Top Ten Things the “real” press writes or reports about that make me cringe

  1. Cloud Computing
    I’m waiting for either MythBusters or Penn & Teller: BS to do an episode on Cloud Computing.  It’s not that I don’t believe in Cloud Computing or that I am not working towards making it a reality, but the fact is Cloud Computing is in its infancy and has a long way to go.  Unifying servers, storage, networking, security, management, and applications is not going to happen overnight.  I’ll shout from the mountain tops when the big boy application vendors are on-board and management is not an afterthought.
  2. Google
    Perhaps my days at Inktomi have jaded me, but “Google” is not worthy of sainthood.  If only Google made laptops, monitors, TVs, coffee makers, chairs, windows, doors, cars, laundry machines, and more, my life would be better.  After-all, anything Google does is better than you.  When will we read about their true motives; gathering as much information about you so that they can make as much money as they can from you via the advertisers.
  3. iPhone Killers
    How many iPhone vs. X stories will I have to review this year?   The iPhone has three things going for it:  Apple, AT&T, and iTunes.  Apple is on a roll that mirrors what Microsoft did in the 80s, AT&T’s network (GSM is global), although maligned, is the only network that has a chance to handle the iPhone’s incredible amounts of data traffic, and iTunes is an incredible marketplace of movies, TV shows, podcasts, applications, and more.  Perhaps “It’s the Applications Stupid” but Apple is definitely winning this battle; VHS vs. Beta anyone (experienced) or Blue Ray vs. HD DVD (still seasoning)?
  4. Microsoft
    It seems that impartiality is thrown out the window when you write about Microsoft.  Perhaps more polarizing than any politician, either you love ‘em or hate ‘em; Why?  Is it that Gates made too much money or Ballmer sweats too much or Ray is nuts or who do they think they are earning top margins on their software or is it something else?   Maybe Microsoft should take a lesson from Apple and rename their development efforts and code lines into cutesy animals like Zebra, Panda, and Kuala Bear; who can hate a Kuala Bear?  Like it or not, if the US is going to be a technology leader in the next century, Microsoft is going to be a big part of it.
  5. Top Companies to Watch Lists
    Does anyone bother to check these lists for accuracy?  Does anyone ever talk to the employees?  Free food equals the best place to work?  I remember a time when getting on the Red Herring list was the kiss of death.  Oh, the marketers love these lists and share them with the world, but do they really mean anything?  Of course, I’ve known a few people that will fire off their resumes to these companies, just in case.  I’ll admit that I read them too, but it’s more like reading celebrity gossip; mindless entertainment and/or here today gone tomorrow.

Hey, that’s only 5; stay tuned…

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Cisco Lays Their Trap

I must admit that I had a good chuckle when I read the reports of Cisco’s financial analyst conference on Tuesday.  After all these years at the helm, it’s amazing to watch Chambers discuss subjects ranging from Flip to Cisco’s projected long-term growth rate.  However, it is clear to me that Chambers’ relishes dominating the next chapter in communications.

Cisco understands that fighting a two flank war against powerful advisories like HP and IBM is fraught with danger, could lead to slower adoption of their vision, and may yield lower than projected growth rates.  So what’s a company to do?  Divide and Conquer.  How?  You lay the trap.  HP had their chance and chose to go in a different direction; lost cause.  IBM had their chance and turned Cisco down but maybe they should reconsider; Venus Flytrap,

Lost Cause:  HP is determined and ready to take on Cisco head-to-head.  They have spent billions of dollars creating a software and services powerhouse while quietly making inroads within enterprise networking.  Additionally, HP has consumer brand recognition and acceptance which Cisco craves.  Finally, HP has Michael Hurd; a driven CEO who is ready and willing to lead this industry.  There is little Cisco can do here to sway HP’s momentum and vision.  Therefore, the best Cisco can hope for is to continue collecting purchase orders from the HP channel.

Venus Flytrap:  IBM has almost everything they need to take on Cisco but they have taken a more cautious approach than HP.  After-all, IBM has dominant research and development capabilities and are the fathers of autonomic computing.  IBM has always concentrated on high margin / high value products while tying everything together with their vaunted services division.  Perhaps IBM is in a quandary; while services, storage, virtualization, software, servers, mainframes, etc yield high margins, enterprise networking computing has become commoditized while datacenter networking equipment remains a question mark.  Cisco aims to help IBM with their quandary by offering a truce of sorts; work with us and we won’t go into storage or services! 

