Category Archives: Cloud Computing

Why Rackspace and Openstack may be too late

Fanatical Support

I wanted to take some time and make sure that I clarified my position on Openstack.  Rackspace and NASA announced this open source project back in July of 2010.  Openstack is a cloud manager for private or public clouds.  Openstack positions itself as an alternative to vCloud and through 3rd hosting provider party an (potentially) open standards alternative to Amazon’s AWS.

So, I was quoted in a GigaOM article that I felt Openstack and by proxy Rackspace may be little late to the cloud manager game.  The jest of some of the posts was that this is still a relatively new market and there is plenty of time for new competition.  I don’t totally agree with the full statement.  I do believe that we are early in the market but I don’t agree that there’s plenty of time  for competition.

My primary point – If a customer wanted to roll a cloud today what are their options?  Rackspace has offered Cloud based services for a long time.  One of their challenges has always been their lack of API into their IaaS based solutions.  That’s one of the reasons why they decided to sponsor Openstack.  And they now offer their Openstack Cloud in limited availability.  One of the main strengths of AWS includes the API’s.  There’s obviously some great scalable applications built on the Amazon cloud which has been in production since 2002.  Zynga is a great use case for AWS and use of the AWS API to build a hybrid cloud.  So, past performance is a critical consideration to overcome for enterprise customers considering Openstack.

Building a cloud manager is hard work.  Cloud managers are extremely complex orchestration systems that are part data center automation, CRM and accounting systems.  I guess you can think of them as ERP for the cloud.  So, I’m not saying that the Openstack development crew is taking too long to deliver their solution; I’m saying the project may have been kicked off too late.

When I talk to customers today about public clouds, I’m constantly asked about AWS in addition to other solutions I put before them.  In my non-technical customers AWS already has a huge part of their mind share when they think public cloud.  When I talk to the today about private cloud strategies they and we talk Openstack they ask me who has it in production today?  How does it extend to hybrid models today?  I believe Openstack will have a great story to tell some months from now.  But that’s the challenge.  It’s not vaporware the code is out there to download and install and jump start a cloud development project.  But if you want a production ready solution now…. vCloud, Abiquo, NetIQ, Dell, Eculyptus are all out there waiting for you.  I don’t believe AWS is too late for private cloud but public cloud is looking like a one horse race today.

So, today what are end user options for cloud?  What companies come directly to mind when asked the question?  Is it too late for the Openstack consortium?

Introduction to Cloud Computing – Cloud Manager

So, I normally teach this class as a two hour session and I had a heck of a time cutting out material and getting it down to something digestible for Internet (and slide deck) viewing. It’s a quick introduction to cloud managers and a continuation of my introductory cloud computing course.

My wife knows what’s wrong with Apple’s Cloud strategy

ImageMy wife asked me the other day how does she log into her iCloud and get some data?  This is the problem with Apple’s cloud strategy – My wife doesn’t understand it.  My wife is a typical user – not a geek or even a power user.  She uses her computing devices as a tool unlike most readers of my blog.  She is the typical person that would walk in the Apple Store and purchase an iPad, iPhone and MacBook Pro (she doesn’t get the appeal of the Air). Just casually she expected to sync her documents, music and pictures to her iCloud and access it from any of her Apple branded devices and access the data via an iCloud website.  She perfectly understood if she couldn’t access the data from her PC.  After all it is the “iCloud”.

When I tried to explain to her that it didn’t work that way, she just had this blank look on her face like “Isn’t this an Apple solution?”  When I showed her the first version Photo Stream and how you can sync pictures across iOS devices she initially was ecstatic until she found out you couldn’t delete any of the pictures.  Her question was “Why doesn’t this work like that Dropbox program you installed for me?  It just works.”

She appreciates iTunes match but doesn’t understand why should doesn’t have that functionality across all of her data.  I couldn’t have captured Apple’s challenges with cloud any better.

“VMLimted” Microsoft taking pretty good shots at VMware

Microsoft’s VM-Limited campaign has pitted VMware’s cloud strategy as just more virtualization masked as a Cloud solution.  Microsoft hits on some of the pain points of VMware’s customers including the change in licensing model which the faux VMLimited sales person explains it as “The more you use the more you pay” model.  From the density you look to get from a cloud solution Microsoft may have a valid point.  The new model for vSphere 5’s licensing does at face value makes you believe you may pay more if you offer really dense nodes.  I’ve looked at the licensing model and you really do need to have a specific use case to exceed the current memory limits.  I could see how cloud provider who look to get the most density out of their physical hardware would be at risk.

