Friday, July 29, 2011

A service provider ecosystem gaining steam in the cloud is good news for enterprises

If you’re in enterprise IT, you (or that guy who sits next to you) are very likely looking to figure out how to start using cloud computing. You’ve probably done a fair bit of sleuthing around the industry to see what’s out there. Stats from a number of different analyst firms point overwhelmingly to the fact that enterprises are first and foremost trying to explore private cloud, an approach that gives them a lot of control and (hopefully) the ability to use their existing security and compliance implementations and policies.

And, all that sleuthing will most likely lead you to one pretty obvious fact: there are lots of approaches to building and delivering a private cloud.

So, here’s an additional thing to think about when picking how you’re going to deliver that private cloud: an ecosystem is even more valuable than a good product.

While your current plans may call for a completely and utterly in-house cloud implementation, you just might want to expand your search criteria to include this “what if” scenario: what if at some point you’d like to send a workload or two out to an external provider, even if only on a limited basis?

That “what if” should get you thinking about the service provider partners that you will have to consider when that time comes. Or even a network of them.

The CA Technologies cloud product announcements on July 27 talked a lot about the offerings from CA Technologies (including those targeted for service providers specifically), but I wanted to make sure that the cloud service provider ecosystem that’s building steam around CA AppLogic got the attention it deserved as well.

Kick-starting a cloud ecosystem

In the early days of cloud computing (and prior to being acquired by CA), 3Tera made a lot of headway with service providers. Over the 16 months since 3Tera came onboard, CA has been working to build on that. We’ve really seen why and how to work closely with our growing set of partners. You can’t just focus on technology, but you must also figure out how to enable your partner’s business. For service providers, that’s all about growing revenues and building margin.

We’re now seeing results from those efforts. In the first half of this year alone, we’ve announced new and extended partnerships with ScaleMatrix, Bird Hosting, StratITsphere, Digicor, and others around the world.

A benefit to enterprises: service providers as a safety valve

Interestingly enough, enterprises view this ecosystem as a real benefit as they consider adopting a private cloud platform like CA AppLogic. Not only can they quickly get a private cloud up and running, but they have a worldwide network of service providers that they can rely on as a safety valve for new projects, cloud bursting for existing applications, plus the real-world expertise that comes with having done this many times before.

A number of the partners and service providers using CA AppLogic to deliver cloud services to their customers joined in on the announcement of CA AppLogic 3.0 on July 27. Many posted blogs that talked about how they believed the new capabilities would prove useful for their own business – and why it would be intriguing for enterprise customers as well.

Here are a few highlights from their blog comments:

Kevin Van Mondfrans of Layered Tech pointed to CA AppLogic’s continued innovation for application deployment “with its intuitive drag and drop application deployment interface.” The visual interface, he said, is the “hallmark of AppLogic,” and it “continues to differentiate this platform from the others. AppLogic enables complete deployment of entire application environments including virtual load balancers, firewalls, web servers, application server and databases in a single motion.”

The new AppLogic 3.0 capabilities “are interesting enhancements,” said Kevin in his post, “and they “enable a broader set of use cases for our customers with privacy requirement and who want to migrate VMware and Xen environments to the cloud.”

Mike Vignato of ScaleMatrix notes that he believes “having the ability to use VMware inside the AppLogic environment will turbo charge the adoption rate” of CA AppLogic as a cloud platform. Why? “It will allow enterprise CIOs to leverage their VMware investment while simplifying cloud computing and lowering overall costs.”

DNS Europe thought the ability to import workloads from VMware or Xen using the Open Virtualization Format (OVF) import feature was a “further testament to CA's longstanding commitment to open standards. OVF import simplifies operations, increases agility, and liberates VMware- or Xen-based workloads for operation within AppLogic applications.” They also called out Roll-Based Access Control, as well as the new Global Fabric Controller: “Automatic detection and inventory functions further boost AppLogic as the number one ITSM friendly cloud platform.” (Go here for my interview with Stephen Hurford, their cloud services director.)

Christoph Streit of ScaleUp posted this summary of what’s important to their business in AppLogic 3.0: “One of the most important new features from our perspective is the new VLAN tagging support. This has been a feature that most of our customers, who are mainly service providers, have been asking for. This new feature enables a service provider to offer their customers cloud-based compute resources (such as VMs or complete application stacks) in the same network segment as their co-located or dedicated servers. Also, this makes it possible for a service provider to segregate customer traffic more easily.”