If you believe that, then I have some Ocean Front Property in Arizona to sell you.  Cisco has already chosen sides on the storage and virtualization fronts by aligning themselves with EMC and VMware.  A combination of Cisco and EMC would give them a foothold within those areas as well as security and management software; all of which would threaten IBM. 

Also, Chambers claims Cisco won’t be going the route of HP’s acquisition of EDS to buy their way into services.  In the short term this is a great strategy, in the long term they are going to buy someone like CSC, ACS, Unisys, or even McKesson (I’ll leave that to a future post).  Again, Cisco offered IBM an olive-branch of sorts in exchange for a tighter partnership that Cisco craved in beginning.

The million dollar question is; what will IBM do?  Does IBM continue to throw jabs at Cisco through their partnerships while Cisco throws power punches?  Does IBM acquire Juniper or Brocade to battle Cisco and HP?  Or, does IBM take a wait-and-see approach?

Personally, I’d like to know what the heck is going on at Dell and Oracle.  I’ll give Oracle a bit of a break as they battle the EU for control of Sun but Dell has got to wake up and fast.  They have a chance to crash this party by innovating and commoditizing the industry faster than everyone else can recoup their costs.  This sounds like when Michael Dell revolutionized the PC industry by introducing direct purchasing and just-in-time assembling. 

For now, Cisco has laid the trap and they await the fruits of their labor.  Once again, Chambers continues to impress as this is better than any reality TV series; brilliant.

IBM: It’s Gut Check Time

Whether large, medium, small, or start-up, there comes a time in the life of every company that shapes both the future of the company itself and the industry at large.  Today, the battle for the datacenter has sent shockwaves throughout the silos of networking, server, storage, and security.  As Cisco and HP have gone “all-in”, it is time for IBM to place its bet.

The stakes are incredibly high and there is little margin for error.  IBM can either purchase the necessary pieces to “unify” the datacenter and compete head-to-head with HP and Cisco, or they can continue to partner with the likes of Cisco, Juniper, etc. to provide a best-of-breed solution fueled by their own services business.  However, consolidation may prove to make the latter unsustainable and doing nothing may lead IBM on a precarious path.

Cisco understands the importance of IBM, HP, and others to their bottom line as both of these giants resell Cisco equipment to their customers.  However, Cisco continues to take steps to diversify their business model and they are one acquisition away from changing the equation.  What acquisition?  How about engineering a purchase of CSC, ACS, or the coup de grace Accenture?  Don’t laugh; ever envision a world without Lehman Brothers or Meryl Lynch?

HP is clearly positioning itself as the answer to Cisco’s dominance.  HP has or is prepared to acquire the missing pieces to reshape IT.  With their aggressive purchases of Mercury Interactive, Opsware, and EDS, HP has shown a keen sense of urgency, vision, and market awareness.  It is no wonder that HP is pondering additional networking acquisitions to strengthen their position within Ethernet switching and storage networking.

IBM too has taken steps to answer the unified computing challenge, but their approach has been through partnerships, research and development efforts, and OEM agreements.  With a fragmented industry, this approach made perfect sense.  However, as the industry continues to consolidate, IBM may find their most important OEMs or partners in the hands of their rivals.  One such example of this danger, is with the rumored “for sale” sign that now hangs above Brocade.  IBM recently signed an OEM agreement with Brocade for their network switches.  Would this agreement continue if Brocade is purchased by HP?

It is gut check time for IBM.  IBM has strong plays in services, applications, storage, servers, virtualization, and security with a glaring hole within networking.  Do they continue to fill this hole with Juniper, Brocade, Cisco, and more while accepting the risks associated with this strategy or do they fill it by making a strategic acquisition or two?

Perhaps an alternative strategy would be an even tighter relationship with Cisco.  However, as Cisco aggressively moves into IBM’s home turf (servers, virtualization, storage), this may be untenable.  After all, Cisco’s Chambers realizes the money is in services and eventually he will want a bigger piece of the services pie.

Does IBM want to lead, follow, or get out of the way?  Do they let their vision of autonomic computing slip through their fingertips?  Do they allow Oracle to become a one-stop-shop?  Do they watch while Cisco enters into the services business?  Do they allow HP to continue to grow and extend their reach and capabilities?  Or do they fight?  Do they purchase Brocade and Juniper?  Do they finally unify, via technology not marketing, networking, storage, servers, security?

