The Journey to the Cloud – The Need for Speed & the Private Cloud Platform

Imported from http://consultingblogs.emc.com/ published June 15 2010


While cruising on the German autobahn/motorway over the weekend at 280km/h, and arriving home at record speed from a wedding Surprise, I was reminded how the ability to be able to travel rapidly in Germany, traffic permitting, is a strategic advantage. The original fast road network was built to convey troops and vehicles at best speed to any point of strategic significance during World War II.

Their design was such that they would require low maintenance using specially reinforced concrete, be able to handle vehicles moving at speed on curves by angling the road, and still preserve the countryside where possible by not cutting straight through the hills, forests and mountains.

As I am writing this, I am waiting to board a plane that has been delayed due to French air traffic controllers going on strike. The looming delay is in stark contrast to the ease of travelling at speed. Real world analogies are interesting to note particularly as they are mirrored in the IT and virtual infrastructure worlds.

These points are of particular relevance when one is designing a Cloud infrastructure platform. The inherent elements, their integration and operation can result in either serious delays or be able to deliver the competitive advantage of speed. Competitive advantage being of critical significance to organizations around the world implies the ‘Need for Speed’.

In the blog ‘The Journey to the Cloud - Dual Vendor Strategy & VBlock Integrated Private Cloud Platform’, I discussed the traditional idea of following a dual vendor strategy in infrastructure acquisition, and how that plays out in highly integrated Cloud infrastructure platforms such as the Cisco/EMC/VMware VBlock.

A further element of the Cloud platform is the ability to be able to operate at tremendous speeds bearing in mind the very high concurrent workloads running. This requires one of at least two approaches to create such an infrastructure:


  1. Build out your own Cloud platform infrastructure and processes using commodity hardware and develop processes – and hope for the needed speed under peak & average loads
    • An example of this is typically network switch, SAN switch, servers/blades, cabling, storage and a variety of management tools.
    • Disaster recovery and business continuance features are mandatory with such concurrent workloads.
  2. Use a multi-vendor integrated Cloud platform infrastructure and align processes suiting your organizational needs – let the vendors with their greater focused resources guarantee the speeds under all dynamic conditions within top-end parameters.
    • An example of this is the Cisco/EMC/VMware VBlock construct.

The approaches sound similar to most organizations as they employ very gifted technical administrators, designers and architects. However, the effort and potential disruption to the organization with such a substantial undertaking can be immense. One further element that is typically missing is the appreciation of scale – what happens when there are large scale spikes in load and can the processes also scale as needed? Not simple questions to answer actually.

Further the ‘build your own’ approach requires substantial effort to be able to create an end-2-end resilient infrastructure encapsulating disaster recovery concepts and flex-on-demand features to cope with load or demand spikes. All elements have to be verified on compatibility matrices and that includes firmware, drivers, virtualization platform and networking elements.

This is a lot of work we are talking about folks. It is possible that you get a good-enough-for-now infrastructure, but the scaling issues are already being designed inherently in such a patchwork infrastructure simply through the approach. Knowing and working with these gifted people I have no doubt that eventually they would succeed. That process takes considerable time and commitment from the organization.

Thinking about this from a business perspective, I see this has long time scales involved, my time-2-value is far from short, and after significant corporate investment the final result is also not clear in terms of deliverables. There is no one to ask questions should the core engineering team be broken up, reassigned, or ‘outsourced’ over time. Support channels are not clear. When there is a problem, will the patchwork of vendors bounce the problem around? New workloads coming onto the platform may require rework in the form of qualification, redesign, and major component/platform replacement if not fit-for-purpose. These are very serious issues resulting in a potential for internal stakeholders to shun the ‘built internally’ virtualization platform.

This also causes ripple effects in an organization asked to respond structurally to this massive engineering effort, not perhaps having the resources available. Indeed the IT organization itself may have the same concerns in resources. The key negative effect here is to determine if business-as-usual (BAU) will be affected. These effects are not to be underestimated.

Keep in mind that the final objective was not to have a massive engineering effort, but the capability to decouple workloads from their physical infrastructure and be able to rapidly provision new workloads in a highly effective manner whilst eliminating/repurposing wasted resources. The strategic aim was to have agility and flexibility with a keen cost efficiency focus.

In many customer sites I can observe that there is reluctance in using such an unproven platform. The business in particular, if it does not have a high trust in the IT organization, will respond by delaying new virtual machines deployment preferring instead a physical server. Existing physical machines and their workloads will suffer delays in being migrated to the virtual infrastructure (P2V – Physical-2-Virtual conversion).

