VMworld: A Strategy Straight out of Redmond?

Is the market doomed to a big orange, blue, or red cloud? Even if you won’t be attending VMworld this week in San Francisco, you can bet virtualization and clouds will be dominating the tech media and blogs throughout the course of the week.

We expect that VMware will announce plans to move up the stack and attempt to secure VM management customers into their evolving cloud platform. Platform won’t be attending VMWorld this year, and here’s why.

As we see it, there are four cloud computing camps currently forming:

  1. VM camp – led by VMWare and other OS/VM vendors (Microsoft, Red Hat and Citrix) who believe clouds should be based on homogeneous OS/VM
  2. Enterprise Management camp—led by the Big 4 enterprise management behemoths who are offering cloud portals tied to their existing management tools and acquiring components to keep their customers as they upgrade to cloud
  3. Cloudy Server camp—these are the cloud-in-a-box systems vendors who suggest that building private clouds is as simple as a plug-and-play solution (It’s not! And it’s more than a commitment to a single hardware or software vendor)
  4. Open Platform camp—promoted and built by customers who are intent on maintaining vendor leverage and avoiding lock-in. Platform Computing and other independents play here by working across the stack with an explicit heterogeneous strategy

Don’t get us wrong—each of these approaches is a legitimate path. However, when it comes to private clouds for medium and large enterprises, the risks of complexity, high cost and vendor lock-in become clear for the first three approaches. It’s here that the VM and Cloudy Server camps are better viewed as components and pools of standardized building blocks than the über-cloud (hardware + OS + VM + middleware + management, all from one-vendor!). Likewise, the Enterprise Management camp starts to look as complicated and expensive as the thing it was supposed to replace (itself!). We are told that we still need all their existing management tools plus some new functions and glues to build a cloud – just pay them more!

That’s not to say that the Open Platform approach is a panacea. But over time, it does deliver on a core promise of cloud that is to reduce vendor lock-in while commoditizing IT components.

The reason Platform won’t be at VMworld this year is that we want to make the statement that “clouds have no colors” and there is an alternative approach to either going big or legacy.

Integrated stacks are good and provide real value. That’s the good news.

The bad news is that when vendors control those stacks, they are both sticky and expensive. When customers own and control their stacks via heterogeneous open systems, they face integration issues, but in return, they get vendor leverage, great prices and commodity scale-out control. That’s the lesson that we’ve learned over the past 18 years and the core reason for our customer’s success.

We’re betting our business again on the open systems approach with cloud. A cloud management layer, such as Platform’s ISF product, allows companies to have private cloud in their own way and get value from an integrated, heterogeneous stack while also benefitting from the other promises of the cloud, such as automated provisioning, self-service, chargeback capabilities and workload management for a wide variety of applications across both VM and physical servers. And with solutions such as our Platform ISF Starter Pack companies can evaluate how a private cloud can work for them at low risk, low cost ($4995) and in a few days rather than months.

What color cloud do you want for your organization?

Cloud Use Case Series, Part 2: Application Cloud

Next up in my four-part cloud use case blog series is application cloud. With this approach, N-tier applications are migrated to a cloud-friendly, stateless architecture to enable automatic increases and decreases in resource allocations based on workload and resource policies.

As I mentioned in my previous post, while application clouds actually provide the most comprehensive benefits of all the four types of use cases, some early adopters have chosen to start with smaller-scope initiatives in order to acclimate their IT and business processes and application architectures to the new model of shared computing that private cloud provides. However, the long-term objectives of most of these organizations is to eventually evolve to application cloud to get the most value from their cloud investment.

Many applications—particularly Java environments—are deployed across multiple datacenters, where each application uses its own dedicated set of resources that are static and provisioned with excess capacity in order to meet peak demand periods. These applications typically run on expensive infrastructure, operating systems and middleware (e.g. UNIX SMP, UNIX OS, Websphere/Weblogic) and are built using inflexible architectures typically associated with these tools. As a result, enterprises see only about 10-15 percent utilization of the underlying infrastructure, and incur operating costs for equipment that isn’t being used (admin time, facilities, power, hardware and software maintenance).

