this week that they have no intention of selling or spinning-off VMware. CEO Joe Tucci said, “We have no intentions of separating these two companies.” Could this be a defensive move to fend of an acquisition attempt by Cisco? Or are they simply attempting to drive up the purchase price? Cisco needs more than simply blades to dominate the datacenter and EMC has many of the pieces they seek; storage, security, management, and more. Look for increased posturing on both sides as M&A is sure to heat up on multiple fronts.

Leadership: Navy Style

This posting is dedicated to all the men and women of the United States Military.  Perhaps it was the 4th of July or reading about Major Dick Williams (Commander, Easy Company), but I feel a dept of gratitude to those individuals, past and present, that have served our county.  Throughout my travels and airport adventures, I have had the privilege of meeting individuals from all branches of the United States Armed Forces.  I make it a point to thank them for their service and commitment to the United States.

While watching CARRIER, the PBS show that follows the aircraft carrier USS Nimitz on a six month deployment, I was awestruck by the Navy’s chain of command, disciple, and work-hard-play-hard mentality.  For the USS Nimitz to function properly, each and every individual on that ship must be on-the-same-page, motivated, and committed to excellence. 

As an exercise, I decided to compare the leadership of the USS Nimitz to a typical enterprise.  After-all, my career has been fraught with leadership and sales training that centered on military tactics and terminology. Can today’s businesses learn from the military’s chain of command?  Do we want to?

The Captain is the CEO of the ship.  They are responsible for the overall success or failure of the mission and have the ultimate responsibility for all the men and women aboard their ship.    The Captain must balance the demands from above with the reality of the capabilities of those under their command.  For some reason, I find this role to be somewhat lonely as the Captain knows things they cannot talk about and have few people to share their thoughts and ideas.

While the Captain is important to the ship, they cannot possibly maintain complete control of every aspect of the ship.  Therefore the Captain has Officers that set direction and maintain disciple.  The Captain has an Executive Officer who is their right hand person and may be equated with a Chief Operating Officer or President.  The officers give orders for what has to be done and the Chiefs make it happen.

I’ll stop there as my knowledge of the Navy’s line of command is similar to my knowledge of plumbing (the best tool in my box is my checkbook).   However, I would like to offer one more observation.  The carrier is organized into divisions/groups of individuals that have specific roles aboard the ship.  While a pilot may not socialize with an ordinance technician, they work together in perfect harmony throughout the deployment. 

Similarly IT is usually organized into different departments that have specific roles to complete; networking, security, tools group, storage, servers, etc.   While each department is important, no one department is above the rest, and the company depends on the interworking of these different roles for success.  Does your company operate this way?  Do networking and security get along?  Do you fight with the server group for administrative rights on your servers? 

In the end, Leadership is an important factor in the success or failure of an Enterprise.  While it may be impossible for the commercial world to implement the type of disciple in the Military, we can learn from their command structure, commitment to excellence, teamwork, and pride.  For now, let us take the time to thank those men and women who proudly wear or have worn the uniform and keep us safe.

Time to Change

Will someone please help me understand the current state of today’s IT infrastructure?  Why do we spend so much time and money trying to figure what’s broken, why it is broken, or if it will break?  We monitor, index, store, report, analyze, and worry that our most important infrastructure is minutes from doom. 

 

In fact, entire business models are based on the premise that companies have already bought large framework vendor’s products that have failed to accomplish their goals.  Therefore, instead of being sold another product from HP, IBM, BMC, etc., one simply buys a product from us.  These vendors tout extremely low prices, little to no professional services, and massive numbers of customers spread across the globe. 

 

What is the purpose of buying another tool?  How many monitoring, enterprise management systems, server management, performance and fault management systems, storage management, and virtualization systems does it take to screw in a light bulb?  I recently met an organization that literally had two of everything!  If that wasn’t bad enough, they were still buying more.

 

IT has become so complicated that, in the name of simplification, we are moving back to the green screens of yesteryear.  Oh wait, that wouldn’t sell so let’s call them virtual desktops.  No wait, its software as a service, Web 2.0, Cloud Computing. No. NO. It’s Google, Google will solve everything!

 

Imagine starting with a clean slate of paper.  You have applications, servers, storage, networking devices, security devices, cabling, power, and cooling.   Will you A. buy tools to manage each of these disciplines and tie them together in the future?  Will you B. buy a framework that is really just a collection of acquired tools put under a single moniker?   Will you C. Start over with a new paradigm called manageability via automation.

 

To me, the answer is clear.  Beware of the profiteers and marketers that spew the message but believe in the status quo.  Change is hard to embrace, hard to accept, filled with cynics, but wrought with excitement, innovation, and ingenious ideas.  It’s time to erase the mistakes of yesterday and create a new tomorrow.

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