Over time this will result in double cost structures being endured, for the old physical environment and for the new virtual infrastructure environment that is not being used to capacity. This is not good news for the business. Indeed, critical market opportunities may be lost by this stalling of the transformation to the virtual infrastructure. We haven’t even discussed security or data protection (backup and restore) yetConfused.

Until the release of the multi-vendor integrated Cloud platform there were few partially integrated solutions in the market. The VBlock as the first of its kind integrated Cloud infrastructure platform has some significant advantages. Bearing in mind we are talking about workloads running in a container of some sort such as a virtual machine, there is already a complete decoupling of the workload from the physical infrastructure. Taking the same scenario as above, which is based on actual experience of many virtual infrastructure deployments in the previous years, we can see how that plays out with the VBlock.

The VBlock is engineered from the ground up to be able to run thousands of workloads concurrently with all the associated networking and storage demands covered. Further, inherent in its design are all the disaster recovery, business continuance and management tool framework from day 1 of its operation. Scale and performance are already there. The ability to cope with spikes is covered through the integration of high-end components in specific reference configurations (known as models).

As the VBlock is built with reference architectures in mind, all software and hardware is guaranteed and supported through a single support channel. There is nothing for the organization to do. On an ongoing basis, new firmware, software (such as VMware vSphere itself) and hardware continue to be qualified and tested on a 24 hour basis. This ensures backward and forward compatibility. Again, the organization does not have to do this. From a strategy point of view, the organization has managed in this case to ‘acquire’ the entire engineering resources of Cisco, EMC and VMware to ensure that their Cloud platform remains up and running.

New infrastructure management concepts, networking technologies, storage and data backup options are validated and then made available on the VBlock platform. Again, the organization does not need to think about these activities in the form of the VBlock construct.

Enough about technology (I could really go further on that as needed). Regarding the business, the true cloud driver, there are significant financial, tactical and strategic advantages. In a short list these are outlined below:


1) Financial Advantages


a. Don’t need huge engineering project to be launched, when the solution can be bought off the shelf


b. No need for highly specialized engineer/management resources to be recruited


c. Short term engagement with specialized consultants to define processes


2) Tactical Advantages


a. Don’t need to strip teams to staff the engineering effort needed


b. Business as usual is not negatively affected


c. Platform rapidly in place such that physical server consolidation can be undertaken at the pace the organization can maintain


3) Strategic Advantages


a. No delays in running concurrent workloads = Customer Satisfaction


b. Reuse concept strongly embedded in infrastructure = Strategic Platform built for multiple usage scenarios supporting growing the business


c. Agility and flexibility inherent in end-2-end form


d. Disaster recovery and business continuance engineered into platform = Compliance and Governance concerns (some not all of these – this is a big area)

The need for speed in all its facets translates to enduring competitive advantage. Organizations should seriously evaluate their approaches to Cloud infrastructure build-out and the structuring of internal engineering efforts. A focused engagement with consultants and the VBlock construct will bring an organization a lot further for a lot less cost. EMC Consulting can of course engage in this envisioning process taking a cradle-2-grave approach. We are not the only ones. There are other qualified vendors capable of delivering VBlock infrastructures. Keep in mind that it is really the processes and the organizational alignment that brings things to life!


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.

The Journey to the Cloud - Dual Vendor Strategy & VBlock Integrated Private Cloud Platform

Imported from http://consultingblogs.emc.com/ published June 07 2010


In several previous blogs typical themes encountered with clients on their own journey to the cloud were elaborated. The last weeks have provided the chance to discuss the VBlock infrastructure as a fully integrated platform upon which to build the client private cloud strategic vision. Clients have a very clear appreciation of how they can utilize the private cloud environment and add value downstream to their own clients.

However, a recurring theme that arises in discussion is ‘how to deal with the organizations’ dual vendor strategy’. This is a perfectly valid question as this dual vendor strategy has underpinned the acquisition and supplier landscape strategy of these organizations for many years. Indeed budgetary assumptions for CAPEX and OPEX expenditure are potentially forecast on the assumption that there will be at least two vendors in the picture and that they may be performing the same role, for different sets of data/applications/clients, and thereby effectively de-risking the acquisition.

This seems to make sense in a perfectly equitable world. Indeed it also seems sensible from a stakeholder and risk management approach. However, the basic premise of an organization is to be frugal with resources such that by adding value to the raw inputs through processing within the organization, greater value can be derived for the key stakeholders of the organization.

This would imply that pursuing a dual vendor strategy in a carte-blanche manner would potentially blind an organization to strategic platforms/partners. Strategic in the sense they support and allow fulfillment of an organization’s mission and business objectives; not simply strategic in the sense that they are the selected partner of the concern through IT selection criteria.

This is an important difference to make. The consultant plays a critical role in enriching the experience of any pure technical play, and portraying how said solution can enhance the ability of the organization to meet its objectives in a manner that is equitable to its key stakeholders. The consultant effectively brings the strategic side of the equation to life.

