Monthly Archives: February 2011

BlueLock Takes an IT-Centric Cloud Approach to Hybrid Cloud

A couple months back I had a chance to catch up with Pat O’Day, CTO at BlueLock. They are a cloud provider headquartered in Indianapolis with two data centers (a primary and a backup), and also cloud capabilities on Wall Street and in Hong Kong for specific customers.

BlueLock has been a vCloud service provider for the past year and has taken an enterprise IT-centric approach to their cloud services. They are not going after the SMB web hosting market, and don’t want to sell to everybody. Their primary focus is on mid-tier enterprises looking for a provider that will deliver cloud in a way that integrates with customer environments – what you might expect from a managed services provider.

Initially they just provided private clouds, really just dedicated VMware environments with a vCenter front end. Their clouds now are still mostly private, with the user able to control what level of multi-tenancy they want. They do this through three models:

– Pay as you go multitenant
– Reserved multitenant at a lower cost
– Committed single-tenant dedicated infrastructure

 

For multi-tenant users they implemented vCloud Director as the UI. When showing this to their customers, they got feedback that Director was too unfamiliar when compared to vCenter. This gave them the idea to create a plug-in to vCenter that would allow VMware administrators to control their cloud resources.

Their plug-in was enabled by the fact that vCloud Director provides a full implementation of the vCloud API. This model has proven to be very popular with their customers. It was also very innovative.

In addition to starting and stopping cloud instances, users can move applications to BlueLock’s cloud and back again. As O’Day explained it, a vCenter administrator can create vApps from workloads running in their data center and use vCenter to deploy it up to the cloud – and to repatriate it again if necessary.

Contrast this with most cloud providers. Some, like Amazon and Rackspace, require you to package up your applications and move them to the cloud with a lot of manual processing. Amazon now can import VMDKs, but that only gets you instances – not whole apps. Other service providers, including most who target the enterprise, have “workload onboarding” processes that generally require IT to package up their VMware images and let the provider manage the import. Sometimes this is free, sometimes there may be an onboarding charge. BlueLock’s approach makes it easy and under the control of IT for workloads and data to be migrated in both directions.

VMware recently announced vCloud Connector to perform essentially the same function. But to my knowledge BlueLock remains one the few – if not the only- production cloud with this type of capability deployed.

While we all love to cite Amazon’s velocity of innovation, BlueLock has shown that even smaller providers can deliver very innovative solutions based on listening closely to customer requirements. While most people out there today are just talking about hybrid clouds, BlueLock is delivering.

Ready! Fire! Aim!

Time to talk about cloud stacks again.  No, not that there are too many (though there are), but rather the one-track mind that many IT buyers I encounter have with respect to cloud.  Some end users I have spoken with in the past few weeks are looking to implement a private clouds, and they are actively evaluating “cloud stacks” from a limited number of vendors (mainly their strategic suppliers).

I’ve asked about their process for their private cloud initiatives, and specifically how far along they were on their top-down requirements analysis and documentation.  The reply I typically received was more than a little bit surprising.  While it varies, it typically goes something like this…

“We have not created a high-level analysis of requirements.  We’re evaluating vendor solutions and will pick the best one.”

If IT leaders haven’t thought through their vision for private cloud, translated that into capabilities requirements, and aligned their business users, how can they possibly choose a technology?  And why do they think that all they need is a cloud stack?

Is the dog wagging the tail, or is it the other way around?  In this case, it’s clearly a case of tails wagging the dog as they get bombarded with vendor cries of “buy this cloud now and it will solve world hunger and peace.”

Cloud projects should have a flow that should definitively answer a VERY LONG set of key questions.  Here are JUST A FEW of them…:

  1. What are the strategic objectives for my cloud program?
  2. How will my cloud be used?
  3. Who are my users and what are their expectations and requirements?
  4. How should/will a cloud model change my data center workflows, policies, processes and skills requirements?
  5. How will cloud users be given visibility into their usage, costs and possible chargebacks?
  6. How will cloud users be given visibility into operational issues such as server/zone/regional availability and performance?
  7. What is my approach to the service catalog?  Is it prix fixe, a la carte, or more like value meals?  Can users make their own catalogs?
  8. How will I handle policy around identity, access control, user permissions, etc?
  9. What are the operational tools that I will use for event management & correlation, performance management, service desk, configuration and change management, monitoring, logging, auditability, and more?
  10. What will my vCenter administrators do when they are no longer creating VMs for every request?
  11. What will the approvers in my process flows today do when the handling of 95% of all future requests are policy driven and automated?
  12. What levels of dynamism are required regarding elasticity, workload placement, data placement and QoS management across all stack layers?
  13. Beyond a VM, what other services will I expose to my users?
  14. How will I address each of the key components such as compute, networking, structured & object storage, virtualization, security, automation, self-service, lifecycle management, databases and more?
  15. What are the workloads I expect to see in my cloud, and what are the requirements for these workloads to run?

This list goes on for several pages, and more.  If you have not done this level of analysis, you are not ready to evaluate a cloud stack.  Sure, you can research and hear from vendors – often a good way to educate yourself and prompt new thinking about the concepts above.  However, customers should stay away from asking for POCs, asking for pricing from vendors, setting budgets, and all of the other dance routines we face in the procurement process.

The unfortunate truth is that most vendors don’t want you to do this because it slows down the sales cycle.  But I’m going to quote the carpenter’s axiom here:

Measure twice, cut once!