Some of the challenges faced by organizations before migrating to an application cloud are that CIOs and architecture teams want to reduce costs by 75 percent or more by changing from UNIX SMP servers to x86 Linux servers and application middleware, using low-cost VM alternatives by Xen or KVM to make applications more portable and flexible. At the same time, the operations team wants to become more responsive to business needs and reduce application provisioning time by 90 percent or more while increasing resource utilization from 10-15 percent to 50-60 percent or higher. This would reduce IT operational costs by 25 percent or more - all while escaping vendor lock-in and regaining control of their applications and infrastructure.

To solve these challenges, applications are migrated to a cloud-friendly, stateless architecture to enable mobility of application components. Applications are automatically deployed across a shared pool of resources using private cloud management software, such as Platform ISF, which monitors application workloads and resource usage and dynamically expands or contracts capacity according to workload and resource policies. This enables guaranteed SLA’s and ensures the most efficient use of the share infrastructure, where all activities are metered to enable application-level chargeback, so business units only pay for what they use.

One of our customers, a leading global bank, develops and manages hundred of Java applications on thousands of proprietary UNIX SMP servers. These application environments are deployed in silos, resulting in low resource utilization and high operating costs with time-consuming, manual provisioning required for deployment and modification of infrastructure.

The bank migrated applications to a shared, stateless architecture managed by Platform ISF to enable automatic expansion and contraction of capacity according to application workload and resource policies on Intel-based Linux servers.

This has enabled the bank to reduce capital costs by 75 percent and operating costs by 25 percent, with resource utilization increased to 50-60 percent. The customer can now deploy application environments within minutes rather than months, and application teams can modify and scale the infrastructure of their deployed applications without IT involvement.

Stay tuned for part 3 in my cloud use case series – test/dev cloud - next week!

Getting Started with Private Cloud: Platform or Toolkit?

A new vendor coalition was announced this week, bringing together software from three vendors and an integrator to enable private cloud. You may be wondering what our take is on this announcement… Well, I can sum it up in one word: Difficult.

As James Staten of Forrester wrote in You’re not a cloud yet – get on the path today, private cloud will take quite some time for many organizations to deploy, and most firms are just getting started with private cloud research. As you get started into the world of private cloud do you really want to spend weeks and months cobbling together multiple toolkits just to see how it works in your environment? Or would you rather have an all-in-one platform that lets you get started quickly, with very small investment?

Platform engineered ISF to tackle all three toolkit approaches in a single software product--enabling self-service, application lifecycle automation and cloud elasticity. And with the Platform ISF Starter Pack we announced yesterday, you can get a sandbox environment up and running in just 30 minutes. For $4,995 you get software, best practices advice and help to set up private cloud – that includes a 1-year software license, training, cloud-builder consultation, and integration advice for your internal tools.

Based on our experience with users in the last year in private cloud, users are looking for a single solution they can get up and running quickly to help crystallize the requirements for their private cloud solutions. No messing around with multiple providers and disparate tools. No lengthy development and deployment projects just to get started. And when you’re ready to move forward with a private cloud deployment, Platform’s enterprise-class expertise and support will be with you every step of the way.

Staten recommends users begin investing now in cloud starter packs to better understand where they need to be down the road. With one all-in-one software product that provides everything you need for private cloud management, parting with less than $5,000 for tangible experience may be the best decision you make all year.

Cloud Use Case Series, Part 1: Infrastructure Cloud

In my many conversations with Platform ISF customers, I’ve noticed that early adopters of private cloud technologies tend to fall into four types of use case categories:

1. Infrastructure Cloud
2. Application Cloud
3. Test/Dev Cloud
4. HPC Cloud

It’s worth mentioning now that although application clouds actually provide the most comprehensive benefits of all the four types of use cases, some early adopters have chosen to start with smaller-scope initiatives in order to acclimate their IT, business processes and application architectures to the new model of shared computing that private cloud provides. However, the long-term objectives of most of these organizations is to evolve to application cloud to get the most value from cloud computing.

In an effort to educate our customers and readers on the benefits of private cloud, I plan on posting a four-part blog series that outlines each of these four private cloud use cases for companies evaluating internal shared infrastructures.

First up is the infrastructure cloud. This approach involves a ready-to-use infrastructure that enables deployment of application environments or simple virtual machine (VM) images based on application requirements, and business units are charged for what they use. This results in rapid infrastructure deployment and modification, reduced capital and operational expenses, higher utilization and better cost controls for users.

