Journey to the Cloud

Datacenter Rack-scale Capability Architecture (RCA)

For the last couple of years there has been a resurgent theme cropping up regarding disaggregation of components within a rack to support hyperscale datacenters. Back in 2013 Facebook, as founder of the Open Compute Foundation, and Intel announced their collaboration on future data center rack technologies.

This architecture deals basically with the type of business that Facebook itself is running and as such is very component focused such that compute, storage and network components are disaggregated across trays, trays being interconnected with a silicon photonic internal network fabric.

This has the advantage for hyperscale datacenters of modularity allowing components such as CPU to be swapped out individually as opposed to the entire server construct. Intel, presenting at Interop 2013, had an excellent presentation on the architecture outlining various advantages. This architecture is indeed being used by Baidu, Alibaba Group, Tencent and China Telecom (according to Intel).

This in itself is not earth shattering, but seems to lack the added "magic sauce". As it stands this is simply a re-jigging of the arrangement of the form factor but in itself does not do anything to really enhance workload density outside of the consolidation of large numbers of components in the physical rack footprint (i.e. more core, RAM, network bandwidth).

Principally it is aimed at reducing cable, switch clutter, associated power requirements and upgrade modularity, essentially this increases the compute surface per rack. These are fine advantages when dealing with hyperscale datacenters as they represent considerable capital expenditure as outlined in the Moor Insights & Strategy paper on the subject.

Tying into the themes in my previous blog regarding the "Future of the Datacenter" there is a densifying effect taking place affecting the current datacenter network architecture as aptly shown in the Moor study:

Examining this architecture, the following points stand out:

  • Rack level architecture is essential in creating economies of scale for hyper-scale and private enterprise datacenters
  • East-West traffic is coming to front-and-center whilst most datacenters are still continuing in North-South network investment with monolithic switch topologies
  • Simply increasing the number of cores and RAM within a rack does not itself increase the workload density (load/unit)
  • Workload consolidation is more complex than this architecture indicates utilizing multiples components at different times under different loading
  • Many approaches are already available using an aggregation architecture (HP Moonshot, Calxeda ARM Architecture, even SoCs)

There is a lot of added value to be derived for an enterprise datacenter using some of these "integrated-disaggregated" concepts, but competing with and surviving in spite of hyperscale datacenters requires additional innovative approaches to be taken by the enterprise.

Enterprises that have taken on board the "rack as a computer" paradigm have annealed this with capability architecture to drive density increases up to and exceeding 10x over simple consolidation within a more capable physical rack:

  • General purpose usage can be well serviced with integrated/(hyper)converged architectures (e.g. Oracle's Private Cloud Appliance, VCE Vblock, Tintri, Nutanix)
  • Big Data architectures use a similar architecture but have the magic sauce embedded in the way that the Hadoop cluster software itself works
  • Oracle's Engineered Systems further up the ante in that they start to add magic sauce to the hardware mix and the software smarts – hence engineered rather than simply integrated. Other examples are available from Teradata, Microsoft and its appliance partners)
  • In particular, the entire rack needs to be thought of as a workload capability server:
    • If database capability is required then everything in that rack should be geared to that workload
    • In-Platform (in the database engine itself) capability used above general purpose virtualization to drive hyper-tenancy
    • Private networking fabric (Infiniband in the case of Oracle Exadata and most high-end appliances)
    • Storage should be modular and intelligent, offloading not just storage block I/O but also being able to deal with part of the SQL Database Workload itself whilst providing the usual complement of thin/sparse-provisioning, deduplication and compression
    • The whole of database workload consolidation is many times the sum of parts in the rack
  • The datacenter becomes a grouping of these hyper-dense intelligent capability rack-scale servers
    • Intelligent provisioning is used to "throw" the workload type onto the best place for doing it at scale, lowest overall cost and still deliver world-class performance and security
    • Integrate into the overall information management architecture of the enterprise
    • Ensure that as new paradigms related to Big Data Analytics and the tsunami of information expected from Internet-of-Things that they can be delivered in the rack scale computer form but with additional "smarts" to further increase value being delivered as well as provide agility to the business.

The enterprise Datacenter can deliver value beyond a hyper-scale datacenter through thinking about continuous consolidation in line with the business not just IT needs that need to be delivered. Such platform and rack-scale capability architecture (RCA) has been proven to provide massive agility to organizations and indeed prepares them for new technologies such that they can behave like "start-ups" with a fast-low-cost-to-fail mentality to power iterative innovation cycles.

Opportunities for the CIO

The CIO and senior team have a concrete opportunity here to steal a march on the Public Cloud vendors by providing hyper-efficient capability architectures for their business in re-thinking the datacenter rack through RCA paradigms.

Not only will this massively reduce footprint in the existing premises and costs, but focuses IT on how best to serve the business through augmentation with hybrid Cloud scenarios.

The industry has more or less spoken about the need for hybrid Cloud scenarios where private on-premise cloud is augmented with public cloud capabilities. Further today's announcement with regards to the EU making "Safe Harbour" data treaty effectively invalid should put organizational IT on point about how to rapidly deal with these changes.

Industry thinking indicates that enterprise private datacenters will shrink, and the CIO team can already ensure they are "thinking" that way and making concrete steps to realize compact ultra-dense datacenters.

A hyper-scale datacenter can't really move this quickly or be that agile as their operating scale inhibits this nimble thinking that should be the hallmark of the CIO of the 2020s.

In the 2020s perhaps nano- and pico-datacenters may be of more interest to enterprises as way of competing for business budgetary investment as post-silicon graphene compute substrates running at 400GHz room become the new norm!


Storage Intelligence - about time!

I was reading recently an article about Backblaze releasing storage designs. This is a 180TB NAS device in 4U! Absolutely huge! A 42U rack would be able to have around 1.8Petabyte in a single rack.

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When thinking about Petabytes, one thinks about the big players in storage, EMC/NetApp/HDS, selling tens of storage racks covering substantial parts of the datacenter floor space and offering a fraction of this capability.

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Clearly, the storage profile of what the large monolithic enterprise arrays offer is different. However, Backblaze clearly highlights the ability to get conventional "dumb" storage easily and at low cost! Packing some flash  cache or SSD in front would already bring these boxes to the same I/O capacity;-)

This makes the case that storage per se is not really a challenge anymore. However, making storage aid in the overall performance equation; making sure that storage helps in specific workload acceleration is going to be critical going forward. Basically Intelligent Storage!

Questioning "Accepted Wisdom"

Many IT shops still think of storage as a separate part of their estate. It should simply store data and provide it back rapidly when asked - politely. The continuing stifling of innovation in datacenters due to having a single answer for all questions - namely VMware/hypervisors and server virtualization - tends to stop any innovative thinking that may actually aid an organisation to accelerate those parts of the application landscape leveraging revenue.

Some questions that came to mind and also echoed by clients are:

  • Disk is cheap now. SSD answers my performance needs for storage access. Is there something that together with software actually increases the efficiency of how I do things in the business?

  • For whole classes of typical applications, structured data persistence pools, web servers etc what would "intelligent" storage do for the physical estate and the business consumers of this resource?

