Tuesday, October 27, 2009

IT management nirvana? Smells like virtual and physical control

I was very amused by the headline on Denise Dubie's Network World article this week about CA's big multi-product announcement. It noted that CA and other management vendors were working toward IT management "nirvana" -- a state that IT has been pretty far away from. Especially when virtualization gets involved.

So, what's the main difference between where we are now and what she described? "Now" might be described (with a little help from a certain '90s grunge band of the same name) as "Come As You Are," "Nevermind," or something equally dire.

"IT management nirvana," on the other hand, requires a coherent way to control your IT environment, regardless of whether you're talking about physical or virtual components. The good news: I think CA is addressing that combined requirement pretty well, and this week's announcements help.

One of the things I've liked about the CA story that I've heard since I joined is the way in which the company directly addresses the day-to-day, pragmatic interests of users. Breaking down management silos is one of the keys to that. It's also worth noting that a bunch of other aspects of IT control -- big, grown-up, important concepts -- are front and center. Management, governance, automation, and security are all in the first paragraph of CA's press release regarding virtualization management -- topics that were certainly not highlighted nor addressed by many industry players even just six months ago.

Getting to "IT management nirvana" may not be exactly only about pragmatism, but nevertheless, I think it's some of the practical parts of this week's announcements that are worth noting. In particular:

· Single pane of glass for physical & virtual management. The root-cause analysis capabilities of the new CA Spectrum Service Assurance product take both the physical & virtual into account. It's designed to offer one place to display the impact of the physical & virtual IT infrastructure on the services it supports. Mike Vizard's CTO Edge write-up about this announcement gives you a peek into what the product's interface looks like, in case you're curious.

· Provisioning across physical & virtual infrastructures. Enabling application configuration management and dynamic resource provisioning is hard. Being able to do that across internal physical, virtual, and even external cloud environments is really hard. CA Spectrum Automation Manager has now added this, plus another neat little trick: rapid physical-to-virtual and virtual-to-virtual server provisioning.

· Cross-virtualization management. Add to the things mentioned above broad support for virtualization technologies like VMware vSphere, Citrix Xen, IBM LPAR, and Sun Solaris, and it's another reason it's worth noting. There are a few more holes to fill (Microsoft Hyper-V comes to mind), but it makes a great cross-VM story. What CA Spectrum Automation Manager now has in its cross-virtualization support is beyond what we were doing at Cassatt. You can see some earlier discussion of across-multiple-hypervisor management in this post.

· For VMware lovers out there, there's even more. A couple of the other products (you can find details about which ones in the CA press release) help discover more about VMware and performance issues, including database performance before, during, and after VMware VMotion migrations. In fact, there are a bunch more virtualization features scattered across many product lines that work in conjunction with your VMware technology. (Again, it's kind of nice to have answers to a lot of the broad management questions that customers are asking by virtue of an extensive product portfolio.)

Making a bet that integrated management is better

You'll notice that CA is putting its weight behind the concept that having a unified management capability is more efficient and more powerful for an IT organization. That's not unexpected given the breadth of management capabilities that CA can offer a customer. But, it's also in line with the complex environments that large customers actually have. But is it how they want to manage things?

Mike Vizard, again in his CTO Edge article, weighed in with one view: "At the moment," said Vizard, "customers seem to be favoring [an] integration strategy between existing systems management tools and providers of dedicated virtual machine management tools. Over the long haul, odds are good that customers will ultimately want to see more convergence of these tools rather than continuing to pay separate licensing fees for both," wrote Vizard.

Delivering tools that can provide this convergence, and seeing customers have great success with them, is the thing that will tip the balance. And in the end, that's probably a balance that will favor the customer. Vizard said something similar back in September when CA announced the deal to acquire NetQoS, postulating that "it will also ultimately prove a lot less expensive [to have unified management tools] than managing a whole slew of point products."

All that certainly sounds more like IT management nirvana (and certainly more harmonious and under control than the aforementioned namesake band from Seattle often was). Hopefully, these tools and others it inspires in the marketplace will gets us a step closer.

And, if any of my Nirvana references don't quite hit the mark: All Apologies. Blame Denise. Or her headline writer.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Scientists v. Cowboys: How cloud computing looks from Europe

Is Europe following the U.S. on cloud computing...or vice versa?