One of our early adopters of infrastructure cloud is
Fetch Technologies, a SaaS software company that enables organizations to extract, aggregate and use real-time information from websites. With over 200 virtual servers in production and test/dev using VMware, Fetch had to provision resources manually to increase SaaS capacity. Furthermore, it was taking several hours/days to change configurations on behalf of their customers.

With Platform ISF, Fetch provisions groups of servers at a time automatically, thereby dramatically reducing labor costs. Rick Parker, IT Manager at Fetch, recently told me that “if we had continued to do manual provisioning we would not be able to scale fast enough to keep up with customer demand with our current staff. Platform ISF lets us scale up without adding staff saving us cost, and helping us to better meet customer expectations.”

Thanks to the multi-hypervisor support in Platform ISF, Rich and his team only need to learn how to use one interface, which significantly reduces administrator training. Platform ISF’s self-service user portal allows Rich to simplify server management tasks so that users can make the changes they need at any time. And Platform ISF will allow the company to leverage public cloud resources to supplement the resources available in their private cloud.

Stay tuned for part 2 in my cloud use case series – application cloud - next week!

Platform customer featured on ZDNet’s Briefings Direct with Dana Gardner

A few weeks ago we posted a blog entry about Platform customer Dr. Marcos Athanasoulis’ participation in a panel discussion on cloud computing at The Open Group’s Architecture Practitioner’s Conference in Boston.

Panel moderator, blogger and independent analyst, Dana Gardner has now posted a podcast of the panel online at his ZDNet blog, “Briefings Direct,” titled “Harvard Medical School use of cloud computing provides harbinger for new IT business value, Open Group panel finds.”

As the title implies, Harvard Medical School (HMS), Athanasoulis and their private cloud were featured prominently in the podcast. Institutions like HMS are paving the way for how private clouds should ideally be implemented within organizations.

As Gardner points out, HMS is a harbinger for the new model of IT use that is the promise of cloud computing. HMS is unique because their cloud requires user participation to actually function. Due to internal policy at the school, the researchers that Athanasoulis works with are not required to use the IT services provided by the school’s IT department. In effect, they’re allowed to “grow their own” IT—so the fact that researchers who are used to doing their own thing are adopting the private cloud that Athanasoulis and his department have implemented (which uses Platform’s LSF and ISF products) is really a testament to the service model that private clouds can offer within organizations.

I won’t spoil the content by giving away too much of it here because I’d really suggest you listen to the panel of cloud experts featured at the conference, but Athanasoulis also offers some great advice for those considering private cloud implementations that he calls the Four P’s:

  • Pilot – Begin small within the organization, using pilot groups to kick-start your private cloud
  • Participation – Get buy-in from everyone you need it from to succeed
  • Produce - Get results from what you’ve implemented. If you don’t, it won’t succeed.
  • Promotion - Promote the service. Be an advocate and evangelist for it.

You can listen to the podcast here.

The private cloud boom

According to a new report from IDC, server hardware revenues for public cloud computing are expected to grow from $582 million in 2009 to $718 million in 2014 thanks to the rising popularity of this new IT delivery model. These are encouraging figures, especially for cloud service providers.

Yet despite this, the report reveals it is private cloud that will see the greatest growth rate. According to the analyst firm, the private cloud market is expected to rise from $2.6 billion this year to $5.7 billion by 2014. For many enterprises, it would seem, when it comes to cloud the private route is still very much front of mind.

This finding reflects what we discovered at the International Supercomputing Conference (ISC) earlier this year. Our second annual delegate survey found demand for private clouds remains undiminished with 28 per cent of those surveyed planning a private cloud deployment in 2010. Efficiency, cost cutting and experimenting with cloud were all cited as reasons for getting involved with private cloud, highlighting how most are now aware of the full range of benefits cloud offers.

IDC agrees but points out concerns regarding availability, security and costs remain for organisations looking to explore the benefits of cloud computing. For the time being, therefore, expect to see the focus on private cloud given the balance it allows organisations to strike in terms of flexibility and security.
Time to act ASAP on HPC
Christoph Reichert, VP of HPC EMEA, Platform Computing

The European Commission’s recently published report into the future of HPC in Europe paints a telling picture about the state of investment in clusters, grids and clouds in Europe. Some of the report’s key findings include:

- European countries are under-investing in HPC, while other nations grew their supercomputer investments dramatically even in 2009, the most difficult year of the global economic recession
- Supercomputing revenues increased by 25% worldwide in during the period 2007-2009, but decreased 9% in Europe
- Few EU countries have a coherent HPC development strategy

These are stark findings and ones that do cause some level of concern given the huge benefits HPC offers public and private sector organisations. Today, computing power is pivotal in ensuring organisations remain competitive and have the infrastructure in place to innovate quickly and respond swiftly to market conditions. Everything from product design and financial risk management to energy exploration and drug development requires increased computing power. Unless action is taken soon, Europe will continue to lag behind the rest of the world, something that could seriously undermine organisations abilities to recover quickly from the economic downturn.