  • How can enterprise architecture concepts be overlaid to intelligent storage? What will this mean to how future change programmes or business initiatives are structured and architected?

  • How can current concepts of intelligent storage be used in the current datacenter landscape?

We are seeing the first impact of this type of thinking in the structured data / database world. By combining the database workload with storage and through software enablement we get  intelligent acceleration of store/retrieval operations. This is very akin to having map-reduce concepts within the relational database world.

Further combining storage processing, with CPU/RAM/Networking offload of workload specific storage requests, facilitatest unprecedented scale-out, performance and data compression capabilities.

Oracle's Engineered Systems, the Exadata Database Machine in particular, represents this intelligent storage concept, amongst other innovations, for accelerating the Oracle database workload.

These workload specific constructs foster security of precious data assets, physically and logically. This is increasingly important when one considers that organisations are using shared "dumb" storage for virtual machines, general data assets and application working data sets.

In the general marketplace other vendors (IBM PureSystems + DB2, Teradata, SAP HANA etc) starting to use variations of the technologies for intelligent storage. The level of maturity varies dramatically, with Oracle having a substantial time advantage as first mover.

2013-2015 will see more workload focused solutions materializing, replacing substantial swathes of datacenter assets built using the traditional storage view.

Why is this important for the CIO, CTO & CFO?

Intelligent workload-focused storage solutions are allowing CIO/CTOs to do things that were not easily implemented within solutions based on server virtualization technology using shared monolithic storage arrays - dumb storage - such as in the VMware enabled VCE Vblock and HP CloudSystem Matrix - which are effectively only IaaS solutions.

Workload specific storage solutions are allowing much greater consolidation ratios. Forget the 20-30-40 Virtual Machines per physical server. Think 100s of workloads per intelligent construct! An improvement of 100s of percent over the current situation!

It is important to verify how intelligent storage solutions can be a part of the CIO/CTO's product mix to support the business aspirations as well as simplify the IT landscape. Financing options are also vastly simplified with a direct link between business performance and physical asset procurement/leasing:

  • Intelligent storage removes architectural storage bottlenecks and really shares the compute/IO/networking load more fully.

  • Intelligent storage ensures those workloads supporting the business revenue generating activities are accelerated. Acceleration is linked to the cost of underlying storage assets. As cost of NAND flash, SSDs and rotating disks drop, more is automatically brought into the storage mix to reduce overall costs without disrupting the IT landscape.

  • Greater volumes of historic data are accessible thanks to the huge level of context sensitive, workload-specific data compression technologies. Big data analytics can be powered from here, as well as enterprise datawarehouse needs. This goes beyond simple static storage tiering and deduplication technologies that are unaware of WHAT they are storing!
  • Workload-specific stacking supports much higher levels of consolidation than simple server virtualization. The positive side effects of technologies such as Exadata include the rationalization of datacenter workload estates in terms of variety, operating systems can be rationalized and generally have net-net healthier estate. This means big savings for the CFO!

Intelligent storage within vertically engineered workload specific constructs, what Gartner calls Fabric Based Infrastructure present a more cogent vision of optimizing the organizational's IT capability. It provides a higher level of understanding how precious funding from CFOs is invested to those programmes necessary for the welfare of the concern.

CIO/CTOs still talking about x86 and server virtualization as the means to tackle every Business IT challenge would be well advised to keep an eye on this development.

Intelligent storage will be a fundamental part of the IT landscape allowing effective competition with hyperscale Cloud Providers such as Google/Amazon and curtailing the funding leakage from the business to external providers.

Disclaimer

The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by my current employer and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of my employer.

The Shape of Things to Come!

A lot of what I do involves talking with thought leaders from organizations keen to transform how they do business. In some cases, they espouse thoughts moving along general industry lines or marketing. However, in some cases, there is real innovative thought taking place. I believe firmly innovation starts with questioning the current status quo.

We are bombarded by Intel x86 as the ultimate in commodity processor offering everything one could possibly imagine on the one side, and public cloud on the other hand as the doom of in-house IT centers. It is incumbent on all in this industry to think beyond even the cloud as we know it today.

Questioning "Datacenter Wisdom"

This blog entry in entitled the Shape of Things to come with a clear series of ideas in mind:

  • System-on-a-Chip (SOC) are getting very powerful indeed. At what point are these so powerful that they represent the same order of magnitude as an entire hyperscale datacenter from Google or Amazon with a million machines inside?

  • Why does in-house IT have to move out to the cloud? Why could hyperscale clouds not be built up from capacity that organizations are already putting in place? This would be akin to the electricity grid as the transport for capacity created from multiple providers. Borrowing capacity could be done in-industry or across-industries.

  • Why is there disaggregation of all components at a physical datacenter level (CPU, RAM, storage, networking etc) rather than having assembly lines with appliances/constructs hyper-efficient at a particular task within the enterprise portfolios of services and applications?

  • Why are servers still in the same form factor of compute, memory, networking and power supply? Indeed why are racks still square and datacenter space management almost a 2-dimensional activity? When we have too many people living in a limited space we tend to build upwards, with lifts and stairs to transport people. Why not the same for the datacenter?

I 'm not the only one asking these questions. Indeed, in the industry the next wave of physical manifestation of new concepts is taking place albeit slowly. I wanted to share some industry insight as examples to whet the appetite.

  • At Cornell University a great whitepaper on cyclindrical racks using 60GHz wireless transceivers for interconnects within the rack show a massively efficient model for ultrascale computing.
  • RoundWirelessServerack

  • Potentially the server container would be based on a wheel with servers as cake slice wedges plugged into the central tube core. Wheels would be stacked vertically. Although they suggest wireless connectivity, there is no reason why the central core of the tube could not carry power, networking and indeed coolant. Indeed the entire tube could be made to move upwards and downwards - think tubes kept in fridge like housings (like in the film Minority Report!)
  • MinorityReport

  • One client suggested that CPUs should be placed into ultracooled trays that can use the material of the racks as conductors and transport to other trays full of RAM. We do this with hard disks using enclosures. Indeed Intel does 3D chip stacking already!
    • Taking the Intel 22nm Xeons with 10 cores or indeed Oracle's own SPARC T5 at 28nm and 16 cores as building blocks
    • A 2U CPU tray would allow say 200 such processor packages. This is an enormous capability! For the SPARC T5 this would be 3200 cores, 25600 threads and 11Thz of aggregate power!
    • Effectively, you could provide capacity on the side to Google!
    • A RAM tray would basically allow you to provide 20TB+ depending on how it is implemented (based on current PCIe based SSD cards).
  • Fit-for-purpose components for particular workloads as general assembly lines within an organization would fit in well with the mass-scale concepts that the industrial and indeed digital revolutions promoted.
    • If we know that we will be persisting structured data within some form of relational database, then why not use the best construct for that. Oracle's Engineered Systems paved the way forward for this construct.
    • Others are following with their own engineered stacks.
    • The tuning of all components and the software to do a specific task that will be used for years to come is the key point!

So the technical components in this radical shake up of the datacenter are materializing. We haven't even started to talk about some of te work happening in material science providing unparalleled changes in CPUs (up to 300GHz at room temperature) or even non-volatile RAM totally replacing spinning disk and possibly SSD and DRAM.