While I was over in Berlin for a chunk of the summer, I had a chance to connect up with some of the discussions going on in Europe around cloud computing. It's true, high tech information these days knows no international boundaries. Articles that originally run in North American IT pubs are picked up wholesale by their European counterparts. New York Times articles run everywhere. Tweets fly across oceans. And a lot of technology news is read directly from the U.S. sources, websites, communities, and the like.

However, homegrown European publications are brimming with cloud computing, too. I found references to cloud in the Basel airport newsrack and the Berlin U-Bahn newsstands, all from local European information sources (and some of their reporters are excellent). European-based and -focused bloggers are taking on the topic as well; take a look at blogs like http://www.saasmania.com/ and http://www.nubeblog.com/. Even http://www.virtualization.info/, one of the best news sources on (you guessed it) virtualization, is run by Alessandro Perilli out of Italy. And, of course, there are big analyst contingents from the 451 Group (hello, William Fellows), Gartner, Forrester, and many others in various European enclaves.

The real question, though, is not only how are Europeans getting their cloud computing information (though I'm betting quite a few marketing folks are watching that topic closely). The real question is what are European customers doing about cloud computing now and how do they want to adopt this new operating model.

First things first: there are many, many European cloud companies

One strong indication that cloud is going to accelerate in Europe: the start-up ecosystem is growing. Just in the past few months I've run across folks like Berlin-based Zimory; Symetriq (from the city that their website and my memory tout as "beautiful and stimulating," Edinburgh, Scotland); Barcelona-based Abiquo -- just to name a few.

This week, EuroCloud launched in 7 European countries as an industry organization to promote cloud computing and software-as-a-service (SaaS). Part of the group's raison d'ĂȘtre (do you like how I worked in a European language?) is to show that there's a vibrant group of companies ready, willing, and able to help get cloud computing going. Another is to help those same companies work through issues that could be putting limits on cross-border growth -- language and legal differences. Phil Wainewright wrote a good ZDNet blog on the EuroCloud launch.

Cloud adoption in Europe v. America: "It's the little differences"

But back to customer adoption.

When I ran European marketing program(me)s for BEA out of London in the early part of this decade, I got a real flavor for some fundamental differences in how the Europeans approach IT compared with their American counterparts. I'm betting this is going to hold true for the cloud computing uptake as well.

America: The Cowboys

Americans, true to a stereotype or two, seem to be the cowboys of new technology adoption. They shoot first, ask questions later. Good thing, too. This approach gives start-ups a way to get some early customers and evangelists who seem to enjoy the thrill of sticking their necks out. Mind you, there are plenty of organizations in the States where that's not the case (and the bad economy is probably putting a damper on some of them now), but I've seen lots of examples of this willingness to take a bit of a risk in hopes of a big pay-off.

Europe: The Scientists

What I saw while living and working in Europe was that despite their many cultures and distinct national personalities, Europeans on the whole are much more methodical and measured in their consideration of anything new. At least when it comes to IT purchases. Maybe it's why they come up with things like ITIL. They are much more about process. They want to make sure all the issues they will run into have been considered. Security? Governance? Compliance? Management? Disaster recovery? I hope you've thought those all through, Mr. Vendor. And, if you have, and can deliver solid answers, you're in luck. These guys will go big for whatever it is. However, getting all those pieces in place can take a while, so you'd better plan on that.

Cloud computing in Europe: the waiting game?

So, where does that put us regarding cloud computing?

I'm sure there are some good adoption stats from IDC or someone similar that answer the question (or give us predictions) in the specific. I know what the European start-ups and other vendors of cloudy wares in Europe are hoping: they are hoping that the folks in Europe are willing to take a leap sooner rather than later. And, they hope that they will take that leap with a European-based company.

But there's another possibility, one that is less hopeful that the hype is going convince someone, and one that matches my experience from my BEA days: they'll wait. I've seen them do it. As is more their style, the European IT buyers might wait for some of the big players who will pave the way and make things safe for them. Or, maybe some will split the difference and get help from an innovator with big backing like Zimory (who has funding from Deutsche Telekom).

The economy is a bit of a wildcard if you're trying to place your bets. Earlier in the year, while working as Cassatt, I reported some commentary from our partner Bull who said that the bad economy really hadn't affected them yet. I'm hoping to revisit that in an upcoming post, along with additional info I'm seeing on where things stand now.

(If events are any indication, things are looking good. Recent Cloud Camps in Frankfurt, Munich, northeast England have all seemed to get a lot of attention.)

Either way, it will be interesting. I'd love to hear your take on the hotbeds of European cloud activity, which European vendors are doing unique and innovative work, and where and how customers are starting their cloud computing implementations of one sort or another.