In-the-end, these decisions will be made deep within IBM’s boardroom and are conditional on Samuel J. Palmisano’s, CEO and Chairman of the Board of IBM, vision for the company.  He’s already reshaped IBM’s software business with the purchase of Cognos and SPSS (pending), why not take a shot at redefining networking, datacenter, and cloud computing?

Is Cisco for or against automation?

Cisco has long understood the need to market to the Executive/Board Room as-well-as to the Network Engineer; Wall Street and Main Street.  Throughout the years, we have watched John Chambers and company move from an obscure little company to the bell weather of high technology.  Additionally, we have watched Cisco’s certification program move from an obscure “nice to have” to the gold standard of networking professionals.

Today, Cisco Certified X (CCx) is not only obtained by network engineers, but by sales, marketing, and other executives alike.  Why?  Simply put, CCx materials give individuals an excellent education on just about any modern day network infrastructure; routing, switching, cable infrastructure, and more.  Whether or not you take the test is usually based on career/industry advancement (who pays) as well as personal preference toward certifications.

Of course, Juniper Networks has a program of their own and offers a demanding certification called Juniper Networks Certified x (JNCx).  However, Juniper does not have the breadth and depth of products or the market penetration of Cisco, particularly in the enterprise.

The brilliance of Cisco’s certification program is twofold; it gives network engineers a career path and it provides Cisco an army of loyal and trained users.  Resellers and Customers were willing participants in training thousands of network professionals proudly displaying their CCx’s on desks and resumes.  In fact, some companies base career advancement, bonuses, and salary grades on the level of certification that one obtains.  A byproduct of this has been the elevation of Cisco’s IOS CLI to the standard of networking devices; a fact that Juniper continues to fight everyday with JUNOS.   In-turn, this creates bias and a competitive advantage for Cisco vs. competing devices because it’s “just IOS or an IOS derivative” and I know that already.

Today, the winds of change may be blowing as Companies are realizing the economic impact of this system.  In a way, organizations around the world have subsidized Cisco’s growth by providing the means for their staff to become a CCx to the detriment of their bottom line.  This includes hiring of individuals with top-of-the-line CCx certifications, paying for training, paying for tests, promotions, and losing certified individuals to rivals or other organizations.

Compounding the need for CCx or JNCx certifications is the utter lack of automation within the networking industry.  Enterprise Management Systems are inadequate, PERL (the adopted language of networking) knowledge is not easy to find and a bit too powerful for many and third party Network Change and Configuration systems are fighting the commodity label.

In a world where the ratio of network engineers to network devices is ever increasing and the notion of single-vendor (Cisco Powered) deployments is losing steam, why do we accept the idea that manual intervention is the best way to manage our networks?  Why are CCx or JNCx working on less complex activities?   Why are operations personnel beholden to the networking engineering teams?  What good are BPM and BRE if the end result is a human rather than an automated action?  Why allow a PERL developer to be in command of complex changes without guardrails, auditing trails, or (in some cases) networking skills.

Companies are beginning to realize that automation within networking will improve operational efficiencies, reduced downtime, improve SLAs, and reduce MTTR.  They are awakening to the fact that the best use of a CCx is not to be turning up or down ports or building initial configurations; instead it is performing advanced troubleshooting, deployment, or visionary functions.

Automation is paramount to cloud computing, PAAS, SAAS, or whatever else you want to call it.  We can no longer allow networking, or storage, to be the last bastion of manual over automated management.  For a datacenter to be truly cloud-like, most activities across the OSI stack must be automated.   Perhaps, networking is the most important piece as without it nothing works.

It is time for Cisco to get serious about network, storage, server, and security automation.   What happened to the early ideas of a self-managing, self-healing, self-defending network?  If Cisco wants to transform itself into a software company, then transform network management into true network automation.

Tired of the Cloud: The Media

Actual Headlines:

Virtualization is revolutionizing the datacenter
Cisco plans big push into server market
Cloud computing vendors to watch
And so begins the next mainframe saga
Tech giants tussle: HP vs. IBM
Google and the wisdom of clouds

I don’t know about you, but I am tired of over-hyped articles written by individuals that know as much about technology as I know about bio-chemistry.  They throw around terms like cloud computing, datacenter 3.0, Web 2.0, Enterprise Service Bus, commoditized hardware, and virtualization without ever explaining a single concept.  It seems like all you need to do is write in some acronyms like SAAS, PAAS, IAAS, and more and you have a winner.