Another knock on VMWare is one of my main grips with vCloud which is its inability to support any other Hypervisor other than ESXi.  I interested in helping organizations build private and hybrid clouds and it is very easy to make a case for creating a private cloud based on more than one hypervisor.  I could see ESXi being used to host critical non-stop workloads and KVM, XEN or Hyper-V being used to host less critical workloads (not that they aren’t capable).   It seems to reason that a mixed hypervisor environment can save organizations deploying private clouds money.   I think VMware would answer by saying if you need to service those use cases then you could always use ESXi free.  However, you can’t manage ESXi free with vCloud Director.

The third point I get from the video is that VMWare doesn’t give your insight into your application.   I’m not too sure about this point.  Even if you just consider virtualization there are plenty of tools that help you with application performance.  I think this was more a reference to Microsoft’s Azure cloud solution which is more of a PaaS.  VMware does have its CloudFoundry project platform which addresses PaaS.  It is fair to say that Azure is much more mature than CloudFoundry at this point.

Whether the campaign is accurate or not it is one of the funniest campaigns Microsoft has put on.  I do believe you have to be a virtualization geek to get the references and may fly over the head of some decision makers.  Too the cloud indeed Microsoft

The Cloud isn’t (Just) about saving money

I’ve been in enough cloud engagements to realize that the Cloud is not (just) about saving money. Sure, you can reduce start-up costs and pay “On-Demand” for resources. If you have 1001 e-mail users you can subscribe to 1001 instances of Google Apps or Office 365 and pay for exactly what you use. Does that mean you’ll save money over deploying Exchange or some other groupware? Maybe. The focus shouldn’t be on just savings rather the functionality gained by the cloud.

In this Cisco video Forester talks about some of the drivers for engaging a cloud strategy and the business stakeholders making the case for cloud. It’s not always cost savings or IT. In most instances that I’ve been involved in it’s about capability. Why does Netflix stay with a cloud for distribution? I’m sure at this point they could build out their own data centers and probably save money over AWS.

For each business, it will be a different driver. For Netflix, I believe the driver is the scalability of AWS. And not just AWS, if projects like OpenStack/CloudStack take off then organizations leveraging the cloud will have a much larger pool of IaaS providers to choose from if they aren’t already leveraging other cloud providers. You can’t easily build that type of redundancy. Even if Netflix chooses to bring their compute in-house, I’m sure they’d benefit from some type of hybrid public/private cloud model.

We have Netflix on one side of the coin and small enterprises on the other. Why engage Google for a Google Apps deployment? Creating an LAN with servers, remote access, office applications, e-mail and collaboration tools is an old trick at this point. This has become a commodity solution where any jack of all trades can get your business up in running. What they can’t do is give you the seamless integration of services and support that a Google Apps or Microsoft 365 can give you. You can also easily share data between your organization and your business partners without worrying about firewalls and user accounts.

A great example is that I use WordPress.com not because it’s less expensive than hosting my own WordPress blog on AWS or any number of hosting providers. I’m obviously capable of hosting a virtual server running WordPress. I choose to run on WordPress.com because I’d rather spend my time doing research and writing vs. patching and maintaining.

Of course, there are considerations to have when it comes to security and features but these issues are slowly but surely being resolved.

Who do you trust with your data – Google, Microsoft or Dropbox?

For me the battle between Google Drive, Dropbox and Skydrive comes down to whom I trust with my data.  All of the solutions have very strong attributes.  Dropbox has the best and most widely adopted API’s.  Google has extremely strong integration with Google Docs and I’m sure superior search capability and Skydrive is a great value.

However, this is my data you’re talking about and in the end my data is what is important.  I don’t believe any one of the vendors are in any trouble of going out of business and they all give you the ability to have your data available to your offline so, even if there is a service interruption you should still be able to get at some version of your files and data.

The bigger question comes down to what is being done with my data and who has access to it.  All there services allow you to put access controls on your shared data but I’m more concerned at the security practices of each company.  Google is an advertising company and their terms of service has caused somewhat of a stir.  Microsoft is a just a really big target.  Their infrastructure will always be attacked but MS has done a fairly good job of promoting security in their products ever since Windows XP SP2.