In the meantime, here are some suggested folks to follow on Twitter to stay in touch with the cloud computing goings-on in Europe:

@mastermark @rjudas @zimory @vtri @abiquo @nubeblog @saasmania @raesmaa @stephenmann @wif @bryanglick

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Running with scissors? Or maybe trimming the risks out of virtualization instead

What's riskier: standing at the top of a hill in a thunderstorm while holding a golf club...or commuting to work? Skydiving...or flying to Pamplona and then taking part in the Running of the Bulls? OK, now for the really tough one: juggling knives...or implementing virtualization in production?

Before you answer, you should be warned that humans are quite bad at assessing relative risks. TIME Magazine had a cover story a number of years back on that very subject. The problem in a nutshell, scientists say, is that we're "moving through the modern world with what is, in many respects, a prehistoric brain."

Deploying virtualization doesn't sound all that dangerous, especially compared with some of the scarier items above (like, say, if you lacking knife-juggling skills). If that was your answer, you probably haven't been in an IT shop recently. OK, maybe it's not the same as spending the night in the polar bear cage at the zoo, but it's not without risks. And since risk is a four-letter word in large IT shops that handle mission-critical systems, it's worth figuring out how to get the benefits while minimizing potential problems.

The IT Process Institute survey that VMware and my employer, CA, sponsored and released (actual survey available here) a few weeks back was put together to try to identify what some of the more mature IT shops are doing to deal with worries about risk that virtualization introduces.

The survey itself, which talked to 323 different IT organizations, is a bit daunting to wade through, so I pulled out some interesting tidbits worth highlighting here:

People's sights are set higher than just server consolidation. And they are being aggressive. 72% are aggressively virtualizing production servers, but only 19% are using virtualization just to consolidate servers. The bigger focus is on pursuing high availability and disaster recovery. And, nearly another third are shooting for dynamic resource optimization.

If you use virtualization in production, you are going to have to change operating procedures and controls. The survey found that those organizations with a strong foundation of process controls and procedures were likely to only need to modify the controls they already have in place. That's good news for some of the bigger IT shops and their IT ops staff. However, the more complex things you try to do with virtualization, the survey found, the more modifications should be considered. Kind of straightforward, but worth repeating.

Many mature virtualization users have at one point limited the release of virtualization in production until training requirements and management procedures were taken care of. Maybe it's just a phase everyone has to go through, but it seems many have slowed things down to err on the side of caution. The survey shows, however, that many IT organizations have now reached what it calls "a level of confidence needed to aggressively virtualize business critical systems, including those that are in scope for regulatory compliance." That's impressive, actually, and is a big change from a few years ago.

Here's where the running with scissors part comes in

The study identified a bunch of virtualization bogeymen -- things that seriously worry the IT shops working to deploy virtualization. Some of those worries included:

· It makes a mess (technology-wise). Also known as virtual sprawl (a term that VMware was very sensitive about when we started using this a few years back at Cassatt). This can also hinder compliance efforts.
· Things can hide. There are potential issues with discovery tools not tuned to work with virtual systems.
· Too much of a good thing. There is license compliance risk if virtual servers can appear too easily. You might also exceed available resource capacity.
· Putting all your eggs in one basket. Well-meaning administrators can inadvertently make things riskier by stacking critical apps together on one faulty machine.
· It makes a mess (organization-wise). Aggressive adoption probably means specialized training and new organization structures.
· A perfect target. Security is a big concern by survey respondents, worrying about the hypervisor as a new layer of technology that can be attacked.

Those probably all sound familiar. The interesting point is that the survey said they all added up to this: "putting virtualized systems into production without a well-reasoned set of operational controls creates an unacceptable level of production and compliance risk."

OK, time to hit these problems head-on, then.

The survey's recommendations for reducing virtualization risk

So what's a good way to start addressing those risks (besides hiding the scissors)? The survey has three sets of recommendations. I've noted where in the survey to find them so you won't have to dig through it yourself:

· 11 practices for those organizations with "baseline maturity" (generally doing server consolidation-type things with business critical systems). The focus for those orgs talks about host access, configuration controls, VM provisioning, and improvements to capacity & performance management. See page 14 of the survey for the exhaustive list.
· 25 practices for "highly mature, but static" uses of virtualization (generally looking at HA & DR issues). There the suggestions are about configuration standardization, approved build images for provisioning, and using a "trust but verify" approach for changes. It takes all of page 17 of the survey to list these suggestions.
· For the braves ones doing "highly mature, but dynamic" things with their virtualization, the research suggested 12 items around configuration discovery & tracking, change approvals, capacity management, and the overall process maturity needed to support automation. See page 22 for this list.