Why is this important for the CIO, CTO & CFO?

Customers typically ask whether they should move everything out to cloud providers such as Google/Amazon or private cloud hosters such as CSC/ATOS/T-Systems. Well looking at the nexus of technological change that is almost upon us, I would say that at some level it might make sense to evaluate the mix of on-premise and off-premise resource.

The Cloud is effectively a delivery model - some applications such as email clearly can be in the public cloud - bearing in mind privacy issues. However the capabilities needed for an organization to thrive as expressed in Enterprise Architecture in order to exploit market forces can be expressed in other ways.

  • Server virtualization relies on workloads not taking all the resources of a physical server. You should be questioning why the software, the most expensive components, is not being used to its maximum? Solving server acquisition costs does not reduce costs for you in a meaningful way.

  • Entertain the idea that with acceleration at every level of the stack, information requests may be serviced in near-realtime! The business should be asking what it would do with that capability? What would you do differently?

  • Datacenter infrastructure may change radically. It may well be that the entire datacenter is replaced by a tube stacked vertically that can do the job of the current football field sized datacenter. How can you exploit assembly line strategies that will already start to radically reduce the physical datacenter estate? Oracle's Engineered Systems are one approach for this for certain workloads, replacing huge swathes of racks, storage arrays and network switches of equipment.

  • Verify if notions of desktops are still valid. If everything is accessible with web based technologies, including interactive applications such as Microsoft Office, then why not ensure that virtual desktops are proactively made obsolete, and simply provide viewing/input devices to those interactive web pages.

  • Middleware may well represent a vastly unexplored ecosystem for reducing physical datacenter footprints and drastically reducing costs.
    • Networking at 100+Gbps already enables bringing your applications/web powered effective desktops with interaction to the users' viewing devices wherever they are.
    • Use intra-application constructs to insulate from the technical capability below. Java applications have this feature built-in, being cross platform by nature. This is a more relevant level of virtualization than the entire physical server.

  • Security should be enabled at all layers, and not rely on some magic from switch vendors in the form of firewalls. It should be in the middleware platforms to support application encapsulation techniques, as well as within pools of data persistence (databases, filesytems etc).
Enterprise architecture is fueling a new examination of how business defines the IT capabilities it needs to thrive and power growth. This architecture is showing the greater reliance on data integration technologies, speed to market and indeed the need to persist greater volumes of data for longer periods of time.

It may well be incumbent on the CIO/CTO/CFO to pave the way for this brave new world! They need to be already ensuring that people understand what is impossible now, technically or financially, will sort itself out. The business needs to be challenged on what it would do in a world without frontiers or computational/storage limitations?

If millions of users can be serviced per square round meter of datacenter space using a cylindrical server tube wedge/slice - why not do it? This is not the time for fanatics within the datacenter that are railroading discussions to what they are currently using - or to provide the universal answer "server virtualization from VMware is the answer, and what is the question?".

Brave thinking is required. Be prepared to know what to do when the power is in you hands. The competitive challenges of our time require drastic changes. Witness what is happening in the financial services world with traders being replaced by automated programs. This requires serious resources. Changes in technology will allow this to be performed effortlessly with the entire stock market data kept in memory, and a billion risk simulations run per second!

Disclaimer

The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by my current employer and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of my employer.

A Resurgent SPARC platform for Enterprise Cloud Workloads (Part 2) - SPARC T5

Some time ago, I blogged about the resurgence of the SPARC platform. The then newly designed SPARC T4 was showing tremendous promise in its own write to be able to take up its former mantle of being an innovation leader running extreme workloads with the Solaris 11 operating system.

Indeed, it was used as the driving engine of the SPARC Supercluster for dealing with not just massive acceleration of Oracle database workloads using the Exadata Storage Cell technology, but the ability to combine firmware embedded near-zero overhead virtualization concepts for electrically separate logical domains, carving up the physical hardware, and Solaris zones which allow near-native "virtual machines" sharing an installed Solaris operating system.

Up to 128 virtual machines (zones) supported on a system - a vast improvement over the 20-30 one gets under VMware-like hypervisors typically!

This welcome addition to the wider Oracle engineered systems family allowed the missing parts of the datacenter to be consolidated - these being typically glossed over or totally skipped when virtualization with VMware-like hypervisors was discussed. Customers were aware that their mission critical workloads were not always able to run with an x86 platform which was then further reduced in performance using a hypervisor to support large data set manipulation.

Well the rumor mills have started as the run up to Oracle Openworld 2012 at the end of September. One of the interesting areas is the "possible" announcement of the SPARC T5 processor. This is interesting in its own right as we have steadily been seeing the SPARC T4 and now the T5 having ever greater embedded capability in silicon to drive database consolidation and indeed the entire WebLogic middleware stack together with high-end vertical applications such as SAP, EBusiness Suite, Siebel CRM and so on.

Speculating on what "rumors" and the Oracle SPARC public roadmap, I'd like to indicate where I see this new chip making inroads in those extreme cloud workload environments whilst maintaining the paradigm of continuous consolidation. This paradigm that I outlined in a blog in 2010 is still very relevant - the SPARC T5 providing alternative avenues than simply following the crowd on x86.

Questioning "Datacenter Wisdom"

The new SPARC T5 will have, according to the roadmap the following features and technologies included:

  • Increasing System-on-a-Chip (SOC) orientation providing ever more enhanced silicon accelerators for offloading tasks that software typically struggles with at cloud scale. This combines cores, memory controllers, I/O ports, accelerators and network interface controllers providing a very utilitarian design.
  • 16 cores from the T4's 8-core. This takes them right up to the top end in core terms.
  • 8 threads per core - giving 128 threads of execution per processor providing exceptional performance for threaded applications such as with Java and indeed the entire SOA environment
  • Core speeds of 3.6GHz providing exceptional single threaded performance as well as the intelligence to detect thread workloads dynamically (think chip level thread workload elasticity)
  • Move to 28nm from 40nm - continuous consolidation paradigm being applied at silicon level
  • Crossbar bandwidth of 1TB/s (twice that of the T4) providing exceptional straight line scaling for applications as well as supporting the glueless NUMA design of the T5
  • Move to PCIe Generation 3 and 1TB/s memory bandwidth using 1GHz DDR3 memory chips will start to provide the means of creating very large memory server configuration (think double-digit TB of RAM for all in-memory workload processing)
  • QDR (40Gbps) Infiniband private networking
  • 10GbE Public networking
  • Database workload stacking becomes even more capable and effective than simple hypervisor based virtualization for datacenter estate consolidation at multiple levels (storage, server, network and licensed core levels)

This in itself at the processor level is really impressive, but the features that are on the roadmap aligned to the T5 possibly are the real crown jewels:

  •  on-die crypto accelerators for encryption (RSA, DH, DSA, ECC, AES, DES,3DES, Camellia, Kasum) providing excellent performance through offloading. This is particularly relevant in multi-tenant Cloud based environments
  • on-die message digest and hashing accelerators (CRC32c, MD5, SHA-1, SHA-224, SHA-256, SHA-384, SHA-512) providing excellent security offloading. Again particularly relevant in multi-tenant environments
  • on-die accelerator for random number generation
  • PCIe Generation 3 opens the door to even faster Infiniband networking (56Gbps instead of the current 40Gbps - with active-active links being possible to drive at wire speed)
  • Hardware based compression which will seriously reduce the storage footprint of databases. This will provide further consolidation and optimization of database information architectures.
  • Columnar database acceleration and Oracle number acceleration will provide extremely fast access to structured information. Further, when combined with in-memory structures, the database will literally be roaring !

