Buying a Cell Phone is Worse Than Buying a Car!

These days it seems that all I ever talk about is Cloud computing and Cell Phone operating systems.  As a contract-free AT&T customer, I should relish in my freedom to choose a new carrier or smartphone, yet instead I revel in cell phone indecision.

While Apple makes a wonderful and polished operating system (iOS), their ecosystem is both closed and proprietary.  After all, these are the same guys that won’t let me change a simple battery!  Another problem with the iPhone 4S is that the form factor.  It just isn’t very pleasing, especially when compared to its alternatives.  How about all those cracked screens out there?  Of course, iTunes is awesome and iCloud has some exciting possibilities.

Meanwhile, Android has come a long way in a short time.  It’s not nearly as polished as Apple’s iOS, but has many innovative features and is open source (kind of).  However, Android is experiencing tremendous fragmentation and is at the mercy of the Cell phone makers themselves.  While Samsung makes great phones, they have been slow to upgrade to the latest Android versions.  Also, what will they do now that Google is purchasing Motorola?  Speaking of Motorola, they seem like a safe bet since Google is purchasing them, but their less than stellar earnings results don’t instill confidence in a purchaser.

Finally, Windows Phone 7 Mango is lurking around.  It’s a blend of Apple’s polish with Android’s innovation, but has suffered from lackluster hardware and non-existent applications.  However, with Nokia’s recent announcement of 2 new Windows Phone 7 phones, there is some excitement that this may change.  What Microsoft needs to do is focus on the development community.  I’m not just talking about porting over existing applications, as they need some originals too. Of course, Microsoft has a really nice integration with iTunes, Office, and a slick SkyDrive offering.

Some would say I need to add Verizon vs. AT&T vs. T-Mobile vs. Sprint to this discussion, but I’m not really dissatisfied with AT&T.  In fact, the ability to use both data and voice is something I wouldn’t want to live without.  For now, I’ll leave this for a later discussion.

So, do you buy a new Samsung Galaxy S II, Nexus II, or Motorola Droid Razr or wait for the iPhone5, Nokia 800, or whatever else is yet to be announced?  Of course, in technology you can keep waiting and waiting and waiting because what you buy today is obsolete tomorrow.  Any thoughts?

Vblocks: The Icing on Cisco UCS’s Cake

While Cisco, EMC, and VMware are excellent communicators, when it comes to Acadia they have missed the mark.  Acadia is the triumvirate’s joint venture that is headed by Michael Capellas of Compaq/HP fame.  Acadia’s tag line is Your Bridge To The Private Cloud and they are the guardians of the mythical Vblock Infrastructure Packages.

Acadia leverages the Vblock reference architecture that has been published by Cisco, EMC, and VMware.  The concept is to transform your datacenter into a giant grid with defined units that provide a set of services, with service levels, to a set of customers.  Vblocks allow for the rapid deployment of pre-integrated and validated solutions.  Currently there are over 300 Enterprise applications that are explicitly supported with over 20 supported operating systems.

Furthermore, the Vblocks have been organized into ‘levels’ that define the size and scope of their deployment.  Vblock 0 is an entry-level configuration designed for small datacenters, Vblock 1 is a mid-sized configuration, and Vblock 2 is a high-end configuration.  What comprises a Vblock and why should I care?

A Vblock is comprised of the following components:

  • Compute – Cisco UCS
  • Network – Cisco Nexus & MDS
  • Storage – EMC CLARiion
  • Hypervisor – VMware vSphere
  • Management – Various (VMware, Cisco, EMC, and 3rd Party ISVs)
  • Applications and Operating Systems

Why you should care is because Vblocks have the potential to fundamentally change how you deploy, test/validate, provide DR, guarantee SLAs, and purchase applications running within your datacenter.  It’s a tall order with an incredibly ambitious agenda, but the rewards are huge.  No longer will organizations have to test/validate configurations or define upgrade and back-up procedures for deployed applications as this has been completed ahead of time courtesy of Acadia and Vblocks.

While Cloud is becoming the most overused term next to CMDB, in this case it’s at least in the ballpark.  For the Cisco UCS architecture, coupled with the EMC’s V-Max, utilizing VMware’s Hypervisor is an awesome platform to provide public, private, or hybrid-cloud applications.  Furthermore, Acadia looks to take advantage of enhancements in Cisco UCS and VMware’s newly announced vDirector product.