Into this area comes the integrated offering of Cisco, EMC and VMware, through the Virtual Computing Environment Coalition initiative in the form of the VBlock reference architectures. In the meantime, there are also other VBlock-like integrated offerings coming to market with other leading-edge components e.g. Cisco, NetApp and VMware.

Make no mistake the VBLock can be and is a fully integrated offering that will allow an organization to build out the infrastructure elements of its Private Cloud strategy. The Private Cloud itself is an integrated concept whereby no single vendor, currently, can provide all possible components therein. Therefore, integration is a key word. This integration is most strongly shown in the desire to have a joint service center for streamlined support - with a no-passing-the-buck attitude.

Integration of leading ‘best-of-breed’ components in a tested reference architecture format allows the customer to literally have this environment ‘dropped in’ and literally allow most datacenter assets and virtual desktops, desktop environment assets to be densely consolidated in a datacenter environment and allow economies of scale to be cascaded to all virtualized assets. This includes virtual servers, network, desktops, virtualized applications, virtualized storage, security and indeed the virtual datacenter.

In the discussions with clients there is a common misapprehension that the VBlock is an EMC construct only. This is patently wrong. EMC has, by partnering with leading vendors, created an ecosystem that is tested and proved to be ‘fit-for-purpose’ to de-risk design and implementation for the customers. This construct has been assembled based on customer feedback regarding the difficulties they had in assembling their own virtual and ultimately private cloud infrastructure combined with the tremendous amount of disruption to their existing IT operations.

The VBlock is an integrated offering that fully respects multi-vendor acquisition and partnering policies of companies. VBlock does not belong to EMC, and indeed neither to Cisco or VMware. It is an integrated, tested and blueprinted architecture. VCE fully expects other integrated offerings to be announced in time with elements from completely different vendors. This is not excluded – indeed VCE was created to encourage and enfoster this type of joint operation to make things simpler for clients.

In hindsight, simply dismissing the VBlock as a ‘single vendor play’ is not just plain wrong, but the IT organization may, in the current intensively competitive market environment, be doing a huge disservice to the organization (the business side) that has entrusted the role of creating and sustaining its IT competitive advantage to a CIO/CTO.

Looking under the covers of the integrated offering, one sees the clear need to clear the current ‘thought & strategy’ cobwebs on building out IT capabilities. The clear need to move away from ‘IT religion’ to what works best for organizational contingencies based on facts and ultimately putting it to the test in the form of a Proof of Concept is mapped out and established.

For our clients at EMC Consulting, once we have gotten away from the idea of a single vendor and look at the solution in terms of the unique challenges being faced by the firm, we can start the envisioning phase of the journey to the private cloud. This examines the competitive needs of the organization through the eyes of a CIO/CTO and senior management to see how the cloud context can be established. The cultural transition for traditional IT groups to the fully decoupled virtualized Cloud environment is a critical success factor that needs to be put openly on the table.

In essence,


  • Current IT strategy for multi-vendor management can be respected
  • Still bring tremendous game-changing functionality in the form of the private cloud
  • Vendor lock-in is a complete contradiction to the Private Cloud concept and the VBlock integration
  • Using the most appropriate private cloud infrastructure commensurate to the requirements of the organization resonates with the VBlock integration concept and the idea of multiple VBlock models (there is no one-size-fits-all concept).
  • Organizations should not simply block/reject a proven field tested integrated solution in light of the ‘dual vendor’ carte-blanche strategy – keep an open mind to help yourselves.

EMC Consulting is there to help you make that journey a successful one. The journey requires a joint process with the client to envision the desired ‘future state’. Leading market players take this customer input very seriously to ensure the next generation integrated offerings provide the required functions and give lots more choice for clients in their specific implementations without the risk of going-it-alone.


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.

The Journey to the Cloud –The Physical Construct (IT’s the Small Things in Life that Really Matter)

Imported from http://consultingblogs.emc.com/ published May 30 2010


Earlier this week, on my way to visit a client on the matter of VMware View and the virtues of a virtual desktop as a managed service, I was afforded the opportunity to board a Lufthansa flight. Now this was not the first time by any means, but I thought I would pay particular attention this time. I wanted to know, after being on various airlines all around the world, what made the travelling experience unique on the plane itself. Surely if all the planes were the same type (Airbus or Boeing) with similar layout then what was the magic sauce?