Mike Michalik, whose team at Cirrhus9 spent over 200 documented hours working with the beta code, agreed. The new VLAN capabilities, he writes, “will allow Cirrhus9 to basically build true multi-tenant grids for our MSP clients. This will give them the flexibility to have a single grid that has truly segregated clients on it, as opposed to having multiple grids for each one. It will also allow for easier system administration per client and geographically disperse data centers for the same overall grid.”

ScaleMatrix’s Mark Ortenzi was on the same page. “The ability for CA AppLogic 3.0 to allow VLAN tagging support…is an amazing new feature that will really change the way MSPs can go to market.” (You can read a Q&A I did with Mark a few months back about their business here.)

“The really cool thing I’m excited about,” writes Mike Michalik at Cirrhus9, “is the bandwidth metering. I like the flexibility that this option gives us now because we can have several billing models, if we choose to. Tiered billing can be in place for high consumption users while fixed billing options can be provided to clients that have set requirements that don’t vary much.”

The value of an ecosystem

ScaleUp’s Christoph Streit underscored the importance of these kinds of partnerships in the cloud space. He used ScaleUp and CA AppLogic as an example: “We can effectively show the value of cloud computing to everyone – IT departments, business users, developers, the CIO and, in some cases, even the CEO.”

We’ll be working with these partners and many others even more actively as part of the CA Cloud Market Accelerator Program for Service Providers that we announced this week as well.

Watch this space for more updates on the ecosystem. For profiles on many for them, you can check out the Cloud Accelerator profiles we’ve created as well.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Why it pays to be early -- especially with this much cloud choice

It pays to be early.

Take my flight today, for example. I’ve done this flying-to-New York thing a few times. I’ve learned the hard way that it’s a good idea to reserve your seat early. I know when to head toward the line at the gate to minimize time spent standing around and maximize the chance that there’s still overhead bin space onboard. And, if it looks like this particular flight is headed for delay or cancellation, I already have a pretty good view of what my options are likely to be. I might even already be dialing/browsing customer service.

I think the same applies for cloud computing. To really have a good view of what you need to know, the folks who have been through this a couple times certainly have a head start. Being early to the party lets you assess what’s happening from a position of experience – peppered with a humbling but healthy dose of reality along the way.

I think today’s big cloud announcements from CA Technologies help drive home this point. (As you might have guessed, they are part of what I’ve been working on recently: 10 new/enhanced offerings for enterprises, 4 for service providers, plus a market accelerator program.) The announcements represent quite a bit of early market experience wrapped up for the benefit of very specific customer sets.

What we (and our customers) learned in the past 18 months

Last year, IT was asking some very basic questions about cloud computing, the core of which boiled down to “So, what is cloud computing, anyway?” CA Technologies kicked off 2010 with an aggressive cloud acquisition spree that surprised more than a few folks. We brought aboard a series of key technologies, some very smart folks, and a lot of on-the-ground services experience. Customers and industry-watchers showed interest (and skepticism, as you’d expect) as we brought the pieces together.

If you look back at our CA World announcements last year, you’ll see that we described the way cloud was changing IT and the solutions that we thought were needed. We talked about the IT role morphing into more of a supply chain orchestration job, focused on delivering IT service. We saw a need to understand those services, figure out ways to compare them, manage them, and control them.

But the market hasn’t been standing still. In fact, I think most would agree with me that the changes in IT as a result of cloud have accelerated. Our view that the IT function is shifting seems to be supported by some proof points (especially if you read some of the survey data I’ve seen in the past year). But that doesn’t mean we got everything perfect, right out of the gate. By being in the game early, we’re in a prime seat to watch the evolution. And react.

Evolving and targeting to match how enterprises and service providers adopt cloud

It’s now a little more than a year later, and we’re evolving our cloud portfolio. Today’s announcements are a set of next steps, and they reflect some pragmatic reactions to what we’ve seen. We’re enhancing the offerings we already have. We’ve built some new ones. And all of these are driven by what customers are saying and doing.

