IBM InterConnect Day 1 Impressions

InterConnect 2015 Las Vegas is the combination of a few IBM conferences. Past conferences carried quite a bit of overlap in content. As the conversations blurred, it made sense to combine the conferences. The challenge is the conference is spread across two hotels in Las Vegas that are not connected. A whopping 21,000 people are in attendance with another 15,000 joining via their online portal InterConnectGO.

Logistics aside, the first day kicked off with a bang. The opening sessions includes all the glitz and glamor one might expect from a Vegas show. The content covered a wide spectrum of IBM’s portfolio from cloud to data analytics.

In my opinion, IBM’s SoftLayer and Watson stories are gems among a varied portfolio. In addition, the social engine is in full swing here at InterConnect. Analytics play a great role in defining different social metrics and IBM is not missing the opportunity. But more about that in a minute.

All about cloud

The cloud story is starting to gel for IBM, but still needs a bit of sharpening. They covered all the buzzwords in cloud, but it left me wanting to hear more than buzzword bingo. Much of the story hinges on the success of SoftLayer. Taking a deeper look at SoftLayer, it addresses a number of the core enterprise requirements for the broader market. It is not everything for everyone, but doesn’t need to be. This is where the ecosystem comes in. Ecosystems are everything today.

During the opening session, IBM announced ‘OpenStack as a Service’. It is not clear how this fits into the overall strategy as it was glossed over. This is an area to watch closely from two perspectives: 1) What exactly is the offering and what market is it intended to address? 2) How will this affect and/or divert SoftLayer’s existing VMware offerings. Will it cause SoftLayer to abandon VMware in favor of OpenStack as others have done? Each of these questions could govern the future success of SoftLayer both short and long-term.

Coursing through the data analytics

Many references are made to the growing accumulation of data. Terms like ‘data lake’ and ‘data ocean’ are used to describe the growing mass of untapped data. During the opening session, IBM outlined several use cases where companies have leveraged their technology to gain insights to the data problem.

Many of the examples continue with the financial services and healthcare use cases. Healthcare is one, if not the largest industry ripe for disruption from data analytics. Citi joined on stage to talk about their approach to innovation. Their mantra: Unleash, develop, disrupt. In the case of Citi, “Nobody needs banks, but everybody needs banking.” Great analogy. For healthcare, May Clinic mentioned that only 5% of cancer patients are engaged in a trial. Meaning there is a huge disconnect (read: opportunity) in connecting patients to potential treatment courses.

Getting social

Cloud and data analytics aren’t the only topics here at InterConnect. IBM is heavily leveraging their analytics platform to demonstrate the value of social here. And the social media elite are in full force. There are a couple of mis-steps by use of the longer hashtags (#IBMInterConnect and #NewWayToWork), but otherwise, the twitter stream is flowing pretty heavily. The longer hashtags are definitely leading to a myriad of typos, which defeat the purpose of the hashtag. One change would be greater engagement in the conversations happening on Twitter. Like some conferences, the twitter feed is mostly one-way with little two-way engagement.

Aside from the downsides, it is impressive the flow of tweets coming from an IBM conference. Considering the perception of IBM, it appears they’re moving in the right direction socially.

On tap for Day 2 and beyond…

It’s all about the cloud. Looking forward to the cloud discussions today along with the Executive Session and Shark Tank presentations.

Overall, it’s apparent that IBM is turning the corner on the conversations. IBM does have it’s flaws as any company that is 400,000 employees strong. That aside, IBM needs to continue on their quest to drive toward cloud and data analytics dominance. SoftLayer and Watson are two shining gems in the IBM portfolio that will need to blossom as they mature.

Originally posted @ Gigaom Research 2/24/2015

http://research.gigaom.com/2015/02/ibm-interconnect-day-1-impressions/

3 reasons traditional enterprise vendors will fail

Many often ask for my thoughts on traditional enterprise vendors compared with their startup and mid-size contemporaries. Without going into naming names, let me outline a few real situations that happened in just the past week alone. Each of these are large traditional enterprise providers and publically traded on either the NYSE or NASDAQ exchanges:

Direct line to sales

Last week, I called the main number of an IT services provider from their website. In the phone menu, I selected ‘sales’. Someone from ‘operations’ answers. I state that I’m looking for sales and was told “we take information for sales and pass it along for them to return the call.” It has been 5 business days and someone has still not returned my call.