Some virtualization management suggestions

One of the suggestions that's "highly desirable" is a coordinated view between your physical and virtual environment, according to today's Computerworld article from Beth Schultz about "Getting a Grip on Multivendor Virtualization." CA's Stephen Elliot was quoted in the article talking about some of this survey's findings. "A lot of customers are recognizing that virtualization is great, and works wonders," said Elliot, "but certain environments will not be virtualized and so they need to figure out how to manage and automate both worlds together."

I've posted before on why the automation side of the equation is important, as have Laurie MacVittie and others. The report chimes in here, too: "Many view automation used to manage dynamic virtual resources as a prerequisite for tapping internal and external cloud computing resources." But that's a subject for another day.

The Computerworld article also has some good comments about the importance of being able to manage across multiple virtualization vendors' environments, something that has also been discussed here, but was outside the more process-oriented scope of this particular survey.

"The key thing that pleasantly surprised us [in the study] is that customers right now...are thinking more proactively about the need to manage their virtual infrastructure," Elliot said in an interview with Jeffrey Burt of eWeek. "Just because they've got new innovations [in their data centers] doesn't mean that their need for management just disappears."

That, after all, would be pretty risky.

Monday, October 5, 2009

BusinessWeek's Hamm: Recession harms Silicon Valley's ability to contribute, but helps cloud computing

Believe it or not, there are still people who get paid to watch and report on the ins and outs of Silicon Valley. They see a lot of what's going on and probably think that those of us in the business are alternately drivers of a pretty interesting part of the global economy -- and in need of therapy. (Example? How about Larry Ellison's most recent anti-cloud computing rant and the flurry of commentary that followed.) But such dynamics come with the territory.

Steve Hamm of BusinessWeek is one of the guys who has been on the case for years. I met him through my work with Cassatt and have followed his work about the goings-ons in the Valley closely. With the economy still struggling to find its footing (certainly on the job front) but the buzz still at full volume about cloud computing, I thought some of his thoughts would be a useful contribution to the dialog here. He's been in the middle of some heated discussions on these topics. Plus, I find it's always interesting to interview the interviewers now and again.

If you don't know Hamm, he has been writing about the tech industry for 20 years, first in Silicon Valley and now in New York City. At BusinessWeek, he covers innovation, globalization, and leadership. He's also the author of two books, The Race for Perfect, about innovation in portable computing, and Bangalore Tiger, about the rise of the Indian tech industry.

Jay Fry, Data Center Dialog: You've been watching Silicon Valley and its cast of characters quite closely for a while. You've also had a chance to watch the economic downturn's impact on the Valley. What do you think will be of lasting importance in the way this recession is playing out compared with previous ones -- or even compared with early predictions about how this one would proceed?

Steve Hamm, BusinessWeek: Because it's so cheap to create Web 2.0 companies, and because most of the services they create are free to the consumer, this recession has had no discernible impact on creativity and use growth in social networking and social media. However, I believe that the funding squeeze, paucity of IPOs, and risk-aversion among venture capitalists has caused a slowdown in innovation in other areas that need attention -- green technologies, for instance. So while this recession hasn't had a devastating effect on the Valley and innovation, like the dot-com bust and '02 recession, it has harmed the Valley's ability to contribute as much as it could to solving the world's systemic problems.

DCD: Your BusinessWeek cover story back in December featured some big names (like Andy Grove) questioning whether Silicon Valley has the big, long-term thinking these days to deliver major, technological breakthroughs, rather than just incremental improvements. Do you think 2009 has provided evidence one way or the other?

Steve Hamm: I don't think much has changed. While IBM continues to invest aggressively in fundamental science-oriented breakthroughs, HP has narrowed its scope. Start-ups seeking money to do deep, long-term, transformative work continue to have difficulty getting funding.
DCD: Last month you blogged about the effect that consolidation is having on the IT industry and Silicon Valley entrepreneurship in general. In your interviews for the article (with senior Valley execs Bill Coleman and Craig Conway), you heard opposing views: that consolidation will be very tough for vendors -- or that the possibility of acquisition will still inspire start-ups to invent, despite a mostly dry IPO market. "I'm looking for some smart and brave CIOs to begin to experiment with start-up technologies again," you said, "--and get the innovation stream flowing again." Have you seen these brave CIOs yet? What do you think the increasing consolidation in hardware, software, and IT service providers means?
Steve Hamm: I found a few brave CIOs this year. They include the people who were aggressively embracing the combination of cloud computing and mobility, whom I wrote about in my story, "How Cloud Computing Will Change Business." They include: Donagh Herlihy, chief information officer of Avon Products, and Todd Pierce, vice-president for information technology, at Genentech North America. These guys aren't taking big risks on unproven technology. They see ready-for-primetime technology that's really useful for them and deploy it widely and quickly.