These are the same people who question every move Microsoft makes, cheer on Apple, love Facebook, and think that Google really means to “do no evil.”  They believe that Cisco is going to destroy HP and IBM with a single product announcement while Oracle and SAP are in deep trouble.  Their opinions are only as good as their last conversation and they change with the proverbial wind.

Cloud Computing or whatever it will be called next has a chance to make an impact on IT.  However, it will be years of hard work and continued R&D, to develop new technologies and strategies to make cloud computing a reality.  While the challenges are real, no great change is easy.  Remember, cloud computing is as much about technology is as it is about people.

P.S. The mainframe is not dead!

IBM: Send in the Clouds

Cisco, HP, EMC, VMware beware; the father of Autonomic Computing has entered the market.  Today, IBM announced the IBM Blue Cloud initiative with Erich Clementi at the helm reporting directly to Sam Palmisano and Kristof Kloeckner as its CTO.

Instead of entering the market with blogs, rhetoric, and posturing, IBM showcased years of research and commercial deployments to demonstrate “overflow cloud”.  Overflow Cloud showed how you can provision and transfer data from one cloud to another with simple the drag-and-drop of a mouse.  Furthermore they built this technology without help from either Cisco or VMware as Overflow Cloud utilizes technology from Juniper Networks and the open source Xen hypervisor.

Does IBM have the research, development, deployment capabilities, and global market presence to make cloud computing a reality?  Will IBM finally unleash autonomic computing to the world?  While some have written that these announcements are a “disappointment”, I believe those comments are out of fear and self-preservation.  Clearly, by creating a division that reports directly to Sam Palmisano, IBM is taking cloud computing very seriously.  Furthermore, no one can question IBM’s research and development credentials in the area of autonomic computing and virtualization.

As Platen has been examining the path to cloud computing, how will IBM answer the technology challenges?  Will Tivoli evolve into the control plane that becomes the foundation for a true data center OS?  As Cisco is pouring millions of dollars into cloud computing, datacenter 3.0, and VMware itself, how will they react to IBM showcasing Juniper and Xen’s technology?

I am excited to welcome IBM to the cloud party and I hope they continue to publish research on both cloud and autonomic computing.

Please stay tuned to Platen as we continue to examine the path toward cloud computing.  

Tired of the Cloud: Introduction

I’ve been meaning to write about cloud computing for quite a few weeks. As a proponent and advocate for autonomic computing (servers, storage, security, and network), I have a hard time reading most blogs, analyst reports, and articles on the subject. Somehow, cloud computing is being described as the “next generation of grid computing” or “the natural evolution of the Internet”.

When I started my career at AT&T, people would often draw a cloud as the wide-area-network connection between two end-points. Sales reps and even technical sales people would talk about the benefits of the cloud and how it was superior to our competitors. To paraphrase a mentor of mine, “people who talk about clouds and draw clouds on white boards often have no idea what’s in the cloud and how it really works; don’t be one of those people.”

Today’s cloud computing discussion is fraught with old thinking, recycled products, and muffled innovation. Complicating matters is an effort to create a new architecture or a “Universal Cloud Interface” or API to explain cloud computing. Of course, these efforts are sure to benefit the usual suspects. This is analogous to a big oil company discovering a plentiful and easy to obtain alternative source of energy; while it may exist, where’s the profit in bringing it to market until the trillions of dollars of oil is pumped from the ground?

While working at Cassatt, Bill Coleman (CEO) often talked about “an inflection point” whereby the industry would break free of old-line thinking and realize that there is a solution. Are we really at this inflection point? Are we ready to accept that current silos, deployment, and utilization of servers, networking, storage, security, applications, and even virtualization within the datacenter are at a breaking point?

Whether it is cloud computing, utility computing, grid computing, web 2.0, software-as-a-service, application service providers, or whatever you want to call it, the industry must first face the titanic challenges of this revolution prior to realizing the rewards. We must be willing to re-examine the fundaments of the datacenters such as hardware, operating systems, system resources, programming languages, management systems, artificial intelligence, people (may be the most important of all), and more. For the future of the “cloud” is dependent on fundamental changes in all these areas and deep innovation must emerge.

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