Companies need to offer customers (and prospects) a direct line into sales. It is ok to leverage inside sales, but responses need to be quick while the customer is still engaged.

Keep reasonable hours

In a separate case, I called a second company that provides telecommunications, IT and cloud services. I used the main number from their website. Theoretically, telecom should be part of their strong suit. Unfortunately, the experience was not. My call was met with a greeting “Thank you for calling <name omitted>…Our hours of operation are 8-4:30pm Eastern Standard Time.” I was calling mid-morning Pacific Time, well within their hours of operation. But then the phone just rang and rang. No answer. After a few minutes, I hung up and called back a while later. Same thing, the phone just rang with no answer.

Two problems here: 1) their hours are 8-4:30pm Eastern? That means that anyone from the West Cost of the US better call in the morning before 1:30pm Pacific. That assumes that 2) there is someone to take the call. Even if not, there should be an option to leave a message with a quick callback. For a telecom company, this seemed like a big miss on multiple fronts.

Listen carefully to what the customer is saying

In yet another case with a third company, I wanted to explore their cloud services. First, getting to the right person was not trivial. Once I did, I clearly stated what I was looking for and wanted to understand more about their products. The person kept coming back to a script that involved a process to evaluate my needs before talking solutions. In most cases, this would be stellar. However, I knew what I was looking for. I just needed to know which of the vendor’s solutions fit best. It seemed that was not possible without running some involved tool that characterized my environment for some period of time first. I kept asking for more information about their solutions to no avail. They were not budging. Eventually, I had to actually state, “I don’t know how to explain what I’m looking for any other way.” And that was the end of the conversation.

Simplicity over complexity

Let’s face it; working in a big company has its issues. Big companies are complex beasts that are hard to traverse. In the first case, I’m certain my request for sales fell through the crack somewhere and may never surface again. Even if it does, I’ve already moved on. In the second case, I finally got to a person that could help me out. But not without the help of social media and a few extra hops finding the “right” contact for my specific situation. Again, far too many people in the process. In the third case, the person was not listening to my needs. They were more focused on the official company process.

Comparatively for their mid-sized contemporaries, the process was far more direct, complementary and simple for a customer to traverse. It is clear that mid-sized competitors do have an edge on their larger, established enterprise companies.

As a result of the experiences above, 2 of the 3 enterprise IT providers lost the opportunity. The third almost lost it, but barely made the running…for now. Unfortunately, those are not good odds.

My point of view

If enterprise IT providers are going to play in today’s ecosystem, they need to change their game. The game itself has evolved and is quickly leaving them behind. The sad part is that most of them either 1) don’t realize it or 2) refuse to believe it. My advise: believe it, step up and make a change.

Originally posted @ Gigaom Research 2/9/2015

http://research.gigaom.com/2015/02/3-reasons-traditional-enterprise-vendors-will-fail/

 

Does the enterprise marketplace really need a new email solution?

This week, Amazon announced their WorkMail solution as a business-class email and calendaring solution in the cloud. Over the past several years, Amazon has produced some amazing solutions. But is WorkMail something that the enterprise CIO should really take note of? And are we really in need of another email and calendaring alternative? There is a very important lesson to learn here. Read on.

Ask yourself this question: If this press release were launched by a completely different company, say Acme, would it have garnered as much attention and praise? Probably not. So, why are so many interested in this announcement?

New and innovative features?

If you read the details in the press release and on the WorkMail preview site, it is all motherhood and apple pie. Nothing new. Nothing innovative. In fact, many of the touted features are merely table stakes for any email and calendaring solution today. In order to supplant an incumbent, especially something as ingrained as email and calendaring, there needs to be a significant advantage.

Simply stating support for SSL, Active Directory or a Web-client is not going to get anyone excited. Or at least it should not. Those should be table stakes. If, however, you do get excited about those, it may be time to re-think your priorities. Conversely, the absence of those features should immediately garner a no-go.

