Thursday, September 23, 2010

Cloudwashing, Oracle, and the "logic" of IT product naming

After hearing cries of “cloudwashing” following nearly every product announcement from established vendors these days, I started pondering a bit about IT product naming: is it helping or hurting? From IBM in the ‘90s…to VMware’s recent moves…to Oracle’s newest product this week, some amusing patterns emerge that just have to give IT buyers a chuckle now and again.

Should you hang your hat on a single letter?
Coming out of VMworld 2010, I was convinced that the ‘v’ was the ‘e’ of our decade. You remember how the poor ‘e’ was abused in the ‘90s, don’t you? Everything was either e-commerce, e-business, or e-something-else. At BEA we had eWorld and the e-generation. The list went on. Never mind that “e-mail” had already been ubiquitous for quite a while. The reality was that the IT industry latched on to that ‘e’, sunk its teeth in, and held on like a pit bull. Marketers know a good thing when they see it.

The lesson of the ‘e’? Find a good letter – and stick with it.

Fast-forward 15 years. VMware has built a successful franchise around bringing the simple idea of virtualization to a new hardware platform. From that they inspired a lot of talk about VMs (virtual machines) and companies starting their names with a ‘v’ (including VMLogix, which was snapped up by Citrix at VMworld this year). Don’t forget all the talk of migrating work from P to V (P2V, if you’re really cool). I even got into the act myself in a previous blog reminding folks about the things IT misses out on if they assume V = P in a cloud environment.

And, as we all probably should have expected, the ‘v’ product naming began in earnest. First, vCenter and vSphere. Now vCloud, vShield, and vFabric. Kudos to VMware CTO Steve Herrod for having a little fun with this and poking fun at his marketing guys onstage at VMworld for the last-minute value-add of adding the ‘v’ to vCloud Director.
And so the ‘v’ brand was born and nurtured. Pretty effective. Add a ‘v’ in front of something and it’s gotta be something virtual. True? Not necessarily. Cool? Certainly. At least at the moment. Until the next big thing comes along, which just might be…well, cloud computing.
It’s ‘v’ -- but is it cloud?
A big focus of VMworld 2010 (and even as far back as 2008 – see this “golden oldie” post from former co-worker Ken Oestreich, now at Egenera) was underscoring their plans for taking customers to the cloud. So the big question is, will ‘v’ be able to get you there (brandwise, anyway…technology is a separate discussion). One vendor voted with its feet: VMOps changed its name to several months ago. The cloud, to them, was beyond just a ‘v’.
Time for the next letter to weigh in: the Big O
As Oracle Open World was underway this week, it’s only fitting that they put their stamp on things. The Big O, of course, went from cloud-bashing rants one year to having a full slate of cloud computing sessions at their conference the next. As they do. Larry's no dummy. And he did buy those Sun guys ('s fun to watch the head-to-head video clips courtesy of Matt Stansberry at SearchDataCenter here).

But Oracle took a different naming tact altogether. They boldly went where many had gone before and made the, um, logical choice of “Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud” for their new cloud-in-a-box offering. No ‘v’, no ‘e’, not even an ‘x’(a favorite of some of the Sun folks). Nope. Instead: “logic.”
Funny. I was just musing how IT needed more creativity in product naming because so many IT products seem to end with “-logic” these days. It’s actually quite impressive. Here’s my (partial) list: WebLogic, Pano Logic, LogLogic, MarkLogic, OpenLogic, Alert Logic, and even our own CA 3Tera AppLogic. Originally I even left off Science Logic, (the former) BEA AquaLogic, and the close permutations of the aforementioned VMLogix and Passlogix.

Logical or not, is Oracle cloudwashing with Exalogic?
Larry Dignan at ZDNet ranted about Larry Ellison going from cloud skeptic to cloudwasher. There are a couple good articles on the Exalogic announcement (Loraine Lawson lists quite a few), many very aggressive in their slam on Ellison trying to pitch a physical box as a cloud.
“Cloud computing is supposed to turn capital expenses into operating expenses,” writes Dignan. “Exalogic looks like more capital spending. …But is Exalogic really elastic? Is it really cloud?” Probably not, he concludes. “Simply put, Oracle’s Exalogic box gives you capacity on demand because you’re still buying more capacity than you need.”
Others marveled (or, with all the Iron Man references, Marveled) at the high-end nature of the machinery involved – it’s certainly a far cry from stringing together a set of disposable commodity boxes – and the corresponding high-end price. My CA Technologies colleague Jeff Abbott posted a few questions about the cloud-in-a-box concept in the first place. He wondered if these kinds of systems aren't actually against the self-interest of the customer -- and the vendor -- in the long run.
Still others called Exalogic a “credible offering” and thought it would have a big impact. It’s certainly a big vote in favor of internal clouds. As Ellison said in no uncertain terms, “we believe customers will build their own private clouds behind their firewalls.” And the product certainly backs up that premise.

Time to bring on the cloud
I think it is interesting how similar Exalogic is in name alone to brands Oracle already owns – products that really had nothing to do with the cloud. At least, not originally.

