Cloud Flash: Riverbed Buys Zeus

When it comes to Cloud computing, the “Innovators Dilemma” is dead as either companies transform themselves to tackle new challenges or die a slow death.  Verizon buys Terremark, Time Warner Cable buys NaviSite, Microsoft buys Skype, VMware “buys” Mozy, and more.  With the pace of innovation and change at record speed and accelerating, there is no longer time to debate the pros and cons of innovation.  The Deep Pockets of Legacy Software/Hardware/Service Providers = the Key to the Survival.  Really?  Microsoft is buying their way into the mobile space enticing developers to build applications for Windows 7 Mobile with cold hard cash.  Cisco is financing purchases via Cisco Capital Finance.  Now, Riverbed is buying their way into Cloud computing by purchasing Zeus.  Riverbed manages and optimizes datacenter and endpoint traffic while Zeus does the same for Cloud computing traffic.  Rather than revamp Riverbed’s technology for the Cloud, it’s simply easier to purchase.  In essence, the “Innovators Dilemma” has become the Integration Dilemma.

Given Riverbed’s success with their acquisition of Mazu Networks and CACE Technologies of Wireshark fame, I have no doubt that they have hit another home run the with the acquisition of Zeus.  I expect the Riverbed to successfully integrate Zeus’ technology across their entire product line while disrupting a market segment that they helped create.

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Is Social Networking Really Social?

This last week I attended the GigaOM Structure conference in San Francisco, California.  I was fortunate to be invited to a VIP reception where I had the opportunity to meet and discuss Cloud computing challenges with people who are both technically gifted and passionate about Cloud computing.

However, while attending the Opening Day 1 Keynotes, I realized that “one of these things is not like the other” and I was a dinosaur in the room.  Flanked by iPads, Android Tablets, iPhones, and Laptops, I was sitting in the auditorium with an ordinary pen and notepad.

In fact, I felt like I was one of the few people who were actually listening to the presenters.  Most people had TweetDeck open with 10 or more Twitter feeds or were furiously posting away in Facebook.  Sure some were taking notes within Evernote, OneNote, or Google Documents, but a large number of people were simply preoccupied within their own social networks.

Does anyone listen anymore?  Are we all simply consumers of information rather than content providers?  Do you really have to Tweet every word or idea that is presented to you?

My goal was to learn from the presenters and disseminate information within the context of professional life.  My attention and focus was on understanding what the presenters were trying to convey to the audience while looking for deeper meaning or context.  Rather than feverishly try to capture every word the presenters were saying, a simple abstract recorded within my notepad was all I needed to find meaning while enjoying their presentations.

In fact, half of the fun was watching the interactions between the presenters and the audience.  The subtle jabs at the competitors or industry leaders with a simple grin or non-verbal action.  Did my fellow Tweeters notice these subtleties as well?

In the end, I worry that social networking is not social at all and is taking away the very essence of what makes us human.  Tweeting, SMS messaging, Facebooking, etc. has its place, but nothing replaces a real conversation, handshake, hug, or smile.

VMware Acquires Shavlik: Where Has The Innovation Gone?

VMware has agreed to acquire Shavlik Technologies; the terms of transaction were not disclosed.  Shavlik was founded in 1993, is headquartered in Minnesota, and offers a full suite of products to manage physical or virtual servers and laptops/desktops.  Shavlik is no stranger to VMware as the companies jointly developed VMware GO, a SaaS based IT management offering.

While Shavlik is an excellent acquisition for VMware as their technology is solid and they are sure to grow faster under VMware’s umbrella, the question is why?  VMware paints this acquisition as a way to increase their penetration within small and medium business (SMB).  Mark Shavlik, President and CEO, writes via his blog, “We will also be entering global markets much faster by working with Managed Service Providers (MSPs) and Solution Providers. This enables more companies around the world to utilize our SaaS and On-Premise solutions.”  If Shavlik’s solution can scale to meet the needs of MSPs and Solution Providers, then is it really simply a SMB solution?

Perhaps it’s just me, but this whole thing seems a bit scripted for my taste.  From the press release to the blog post to the media coverage, it feels a bit like listening to politicians running through their talking points.   In an effort to shield themselves from the wrath of traditional IT management companies such as Symantec, HP, LANDesk, and IBM, Is VMware intentionally downplaying Shavlik’s capabilities?  After all, VMware has acquired a company that has full management capabilities including antivirus, patch management, configuration management, asset management, and power management.

At a time when VMware’s Enterprise dominance is being challenged by both Microsoft and Red Hat, Shavlik looks to be a defensive acquisition to protect the lower end of the market.  However, how many people have heard about VMware Go prior to this acquisition?  Will VMware roll Shavlik’s products into Ionix rationalizing the overlap with Configuresoft?   Does this help VMware with Hybrid Clouds?  Public Clouds?  Workloads?

