After a change of residence and a change of job - it is high time to write another blog!
In talks with many customers and indeed feedback on this blog site, I receive a lot of indication that the "current Cloud" the pre-2011 industry was marketing was simply tackling the infrastructure side of things. Much of the focus was on consolidating the x86 server estate and delivering features such as migration of live virtual machines across physical servers.
While this is fine as the initial steps to deriving some form of value - it is typically too little. Many business leaders and IT managers indicate that "we have bought into the Cloud, we have virtualized and we can even offer a level of VM automation in terms of provisioning" - "so where is this taking us and where can I highlight the ongoing value to the business?".
This is a very valid line of questioning. The client has millions of $$bucks$$ of equipment sitting on the floor, they have attended training and have done everything they were told to do. The result - they can create a virtual machine with software in minutes as opposed to hours or days. Cool!
That is not a lot to show the business for all that investment and evangelism. This is typically (and incorrectly) lauded as a solution and a great win for all!
IaaS alone, in my opinion, was always too little value. The approach of simply putting servers, storage, network with a thin veneer of hypervisor magic has limited value in itself. This was incidentally the main haunt till 2011 for mainstream hypervisor purveyors.
This type of datacenter transformation using pre-assembled hardware for the sole purpose of consolidating x86 is too simple and let's face it - too dumb. Clients are cleverer than that. Clients have persisted in following the virtualization wave, and that is good. They have somewhat resisted the Cloud marketing till now as it was simply focused on replacement of their existing hardware and hypervisor stack.
Towards the tail end of 2011 we started seeing a stronger focus on provisioning enterprise software and environments - DB as a Service (DBaaS) which was nothing more than installing a database instance on a virtual machine through a browser provisioning page. Well that is better - but still does not smack of value! Indeed, if you want many big instances of databases with say 64 virtual CPUs per VM you were out of luck! AND yes there are customers that do this!
In 2011, we started to see the emergence of the appliance. This was an entire hardware and software stack that was factory installed. In some cases, such as the EMC GreenPlum appliance, this was built using the components with functional tuning to undertake the task. Others such as Oracle with Exadata Database Machine (which has been around since 2008 incidentally - but first used Sun intellectual property acquired in 2010) not only took the idea of virtualization but actually embedded it into all the components in the stack.
Through innovation, integration, best-of-breed technology and the simple idea that a system should do what it is designed for to the best of its ability, Exadata represents, in my opinion, a new approach to transformation that makes real business impact.
I am sure that during 2012 we will see a move away from the generalized Cloud stacks, such as VCE VBlock, Dell prepackaged servers with VMware installed and something similar from HP Virtualsystem for VMware. These systems are all focused at helping the hypervisor - in this case VMware vSphere, perform its job well. However, the hypervisor only lets you manage virtual machines! It does not do anything else!
That is also the reason that I see the move away from expensive hypervisor software solutions towards open source solutions or systems having the hypervisor embedded as a functional technology to support an enterprise software stack - with no $$ for the hypervisor per se.
The Race to Business Value
One of the issues that has been stagnating business value derivation through Cloud technologies has been the lack of business as a driving stakeholder. Business should be driving the IT roadmap for an organisation. Business defines what it wants from developers in the form of functionality. Why not the same for IT infrastructure?
You see the value of Business is that it thinks differently. Business tends to think at levels of enterprise architecture holistically as a driver and motor for business value generation! They think frameworks and they think (with developers and architects) in terms of enabling software platforms upon which to further their unique selling points.
The real Cloud value to be derived in that case is based on the software Cloud platforms leveraged to facilitate global service/application delivery with quality of service baked in. These platforms in turn are used to create further value!
Why is this important for the CIO?
CIOs look beyond the mainstream hype. They verify through intensive research and peer-level networking the effect of IT strategies on business value. The CIO pioneers and sets the agenda for deep intelligent consolidation. Not just doing more with less - BUT gaining greater business insight and leverage with fewer more effective resources!
Exadata, and engineered systems of that ilk, with embedded technology are paving the way for scale-up/out with extremely high performance and gathering in the benefits/innovations of the IT industry over the last years e.g. unified networking with Infiniband, high performance SSD storage, deduplication, compression, tiered value-oriented storage, big data capable file systems and indeed open source.
That is a very potent mix, and Oracle customers are actively leveraging this. They have been using Linux and Oracle Solaris 11 to support those enterprise workloads needing that level of reliability and speed. They have been consolidating hundreds of database and middleware servers - yes - hardware, mixed OSs, non-x86 systems, licenses, management tools, script frameworks and so forth. This is real consolidation!
Further, they have used the well respected Oracle 11g enterprise capable platform to power their Java applications, drive the backend of their middleware platforms, created new value by delivering through the Exadata platform applications to the mobile space (iPads, Androids, Browsers, OS independent applications).
Indeed, if the Java virtual machine (JVM) is one of the ultimate forms of virtualization, it makes perfect sense that as a business which has elected to use that technology you create the underlying infrastructure AND platform ecosystem to support those efforts at scale.
The Corporate Cloud Strategy can be dramatically refreshed and aligned with the ability to deal with all data needs in a single well managed platform. Exadata provides in this case the ability to deal with all database needs that an organisation has from the smallest to the largest. It provides significant front-end direct value.
Other Exasystems have started to arrive to deal with specific challenges such as big data and middleware. These use the same magic source of Exadata Database Machine, but are tuned/enhanced for their specific functions. Deep lasting transformation can be achieved and the very nature of these Exasystems means the Business must be included as a principal stakeholder - they can truly see what the value of extracting a business insight means in hard $$ terms!
Look out for these paradigms that directly affect business value and indeed allow new business insight to be gained by easily manipulating petabytes of information in near-realtime! They provide the ability for the business to rapidly come to market with new products, support directly application developers, are built on industry-proven technologies - and best of all - retain the key know-how of your developers and DBAs - they will be up and running with little change to their operational routine!