The one provider I just don’t trust is Dropbox.  The one escape they had with allowing anyone access to your dropbox data is just unforgivable.  I just can’t see myself entrusting any real important or sensitive data to them.  The nature of their security issue speaks to the culture or at least lends a perception to the culture of their development team.

Who do you trust with your data?

 

Update 07/31/12:  Dropbox has another major security issue http://techcrunch.com/2012/07/31/dropbox-admits-user-accounts-were-hijacked-adds-new-security-features/

What are some of the considerations for Cloud based ERP?

Recently in one of my courses at DePaul we’ve talked at great length in class about the different ERP delivery models.  One model that seems pretty popular today is Cloud based ERP.  Provider’s such as Salesforce.com offers an ERP solution and before Oracle acquired PeopleSoft they actually offered a pseudo Cloud based solution for small businesses.  One of the primary advantages to cloud based ERP is that the associated initial investment for building out an ERP solution are reduced while providing the scalability and reliability of a large enterprise class solution.  In addition, the customer gets the advantages of reduced operations and maintenance costs and management overhead.

However, one of the perceived disadvantages to this model is the inability to customize the code to the same degree as a traditional solution such as PeopleSoft or SAP.  If a company likes %80 of the cloud solution they are normally unable to customize the application to get the fully needed functionality.  It’s a take it or leave it proposition.

This is not the only path for cloud based ERP.  The previous described model is called Software as a Service or SaaS.  Provider’s such as Salesforce.com in addition to SaaS also offer a cloud computing model known as Platform as a Service (PaaS).  The PaaS delivery model of cloud computing allows customers to build applications based on the cloud providers platform through the use of Application Program Interfaces or API’s.  Non-ERP examples of PaaS include Amazon’s data base service (Henschen).  An end user can develop an application that makes calls to Amazon’s cloud based database opposed to a SQL or Oracle database server hosted on their own servers.  One of the obvious advantages to this is the ability to scale beyond your existing capability without the associated initial investment needed to scale.

The same concept applies to ERP focused PaaS.  Salesforce.com provides API’s to the Salesforce.com PaaS infrastructure which allows organizations to build more custom instances of ERP hosted in the cloud (Sommer).  This allows for some of the advantages of cloud computing while allowing the flexibility of creating customized modules.

The PaaS approach adds some unique capability to the ERP market.  There are two different markets for users of PaaS.  There is the service provider space and then there’s the enterprise user.  From a service provider perspective there’s the opportunity to build and resale SaaS solutions based on the underlying PaaS.  An example would be Financialforce.com which built a SaaS solution on top of salesforce.com.  This allows the company to provide services to new cloud customers as well as existing salesforce.com customers by extending the capability of salesforce.com.

The other market is the end user enterprise. In class we looked at a use case involving a company EA Cake that created a tailored production method that needed a computerized support system.  The first desire would be to look toward a solution similar to traditional ERP like SAP.  However they discovered that SAP would force them to abandon some of their newly developed production processes. Intuitively you would also think that a cloud based solution would have even less appeal since it’s even less flexible.

With the PaaS approach the enterprise now can custom develop the modules necessary to run the new processes while leveraging the core advantages of the cloud.  All of the data center and infrastructure components of the solution will be operated by the cloud provider.  This infrastructure would include network, servers, database, web server and non-application security.  The enterprise would be responsible for the application layers of the solution.  This would include designing the frontend, access control of the application and workflow.

The organization would need to still do all the due diligence associated with any successful ERP implementation.  The concept of operations (CONOPS) for this approach is something that would really need to be assessed and factored into the decision.  Even, when an organization has an in-house development team and in-house infrastructure management team, the collaboration between the two groups could be difficult.  Now when you add a third party to the equation it becomes that much more complicated to mange trouble tickets, security and performance.

Also, a lot of the challenges associated with going with a cloud based solution still exist in this development environment.  You still need to consider that your application is hosted on a shared infrastructure and if that shared infrastructure is certified for your industry or line of business.  A plastics manufacture may have different considerations vs. a Federal agency responsible for providing affordable housing.

This is also a paradigm shift for many software developers.  To think in terms of cloud instances or interfaces as opposed to API’s for existing and mature ERP solutions.  However, if executed correctly this model can help an enterprise avoid a great deal of the challenges associated with rolling their own developed system and leverage the best of the common platform systems such as Oracle.

Has your organization considered cloud based ERP and what flavors SaaS or PaaS?