The name gives Oracle the ability to fit this product line in with the software they bought with BEA, the hardware they bought with Sun, and attach it to the cause of the moment – cloud computing. And that seems to be exactly what they want to do, no matter what they said a few years ago.
The good news: they can do all of that without having to put an ‘o’ in front of all their product names. (Don’t laugh: others like MorphLabs are trying it. But I guess it’s not so wacky – sticking an ‘i’ front of things certainly hasn’t hurt Mr. Jobs’ revenues over the past decade.) However, don’t expect anything to stop them from injecting “cloud” into every one of their customer conversations.
In the end, before proclaiming this the decade of ‘v’, or getting to upset about Oracle’s choices one way or the other, it’s worth remembering that all of these products will be judged by whether they do what they’re supposed to – and at an acceptable price – for two other important letters: IT.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

VMworld 2010: Cloud "in excess"? Some thoughts on "What You Need"

VMware threw another great VMworld event this year. If you didn’t attend, you missed another step in VMware’s evolution toward being a very mainstream, enterprise-focused software vendor. They are at that stage as a vendor where they are reaching out beyond what they grew up doing and are trying to expand into something broader and different.

Last year, in my book, was a bit light on news (aside from explaining their early plans for SpringSource) and more about describing these big ambitions. This year, however, was about trying to look the part and making sure they had credible solutions and stories to tell their enterprise customers, thanks to a few well-timed acquisitions.

Oh, and I guess I should mention the cloud. VMware certainly did.

Ironically, VMware had INXS play their big party – who ended their show that night with their song “Don’t Change.” Fellow punster Greg Schulz pointed out on his StorageIO blog that the song title may have felt diametrically opposed to the message that VMware was trying to tell everyone all week. Maybe the title should have been “It’s Time for a Change and We Call It the Cloud.”

But, actually, I think INXS had it right. For more details on why, I put together an INXS-themed list of my take-aways for customers now that they’ve left Moscone and are finding themselves back from VMworld 2010, staring at their day jobs.

Here’s some help figuring out What You Need:

New Sensation: All the talk of cloud certainly came to a head. VMware definitely talked about it “in excess” at the event. Paul Maritz had lots to say both in his keynote and in his panel of service providers about their announcements, including the much-leaked and much-anticipated vCloud Director product (formerly known as Project Redwood). Industry-watcher Bernard Golden said he saw the cloud discussion accelerate very seriously in his blog about the show, noting that not only were VMware and its partners taking the next steps to make cloud “more consumable in real-world environments,” but also that at the show there was a “palpable feeling that cloud computing represents the next platform shift in computing…but on a different software construct that abstracts and makes agile the previous generation of hardware.”

Things to watch out for? Bernard mentioned a favorite of mine that I bring up in any Cloud 101 discussion I have: the “one thing that wasn’t discussed much was the process and organizational challenge caused by implementing a cloud computing environment.” It’s a good thing to have help with (and, yes, that reminds me that I did get a chance to meet up with several of our just-joined 4Base consulting folks during the week).

Listen Like Thieves: Or, maybe: here are some suggestions on how to foil those thieves, especially when it comes to your IT environment. VMware acknowledged an important angle that customers have been talking about for a long time: security is a big issue for both virtualization and cloud computing. They bought TriCipher and announced vShield offerings, showing their interest in delivering solutions in this space. In fact, it was an action-packed week on the security front: CA Technologies also acquired Arcot Monday as the show was getting started.

Don’t Change: Back to my comment about how much change should be a part of your IT operations theme song. Look at it this way: before heading to San Francisco last week, those of you in IT had been worried about a big, complex set of management and operations issues. Spending a week hearing about the newest virtualization and cloud deliverables doesn’t change the reality of what you go back to. Don’t toss out your view of what’s important; instead, use those requirements to evaluate everything you heard last week.

Never Tear Us Apart: There is a virtualized world of IT, but there continues to be a physical world as well. Andi Mann (from CA Technologies) commented in IT World Canada that even though IT is now deploying more new virtual servers than physical ones, companies' infrastructures are still only about 30% virtualized.

Meaning, of course, that you still need to manage and optimize both parts -- the virtual and the physical. Together. The virtual world that VMware had you looking at closely for 4 days is not the sum total of your environment, so don’t forget to consider management, automation, and control capabilities that understand that, too.

Devil Inside: VMworld continues to serve as an industry gathering about virtualization – and now cloud. That’s very much to their benefit. It does provide an excellent meeting place for customers and vendors, but one in which VMware is very much in control of the discussion and topics. My suggestion: push back. I made some suggestions before the event about how to sort through the flood of announcements coming. Now’s the time to figure out what’s real from VMware and the other vendors. Make sure you have real opportunities to get hands-on. It’s the only way you’re going to find out what’s ready for prime time. It's the only way to find out what makes good economic sense for your business model as an enterprise or a service provider. It's also the only way to find out what does and doesn’t work at this point.

No matter how you look at it, the event was a Kick. (For a good summary of the event in addition to Bernard Golden's, take a look at this Network World article from Jon Brodkin and this blog post from CA's Stephen Elliot. For a take on "Why VMworld was Underwhelming," read Derrick Harris's GigaOM Pro write up [subscription required].) I’m glad to have used the event to meet up with the San Francisco Cloud Club folks once again. It’s a very cloud-savvy and interesting crew.

And, before this year’s VMworld begins to Disappear from the view, I’ll offer a tip of the hat and add my thanks to the folks at VMworld for hosting us all. It was certainly in their best interest to put on the show, and now it’s up to the rest of us to make sure it was in ours as well.