Would you build a house without a vision, rendering and architectural blueprints?  Of course not.  However, the other unfortunate truth I am finding is that too many customers I see are falling into this trap.  They have the cart way out in front of the horse.

They are practicing “Ready! Fire!  Aim!”  I’m sure we all can guess how that will work for them…

VCs and Cloud – Are They Leading Us Down the Wrong Path?

David Linthicum writes in a post on InfoWorld today about “How VCs are leading us down the wrong path for cloud computing.” In this, he gives three reasons for this premise, but provides little in the way of substantiation for this position. We started a twitter discussion but David suggested I respond in a post – here it is. Regarding definition challenges, which David points out, I will focus on the tools and solutions for Infrastructure as a Service – since that seems to be what he’s getting at.

David Linthicum’s “Cloud computing investor mistake No. 1: Assume a sustainable business model”

For this mistake he cites the financial ROI of cloud from the perspective of IT. Is cloud cheaper than internally-delivered IT? Maybe yes, but often no. At least not on the surface. Assuming that some fairly large % of your infrastructure needs are static (e.g. opposite of elastic), and that some chunk of this is moving along nicely. Will the same VMs, which are very stable and always on, be less expensive in a cloud? Probably not. But that’s not even the point. Even if you believe that most of the value of cloud is how it supports innovation, then the ROI discussion gets a lot stickier. But that’s not the point either.

This point is very focused on external clouds from service providers. Here is the key point David makes:

“it’s clear to me that the high subscription fees many cloud computing providers charge have to fall over time as the prices for enterprise hardware and software fall as well. That means the expected ROI may not be there for cloud computing — and even if it’s there at first, it could degrade significantly over time.”

I don’t follow.  If subscription prices fall at the same rate as SW and HW, then wouldn’t any ROI calculation stay the same?  Actually not.  In fact, the cloud model gets even better due to the labor arbitrage of moving from 50-100 servers per admin to thousands in the cloud (assuming public cloud – several hundred in the private cloud) while the cost of labor increases.  I was at a customer this week who quotes > 6 months to provision a physical server, and several weeks for a virtual server.  This is due to manual processing of work orders that have an average SLA of 3 weeks.  3 weeks????!!!!   Now, let’s fire up that same server on a public cloud with a nice portal, even one integrated with access management (etc.), in 5 minutes, with no manual processing.  Or this can be on a private cloud with the same process model.

Lastly, how is this a problem with VCs?  Few VCs I know want to invest in capital-intensive service provider businesses.  Most new clouds are coming from existing service providers, not VCs.  The biggest cloud provider is also the world’s largest online retailer – Amazon.  Many of these guys know how to compete in commodity markets.  Again, how is this an instance of VCs leading us down the wrong path?

David Linthicum’s “Cloud computing investor mistake No. 2: Have little understanding of the technology in the context of an emerging market”

Funding innovation in emerging markets is the business of venture capital. Admittedly, the flock behavior referenced by David is a challenge. It was with the Internet, open source, Java funds, etc. A few early investors make bold bets and some win – then a lot of VCs will start dropping money into the new new thing. Some will be winners. Most will fail. That’s the nature of venture investing. As Bob Davoli at Sigma stated last year in Mass High Tech...

“Do you know how much money people are going to lose in the cloud?” he asked. “Billions.”

Okay, so VC investments pan out less than 50% of the time (or whatever). How is it their fault if an IT buyer doesn’t appreciate the risks of buying new technologies and bets wrong? I got an email from a very widely known “cloud” startup (maybe now a growth company) the other day responding to a request I made about his interest in another piece of new technology I came across. His response? “We don’t feel comfortable deploying untested technology into production.” In other words, let me know when it’s proven and I’ll look at it. This wasn’t some grizzled IT veteran – the guy’s a Silicon Valley entrepreneur in his 30’s (and I bet 80% of you use his innovation). Some IT shops know that taking a risk can pay off, but the smart ones know how to mitigate the risks of new technologies and avoid too much reliance on a business that might fold before their next round is funded.

David Linthicum’s “Cloud computing investor mistake No. 3: Buy into cloud-washed technology”

Cloud washing. It’s everywhere (“Cloud Power!” – ugh!). Often it’s from big established tech companies. Sometimes it’s from older VC-backed companies who reposition themselves for the cloud to “catch the wave.” Perhaps even some new startups with technology that really is not very cloudy do this too. Who cares? Honestly, if you’re an IT buyer and you purchase kit from your vendor just because it has the word cloud on the data sheet, you suck. Truly suck. You should be fired you suck so bad.

Honestly, shouldn’t you start with an understanding of the business problem you’re trying to solve, how that translates into feature and technology requirements, and then search the market for the solution that best meets your real needs? Who gives a flying donkey that “cloud” is not in the name of the product. Are you really that easy to fool? Don’t blame VCs for because some people are too lazy or unskilled to do their job properly.

I guess this leads to David’s concluding line:

“Go cloud — but do it wisely, not by following the VC flock.”

That’s good advice in any market.  Go cloud – but use your judgement, analysis and common sense.  In other words, don’t be some vendor’s puppet.  Okay, on this we agree.

(c) 2011 CloudBzz – this post originally appeared on CloudBzz.com.  For more of John’s thoughts on the cloud, visit CloudBzz.com.

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