Cloud-based alternatives?

The argument Amazon is making is really against on-premise email solutions today, namely Microsoft Exchange. The argument is for cloud-based email and calendaring solutions. The irony is that there are two solid, mature solutions in place today: Google Apps and Microsoft 365. There are other cloud-based solutions in the market today, but they are a distant 3, 4, 5, etc behind Google and Microsoft. In addition, WorkMail’s cost is right in line with that of Microsoft and Google. So, why try to compete? What is the advantage?

Enterprise integration

Enterprises are increasingly in need of better integration between solutions. Email, calendaring and file storage are some of the top areas of need. That is why we have seen the Google and Microsoft solutions include these core functions. But integration goes quite a bit further than simply backend integration.

Quite often, companies forget about the users and their perspective. This is one issue Google has faced from day-1. Using Google’s ‘tag’ approach vs. Microsoft’s files/ folders approach in use for years creates a significant learning curve. And that is one reason Microsoft 365 has seen a marked uptick in interest over Google Apps.

Anything in this space that is less than mature is simply an extremely hard sell to any enterprise. It is simply too risky to put email, calendaring and file storage to a less than mature solution. In addition, the integration needs to be solid and robust. It is not clear how/ if WorkMail is able to address this.

Marketing

The only thing I can come back to is marketing. Launching WorkMail is an opportunity for Amazon to garner wider interest and keep their name in the press. If that was their goal, they succeeded based on the number of articles written about WorkMail. If it were WorkMail by Acme, I doubt we would have heard about it.

Keeping your company in the public’s eye with fresh launches is one of several key initiatives. Launching WorkMail certainly does that. But in order to remain of interest, it needs to differentiate itself. In that area, WorkMail has failed. There is another side effect in that the perception will start to question why Amazon is going after such a mature market like email/ calendaring with such a basic offering. It definitely leaves some open questions.

My take

Amazon is heading down a questionable path. Enterprises are not chomping at the bit for a different email and calendaring alternative. They are, however, looking for easier ways to adopt and leverage public cloud solutions. Same goes for service providers.

My advice to Amazon would be to focus on what they do best and not go after email and calendaring. There are still a number of gaps in the public cloud space that could use their expertise and leadership.

Originally published @ Gigaom Research 1/30/2015

http://research.gigaom.com/2015/01/does-the-enterprise-marketplace-really-need-a-new-email-solution/

HP charts a course for the enterprise CIO from the inside out

Last week, HP (NYSE: HPQ) held their Discover Conference in Barcelona, Spain and the first since announcing their split into two major technology companies. Post split, HP Enterprise, the half focused on enterprise-class solutions, will need to demonstrate a strong leadership position to remain relevant in the dynamic and ever-changing enterprise space. Not a short order for such a large incumbent as HP. The split, however, brings into focus a renewed vigor to go after the enterprise CIO.

Looking inside to look outside

Over the past two years, HP assembled a powerhouse of CIO talent. The talent is not an advisory council, but rather executive leadership within the HP machine. In August 2012, HP went outside to hire Ramon Baez as their Global CIO. Previously, Baez was Vice President and CIO at Kimberly Clark. Then, in July 2014, HP made two other significant CIO hires. Former Clorox SVP & CIO Ralph Loura joined HP as CIO of HP’s Enterprise Group. At the same time, HP hired Paul Chapman as CIO of HP Software. Paul was formerly VP of Global Infrastructure & Cloud Operations at VMware. All three are highly respected among both their CIO peers and fellow executive colleagues. And one only needs to spend a few minutes with each to see how their thinking aligns with HP’s vision of the New Style of IT.

In their former roles, all three individuals accomplished many of the very activities that HP is helping their customers with today. For HP as a provider of products, solutions and services, it only needs to look internally to gain insight on which direction to take. Think of it as having the inside track on the transformational CIO.

On day one of the conference, I had the opportunity to join Paul Chapman and Paul Muller, VP of Strategic Marketing, HP Software to discuss The Evolving CIO.