Despite this, when it comes to HPC it’s wrong to assume all organisations in Europe are lagging behind. Take the European Organisation for Nuclear Research (CERN) for instance. It has been using Platform’s private cloud management and HPC cloud-enabling software solutions for many months, piloting the world’s largest cloud computing environment. The set up allows CERN to deliver increased computing performance and offer better infrastructure services to its 10,000 researchers from 85 countries. The highly scalable and flexible IT infrastructure the organisation has in place is crucial in allowing its scientists to process huge amounts of data and solve some of our planet’s greatest mysteries.

If that isn’t enough to get everyone in Europe excited about the benefits of HPC I don’t know what will.

The Glue that Binds: Cloud Management Software and the 7 Key Components of Private Clouds – Part 2

As previously promised, this is a continuation to my earlier blog post on the seven main requirements for successful private cloud deployments, and will outline exactly how Platform’s private cloud management software supports all seven key components. For those of you that aren’t yet familiar with Platform’s ISF product, it’s our private cloud management software, which we introduced to the market in June 2009.

As organizations evaluate how to evolve their internal infrastructures to a private cloud, I want to clearly delineate how Platform ISF can facilitate this evolution:
  1. Heterogeneous systems support – Adapters within the Platform ISF integrate distributed and heterogeneous IT resources to form a shared system. All major industry standard hardware, operating systems (including Linux and Windows) and VM hypervisors (including VMware ESX, Citrix XenServer, Microsoft Hyper-V, and Red Hat KVM) are supported. Adapters are also available for provisioning tools (IBM xCAT, Symantec Altiris, and Platform Cluster Manager) to set up application environments on demand.
  2. Integration with management tools – Platform ISF integrates with many third-party tools for various systems management tasks out-of-the- box, including directory services for user and account management, security, monitoring and alerting.
  3. Configurable resource allocation policies – Once a pool of shared resources is formed, a set of site-specific sharing policies is configured in the allocation engine to ensure that applications receive the required resources. These policies also make certain that the organization’s resource sharing priorities are applied, and that the quota constraints applicable to business groups sharing the cloud are reinforced. The allocation engine matches IT resource supplies to their demands based on resource-aware and application-aware policies. This private cloud “brain” is critical for IT agility.
  4. Integration with workload managers, middleware and applications – Platform ISF provides interfaces to users and applications as well as supporting the lifecycle of cloud service management. Templates can be configured for simple and complex N-tier business applications to automate their lifecycle management. Platform ISF allows for the starting of all the components of an N-tier application, the adding or removal of a resource, and monitoring and failure recovery. It also supports middleware such as J2EE, SOA, CEP and BPM, and workload schedulers such as AutoSys, Platform LSF and Symphony.
  5. Support IT and business processes – A self-service portal enables users to request and obtain physical servers and VMs in minutes instead of days or weeks. Platform ISF has a set of APIs that can be called by applications, middleware and workload managers to request and return resources without human intervention. The service offerings can be structured as: complete application environments (e.g., application packages, CPU, memory, storage and networking); as bare metal servers with an operating system installed; or as virtual machines. SLAs can be associated with each service offering.
  6. Extensible to external resources – Platform ISF integrates with many service provider environments (eg. Amazon Web Services via Amazon Virtual Private Cloud), enabling centralized access, management, tracking and billing of external services.
  7. Enterprise, not workgroup, solution – Built on a technology foundation found in large scale production environments, Platform ISF is scalable to hundreds of thousands of cores under management which enables IT to start small and feel confident that their cloud will grow as more services are added over time.
Lastly, beyond the seven key components of enterprise cloud deployments, Platform ISF also collects all resource usage data and provides reports and billing information. Alternatively, the cloud administrator may choose to feed the usage data into site-specific reporting and charge-back tools.

Below I’ve included our depiction of the private cloud management stack and the location of Platform ISF with its various capabilities.