Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Beyond Jimmy Buffett, sumos, and virtualization? Cloud computing hits #1 at Gartner Data Center Conference

I spent last week along with thousands of other data center enthusiasts at Gartner’s 2010 Data Center Conference and was genuinely surprised by the level of interest in cloud computing on both sides of the podium. As keynoter and newly minted cloud computing expert Dave Barry would say, I’m not making this up.

This was my sixth time at the show (really), and I’ve come to use the show as a benchmark for the types of conversations that are going on at very large enterprises around their infrastructure and operations issues. And as slow-to-move as you might think that part of the market might be, there are some interesting insights to be gained comparing changes over the years – everything from the advice and positions of the Gartner analysts, to the hallway conversations among the end users, to really important things, like the themes of the hospitality suites.

So, first and foremost, the answer is yes, APC did invite the Jimmy Buffett cover band back again, in case you were wondering. And someone decided sumo wrestling in big, overstuffed suits was a good idea.

Now, if you were actually looking for something a little more related to IT operations, read on:

Cooling was hot this year…and cloud hits #1

It wasn’t any big surprise what was at the top of peoples’ lists this year. The in-room polling at the opening keynotes placed data center space, power, and cooling at the top of list of biggest data center challenges (23%). The interesting news was that developing a private/public cloud strategy came in second (16%).

This interest in cloud computing was repeated in the Gartner survey of CIOs’ top technology priorities. Cloud computing was #1. It made the biggest jump of all topics since their ’09 survey, by-passing virtualization, on its way to head up the list. But don’t think virtualization wasn’t important: it followed right behind at #2. Gartner’s Dave Cappuccio made sure the audience was thinking big on the virtualization topic, saying that it wasn’t just about virtualizing servers or storage now. It’s about “the virtualization of everything. Virtualization is a continuing process, not a one-time project.”

Bernard Golden, CEO of Hyperstratus and CIO.com blogger (check out his 2011 predictions here), wondered on Twitter if cloud leapfrogging virtualization didn’t actually put the cart before the horse. I’m not sure if CIOs know whether that’s true or not. But they do know that they need to deal with both of these topics, and they need to deal with them now.

Putting the concerns of 2008 & 2009 in the rear-view mirror

This immediacy for cloud computing is a shift from the previous years, I think. A lot of 2008 was about the recession’s impact, and even 2009 featured sessions on how the recession was driving short-term thinking in IT. If you want to do a little comparison yourself, take a look at a few of my entries about this same show from years past (spanning the entire history of my Data Center Dialog blog to date, in fact). Some highlights: Tom Bittman’s 2008 keynote (he said the future looks a lot like a private cloud), 2008’s 10 disruptive data center technologies, 2008’s guide to building a real-time infrastructure, and the impact of metrics on making choices in the cloud from last year.

The Stack Wars are here

Back to today (or at least, last week), though. Gartner’s Joe Baylock told the crowd in Vegas that this was the year that the Stack Wars ignited. With announcements from Oracle, VCE, IBM, and others, it’s hard to argue.

The key issue in his mind was whether these stack wars will help or inhibit innovation over the next 5 years. Maybe it moves the innovation to another layer. On the other hand, it’s hard for me to see how customers will allow stacks to rule the day. At CA Technologies, we continue to hear that customers expect to have diverse environments (that, of course, need managing and securing, cloud-related and otherwise). Baylock’s advice: “Avoid inadvertently backing into any vendor’s integrated stack.” Go in with your eyes open.

Learning about – and from – cloud management

Cloud management was front and center. Enterprises need to know, said Cameron Haight, that management is the biggest challenge for private cloud efforts. Haight called out the Big Four IT management software vendors (BMC, CA Technologies, HP software, and IBM Tivoli) as being slow to respond to virtualization, but he said they are embracing the needs around cloud management much faster. 2010 has been filled with evidence of that from my employer – and the others on this list, too.

There’s an additional twist to that story, however. In-room polling at several sessions pointed to interest from enterprises in turning to public cloud vendors themselves as their primary cloud management provider. Part of this is likely to be an interest in finding “one throat to choke.” Haight and Donna Scott also noted several times that there’s a lot to be learned from the big cloud service providers and their IT operations expertise (something worthy of a separate blog, I think). Keep in mind, however, that most enterprise operations look very different (and much more diverse) than the big cloud providers’ operations.

In a similar result, most session attendees also said they’d choose their virtualization vendors to manage their private cloud. Tom Bittman, in reviewing the poll in his keynote, noted that “the traditional management and automation vendors that we have relied on for decades are not close to the top of the list.” But, Bittman said, “they have a lot to offer. I think VMware’s capabilities [in private cloud management] are overrated, especially where heterogeneity is involved.”

To be fair: Bittman made these remarks because VMware topped the audience polling on this question. So, it’s a matter of what’s important in a customer’s eyes, I think. In a couple of sessions, this homogeneous v. heterogeneous environment discussion became an important way for customers to evaluate what they need for management. Will they feel comfortable with only what each stack vendor will provide?

9 private cloud vendors to watch

Bittman also highlighted 9 vendors that he thought were worthy of note for customers looking to build out private clouds. The list included BMC, Citrix, IBM, CA Technologies, Eucalyptus, Microsoft, Cisco, HP, and VMware.

He predicted very healthy competition in the public cloud space (and even public cloud failures, as Rich Miller noted at Data Center Knowledge) and similarly aggressive competition for the delivery of private clouds. He believed there would even be fierce competition in organizations where VMware owns the hypervisor layer.

As for tidbits about CA Technologies, you won’t be surprised to learn that I scribbled down a comment or two: “They’ve made a pretty significant and new effort to acquire companies to provide strategic solutions such as 3Tera and Cassatt,” said Bittman. “Not a vendor to be ignored.” Based on the in-room polling, though, we still have some convincing to do with customers.

Maybe we should figure out what it’ll take to get the Jimmy Buffett guy to play in our hospitality suite next year? I suppose that and another year of helping customers with their cloud computing efforts would certainly help.

In the meantime, it’s worth noting that TechTarget’s SearchDataCenter folks also did a good job with their run-down on the conference, if you’re interested in additional color. A few of them might even be able to tell you a bit about the sumo wrestling, if you ask nicely.

And I’m not making that up either.

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