Emphasis on cloud and big data

At Discover Barcelona, HP’s Helion cloud solutions and Haven data solutions were front-and-center at the front of each exhibit hall.

FullSizeRender-1 FullSizeRender-2

HP’s Helion cloud division continued their beat toward an OpenStack based ecosystem. The group, soon to be lead by former Eucalyptus CEO Marten Mickos, is placing a strong showing behind the OpenStack platform with solutions that address the enterprise challenges with Private Cloud to Public Cloud solutions.

Even so, there is still quite a bit of work to be done by both HP and their customers. Enterprises are still, in large part, working out how best to leverage cloud-based solutions. In addition, OpenStack has its own set of challenges to become a viable product for the masses. HP’s intent is to bridge the gap between what the enterprise needs and the current state of the technology. Mickos’ new position heading up the Helion division is already starting to turn a battleship in great need to a significant course correction.

On the big data front, HP made a splash in June 2013 with their HAVEn set of core technologies. The idea was to bring the best of both worlds with their acquisitions of Vertica and Autonomy. Since the announcement, the products were perceived to be a grouping of parts rather than a cohesive solution. At Discover Barcelona, HP unveiled their updated branding to Haven that signifies the integration of the products into a more comprehensive solution.

While the marketing is coming together, it is unclear that customers are resonating with the broader appeal of Haven beyond just that of each component. Haven is, however, moving to a Helion application offered in the cloud or on-premises, which could appeal more broadly to enterprise CIOs.

Infrastructure incredibly important

At the conference, HP made it clear that infrastructure remains incredibly important. And from the size of the crowds around their Converged Systems areas, it would seem customers are resonating with the same view. Anecdotally, the hardware areas were the most crowded sections of the exhibit floor.

IMG_0363

Packed within the Converged Systems group is HP’s OneView management platform. Today, OneView presents a management platform for the broader infrastructure platform. However, the real value will come from the ecosystem HP is building around the platform.

A comprehensive management platform is one area that will become increasingly more important for the CIO facing a potpourri of different vendors, providers and solutions.

Devil in the details

Ultimately, for HP, the devil is in the details. For the enterprise CIO, however, HP presents some interesting potential in their portfolio. They do have some formidable challenges ahead as they split in two and bring focus to the enterprise of tomorrow. Neither is easy, but will be interesting to see how HP fares moving forward.

Originally posted @ Gigaom Research 12/8/2014

http://research.gigaom.com/2014/12/hp-charts-a-course-for-the-enterprise-cio-from-the-inside-out/

IBM connects the dots between data, cloud and engagement

At this week’s IBM Insight conference in Las Vegas, IBM brought out the big guns to demonstrate their chops in the data analytics space. Insight is IBM’s conference dedicated to their solutions around data management and analytics. While there are some highlights, other areas are still evolving.

Setting the stage and connecting the dots

Things kicked off with IBM SVP of the Information and Analytics group, Bob Picciano, talking about the important interconnection between data, cloud and engagement.

  • Data is the ‘What’
  • Cloud is the ‘How’
  • Engagement is the ‘Why’

Bob’s messaging paints a good picture of how the technology and data play a central role to the ever-changing IT organization. Engagement is the key to business relationships with customers. The CIO and IT organization need to fully understand how they engage with customers today and how that will evolve over time. Where are the opportunities? How can IT help create deeper relationships with customers? Data and cloud will play a leading role.

Relationships comes in all sizes

The way companies connect with their customers will vary greatly. To that point, there are some core themes here at Insight that mirrors the varied ways. Two of the key areas are social engagement and mobile. Ironically, traffic at the mobile booth seems anemic compared with the social engagement area, which saw constant traffic. In order for IBM to truly capitalize on the changing marketplace mobile will need to take a stronger position.

Getting social, but still a ways to go

Social media plays a central role in customer engagement for many organizations. The impressive thing is that the #IBMInsight hashtag was trending high on Twitter’s list for much of the day. As a data geek, one is always thinking about the value of those metrics. Trending at the top of Twitter is pretty impressive until you start to look at the finer details.