Here are some of the highlights, as I see them:

More than ever before, cloud means choice. Looking at cloud forces lots of internal and external decisions. As I’ve noted previously, these are decisions about technology, about organizational structure, about IT ownership and policy. With all of these options, there is no “one size fits all” for cloud. Instead, you have to make your own, very specific choices. And you want to have a portfolio of options that can help you regardless of which choices you need to make for your business. We, as a partner in that business, need to enable you to have your cloud, your way.

A broad portfolio to work from is a plus. The work to enable customers to use and provide cloud computing means a bunch of topic areas need to be covered. Management and security really end up jumping to the top of the list. (The CA portfolio is well-tuned to cover that emphasis, I might add.)

We see a lifecycle of decisions, and a set of capabilities at steps along with way. We think customers need to plan, design, deliver, secure, and assure their cloud efforts. And then constantly optimize these decisions for what’s best for their business.

Enterprises and service providers have very different needs and will make different choices. Enterprise and service providers are doing an interesting dance. Each sees benefit – and profit – in cloud computing, and is adopting it pragmatically. Enterprises are trying to evolve what they have invested in already, while maintaining the control they require and processes they’ve built up. That lets them continue with the heterogeneous components they have. That doesn’t lock them into a proprietary (and probably quite costly) “cloud stack.” Unless they want to be. In some cases, that’s a useful trade-off. But it still needs to be managed and secured.

Service providers are, in many cases, leading the charge to cloud, looking for ways to quickly deliver cloud services but to do so in a way that is going to mean differentiation and revenues, while building margin. Those that don’t won’t be around long. They are feeling pressure from big guys like Amazon and Rackspace. They’re trying to find the right niche. They’re trying to balance the right infrastructure with the financial structure to result in a winning (and sustainable) formula.

As a result of these differences, you’ll see sets of solutions from CA Technologies that address these very specific needs, but help make the connection between the two – the world of hybrid clouds – possible and appealing.

Finally, if you add new perspectives, experience with customers, and resources to some pretty innovative technology, you can move the needle. Several of today’s announcements show the combined effort of the vision of entrepreneurs that joined CA Technologies through the cloud acquisitions and the organic development efforts since then. A lot of these folks have been working on cloud since long before the term “cloud” existed.

Several of those are near and dear to my heart, and I’ll highlight those here:

CA Business Service Insight 8.0. We’re calling it 8.0, because the previous 7 versions were called Oblicore Guarantee and were focused on service level management. However, the work done on CA Business Service Insight since last year opens up new territory. The latest release gives enterprises information about their existing services and the ability to compare and contrast what they are doing internally with services they could choose externally. All this, while also managing the service levels from what they acquire from outside. In addition, CA Business Service Insight’s connection to the Service Measurement Index and Cloud Commons will become more and more intriguing as it matures.

CA AppLogic 3.0. The ability to work at an application level rather than dwelling on low-level hypervisor questions takes a huge step up with the addition of VMware support in this release. Now, you can think in terms of virtual business services instead of ESX or Xen. That’s an important extension to the vision that the 3Tera team brought to CA Technologies, especially if you’re an enterprise.

Service providers are probably still interested in the financial equation of using Xen, but now have new options in working with enterprises who’ve made big VMware investments. And, frankly, that’s everyone at this point. The new languages, VLAN tagging, and role-based access features are probably even more interesting to service providers and how they make money from a cloud business using CA AppLogic as their cloud platform. The service provider ecosystem that’s building around CA AppLogic is should get a mention here, too, but that’s worthy of its own post.

I’m personally pleased to see Cassatt capabilities woven in here, too (check out the Global Fabric Controller to see my previous company’s influence).

Learning pragmatically

There are a lot of moving parts here, mostly driven by the huge number of options that the cloud now presents. In my opinion, CA Technologies made a pretty prescient decision to jump into this market with both feet (and wallet), and to do so early. Much of what you’re seeing come to market here has benefited from early moves by both the innovators CA acquired -- and by CA itself.

The resulting time and experience have infused our offerings (and those of us working on them) with what I’d call a healthy amount of pragmatism. This pragmatism is something that I think will serve CA Technologies, its ecosystem partners, and our collective customers well as cloud computing continues to evolve.

And, of course, it’s good to see all those hours I’ve spent waiting for flights are paying off in interesting ways.