Observing the actions of the in-flight crew, I noticed a couple of things:


  • Clear branding for uniforms and matching colors throughout the plane rather than unclear messy uniforms
  • Always look sovereign no matter the level of turbulence rather than haggard
  • Perform actions with care, so quietly closing the overhead lockers rather than slamming them
  • When pouring drinks for the guests, they were really careful to hold the glass at the bottom at all times to keep the drinking edge clean
  • Varied ability to cope with all demands, from small kids being ill to adults wanting another drink

This got me thinking (and yes my mother warned me not to do that often Wink). When we are talking about themes such as virtual desktops it is the finer points of the solution that actually matter. In this context the ability to run tens of thousands of virtual desktops concurrently and delivering them anywhere a suitable network was present through a variety of devices. The client naturally asked many questions related to the handling of such a wide variety of desktops, and how our ‘in-flight crew’ could possibly deal with this when they, the client, were struggling with their new ‘airplanes and crews’?

Well firstly the airplane that we were basing this discussion on is called a vBlock ( The New Kid on the Block , vBlock Infrastructure Solutions , Virtual Compute Environment – an insider’s take) the integrated offering from Cisco, EMC and VMware. Well continuing with the airplane metaphor, in the sense that like any thr 'plane' it has server blades, networking, storage and virtualization software. However through the integration efforts of these world class companies comes something that allows new levels of service to be offered - and indeed one of the first physical constructs of the Cloud .

The vBlock has many ‘small things’ integrated allowing it to service thousands of virtual desktops and virtual servers with the branding that makes this a sovereign ‘in-flight crew’ member and indeed airplane fleet member. For example:


  • The server blade (Cisco UCS B250 M2 Extended Memory Blade Server) supports the latest 8-core Nehalem processors providing massive amounts of thrust for those virtual machines sitting inside the vBlock plane in an effortless manner that one scarcely notices on take-off and landing
  • Each blade supports up to 384GB of DDR3 RAM. That is like the Airbus A380 – massive capacity to ship thousands of virtual machines, and be energy efficient at the same time (Green IT). I quote:
    • The big news for operators is that the A380 is earning hard dollars at the same time. Introducing this next-generation jetliner is saving customers millions in operating costs annually while creating thousands of extra seats on long-haul routes. With the lowest cost per seat and the lowest emissions per passenger of any large aircraft, the A380 provides a competitive edge
    • That could read ‘The big news for datacenter operators is that the A380 vBlock is earning hard dollars at the same time. Introducing this next-generation jetliner private cloud datacenter-solution-in-a-box is saving customers millions in operating costs annually while creating capacity for thousands of extra seats on long haul routes virtual machines. With the lowest cost per seat virtual machine and the lowest emissions per passenger virtual infrastructure of any large private cloud offering aircraft, the A380 vBlock provides a competitive edge
  • 40 Gbps of I/O per blade provides the ability for virtual machine passengers to be able to play football in the aisles or indeed to run all datacenter workloads with ease
  • vBlock come in 3 models with differing capacity, similar to Airbus A320, A340 and A380 – vBlock Model 0 / 1 / 2 with all the optional extras fitted for maximum comfort, performance and range to operate without interruption for years!
  • Best of all – if there is an issue you don’t need to call ‘Ghostbusters’. There is a single call number for support on any element within the integrated solution. No passing of the buck around, no vendor blaming – just some good ‘ole fashioned engineering and support excellence. Just like with Airbus (and Boeing too!)
  • Oh did I mention all the other stuff like consolidated cabling, FCoE to support Fibre Channel and Ethernet over the same wires, and full support for EFD (Enterprise Flash Disks) with some serious performance (here’s an article I read some time back, but I liked it - don't miss the amazing vendor flash dance ). There is so much more….Big Smile

Anyway, it is difficult for established IT shops to be able to see a new integration offering for what it is. There tends to be the ‘oh there are some servers, network, storage and software….yawn’ reaction from IT administrators mainly.

I can understand that as they are looking at hardware all day. But seriously, try the vBlock – you will be at least as surprised as I was. We have other customers that were similarly surprised, sometimes by a factor of 5+ in terms of performance and ease of handling.

EMC Consulting is helping customers to be able to openly evaluate this remarkable platform to get that 'Lufthansa quality back into flying' (or IT operations in this case). This is part of our commitment to accompany the Journey to the Cloud – this time as a physical construct not simply the idea. Through our engagement we bring this platform to life through the alignment with processes and organizational strategy.

Keep in mind that most of the consulting folks I work with come from application development, datacenter management, process specialists, IT administrators and architects. We are keenly aware of these roles and indeed try to reach out every day to our former colleagues to create awareness of the state-of-the-art (no - it frequently comes from other companies than simply EMC!)

IT should be seen as an enhancer for the business, a value multiplier and therefore it is appropriate that new technologies be evaluated with an open minded point of view. You never know – you may have the chance to be the IT Hero and save your company literally millions (of any currency)!


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.