Running data through Tweet Binder provides a bit of clarity (report). Almost 50% of tweeters used Twitter clients for iPhone, iPad or Android speaking to the importance of mobile in social media. Looking a bit further, 61% of tweeters only tweeted a single tweet while 77.51% of tweeters tweeted only one or two times. That is not a good showing for attendees that should be well versed on the impact of social media and demonstrates there is still a ways to go.

Building an ecosystem

Walking the expansive show floor, it is apparent that IBM has worked to build their ecosystem. There are plenty of vendors that provide complementary products based on IBM technology along with plenty of consulting shops too. The interesting point here is that there are not many larger technology companies other than IBM exhibiting. This could be a side effect to IBM’s wide portfolio of services and solutions and a feeling of competitiveness among vendors. Unfortunately, it does not represent the varied needs of the average enterprise customer.

Summary in a nutshell

Putting it all together, IBM is making good waves to support the enterprise around data and analytics. They have made a good start, but still have a ways to go. The solutions still have a traditional IBM ‘feel’ and with rare exceptions span into the newer territories. There was a showing of IBM’s BlueMix platform, but not too much beyond the large enterprise perspective. Even the cloud area competed with the size of the infrastructure areas.

The reality is that turning a company the size of IBM is hard. In addition to size, there are cultures that need adjustment too. But it seems IBM has started to make good strides in some specific areas with ostensibly more to come. It will be interesting to see how IBM addresses solutions going forward and starts to truly pull the different components (data, cloud, engagement) together.

 

Originally posted @ Gigaom Research 10/27/14

http://research.gigaom.com/2014/10/ibm-connects-the-dots-between-data-cloud-and-engagement/

There comes a point when it is not just about storage space

Is the difference between cloud storage provides about free space? In a word, no. I wrote about the cloud storage wars and potential bubble here:

The cloud storage wars heat up

http://avoa.com/2014/04/29/the-cloud-storage-wars-heat-up/

4 reasons cloud storage is not a bubble about to pop

http://avoa.com/2014/03/24/4-reasons-cloud-storage-is-not-a-bubble-about-to-pop/

Each of the providers is doing their part to drive value into their respective solutions. To some, value includes the amount of ‘free’ disk space included. Just today, Microsoft upped the ante by offering unlimited free space for their OneDrive and OneDrive for Business solutions.

Is there value in the amount of free space? Maybe, but only to a point. Once they offer an amount above the normal needs (or unlimited), the value becomes a null. I do not have statistics, but would hazard a venture that ‘unlimited’ is more marketing leverage where most users only consume less than 50GB each.

Looking beyond free space

Once a provider offers unlimited storage, one needs to look at the feature/ functionality of the solution. Not all solutions are built the same nor offer similar levels. Enterprise features, integration, ease of use and mobile access are just a few of the differentiators. Even with unlimited storage, if the solution does not offer the feature you need, storage value is greatly diminished.

The big picture

For most, cloud storage is about replacing a current solution. On the surface the amount of free storage is a quick pickup. However, the real issue is in the compatibility and value beyond just the amount of free storage. Does the solution integrate with existing solutions? How broad is their ecosystem? What about Single Sign On (SSO) support? How much work will it take to implement and train users? These are just a few of the factors that must be considered.

 

Originally posted @ Gigaom Research 10/27/14

http://research.gigaom.com/2014/10/there-comes-a-point-when-it-is-not-just-about-storage-space/

What do cloud consolidation and disruption have in common?

Originally posted @ Gigaom Research 10/13/2014

http://research.gigaom.com/2014/10/what-do-cloud-consolidation-and-disruption-have-in-common/

One thing is for sure, we can expect to see much more of cloud consolidation and disruption happening in the IT space over the coming months and years. Recently, Cisco, EMC, HP and IBM have all acquired startups from the cloud space. And each of these acquisitions was disruptive in their own way.

Cloud, in theory, should not be that disruptive. However, the essence of cloud actually presents a compelling disruptive story that is intoxicating to those whom fully understand the potential. That being said, enterprise IT organizations will leverage a combination of traditional IT services and cloud-based solutions.