Indeed when we think that the Exadata Storage cells will also be enhanced to support new chip generations, flash density as well as other optimizations, the next SPARC Supercluster (which has the embedded Exadata storage cells) will literally be one of the best performing database platforms on the planet!

To ignore the new SPARC T5 (whenever it arrives) is to really miss a trick. The embedded technology provides true sticky competitive advantage to anyone that running a database workload or indeed multi-threaded applications. As a Java platform, middleware and SOA platform as well as vertical application platform, the enterprise can seriously benefit from this new innovation.

Why is this important for the CIO & CFO?

CIOs and CFOs are constantly being bombarded with messages from IT that x86 is the only way to go, that Linux is the only way to go, that VMware is the only way to go. As most CFOs will have noted by now:

  • Financially speaking - the x86 servers may have been cheaper per unit, but the number of units is so large to get the job done that any financial advantage that might have been there has evaporated!
  • Overall end-2-end costs for those services that the CIO/CFO signed off on are never really well calculated for the current environment.
  • Focused investment on those activities that support revenue streams and those technologies that will continue to do that for at least the next decade with capacity upgrades of course
  • There must be other ways of doing things that make life easier and more predictable

Well Engineered Systems with the new SPARC T5 represent a way for the CIO/CFO to be able to power those projects that need investment which in turn drive revenue and value. The ability to literally roll the SPARC SuperCluster or any other Engineered System is going to be instrumental in:

  • Shortening project cycles at the infrastructure level
    • don't lose 6 months on a critical ERP/CRM/Custom application project in provisioning hardware, getting unexpected billing for general infrastructure layers such as networking that have nothing to do with this project, IT trying to tune and assemble, getting stuck in multi-vendor contract and support negotiations etc.
    • That time can be literally worth millions - why lose that value?
  • Concentrate valuable and sparse investment strategies literally to the last square meter in the datacenter!
    • If that next project is a risk management platform, then IT should be able to give exactly to the last datacenter floor tile the resources that are needed for that one project alone and the cost
    • Project based or zero-budgetting will allow projects to come online faster, predictably, reuse of existing platforms dealing with the load as well as supporting continuous workload consolidation paradigms
    • Finance enterprise architecture projects that put in the enabling conditions to support faster turnaround for critical revenue focused/margin increasing project activity
Engineered systems are already using the technologies that the rest of the industry is trying to re-package to meet the challenges customers are facing now and in the coming years.The lead is not just in technology but also the approach that customers are demanding - specific investments balanced with specific revenue generating high-yield business returns.

As a CIO it is important to recognize the value that Engineered Systems and the SPARC platform, as part of an overall datacenter landscape, bring in addressing key business requirements and ensure an overall simplification of the Datacenter challenge and large CAPEX requirements in general.

As Oracle and others proceed in acquiring or organically developing new capabilities in customer facing technologies, managing exabyte data sets it becomes strategically important to understand how that can be dealt with.

Hardware alone is not the only answer. Operating systems need to be able to deal with big thinking and big strategy as do applications and the hardware. By creating balanced designs that can then scale-out a consistent effective execution strategy can be managed at the CIO/CTO/CFO levels to ensure that business is not hindered but encouraged to the maximum through removing barriers that IT may well have propagated with the state of the art many years ago.

Engineered Systems enable and weaponize the datacenter to directly handle the real-time enterprise. High-end operating systems such as Solaris and the SPARC processor roadmap are dealing with the notions of having terabyte datasets, millions of execution threads and thousands of logical domains with hundreds of zones (virtual machines) each per purchased core.

Simply carving up a physical server's resources to make up for the deficiencies of operating system/application in dealing with workloads can't be an answer by itself. This is what is also fueling the Platform-as-a-Service strategies partly. How to get systems working cooperatively together to deal with more of the same workload (e.g. database access/web server content for millions of users) or indeed different workloads spread across systems transparently is the question!

High performance computing fields have been doing just this with stunning results albeit at extreme cost conditions and limited workloads. Engineered systems are facilitating this thinking at scale with relatively modest investment for the workloads being supported.

It is this big thinking from organizations such as Oracle and others, who are used to dealing with petabytes of data, and millions of concurrent users that can fulfill  requirements expressed by the CIO/CTO/CFO teams. If millions of users needing web/content/database/analytics/billing can be serviced per square meter of datacenter space - why not do it?

Disclaimer

The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by Oracle and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Oracle.

Datacenter Wisdom - Engineered Systems Must be Doing Something right! (Part 1 - Storage Layer)

Looking back over the last 2 years or so, we can start to see an emerging pattern of acquisitions and general IT industry manouevering that would suggest customer demand and technological capability packaging for specific workloads are more in alignment than ever.

I wanted to to write a couple of blogs to capture this in the context of the datacenter and in wider Oracle engineered systems penetration.

I will start with the Storage Layer has that seems to have garnered tremendous changes in the last 6 months alone although the pattern was already carved out in the early Oracle Exadata release in April 2010 (nice blog on this from Kerry Osborne - Fun with Exadata v2) in its innovative bundling of commodity hardware with specialized software capabilities.

Questioning "Datacenter Wisdom"

As you may know Oracle's Exadata v2 represent a sophisticated blend of balanced components for the tasks undertaken by the Oracle Database whether it being used as a high-transaction OLTP or long running query intensive Datawarehouse. Technologies include:

  • Commodity x86 servers with large memory footprints or high core counts for database nodes
  • x86 servers / Oracle Enterprise Linux for Exadata storage servers
  • Combining simple server based storage in clusters to give enterprise storage array capabilities
  • QDR (40Gbps) Infiniband private networking
  • 10GbE Public networking
  • SAS or SATA interfaced disks for high performance or high capacity
  • PCIe Flash cards
  • Database workload stacking as a more effective means than simple hypervisor based virtualization for datacenter estate consolidation at multiple levels (storage, server, network and licensed core levels)

Binding this together is the Oracle 11gR2 enteprise database platform, Oracle RAC database cluster technology allowing multiple servers to work in parallel on the same database and the Exadata Storage Server (ESS) software supporting the enhancements to facilitate intelligent caching of SQL result sets, offloading of queries and storage indices. There is a great blog from Kevin Closson - Seven Fundamentals Everyone Should Know about Exadata that cover this in more detail.

