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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Enterasys Joins the Datacenter Fight; Bringing a Knife to a Gun Fight

Enterasys joins the growing list of network equipment vendors unveiling their vaunted datacenter strategy with the hopes of derailing their larger competitor’s plans.  Enterasys’ hope hinges on a “vendor agnostic” datacenter strategy and is based on their S-series switches with their policy-based operations model.  By supporting multiple virtualization and storage vendors, Enterasys is banking the farm on best-of-breed architectures and emerging IEEE standards.

While Enterasys’ strategy looks good on a press release, it may have been their only option.  Faced with the reality that Dell has decided to team with Juniper Networks, IBM is remaining “neutral” (for now), HP does not need another switch, Brocade purchased Foundry Networks, and Cisco is Cisco, there is little room for Enterasys to partner with a major U.S. manufacturer.  However, would an International partnership make sense?  Aren’t they stronger outside of North America?

Additionally, does Enterasys really believe that Cisco, HP, and Brocade will not support 3rd party vendor solutions?  The last time I looked, Cisco’s MDS supports EMC, HDS, IBM, HP, NetApp, and more.  Cisco’s UCS-B supports multiple hypervisors including offerings from both VMware and Microsoft. Finally, do you remember Cisco’s Open Partner Ecosystem that “helps stimulate technology innovation, augment service delivery, and accelerate market adoption of Unified Computing”?  The same could be said, in varying degrees, about HP and Brocade.  Therefore, what is new or different about Enterasys’ solution?

Perhaps, Enterasys’ will attempt to differentiate their virtualization support via their superior policy-based security and templates.  However, isn’t that simply a different way to do virtual machine profile mapping ala Cisco and Brocade?  Don’t get me wrong; Enterasys has some very interesting and innovative technology but their lack of market power and limited product portfolio puts them at risk of getting lost in the shuffle.

In the end, Enterasys faces an uphill battle against their larger and higher profile competitors.  The war for the next generation datacenter is in full swing and Cisco and HP are proving plenty of “shock and awe” while Juniper, Brocade, Dell, and IBM have their guns locked and loaded.

In the future, Enterasys’ relationship with Siemens Enterprise Communications may yield additional firepower.  However, right now Enterasys is bringing a knife to a gunfight.

Brocade One: Real or Take-Over Bait?

On June 9, 2010, a special day for me, Brocade officially announced their converged data center strategy with the release of Brocade One. Brocade One has a familiar goal of simplifying the data center architecture while reducing costs.  Brocade plans on leveraging the assets of Foundry Networks (acquired by Brocade in 2008) while creating a “unified view of the data center as a network” (Brahm). 

With this announcement, Brocade is sounding the “all-hands” alarm and pointing the ship directly at both Cisco and Juniper. Cisco’s UCS continues to evolve into a formidable next generation data center architecture backed with new products and software offerings.  Meanwhile, Juniper’s Project Stratus isn’t due to be launched until 2011; fueling Juniper to sign an OEM agreement with Dell for next-generation networking.

No posting about the next-generation data center would be complete without mentioning both HP and IBM.  In May, HP announced that they are a founding member of the Unified Communications Interoperability Forum (UCIF) along with Juniper, Brocade, Microsoft, and others (http://www.ucif.org).  IBM is notably absent from the UCIF along with Cisco; a coincidence or a sign of things to come?

Finally, while Brocade’s announcement is “interesting”, will anyone notice?  Brocade’s messaging isn’t as refined as their larger competitors and they are arguing that their competitors are putting intelligence in the server while they are putting it into the network.  <Insert Qualification Argument Here> One lingering question; Is Brocade serious about going at it alone or are they making themselves a more attractive take-over target?

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.

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