Not surprisingly, the recent cloud acquisitions sit closest to the current state of the traditional enterprise. Key to this strategy is to 1) expand the portfolio by offering new solutions and 2) evolve the enterprise (and provider) toward a cloud-based strategy.

Keeping score

For those keeping score, Cisco acquired Metacloud. EMC acquired Cloudscaling. HP acquired Eucalyptus. And IBM acquired SoftLayer. Based on the momentum, one could look toward IBM to make the next move. On the other side, with Cisco, EMC and HP going after private cloud solutions, there is a position to take that it is these three to watch. An additional factor to consider is that a startup may have a great solution, but not enough runway (money) to keep them afloat until the market is ready to adopt. Watch for more of these situations, as the overall IT market takes longer to adopt disruptive solutions such as cloud-based solutions.

Shifting the incumbents

Regardless of who moves first, second, third or fourth, the act of acquiring cloud-based solutions will create a shift in the provider’s overall strategy. For the enterprise CIO, one key to watch will be momentum among the cloud startups. Which solutions are up-and-coming and getting quite a bit of attention by early adopters? Two that come to mind are Docker and OpenStack. If OpenStack were a company, this would be the one to watch. In any case, enterprise IT organizations need to keep close watch of this area.

As enterprise IT organizations shift from traditional IT infrastructure to converged infrastructure and onward to cloud-based solutions, the incumbent provider must have an answer to the shift. Let it be noted that the incumbent need not provide all parts of the solution. This is where the ecosystem comes in to create value and fill the gaps in the strategy.

Leveraging innovation

Many ask why the incumbents do not innovate internally and build out their portfolio like they have in past years. With a vibrant industry of up-and-coming potential solutions, there are easier paths to success. Why take the risk and invest significant funding into a number of different strategies only to have one pay off? Instead, watch the space and acquire the right solution that has a proven technology and fits the model well. The key is finding the point when the solution is proven, but not so successful that it demands paying a premium.

For the CIO, this means keeping close tabs on how the cloud space is evolving regardless of the stage of adoption they are at. Cloud solutions impact organization, services, and processes in addition to technology.

Divesting leads to Consolidation

The big breakups of 2014 are leading to further cloud consolidation. Many of the large IT providers have simply gotten too big and too diversified. Divesting is essentially a healthy way to trim their portfolio and refocus the company in leading areas within their industry. Divesting also opens the door to an interesting side effect of acquisition opportunities.

Intersection of cloud consolidation and disruption

Each of the acquisition targets is disruptive in their own right. The market as a whole is also very fragmented with solutions solving a similar problem, but in very different ways. And each company does one thing and one thing very well. The opportunity to explode the solution comes with building out the ecosystem. For the startup, what better way than to sell to a larger organization that has several of the building blocks already integrated and productized. Plus, the alternative of heading toward IPO is just not as appetizing of an equity event as it used to be.

Could Rackspace start the cloud vertical movement?

Originally posted @ Gigaom Research 10/8/2014

http://research.gigaom.com/2014/10/could-rackspace-start-the-cloud-vertical-movement/

There are plenty of other posts detailing whether Rackspace (NYSE: RAX) should sell or split. I detailed my own thoughts here back in May 2014. With the speculation continuing to twist in different directions, one thought got me thinking. Ideally, the board of Rackspace would do what they felt was best for shareholders. Maybe the current thinking of split or sell is too simplistic. Maybe there is a possibility that takes them from the muddled world of cloud infrastructure players to a relatively niche area that is ripe for the taking. This shift would put Rackspace in a unique position of differentiation.

Leading the cloud verticals

What if Rackspace shifted gears to focus solely on providing services to cloud verticals? We already know that Rackspace does a fine job of their hosting and cloud services. To that end, their ‘Fanatical Support’ is well respected in the industry. Put cloud verticals together with Fanatical Support and it may end up being a fine option for the future of a leading organization. There are still challenges between the hosting and cloud business revenue models to consider. But beyond that, there is a chance to delve into an area that presents a challenge for many would-be cloud customers.