I think the continued consolidation of enterprise technology providers gives IT purchasers fewer choices, less negotiating power, and less innovation.
DCD: Have you seen any truly innovative business concepts or technologies appear on the scene despite (or because of) the downturn?
Steve Hamm: I think one of the potentially most powerful technologies that has advanced in spite of the downturn is using mobile phones for banking in emerging nations. There are a lot of pilot programs underway. Once this stuff gets widespread, it has the potential to transform the economies of poor nations.

DCD: What was the thing that caused you to think that cloud computing was worthy of BusinessWeek coverage?
Steve Hamm: It's the newest iteration of Internet computing, and will make it easier and cheaper to put the full power of computing in everybody's hands.
DCD: In June's special report about cloud computing, you mentioned that this "may be the largest growth opportunity since the Internet boom," but that it's going to take a while. Some have speculated that cloud computing might be the innovation that comes out of this downturn. From what you've learned covering the topic, what's your view on the evolution of cloud computing and what its impact might be? Has it lived up to its billing so far?

Steve Hamm: I think it has lived up to its billing so far, through there still is a long way to go. Adoption of SaaS by businesses has accelerated during the downturn, as companies look for ways to do more things with technology while avoiding capital spending as much as possible.
One of the most important things to get done by the industry is to assure that individuals and companies can easily shift from one cloud service provider to another without undue stress. No lock-in! Efforts are starting along these lines, but they could get bogged down by the desire of companies to gain profit advantages through using proprietary technologies.

DCD: How difficult is it to pick up a relatively technical topic and write something for the BusinessWeek audience? After that June special report on cloud computing, for example, I saw criticism from industry insiders that some of the examples you used were not actually examples of what cloud computing actually does. How do you approach complicated, nuanced, or -- like cloud computing -- ill-defined technical issues?

Steve Hamm: I don't write about the plumbing of technology, so it's not hard to make something accessible to our smart and aware BusinessWeek readers. The critiques of my story were silly. My critics didn't seem to be able to register the fact that the story was about the melding of cloud computing and mobility. Also, they were hung up on narrow technical definitions while I was writing about broad shifts in the computing landscape. My advice: Get a life.

DCD: What's the relationship you generally have with the technical press and industry analysts? How much do you rely on them to vet technologies or trends before they get your attention?

Steve Hamm: I don't read trade publications very often, though I respect the best of them. I do talk to industry analysts frequently and respect many of them. Important technology shifts usually come to my attention through meetings with the innovators themselves. They (actually, their PR people) know what I'm interested in and e-mail me asking for meetings.

DCD: When I was last at your offices, the outlook for BusinessWeek (and journalism's current business model) seemed pretty bleak to me. How are things looking for BusinessWeek at the moment? Do you think there's a solution to "reset" the business of journalism that can work financially? How do you think you and your peers will come through this all?
Steve Hamm: BusinessWeek is being sold by McGraw-Hill and its future is very uncertain. The business model for serious business journalism, especially in print, is under assault. The search for truth by professionals is very expensive, and isn't supported by current print or even online revenue trends. I think that eventually new business models will emerge that support serious journalism, but I don't see them yet. If you think of something that will save journalism, please send me a note.

Thanks to Steve for spending the time to do this interview. Many of the issues discussed here will obviously continue to have a big impact on businesses -- and the IT and data centers supporting them. One of the more interesting angles to think about is that decisions being made now, under the duress of a deep recession, could play out over a vastly different backdrop as economic conditions change. Cloud computing has the chance to help shrink the time it takes a business to respond as the economic climate shifts, but only if an organization's IT department has made significant progress toward adopting this new operational model. And, of course, cloud computing needs to do what it has promised for each individual customer.

In any case, I'm pretty sure that all of this will continue to give Steve and BusinessWeek plenty of things to cover for as long as they can navigate these same rough waters themselves.

You can find Steve Hamm's Globespotting blog here.