More importantly, has VMware become so large that they have lost the ability to innovate and disrupt a market that they created?  This is not VMware’s first acquisition from their 3rd party partner ecosystem, and I suspect it is not their last.  VMworld 2011 is certainly going to be interesting!

Amazon/ Cloud Customers: “Trust, but verify”

While Amazon continues to recover from their Cloud outage, it seems that some in the industry are throwing some FUD (fear, uncertainty, doubt) their way.  After all, Amazon has been on an amazing run within the Cloud business as they continue to build-out new datacenter regions while continuing to reduce prices to their customers.

Based on the many articles written on Amazon I have the following observations.

  • Confusion rains supreme within the world of Cloud computing
  • It’s time to stop pontificating and start solving problems
  • Cloud computing isn’t simple
  • Putting Cloud in front of every product’s name isn’t helpful
  • Availability zones are misunderstood
  • Cloud does not detract from personal responsibility
  • We need more information / facts
  • Those who think this outage proves Cloud computing isn’t ready for prime time are missing the boat

While Amazon has the ultimate responsibility for this outage, why didn’t their customers have a contingency play for this scenario?  Did everyone simply think Amazon could never go down?  Haven’t we learnt anything from past outages of Google, Microsoft, and others?

Earlier this year I wrote a blog post entitled “When the Cloud Goes Down” detailing an experience I had with a provider.  The black box mentality of the Cloud needs to be replaced with an openness and transparency that does not exist today.  A dashboard showing status and health of the Cloud is simply not enough.  We need the ability to monitor and manage our slice of the Cloud independently of the Cloud provider.

Ultimately, we may have seen the perfect argument for the Hybrid cloud; defined as the ability to provide some resources on a private cloud while accessing additional resources on a public cloud.  In a Hybrid cloud model, customers would have the ability to swing services from the public cloud to their private cloud or to other public cloud providers to avoid outages.  Where is the Amazon VM Export capability?

In the end, I’ll borrow a famous phrase from President Ronald Reagan, “Trust, but verify.”  Your business may depend on it!

Competitors Beware: Cisco’s Dawn is Hot and Bright

Perhaps it’s just me, but it seems that it is in vogue to root against large and powerful companies like Cisco, Microsoft, Google, Oracle, and more.  Looking back through the years, I haven’t always been complimentary of these companies but I’ve tried to remain objective yet present my opinion on their visions, strategies, and execution.

With the release of John Chamber’s memo to Cisco’s employees, Cisco is clearly under the microscope.  People are actually calling Cisco “Too Big To Succeed” and pointing towards an impending investor upheaval.  Could you imagine these statements made toward GE, Boeing, IBM, Facebook, or Google?

As Jack Welch famously said, “Willingness to change is a strength, even it means plunging part of the company into total confusion for a while.”

Given that the entire world of IT is within a major inflection point, Chamber’s email must be seen as strength not weakness.  To respond to this rapid change, Cisco needed to reprioritize and refocus the company ala Google’s reorganization.  Furthermore, I’d like to see Chambers firmly take the reigns at Cisco to forcibly guide them through this next phase of technology.

Always remember that Cisco isn’t a “one-hit-wonder” as they have diversified products and services that address consumers, service providers, and enterprise customers.  The reality is Cisco plays a vital role within the IT industry and they are re-inventing the company to solve new and complex challenges manifested by this new IT inflection point.  Great ideas and execution are not limited to young companies and these companies have much to learn from Cisco.

Finally, rather than focus on Cisco’s reorganization and stagnant stock price, let’s look towards their new products within storage (MDS), switching (Nexus), compute (UCS), and datacenter fabric (FabricPath), as they are revolutionary, disruptive, and competitive.  My only suggestion to Cisco is that they need to fill additional product gaps (hardware/software/services) via strategic acquisitions of healthy, growing, and visionary companies.

Competitors beware, as the old proverb goes, “It’s always darkest before the dawn” and Cisco’s got a blazing hot and bright light.

Dell Avoids Aster and Dodges a 296 Million Dollar Mistake

Another one bites the dust as Teradata has acquired Aster Data for a reported $263 million.  This represents 89% of Aster Data shares as Teradata already owned 11% of Aster bringing the true acquisition cost to $296 million or $275 million after subtracting Aster’s $21 million in cash.  In any case, that’s a lot of money for a company of Aster’s age and size.

For Teradata this acquisition makes sense as they continue to compete against HP (Vertica), IBM (Netezza), EMC (Greenplum), Oracle, and SAP (HANA).  Teradata is faced with an age-old question for technology companies; hold on to their proprietary ways of the past or reach for the open and commoditized ways of the future.  It is not clear to me which direction Teradata will choose. However, it is clear to me that, unlike Dell, Teradata is the right company in the right industry to make such a gamble on Aster; the database guru’s at Aster, Tazo Argyros and Mayank Bawa, will find themselves at home within the halls of Teradata.