Starting with Healthcare

Across the spectrum of industries, the financial performance of healthcare (+23.7%) has outperformed other industries in the past year with information technology (+22.0%) trailing closely behind. There are a number of use cases in which cloud computing could (and does) provide value to healthcare organizations. Even considering the compliance requirements of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act (HIPAA), cloud services from IaaS to SaaS make sense. Creating a specific vertical of services that is centered around environments with regulatory issues such as HIPAA enable an easier decision for healthcare organizations as opposed to the alternative where they create their own cloud-based solution.

Fanatical Support pivots

One of the core tenants to Rackspace’s value has been their Fanatical Support. Over the years, their Fanatical Support has served as a key differentiator for the company. Considering the specialized needs of different verticals (like healthcare), it would make sense to pivot this support model from general-purpose support to specialized support for each vertical. Again, bringing support back into the fold as a core differentiator and building on their existing successes.

The value of specialization

In the general-purpose cloud market, the services are fairly confusing and muddled. Not to mention the drive toward razor-thin margins. Different cloud providers offer slightly different features, classes of services and ecosystems. By specializing on cloud verticals, Rackspace could lead the charge in building a specific ecosystem around specific verticals. It has long been discussed that cloud verticals is the logical next step for cloud maturity. Pairing their support model with the specialized services needed by each vertical would create a new level of differentiation and potentially different economic model. And this economic model would present an opportunity for growth beyond the general-purpose cloud solutions offered today. Add in the leadership that Rackspace covets in the OpenStack space and the interest only grows further.

Is Rackspace the only provider that could leverage this route? No. But considering the position that Rackspace currently holds and their suite of components, it would be an interesting approach to follow. And it might present an opportunity for the entire company to pivot without considering sale or split. Granted, there is still a good case to be made for going private too.

Is the cloud unstable and what can we do about it?

Originally posted @ Gigaom Research 9/29/2014

http://research.gigaom.com/2014/09/is-the-cloud-instable-and-what-can-we-do-about-it/

 

The recent major reboots of cloud-based infrastructure by Amazon and Rackspace has resurfaced the question about cloud instability. Days before the reboot, both Amazon and Rackspace noted that the reboots were due to a vulnerability with Zen. Barb Darrow of Gigaom covered this in detail here. Ironically, all of this came less than a week before the action took place, leaving many flat-footed.

Outages are not new

First, let us admit that outages (and reboots) are not unique to cloud-based infrastructure. Traditional corporate data centers face unplanned outages and regular system reboots. For Microsoft-based infrastructure, reboots may happen monthly due to security patch updates. Back in April 2011, I wrote a piece Amazon Outage Concerns are Overblown. Amazon had just endured another outage of their Virginia data center that very day. In response, customers and observers took shots at Amazon. However, is Amazon’s outage really the problem? In the piece, I suggested that customers were misunderstanding the problem when they think about cloud-based infrastructure services.

Cloud expectations are misguided

As with the piece back in 2011, the expectations of cloud-based infrastructure have not changed much for enterprise customers. The expectation has been (and still is) that cloud-based infrastructure is resilient just like that within the corporate data center. The truth is very different. There are exceptions, but the majority of cloud-based infrastructure is not built for hardware resiliency. That’s by design. The expectation by service providers is that application/ service resiliency rests further up the stack when you move to cloud. That is very different than traditional application architectures found in the corporate data center where infrastructure provides the resiliency.

Time to expect failure in the cloud

Like many of the web-scale applications using cloud-based infrastructure today, enterprise applications need to rethink their architecture. If the assumption is that infrastructure will fail, how will that impact architectural decisions? When leveraging cloud-based infrastructure services from Amazon or Rackspace, this paradigm plays out well. If you lose the infrastructure, the application keeps humming away. Take out a data center, and users are still not impacted. Are we there yet? Nowhere close. But that is the direction we must take.

Getting from here to there

Hypothetically, if an application were built with the expectation of infrastructure failure, the recent failures would not have impacted the delivery to the user. Going further, imagine if the application could withstand a full data center outage and/ or a core intercontinental undersea fiber cut. If the expectation were for complete infrastructure failure, then the results would be quite different. Unfortunately, the reality is just not there…yet.

