Sunday, May 15, 2011

Is a revolutionary, greenfield approach to cloud The Ultimate Answer? (Or is it still 42?)

If you were looking for the Ultimate Answer to Life, the Universe, and Everything, chances are cloud computing is not high on your list of things to worry about. You’re probably more interested in downing your Pan-Galactic Gargleblaster and getting on with things.

However, my CA Technologies colleague Andi Mann (@AndiMann on Twitter) and I used our recent Cloud Slam presentation to try to provide some straightforward advice on different approaches enterprises and service providers can take to move to a cloud-based infrastructure – while paying tribute to Douglas Adams and his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy series in the process. The result? "The Hitchhiker's Guide to Cloud Computing: Tips for Navigating the Evolutionary and Revolutionary Paths to Cloud."

Folks willing to wade through the egregious puns and overstretched sci fi references got a view of 2 different cloud computing approaches – one more evolutionary and one quite revolutionary – that customers are taking. (I touched on this topic in a previous blog myself a few months back.) For those that missed Cloud Slam, Andi posted his portion of the presentation – pros and cons of the more evolutionary approach – at his blog. I’m doing the same here, using this post to highlight what the revolutionary approach should get you thinking about.

Sometimes Marvin’s right and it’s easier to just start over

In looking at the pile of technology and processes that most IT shops are dealing with on a daily basis, the idea of building on top of what exists to slowly evolve your way to a more cloud-like environment sounds like a lot of work and a lot of complexity. Why?

• Your existing IT investments bog down new things
• New technologies don’t always fit easily in existing orgs
• Those existing IT processes can restrict your range of innovation
• IT organization politics & culture can put up some impressive resistance

Yes, the roadblocks seem big enough to depress even Marvin the Paranoid Android.

A ‘probable’ option: a turnkey cloud platform

One way of getting to the cloud through the logjam is to kick your Infinite Improbability Drive into high gear. A more probable way? Use a turnkey cloud platform that picks up where server virtualization leaves off.

Virtualization breaks the chains between the hardware resources and the applications, but is still weighed down by networking and storage concerns. A more revolutionary approach is to set up a pool of computing resources and then create a virtual business service to run on top of that. A virtual business service is a multi-tier application and its infrastructure packaged together as a single object that can be moved, scaled, and replicated as needed. This approach allows you to skip right past a lot of the drawbacks of virtualization and evolving your existing systems toward a cloud architecture. For example, load balancers, SANs, and switches become virtual, programmable items.

Why use a revolutionary approach?

This revolutionary approach to cloud is an economic and agility game-changer for IT, enabling you to go far beyond what is enabled by simple server virtualization. It sets up huge potential improvements in the speed and operational expense of managing your applications and infrastructure – I can point you to at least one product in this space where you can literally draw what you need. This approach lets IT enter into conversations about your org’s business needs – conversation it wouldn’t have been in before. Service providers can use this approach to deliver cloud offerings faster, while building margin at the same time. Enterprises can make themselves ready to move apps to and from multiple different service providers.

In a world which IT has been a bit timid at taking a stand on cloud, this approach gives IT a position of strength to deliver what the business is asking for. It’s not a bad way to come out looking like a hyper-intelligent, pan-dimensional being.

What the revolutionary approach looks like in the real world

At Cloud Slam, I talked about two customers taking this approach today that I know about from our work here at CA Technologies.

PGi: PGi turned to the cloud to help it quickly roll out new advanced meeting, conferencing and collaboration solutions services worldwide at a much faster pace and, as it turned out, a far lower price point than they could otherwise. As PGi enters new markets, it needs to quickly secure scalable data center resources near the new markets it will be serving to ensure the best service for its new customers. Building a new data center is extremely expensive and time-consuming; it can typically take about 18 months to create a new data center. Instead, PGi subscribes to data center capacity from a set of different service providers.

PGi uses CA 3Tera AppLogic to create a movable “infrastructure stack” supporting the services it creates. This infrastructure stack consists of all of the servers, firewalls, storage and other components uniquely configured to support a given service, and can be moved with the click of a button from one service providers’ network to another. This way, PGi can choose the provider with the right price points and geographic coverage for each new market it enters. It can even easily move workloads between its own data centers and service providers’ networks.

PGi’s Chief Technology Officer David Guthrie (who has a video clip up on talking about all this) says that “using 3Tera, we’ve been able to spin-up new virtual data centers to support 5 new locations for what it would have cost us to build one physical data center.”PGi’s time-to-market with new services has improved significantly. Previously, it would take up to 6 months to purchase new hardware resources and 4-6 weeks to deploy a new software application. Today, it takes between 2-5 days to complete these processes from start to finish.

ScaleMatrix: My second example was a new service provider customer of ours that I profiled in a recent interview. ScaleMatrix is a brand-new business that started from scratch last year. And, they’re already selling cloud services to their clients. By definition, that means no legacy systems. Instead they have taken this revolutionary approach to heart. They used the CA 3Tera AppLogic software and custom-designed hardware to get their offerings off the ground. Fast. If you want more details about what ScaleMatrix has been able to do, check out their profile here.

What are the challenges to taking this revolutionary path?

All is not simple with this revolutionary path to cloud, though.

You’ll break a lot of glass. You’re going to have to be ready to do a lot of learning about both the approach and a new use of technology. “Antibodies” from inside and outside IT will appear to resist this, often because this is such a different way to look at things. If you do take advantage of being able to move virtual business services among different providers, vendor management will take more of your time than it has.

And, of course, fewer people have taken this path. The risks are certainly higher, but so are the rewards. Picture yourself as Arthur Dent, complete with his hitchhiking towel, his guidebook, and hopefully a whole lot more luck.

The good news…getting your organization to cloud fast

This revolutionary approach means you won’t have to wait around for generations for the Ultimate Answer, or even to see the initial benefits of the move to cloud. You jump right to the end state. You get application portability, mobility, and replication as part of the deal, plus some other very useful things for free, like standard application images, DR, and security.

A word of warning, however: to hear some people tell it, you’re not going to want to go back to doing things the old way.

Which path should I choose?

How do you translate all of this commentary (and the ones Andi gave) into real action? We provided a bit of a virtual Babel Fish at the end of our Cloud Slam presentation, to help you figure out whether to take Andi’s more evolutionary approach, or the revolutionary one I described here.

Here are a couple situations where you’d rather take the more revolutionary approach:

You could be a service provider that needs:
• To deliver a cloud offering now
• To get to market with new offerings
• To deliver multiple offerings (like IaaS and SaaS) while maintaining margin

Or, you could be an enterprise that:

• Wants an Amazon EC2-like infrastructure internally and can build up a greenfield infrastructure. To get the benefits, you need to control the components, have standardized (x86) hardware, a spikey usage profile, and be ready for a new development model
• Is out of time. Maybe a competitor has made a move you must counter, or maybe you’re just trying to deliver something to respond quickly to a new business initiative. Either way, you’ve figured out that the old way won’t work.

Either way – evolutionary or revolutionary – the answer that Andi and I gave in our 42-slide deck (and no, Douglas Adams fans, that wasn’t a coincidence) is “Don’t Panic.” Both are appropriate approaches in particular situations. In fact, most organizations will probably end up pursuing both. You’ll notice that the use cases that both of us gave are not mutually exclusive. Spend the time to think it through.

Hopefully this recap, alongside Andi’s, gives you some useful advice to having those Deep Thoughts. And, you’ll be happy to hear that gratuitous Hitchhiker’s Guide references are, well, “mostly harmless.”

Unlike Vogon poetry.

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