Monday, November 8, 2010

Cloud Expo recap: Acceleration and pragmatism

Last week at Cloud Expo in Santa Clara was a pleasant surprise. Previous events had me a bit cautious, holding my expectations firmly in check. Why?

SYS-CON’s Santa Clara show in 2009 was disappointing in my book, filled with too much repetitive pabulum from vendors about the definition and abstract wonders of cloud computing, but none of the specifics. Of course, maybe there wasn’t much harm done, since there didn’t seem to be too many end users at the event. Yet.

The 2010 New York Cloud Expo show back in April was a leap forward from there. The location played a big role in its improvement over the fall event – placing it in Manhattan put within easy striking distance for folks on Wall Street and a bunch of other nearby industries. The timing was right, too, to give early end users of cloud computing a look at what the vendor community had been gradually building into a more and more coherent and useful set of offerings. A certain Icelandic volcano tried to put a kink in a few peoples’ travel plans, but in general, the April show was better.

And what about last week? A marked improvement, I say.

And that doesn’t even count the fun of watching the 3-run homer and final outs of the San Francisco Giants’ first-ever World Series win at the conference hotel bar with fellow attendees who were (also) skipping the Monday late sessions. Or the CA Technologies Led Zepplica party (‘70s hairdos and facial hair are in this year, it seems).

At Cloud Expo, however, I noticed two themes: the acceleration of end user involvement in the cloud computing discussion and a strong undercurrent of pragmatism from those end users.

Acceleration of end user involvement in cloud computing
Judging from the keynotes and session rooms, Cloud Expo attendance seemed to be quite a bit ahead of last year’s Santa Clara show. Jeremy Geelan and the SYS-CON folks can probably describe where those additional folks came from this time around officially, but I think I know. They were end users (or at least potential end users).

I say this for a couple reasons. At the CA Technologies booth, we had quite a few discussions with a significant number of interested end users during the 4 days on a variety of aspects around cloud computing. Discussions ranged from automation, to the role of virtualization management, to turnkey private cloud platforms.

Also, the presenters in several of the sessions I attended asked the make-up of the audience. I did the same during my “How the Cloud is Changing the Role of IT and What to Do About It” session. A full two-thirds of the audience members were in end user organizations. The remaining third identified themselves as service providers and vendors. For those keeping score, that’s a complete turn-about from last year’s event.
End users aren’t just along for the ride: showing a pragmatic streak regarding the cloud
Not only did there seem to be more customers, but the end users who were there seemed to be really interested in getting specific advice they could take back home the week after the show to use in their day jobs. The questions I heard were often pretty straightforward, basic questions about getting started with cloud.
They generally began with “My organization is looking at cloud. We’re interested in how we should…” and then launched into very particular topics. They were looking for particular answers. Not generalities, but starting points.
Some were digging into specifics on technologies or operating models. Others (like the ones I talked to after my “changing role of IT” session) were trying to get a handle on best practices for organizations and the IT responsibilities that need to be in place for an IT organization to really make forward progress with cloud computing. Those are really good questions, especially given how organizationally disruptive cloud can be. (I’ll post a summary of my talk on this topic shortly.)
My initial (snarky) comment was that since the end users were showing up only now, many speakers could have used their presentations from either of the past 2 Cloud Expo conferences for this instantiation of the event without too much trouble. But, I think many of the vendor presentations, too, have been improving as a result of working with actual customers over the past 12 months. But, there’s still lots of work to do on that front, in my opinion.
Infrastructure v. developers in the cloud?
James Urquhart of Cisco and CNET “Wisdom of Clouds” fame made an interesting point about the audience and the conversations he heard at Cloud Expo last week. “What struck me,” tweeted James, “was the ‘how to replicate what you are doing [currently in IT] in cloud’ mentality.”

Just trying to repeat the processes you have followed with your pre-cloud IT environment leaves out a lot of possible upside when you start really trying out cloud computing (see my recent post on this topic). However, in this case, James was more interested in why a lot of the discussion he heard at Cloud Expo targeted infrastructure and operations, not developers or “devops” concepts.

I did hear some commentary about how developers are becoming more integrated into the operations side of things (matching what the CTO of CA 3Tera AppLogic customer PGi said a few weeks back). However, I agree with James, it does seem like folks are focusing on selling to operations today, leaving the development impact to be addressed sometime in the future. James, by the way, recently did a great analysis piece on the way he thought IT operations should run in a cloudy world on his CNET blog.
Interesting offerings from cloud service providers
One other interesting note: there were several of the CA 3Tera AppLogic service provider partners that I was able to spend time with at the show. I met the CEO of ENKI, talked with the president and other key execs from Birdhosting, and got to see Berlin-based ScaleUp’s team face-to-face again. All are doing immediately useful things (several of which we profiled in the CA Technologies booth) to help their customers take advantage of cloud services now.
ScaleUp, for example, has put together a self-service portal that makes it easier for less technical users to get the components they need to get going on a cloud-based infrastructure. They call it “infrastructure as a platform.” Details are available in their press release and this YouTube walk-through.
So, all in all, it was a useful week from my point of view. If you have similar or contradictory comments or anecdotes, I’d love to hear them. In the meantime, I’ll finish up turning my Cloud Expo presentation into a blog post here. And I just might peek at my calendar to see if I can make it to the New York Cloud Expo event next June.


Unknown said...

Great Data Center Dialog Blog post by Jay Fry on the Cloud Expo at Santa Clara!

Anonymous said...

I think the reason Devops wasn't discussed is because the LISA conference and the OpsCamp was scheduled for the week following CloudExpo. There were quire a few DevOps at the conference and good advice for DevOps, Ops, or just plain Dev in the Rightscale Tracks. At a show like the Cloud Expo you just have to ask the right questions, I think. [:

- Asher Bond