The vast majority of enterprise applications were never designed for cloud. Therefore, they need to be tweaked, re-architected or worse, completely rewritten. There’s a real cost to do so! Just because the application could be moved to cloud does not mean the economics are there to support it. Each application needs to be evaluated individually.

Building the counterargument

Some may say that this whole argument is hogwash. So, let us take a look at the alternative. If one does build cloud-based infrastructure to be resilient like that of its corporate brethren, it would result in a very expensive venture at a minimum. Infrastructure is expensive. Back in the 1970’s a company called Tandem Computers had a solution to this with their NonStop system. In the 1990’s, the Tandem NonStop Himalayan class systems were all the rage…if you could afford them. NonStop was particularly interesting for financial services organizations that 1) could not afford the downtime and 2) had the money to afford the system. Consequently, Tandem was acquired by Compaq who in turn was acquired by HP. NonStop is now owned by HP as part of their Integrity NonStop products. Aside from Tandem’s solutions, even with all of the infrastructure redundancy, many are still just a data center outage away of impacting an application. The bottom line is: It is impossible to build a 100% resilient infrastructure. That is true either due to 1) it is cost prohibitive and 2) becomes a statistical probability problem. For many, the value comes down to the statistic probably of an outage compared with the protections taken.

Making the move

Over the past five years or so, companies have looked at the economics to build redundancy (and resiliency) at the infrastructure layer. The net result is a renewed focus on moving away from infrastructure resiliency and toward low-cost hardware. The thinking is: infrastructure is expensive and resiliency needs to move up the stack. The challenge is changing the paradigm of how application redundancy is handled by developers of corporate applications.

IBM BLU Acceleration speaks to core business challenges with Cancun Release

Originally posted @ Gigaom Research 9/15/2014

http://research.gigaom.com/2014/09/ibm-blu-acceleration-speaks-to-core-business-challenges-with-cancun-release/

 

IBM’s BLU Acceleration is starting to make inroads in addressing common issues faced by enterprise IT organizations. BLU Acceleration is IBM’s in-memory database processing is based on DB2. In-memory processing provides significant performance advantages over traditional methods by eliminating the need to constantly read and write from hard drives. Instead, BLU Acceleration pulls the data into memory and performs the analytical processes within memory. This results in accelerated performance during analytical operations.

IBM’s Cancun Release of BLU Acceleration includes a number of new enhancements to the core product including support for Shadow Tables, Oracle & SAP and IBM’s POWER8 integration.

Shadow Tables

The Cancun Release provides the ability to conduct operations using tables on top of existing tables within the database. Interestingly, the Shadow Tables are column-oriented versus traditional row-oriented tables. This provides a second layer of capability without impacting the performance of core table structures.

Integration with Oracle and SAP

In different ways, IBM is providing greater integration with both Oracle and SAP. For Oracle, IBM is providing tools to migrate existing Oracle environments into IBM DB2 in order to retain existing work. This is key when considering a move from one database platform to another.

For SAP, IBM has provided greater integration with SAP BW (Business Warehouse) beyond the core offering. In doing so, SAP workloads can leverage BLU Acceleration with a number of enhancements. It will be interesting to see how this space evolves compared with SAP’s own in-memory solution, SAP HANA.

Integration with IBM POWER8 processor

The last of the Cancun Release enhancements provides optimizations that fully leverage the POWER8 processor such as concurrent multithreading and 128-bit register instructions. In doing so, IBM creates a powerful combination of tying software applications to engage specific hardware features and therefore optimizing the application for the hardware platform.

Migration Required

IBM BLU Acceleration provides a number of opportunities for in-memory database process. The catch is that it leverages IBM’s DB2 database. In order to leverage the benefits, customers will need to migrate from their existing platform (Oracle, SQL, etc) to DB2.

For organizations looking to enhanced performance in their Big Data and Analytics operations, in-memory processing is key. DB2 with BLU Acceleration is an interesting solution but may pose a moment of pause for non-DB2 customers when considering the requirements to migrate. For Oracle customers, the migration tools in the Cancun Release will help with this process.