Looking at the IT industry we see:

  • EMC/Isilon acquisition that marries multiple NAS server nodes to an Infiniband fabric for scale-out NAS - indicating that Infiniband has a significant role to play in binding loosely connected servers for massive scalability.
  • EMC/Data Domain+Spectralogic showing that tape is not in fact dead as many are predicting and that it remains an extremely low cost media for Petabyte storage.
  • Embed flash storage (SSD or PCIe based) into servers closer to the workload than simply going across the SAN/LAN wires to an enterprise storage array showing that local storage with flash across a distributed storage node fabric is infinitely more effective than SAN storage for enteprise workloads.
  • EMC/NetApp with intelligent flash usage rather than as replacement for spinning disk significantly enhances certain workloads as we see in EMC's VFCache implementation and NetApp's Intelligent Caching.
  • Monolithic SAN attached arrays moving towards modular scalable arrays supporting the approach taken by Oracle's Pillar Axiom which scales I/O, storage capacity and performance independently using smaller intelligent nodes. EMC is using VMAX engines, NetApp with its GX (Spinnaker) architecture, and even IBM is going that way.

All these trends, and it is not so important really in what chronological order they happened or that I took some examples from leaders in their fields, clearly indicate convergence of technological threads.

I often hear from clients that Exadata is too new, uses strange Infiniband bits and has no link to a SAN array. Well clearly the entire industry is moving that way. Customers are indicating with their voices what they would like to have - capability and simplicity for the workloads that drive their revenue.

Why is this important for the CIO?

CIOs are typically confronted with a range of technologies to solve a limited array of challenges. They are constantly asked by the business and more recently CFOs to make sure that they are:

  • using future proofed technologies,
  • simpler vendor management,
  • focus investment on those activities that support revenue streams,
  • align IT with the business!

Well Engineered Systems are exactly all that. Oracle literally went back to the drawing board and questioned why certain things were done in certain ways in the past and what direct benefit that provided clients.

Engineered systems are already using the technologies that the rest of the industry is trying to re-package to meet the challenges customers are facing now and in the coming years.

Oracle, I believe, has at least a 2 year advantage in that they:

  • learnt from the early stages in the market,
  • fine-tuned their offerings,
  • aligned with support requirements of such dense capability blocks,
  • helped customers come to grips with such a cultural change
  • is continuing to add to its "magic sauce" and still engineering the best of commodity hardware to further increase the value add of Engineered Systems.

The lead is not just in technology but also the approach that customers are demanding - specific investments balanced with specific revenue generating high-yield business challenges.

As a CIO it is important to recognise the value that Engineered Systems bring in addressing key business requirements and ensure an overall simplification of the Datacenter challenge and large CAPEX requirements in general.

Engineered Systems provide the ability for IT to transform itself providing directly relevant Business Services.

It is not a general purpose approach where the IT organisation can hope for transformation - Engineered Systems enable and weaponise the datacenter to directly fulfill  requirements expressed by the CIO team through intense constant dialogue with business leaders!

Disclaimer

The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by Oracle and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Oracle.

Cloud Transformatics - CIOs/CTOs/CFOs Challenging Industry "Wisdom"

Hi Folks. After a long absence from blogging attributed to a move of apartment, job and some grandchildren, I thought it was time to take up the proverbial pen.

One of the big changes that took place was a change of jobs - in my case moving from EMC to Oracle - Blue to Red literally. In making that move there was some substantial levels of orientation and technology to absorb.

Let's face it, it is not every day that you are expected to learn about all those high-end enterprise applications. This takes time. You probably know what I am talking about - assets absorbed from Sun, StorageTek and a host of other acquisitions based in the Cloud coupled with databases, big data, data architecture strategies and the list goes on.

One of things that did come up was to understand what enterprise and industry wisdom mean to people. At my previous employer, enterprise applications were big complex constructions using by association big complex storage arrays, with big complex SANs and big complex backup environments. If possible, this should all be wrapped in a big complex virtual infrastructure based on VMware, preferably using Cisco UCS server blades and switches. Fine. No problem - as there was also value to be derived for the client.

However, the nature of complex applications at EMC was at that time looking at things like large Microsoft Exchange deployments, or database environments supporting ERP, Microsoft SharePoint and indeed mainly looking at the storage ramifications of thousands of users hitting disk in parallel.

However, the enterprise is vastly more complex than that. The ability to interact and manage the user experience of customers through sophisticated CRM offerings, the ability to manage oceans of structured data using massively parallel databases and indeed prepare for new techs like big data is a daunting task.

It is no wonder that the world of x86 server virtualization only penetrated to a certain level of an organization. The industry wisdom of "it must be on x86", "must use horizontal pools of infrastructure resources", "must use consolidated centralized storage" and "must be virtualized in VMware or some other hypervisor to be Cloud ready" is not a sufficiently complete answer to tackle these themes.

That did not stop every Tom, Dick and Harry from trying to sell a hypervisor of some sort with all the associated paraphernalia. This in turn generated a spree of IT organizations trying to recreate what they already had but just delivered "slightly differently".

Let's face it folks, Cloud is not "new" in the technology sense - no matter how many times the marketing departments of certain organizations try to convince you. More accessible -yes, easier to use - yes, new - no!

It is no wonder then that it has taken the IT industry some time to grapple with what Cloud and this "industry wisdom" all means for them. This has led to some important questions arising -

  • "must it always be x86?",
  • "should I forget all the last 30 years of IT knowledge?",
  • "what is the role of IT in an organization?",
  • "Dare a different approach be used not based on x86 exclusively?",
  • "can a normal Unix be used in conjunction to a Linux/Windows on non-86?".
  • "can I get sustained competitive advantage be being only commodity x86/Linux based?"

With the current industry trends and wisdom, I believe that it is incumbent on CFOs, CIOs and indeed CTOs to take a little step back. CTOs have the chance to examine technology for 'fit for purpose' and innovation certainly, whilst the CIO needs to ensure its practical application for the good of the organization.

The recent trend of CIOs reporting to CFOs is an interesting change. The CFO represents the ability of an organization to challenge what it is doing and why it is doing this. Innovation and creative thinking driven by financial stewardship!

CFO Trigger to Innovate and Question "Industry Wisdom"

Rather than viewing CFO oversight as a burden, it may well be that this "get back to basics" is a blessing in disguise. IT organizations get entrenched in their ways. There are many reasons to continue doing some things as they are - but plenty that need to change in light of CFO oversight.

However, there are some things that simply need to have a much higher level of efficiency. I have been meeting many customers using the Oracle database, and am surprised to see how few of them really use all the features that are available.

Indeed, the IT organization says "thou be too expensive matey", and then goes off on a spending binge to bring in a complete new stack of VMware with SAN storage, switches, servers and what have you - whilst reinventing ITIL so that it fits VMware operations. Ummm. That is not necessarily cheaper.

Don't get me wrong. This is not a mistake - but it is based on a pattern of break it all up so that it fits on a small x86 server and then virtualize it - how else do you sell a VMware/chargeable hypervisor license?

Well there are some workloads that fill up the entire machine - databases supporting large ERP installations. They can be broken up - but certain features like live VM migration of a running DB instance to another machine don't make a lot of sense when the VM has hundreds of GB/TB storage and 1/2 a terabyte of RAM.

In this case, the reverse pattern - antipatterns -  is perhaps a better one - literally using machines in an aggregation to service the workload - spreading the DB instance across multiple machines - this already exists in Oracle RAC. This is not new - and works pretty well.

We see other patterns like this in the Google datacenters - where search workloads are "spread" across servers working in concert - wow sounds like a cluster!