The open question remains Acadia’s ability to execute and Cisco, EMC, and VMware’s ability to play nice together.  In the end, Vblocks are the icing on Cisco UCS’s Cake and provide more fire to Cisco’s feud with HP.

Cisco’s New Data Center Products Trump HP’s New Avaya Partnership

HP continues to plug-the-holes against Cisco by signing a three-year agreement with Avaya.  The agreement calls for HP sales and services teams to be trained and certified in Avaya call center and unified communications.  HP sales teams will have the ability to resell Avaya and offer outsourced management.

What’s interesting about this announcement is that HP now has agreements with multiple competitors for the next generation data center including Brocade and Avaya.  If you add the potential overlap between Avaya and Alcatel-Lucent mixed with a bit of Microsoft then you have the danger of some explosive conflict.  Of course, HP is no stranger to handling this type of conflict.  However, would a future Avaya acquisition make better strategic sense for HP?

Meanwhile, as HP strengthens their partnerships, Cisco strengthens their next generation data center arsenal.  Once again, Cisco has trumped their competitors by introducing FabricPath, a superset of the emerging IETF standard called Transparent Interconnection of Lots of Links (TRILL).  Remember, Brocade is committed to TRILL within their recently announced Brocade Virtual Cluster Switching (VCS).

FabricPath is an upgrade to NX-OS that combines the best of layer-3 routing and layer-2 switching allowing for scaleable data centers with predictable network performance.  Take the following example from Cisco that was featured in an article by Kevin Komiega in InfoStor:

“With spanning-tree you have multiple links which are blocked and a high level of oversubscription. With FabricPath you can build a scalable, flat, non-blocking network with two layers and no oversubscription with a 16X improvement in bandwidth performance,” says Nikhil Kelshikar, product marketing manager for Cisco Nexus 7000 Solutions.

Additionally, FabricPath and Cisco’s new F-Series modules for the Nexus 7000 allow Cisco to combine six Nexus 7000 switches into a single product.  Cisco is offering a pre-packaged solution called FabricPath Switching System (FSS) that can be grouped in clusters of eight to allow for 160Tbps of raw switching capacity.  Wow, did I just write that?  Not to mention the fact that Cisco just took the air out of Juniper’s Stratus Unified Fabric.

If that wasn’t enough, Cisco announced the availability of a software release of WAAS that can be run as on on-demand service on the Cisco ISR.   Next, Cisco rolled-out new cloud deployment professional services and Cisco introduced a new Catalyst 4948-E Switch with increased capacity, performance, and automation.

Finally, Cisco is introducing Cisco Intelligent Automation Solutions for IT Services.  Building on Cisco’s acquisition of Tidal Software, Inc., they are releasing new versions of the Tidal Enterprise Scheduler and Tidal Enterprise Orchestrator.  As any reader of this blog knows, I am very interested in the autonomic aspects of the next generation data center and I hope to obtain additional information about this solution.

In this latest round of the battle for the next generation data center, Cisco’s products trump HP’s partnerships.

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.

Quick Alert: Cisco Ups the Ante, Buys Rohati

Cisco starts 2010 with a bang as they have acquired Rohati Systems for an undisclosed transaction.  Rohati will be a welcomed addition to the Nexus product line and adds considerable thought leadership to Cisco’s cloud computing initiative.  In fact, once Rohati’s TNS technology is incorporated into a Nexus blade, it has the potential to not only jump-start Nexus sales within the datacenter but also to impact Cisco’s UCS strategy. 

Interestingly enough, I have not seen a lot of hoopla regarding this acquisition; in fact most of the articles on the Internet simply mention that Rohati was acquired by Cisco.  However, when I learned of this acquisition, I could not help but to smile and applaud the M&A teams at Cisco.  Why?

Security remains one of the biggest challenges to cloud computing; public and private clouds.  The worries include; internal threats, external threats, data transmissions, user privileges, compliance, and more.  While firewalls and IDS/IDP systems are essential to securing the cloud, they don’t go far enough.  That’s where Rohati’s innovation of the Layer-7 Access Control List attempts to fill the void.

A layer-7 ACL?  The principal is quite ingenious as a Layer-7 ACL authorizes the entire transaction.  Taken from Rohati’s literature:

TNS Layer-7 ACLs are based on the XML Access Control Markup Language (XACML) that allows them to be written in plain English with the added benefit of being readable.  TNS is policy based, does not require agents, does not require reconfiguring applications (virtual or bare metal), does not require client changes, supports HA, and has centralized management capabilities including logging.