While I applaud Dell for continuing to blaze their own path, it seems others within the technical community are harder to please.  Per Gigaom’s Stacey Higginbotham’s article posted on March 3, 2011:

So for Dell, and any other big data wannabes out there, the only proven options left to
start
fulfilling this niche are ParAccel, Infobright, and Ingres’s VectorWise Platform.”

I’d hardly call Dell a “big data wannabe” and perhaps some have misconstrued their attempted acquisition of 3Par as a precursor to Dell entering this space.  In fact, Dell has been quite clear that any software acquisitions must have an impact on their strategic lines of business.  While Aster and other big data start-ups have the potential of driving Dell’s server and storage sales, their valuations and competitive landscapes make them a risky move for Dell.

Dell is quickly becoming the king of “Cloud Neutrality” as they are providing key pieces of the solution to their customers while working with various infrastructure providers such as Juniper, Cisco, and more. By purchasing disruptive Cloud software companies within the areas of management, orchestration, security, and monitoring, Dell could further their leadership in this market.  Think the completion of UEC; very exciting!

Since I’ve never started a billion dollar company from my dorm room, I’ll defer to Michael Dell to make the right moves for his company.  Perhaps they’ll enter the big data market with a smaller software acquisition and integrate it into other cloud offerings thereby indirectly attacking the market.  For now, Teradata has gotten a bit stronger while Dell has avoided a $296 million mistake.

Moving To The Cloud: The Last Easy Decision

By now, you’ve read all the analyst reports, news articles, press releases, and blogger ramblings regarding the benefits of cloud computing.  Begrudgingly, you understand that although Cloud Computing began as a marketing fad, the technology behind it is real and is here to stay.

Perhaps you are dabbling in virtualization while considering upgrading your aging networking and storage equipment.  You wonder about the risks associated with moving aggressively toward this new type of infrastructure while considering migrating entire services to Application Cloud providers such as Service-now, Salesforce, or Microsoft’s new Cloud offerings.

Privately, you worry about the demands and pressures placed on your current IT staff.  If Cloud computing is going to work then you must find a way to tear down the silos that have existed for decades.  A successful transition will require not only a well thought out plan but the flawless execution of said plan.

Finally, you wonder what role Amazon EC2, Rackspace, AT&T, Verizon, SAVVIS, and others will play in your future.  Costs are one thing, security and reliability is another.  After all, even Google struggles to provide the vaunted 5 9’s of reliability.  Even if you find the perfect provider, will they remain independent or fall victim to the inevitable consolidation of the industry?

Weighing all the risks, you decide to build a private cloud first while eyeing the benefits of a hybrid or public cloud architecture.  Confidently, you call in your IT Directors or Managers and instruct them to provide you with a detailed cost analysis of building your new architecture.

Unfortunately, the easy part is over; where do you begin?  Do you start with picking a server or compute vendor or a storage vendor?  Do you call in your trusted networking vendor to understand what they have to offer?  Do you exit your comfort zone and call one of these newer vendors with cloud ready equipment?

The server team loves HP and is pushing Matrix, but you’ve read a lot about Cisco UCS, Dell Datacenter/Cloud Solutions, and IBM’s new Blade offerings.  The storage team loves EMC, but you’re intrigued by HP’s purchase of 3Par and Dell’s purchase of Compellent, not to mention NetApp.  Your storage networking team is loyal to Brocade, but if you purchase Cisco UCS then why not implement the Nexus and MDS?  Your networking team is partial to Cisco and are all certified Cisco engineers, but you wonder if Brocade, Juniper, or upstarts like Aristra are the way to go?   Unified fabric or Qfabric?  Fibre channel, ISSCI, or fiber channel over Ethernet?  What about the impacts of multi-hop fiber channel over Ethernet?  Is it time to upgrade your power, cooling, cabling, racks, too?

Next come even tougher questions regarding the software vendors.  Do you choose Microsoft, VMware, Citrix, Red Hat, or Oracle, as your virtualization vendor?  Are your current software vendors certified on these platforms?  You’ve been reading about Vblocks, could this help or does it force you into purchasing Cisco, EMC, and VMware?  What about open source alternatives?

Finally, how do Openstack, Eucalyptus, and Nimbula fit into this equation?  What’s Dell UEC or Opscode’s Chef?   What do you do for backup and disaster recovery?  How are you going to manage and monitor this?  Can you really get a single pane of glass?  Can anyone really handle the dynamic nature of a Cloud where everything from networking to storage to servers to applications are all virtualized?  What about security?

Yes, Cloud computing is as revolutionary and as disruptive as you have been reading.  However, never underestimate the complexity or magnitude of the decisions you must make to implement this marvelous architecture.  In the end, the easiest decision you will make is to move to the Cloud.

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