The CFO can and indeed should work with CIO/CTOs to start questioning investment decisions. The one thing I saw with IT organizations using VMware/SANs/SANswitches/etc was that from a financial perspective something was not quite right:

  • IT Investment that was leveraged on the back of a genuine critical business project was spread around the datacenter infrastructure
  • Storage arrays were expanded to accommodate the project, new switches were acquired, new licenses purchased etc.
  • Everything was mixed up - to the point that IT could not say where the money went - and the  business could not verify that it had received what it actually wanted.
  • Billing and chargeback were either non-existent or so primitively applied that it failed to gain traction

This was all justified through the IT organization rejigging its numbers. Not a good sign! The strength of the original investment was diluted through spreading it around such that the business unit really needing those resources was effectively "short changed" and trying to simply "make do".

Why is this important for the CIO?

At a time of crisis and oversight, it is incumbent on the CIO to question the approach put on his/her table for transformation or rejuvenation projects.

Verify whether there is another approach. Verify the patterns that are emerging. Remember, the reason we had wholesale x86 virtualization was that the servers running their particular workloads were not using hardware to its maximum capability or IT had simply decided for isolation reasons to add more servers etc.

  • If servers are being used to their practical maximums - does the IT organization still need to invest in a chargeable hypervisor?
  • If isolation can be provided differently than by encapsulating an entire operating system stack (a VM) - does the IT organization need to still make virtual machines and acquire more licenses for a hypervisor and more resources for server/SAN etc?

x86 was also the commodity route - costs less - doesn't matter what the workload it - just get ton loads of them - we'll worry about the datacenter space/power we need later. Well mainframes do a hell of a lot of work - albeit complex to manage. Big iron Unix boxes were simpler to operate but also doing a lot of complex workloads in parallel.

  • If a larger server can intrinsically do the job of many smaller servers with high levels of reliability, isolation and performance - do we need to invest in many smaller servers? - do we need to get x86 only? - must it be Linux?

If we examine the world of tomorrow - the idea of holding structured information of some sort even if acquired from unstructured data sources as in the case of big data is still valid. Logical isolation is still needed and we do not need to throw out the last 3 decades of database innovation just because some marketing scheme is based on that.

The same and more applies for applications - value added apps are available to an increasingly mobile customer base demanding access 24x7 and from any device. The web and indeed technologies that encapsulate applications like Java are being used to address these needs. SOA architectures were developed to decompose applications to reusable components that could be recomposed to add more value and shorter time-2-value.

These are the real enterprise applications that drive value. That is where the investment should flow. Investment needs to be concentrated into those areas to make the dent in the business revenue that is needed. This implies a "vertical" architecture model of investment.

However, IT organizations need to manage large estates. They think "across" those estates - a "horizontal" pattern of activity. Good for IT - bad for concentrated vertical investment based on projects.

However, I believe that horizontal manageability can be achieved through management tools whilst allowing investment to be applied vertically for maximum results. The CIO can create the conditions where this is encouraged and create a level of transparency in datacenters and IT organizations that has hitherto been lacking.

This gradual transition to running IT as a business itself with the same level of fiduciary responsibility that the rest of the business is subjected to can and should be the driver for the recomposition of IT services and the new role that IT needs to play in ever tighter markets.

In the next series of blogs I will take some of these themes and see how that can be done from an architectural pattern and technology point of view for CIOs in the context of business driven projects.

Disclaimer

The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by Oracle and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Oracle.

Cloud Transformatics - Rethink Your Storage Strategy (SAN)

One of the great things about the Cloud is the ability to stimulate new/different ways of thinking about your datacenter and IT operations in general. This is particularly valid in the areas of service delivery and quality management for an ever more demanding consumer population!

This is what I call Cloud Transformatics - the vectors and drivers of Cloud induced change in traditional IT operations and service delivery. I will be writing a mini-series of blogs on this theme, starting with SAN storage.

One of the tenants that the Cloud has really hit on the head, is the notion of massive old-fashioned monolithic arrays. The simple idea that using smaller lower-cost building blocks can actually reduce overall cost while giving more reliability, performance and ultimately service quality swept through the storage industry through the last decade.

Most storage manufacturers moved to disguising their systems as modular and scalable storage systems and only under innovation pressure from competitors started putting in features that cut margins and overall sales volume - think deduplication, virtual LUNs, compression, unified storage, storage tiering, thin storage etc.

Indeed even the very storage protocols became a religious debate. SAN FC vs iSCSI, SAN vs NAS, CIFS vs NFS, converged cabling etc. Many examples of this spring to mind, the NetApps and 3PARs of this world. Many of these were simply acquired by those companies that were their competitors. 3PAR went to HP, Equallogic to Dell, Isilon/Data Domain to EMC and Pillar Axiom to Oracle.

Curiously, in the IT market, good-innovative products don't always survive. Isilon was struggling in the market against massive competition - and was acquired and survived and thrived. That is great news - without the acquisition the industry may have lost the important innovations they bring to market. The same goes for 3PAR and Data Domain. 

I have been watching Pillar Axiom for some time. It struck me when verifying its architecture, market penetration, sentiment analysis and "cool" factor that this was a very promising technical architecture directly tackling issues typical in customer datacenters and storage services delivery in particular!

Firstly, there is the idea of SLAMMERS - the protocol and CPU heart of the Axiom Storage system. These are modular, built on standard industry CPUs (AMD) and are easily ramped up for roaring performance. A simple CPU upgrade from dual to quad core delivered vastly more vroom and correspondingly better service management. Imagine what an AMD Bulldozer (16 cores) or a corresponding Intel chip would deliver!

Secondly, there is the idea of BRICKS - which are dual RAID controller disk enclosures providing up to 24TB of raw storage using 12 disks, with a separate hot spare - all in a 2U package. This is what I call modular. These enclosures have their own cache and offload disk controller operations away from the slammers. Local hot spares all ensure rapid rebuild operations localised in the brick. Oracle claim 128 RAID controllers operating in parallel in 64 separate bricks per axiom storage system.

This is a great level of parallelism and modularity. Again, industry standard components are used, and scalability through component upgrades (CPU, RAM, backplane, interconnects, disks) can yield surprisingly large gains in performance and capacity!

Last, but not least, there is the PILOT - the hardware appliance providing out-of-band management features. This provides in a simple intuitive interface the management cockpit of the axiom storage system. It has features you would expect such as managing disk resources and pools. It also provides features that are definitely in the enterprise class league:

  1. Application aware storage profiles
  2. Policy based resource control
  3. Spindle striping levels
  4. IO Priority Queues
  5. Disk stroking (using inner or outer spindles for performance)
  6. Network bandwidth control
  7. Multi-tenancy with Quality of Service profiles
  8. Thin storage, storage tiering, distributed RAID for linear scaling

Pillar was typically put in the mid-range league, probably due to not supporting mainframes. However, the feature set is clearly enterprise worthy. Recently Oracle has started to add support for Hybrid Columnar Compression which further adds value to this device to provide SAN enabled storage support for Oracle 11g environments over and above what is available in any other high-end storage array currently.