While I am unaware of Rohati’s success or failure as a stand-alone-company, Cisco has the market power to make their vision a reality.  Remember, cloud computing requires combining networking, servers, applications, storage, security, and management.  With this acquisition, Cisco is moving in the right direction and is signaling to their customers and competitors that they are serious about securing the cloud…your move HP.

Cisco’s fires warning shots at Google, Microsoft, …

Over the years, we have watched Cisco launch new products with a marketing panache that few companies could match.  However, this week Cisco quietly launched 61 products centered on their ever expanding portfolio of collaboration technologies.  The importance of these announcements cannot be overstated, as we are watching Cisco’s long term strategy unfold before our very eyes.

What do WebEX, PostPath, Scientific Atlanta, Pure Digital Technologies, Unified Communications, and perhaps Tandberg have in common?  They spell out a strategy of collaboration and social networking centered on video and its delivery.  Whether the video, photo, or recordings take place on a hand-held device, a TelePresence conference, or a web camera, or a HD TV, Cisco is providing not only the transport but also the platform (aka software) or portal destination (WebEx).

While WebEx Mail is interesting as it demonstrates Cisco’s commitment to cloud based applications, I am far more interested in Cisco’s other new products namely; Cisco Show and Share, Cisco Enterprise Collaboration Platform, and Cisco Pulse.  Why?  While some have prematurely crowned Google Wave as the collaboration platform of the future, many Enterprises would rather maintain security, control, and freedom from using their employees as a giant pool for advertisement revenue. 

As Google continues to fight for legitimacy in the Enterprise, Cisco is clearly already a dominant force.  Furthermore, WebEx may be the perfect launching and test bed for these new ways of collaborating as it is trusted, reliable, and well refined.  Perhaps Cisco should consider expanding the WebEx brand allowing for a WebEx-I built within an internal cloud?  Perhaps creating a pre-packaged WebEx, Show and Share, and Enterprise Collaboration Platform conveniently hosted with VMs residing in a UCS-B platform, attached to a Nexus via a Unified Fabric, and on and on…

Of particular interest to me is Cisco Pulse as it combines the power of the network with the advantages of search.  Imagine being able to dynamically tag content as it passes through the network allowing users to actually find the information they are looking for at a later time.  If Cisco can add structure and classification to the tagged data, then they certainly have a winner.

Any discussion of the Enterprise is not complete without mentioning Microsoft.  While they have taken steps to shore up their Enterprise products, are they too focused on taking down Google?  Microsoft has the ability to not only innovate but to rapidly deploy those innovations within the largest Enterprises in the world.  In-the-end, Microsoft needs a way to shed the “Evil Empire” crown while articulating a vision that is exciting, bold, and fresh. 

Whether it is by acquisition or internal development, Cisco has never been afraid to disrupt or innovate across multiple markets.  How far will they go to own the next decade?  Will they pursue mobile devices?  Will they truly escape “the innovators dilemma?”

Traditional or Next Generation Software/Application Vendors beware; here comes Cisco.

Cisco UCS: A Let Down; All eyes on Big Blue

Today Cisco launched the third piece to their datacenter 3.0 strategy by unveiling Unified Computing System (UCS). UCS is a essentially a fancy name for a blade server built upon Intel’s new Nedhalem processor platform. Cisco believes by wrapping the datacenter in a web of UCS, Unified Fabric, and good old fashioned networking all managed by the UCS manager will redefine scalability, flexibility, and TCO within a a datacenter and beyond.

Perhaps the innovator’s dilemma has finally caught up with Cisco because I expected more from them then simply launching a blade system with the Cisco badge on the bezel. Why not truly unify switching, routing, server, and storage under a single chassis? Why not unify the backplane for speed and efficiency while offering breath-taking performance and value on a per square foot basis?

Instead it looks as if the old one-stop-shopping theory of purchasing is in full effect. Of course, you’ll be able to manage everything from the UCS Manager. If that was the case, why is BMC in the picture? As Cisco doesn’t have a great track record of software, is this any different?

Cisco is an amazing company with an extremely talented executive management and engineering teams. They are in a truly unique position to change the world as networking, storage, servers, applications, and transport all become one. However, the challenge is how to make this transformation without opening the door for their competitors as they move from the Catalyst to the Nexus. This announcement and product launch is too cautious for the risk taking Chambers we’ve all come to love or hate.

Now, let’s wait and see what IBM’s got up their sleeve to combat his new entrant to the blade market. Do they have another SNA up their sleeve?

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