Looking under the covers, and extrapolating somewhat, we have a SAN storage array with enterprise features. It has a modular slammer structure that corresponds to the EMC VMAX with its engines model. The Axiom also offers 8 engines, but provides, through its bricks, a linear scalability. If Oracle inserts Infiniband interconnects (40Gbps links) inside the axiom, then this will be a screamer of a system!

I have often seen clients who exhaust the high-end arrays in I/O well before the claimed 2000+ disks are reached. So top end capacity is nice on paper, but in reality it is rarely reached in intense environments.

The Axiom with its odd brick and slammer architecture addresses one critical concern that I have noticed with the traditional gamut of high-end arrays - namely the posturing that this is the last word in storage and why one would possibly need anything else! Well, Cloud Transformatics clearly shows that true modular systems are winning out in the real world and provide dramatically better performance and value.

If one needs more performance than available in a single Axiom system, then put a second Axiom system in place! That is how Cloud storage works - ramp up IO and Capacity through adding another module. That we can do this in a SAN is definitely worth taking a look at!  

The Race to Business Value

The Axiom already had many of the features associated with high-end SAN storage, but available in a pay-as-you grow model through adding additional modular slammers and bricks! This is remarkable value! Further, the Axiom also provides, through its architecture, NAS services. 

With the current shortfall of global disk production due to the tragic flooding in Thailand, every storage manufacturer is projecting steep price increases or delayed delivery. This is the perfect time to re-evaluate the SAN storage strategy. Oracle is providing substantial intellectual property integration into the platform to further deliver real Cloud derived value (CVD).

This platform in its architecture shares similarities with scale-out NAS systems such as Isilon, providing infrastructure for big data. It does not take a big leap in imagination to see such functionality coming to this important datacenter building block.

Why is this important for the CIO?

One would not typically think of Oracle as an enterprise SAN storage provider - but with the Pillar Axiom acquisition, they are squarely set to disrupt this space. Customers are using these systems to great effect. Axiom represents an inflexion point in how one things of SAN storage. That it can be cost effectively implemented, high end features provided and direct links to enterprise software stacks of database/ERP systems (SAP/Oracle) make this a potent platform at dramatically lower prices!

CIOs setting their IT agendas in 2012 should take into account that there is a new disruptive player in the datacenter offering storage services. Oracle can not really be disregarded in this respect. Time will tell how clients react to the exciting potential of the Pillar Axiom platform now that it has some enterprise backing through Oracle. 

CIOs looking to secure deep cost savings and efficiency should note the potential of this SAN storage platform. Clearly, if there is a use case in their organisations for enterprise software stacks (databases, messaging systems, ERP, CRM etc) then Oracle is a major player. Oracle is already probably used in most enterprise shops, and further deep practical value (not just paper savings) can be accrued from using the Axiom SAN storage platform.      

 

Disclaimer

The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by Oracle and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of Oracle.

Competition Heating up for VMware - Can one still char$$ge for a Hypervisor?

In all areas of the market, we are beginning to see hypervisors cropping up. Each have various pros and cons. However, the cumulative effect on the virtualization market is important to note for strategists. Even the new mobile virtualization platform of VMware is being directly attacked by Xen/KVM on ARM.

Although VMware is constantly touted as being at least somewhere between 2-4 years ahead of the market. I don't agree with that point of view - as time and competitor movements in the wider market are not linear in their behaviour.

Indeed even the stronghold of the Intel-VMware platform is being gradually encroached upon by ARM and AMD. They are building similar extensions in silicon as Intel, with the added advantage of open source hypervisors gaining traction in a development community that is many times the size of VMware's potentially.

It is a sobering thought that even VMware originally started out from academia and that the hypervisor itself is based on Linux. Academia is now firmly behind open source hypervisors. Once the likes of Red Hat, Citrix and Oracle start weighing in with their development expertise, and in Oracle's case with the added advantage of tuned hardware systems, it will be interesting to see if VMware is still the only game in town.

 

Why is this important for the CIO?

CIO's balancing the long term view against short term tactical needs, need to understand that the when one is looking at becoming Cloud capable, that VMware is not the only solution. The idea of "good enough" should be a strong motivator for product and solution selection.

Indeed, the CIO and team, would be well advised to verify if the savings they are expecting really will be delivered by a near-commodity hypervisor that has strong license costs versus the organisational need to be cost efficient, and tap into the marketing value of the cloud.

Interestingly, in a more holistic sense, the fact that open source hypervisors are continuing their trend in being available on every imaginable hardware platform, including mobile, is in itself a strategic factor. New challengers to Intel and AMD are cropping up, and indeed platforms that had faded into the background over 2009/2010 are surging ahead in 2011-2012 for high end enterprise workloads - as mentioned in the blog "A Resurgent SPARC Platform for Enterprise Cloud Workloads ".

The Corporate Cloud Strategy will certainly benefit from this type of thinking. It will highlight potential alternatives. Depending on the time horizon that the strategy is valid for, "good enough" may well be enough to realize the competitive advantage that is being targeted.

Certainly learning to adapt your organization for the realities of the cloud world requires time. Innovation built upon such enabling platforms requires not just a focus on the infrastructure but the application development environment and ultimately the software services that are consumed.

Remember it is the applications that deliver advantage. The quicker they are brought to market, and on platforms that allow cost efficiencies and agility, the better for the organization concerned. This in turn is leading to a stronger focus on appliances and engineered systems for enterprise virtualization....that's for another blog I thinkWink.

 

Disclaimer

The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by EMC and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of EMC.

Why Cores STILL Matter - Continuous Workload Consolidation

In an earlier post related to targeted CPU power I talked about the emerging power of the x86 platform and its ability to handle even the most demanding workloads in a fully virtualized environment.

Recently, AMD announced that its long awaited 16-core (real cores - no hyper-threading) chip, codenamed "Interlagos" is finally available as the Opteron 6200. This is significant for the industry, not just in the speeds and feeds area, but also in really stepping up to the table in dealing with enterprise virtualization and Cloud needs in particular.

The ability to continuously add computing power within ever tighter thermal envelopes using the same processor socket, and wrap that in enough intelligence for dealing with service provider issues such as energy management is critical. This certainly follows the idea of upgrading that underlying hardware for a doubling in capability.

The fact that the major virtualization players already support AMD Opteron 6200 out of the box is great. This allows that forward planning exercise to be done when planning the computing base for your cloud.

For new entrants, those that held out on full blown cloud infrastructures, this very capable compute platform provides a means of entering rapidly and with power. The increasing core count is providing a market mechanism of reducing barriers to entry - hence potentially more competitors and potentially more choice!

 

What does this all Mean for Virtualization and the Cloud?

A while back, I indicated in a blog - "Virtualization as a 'Continuous Workload Consolidation' Paradigm" that virtualization should be considered in terms of the ability to continously consolidate. This effectively means that starting virtualization efforts even at Cloud scales is great, but the journey does not stop there. The ability to exploit major technology changes as they disruptively enter the market is the true value of virtualization.

Virtualization provides the mechanism for decoupling the workload from the physical platform, allowing you as a potential service provider to slot in new infrastructure platforms/pieces. AMD hit the nail on the head here in terms of keeping the same socket as in previous generations. This provides a significant cost advantage in upgrading capacity.

Upgrading a Cloud server farm in this way provides the ability to virtualize more intensive workloads that were not previously candidates. Further, due to the higher number of workloads per physical server, fewer hosts are required. This does not necessarily mean that the old capacity is just ditched, but perhaps it can be sold off at a lower price point until costs are recouped. Once at that point those servers could be replaced with the next generation of compute!

This provides a perfect mechanism of implementing your own tick-tock upgrade cycle, in Intel parlance. One part that does not require rip-and-replace, simply upgrade the processor (tick). The other part of the server park can then benefit from the newer technologies that do require rip-and-replace (tock).

This has a massive underlying impact on financial management and upgrade cycles for hardware. In most organisations server replacement cycles are measured in years. It is simply too expensive in the traditional model of IT, without chargeback and significant CAPEX or long lease cycles, to replace servers on a shorter cycle to capture the benefits of newer technology. This results in skipping a generation, and implementing effectively a larger change needing greater effort than the step-wise implementation.

Processors with increasing core counts will be cropping up in all kinds of products, for example, storage servers needing more compute power to provide deduplication and encryption goodness in the same physical footprint. Enterprise array features being provided by software in compute intensive forms is another disruptive pattern emerging in the marketplace e.g. Pillar Axiom (now Oracle) used AMD to simply double its performanc with a chip upgrade. That is why cores still matter.

However, for cloud service providers, this tick-tock cyle allows them to have much shorter replacement cycles - say 6 months. Cloud providers need to be really good at calculating the business case in terms of the energy that is saved, the effort needed for the change, and downstream pricing models to stay competitive and relevant in a market that is rapidly reaching commodity based pricing.

Listening to clients and peers, there is the belief that it does not really matter which x86 processor is used. Well, I would counter that when looking into scale operations, then it is certainly relevant which processor is used. The technical specs are key indicators of underlying capability, and certainly needed in planning forward looking pricing and disruptive market maneuvers for capturing market share.

 

Why is this important for the CIO?

The CIO needs to balance a long term view of things in mind. This also includes the ability for influencing the bargaining power of suppliers/vendors in their organizations. The ability for a competitive product that provides choice to the Intel platforms is critical to choice and price.

When examining the infrastructure that you are planning to support the organisations Cloud aspirations, take into account that there are multiple platforms (non-x86 also) and vendors to support the needs of the organisation. It is imperative that the CIO not get sucked into the hype of the Cloud. Clear logical thinking about what your organization needs is required.

Those needs are best expressed through speaking with the business. Techies will tend to focus on the speeds and feeds. However, the functionality the business requires to win and retain market share, customer leadership and to be industry front-runners is really where the CIO will get meaningful input.

This should be factored into the overall Corporate Cloud Strategy. Be ready to take advantages using tick-tock cycles. Use the habits of Cloud providers to underpin your own asset-capability management. Further, understand how to engineer your organization so that it can rapidly absorb new technology. This requires structure and processes to make this painless.

A holistic approach enables the organization to support its Unix, Linux, Windows workloads using the appropriate technology mix. Cloud is often mistaken for a mass standarization to one platform, usually x86. This should not be the case - differentiation based on standardized processes and exceptional infrastructure capability allow price/capability competitive advantage to be acheived.

Remember the reasoning behind server virtualization in the first place - consolidation and efficiency. That reasoning should also underping your own Corporate Cloud Strategy (CCS).

Disclaimer

The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by EMC and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of EMC.

A Resurgent SPARC platform for Enterprise Cloud Workloads

Fujitsu has just announced that they have taken the crown in Supercomputer performance breaking past the 10 petaflop barrier. That is over 10 quadrillion operations a second. Seriously fast.

Just when we thought that Intel/AMD and x86 would take over the worldWink this beauty came along. For those interested in the speeds and feeds of the Kei Supercomputer - 22,032 four-socket blade servers in 864 server racks with a total of 705,024 cores!

This is a Supercomputer with specific workload profiles running on there. However, looking at the scale of the infrastructure involved, we are basically looking at multiple large scale Internet Cloud providers literally in this construct.

Traditional Cloud providers may well find themselves with a new competitor, the HPC Supercomputer crowd. Supercomputer are expensive to run, but they have all the connectivity and datacenter facilities that one needs.

Clearly this is a departure from the Linux variants that are currently ruling the virtualization roost like VMware, Citrix with Xen, RedHat with KVM, Oracle VM with Xen (and their Virtual Iron acquisition - one of the largest Xen based Cloud providers). Now we also have Solaris back into the game with its own take on virtualization - Solaris Containers. All of this is probably more focused on enterprise workloads - think BIG DATA, think ERP/Supply Chain/CRM!

 

What does this all Mean for Virtualization and the Cloud?

Currently most thinking for Clouds centers around the marketing of the largest players in the market. Think Amazon, Google for public clouds, and then the extensive range of private cloud providers using underlying technologies based on x86 hypervisors.

Many of the reasons for this scale out strategy with virtualization was centered around getting higher utilization from hardware as well as gaining additional agility and resiliency features.

High end mainframes and high end Unix systems have had resiliency baked in for ages. However this came at a price!

The Solaris/SPARC union particularly within large supercomputer shops provides an additional player in the market for enterprise workloads that still need scale-up and scale-out in parallel. This is clearly not for running a Windows SQL server, or a Linux based web server.

However, massive web environments can be easily hosted on such a construct. Large intensive ERP systems could take benefit, providing near-realtime information and event-response capabilities. One could easily imagine a supercomputer shop providing the raw horsepower .

As an example, the recent floods in Thailand are causing a huge headache for disk drive shipments worldwide. Linking an ERP system with big data analytics regarding the risk to supply chains based on weather forecast information as well as actual current events might have allowed a realignment of deliveries from other factories. That simulation of weather and effect on risk patterns affecting supply can certainly be performed in such a supercomputer environment.

 

Why is this important for the CIO?

When thinking about the overall Corporate Cloud Strategy, bear in mind that one size does not fit all. x86 virtualization is not the only game in town. A holistic approach based on the workloads the organization currently has, their business criticality and their ability to shape/move/transform revenue is the key to the strategy.

An eclectic mix of technologies will still provide a level of efficiency to the organization that a simple infrastructure-as-a-service strategy can not hope to reach.

Simply sitting in a Cloud may not be enough for the business. Usable Cloud capacity when needed is the key. This provides real agility. Being able to outsource tasks of this magnitude and then bring the precious results in-house is the real competitive advantage.

Personally, I am not quite sure that enterprises are quite ready to source all their ICT needs from a Public Cloud Provider just yet. Data security issues, challenges of jurisdiction and data privacy concerns will see to that.

That being the case, it will still be necessary for CIO/CTOs to create the IT fabric needed for business IT agility and maintain the 'stickiness' of IT driven competitive advantage .

Keep a clear mind on the ultimate goals of a Cloud Strategy. Cost efficiency is important, but driving revenue and product innovation are even more critical. A multi-pronged Cloud strategy with a "fit-for-purpose" approach to infrastructure elements will pay in the long run.

Disclaimer

The opinions expressed here are my personal opinions. Content published here is not read or approved in advance by EMC and does not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of EMC.