Welcome!

SDN Journal Authors: John Walsh, Elizabeth White, Liz McMillan, Sven Olav Lund, Simon Hill

Related Topics: @CloudExpo, Java IoT, Microservices Expo, Agile Computing, @DXWorldExpo, SDN Journal

@CloudExpo: Article

The Outside-In Battle for the Soul of the Cloud

The clouds that can best adapt to the demands of the workloads they are supporting will be best positioned for success

Whether they admit it or not, the emergence of public cloud providers has dramatically altered the playing field for hardware vendors of every type. Amazon Web Services (AWS) and its competitors opened Pandora's box by introducing the world to a completely programmatic, scalable, evolving, and pay-as-you-go way to procure and utilize network, compute and storage resources on a global scale. They have disrupted many layers of the technology industry from the applications being written to the way companies interact with the infrastructure being used to support those applications.

Nowhere is this disruption easier to see than in the virtualization ecosystem. For the better part of the last decade, hypervisor companies like VMware, Citrix, Microsoft and Red Hat worked hand-in-hand with hardware manufacturers like Cisco, NetApp, EMC, HP and Dell to define both the infrastructure foundation as well as the virtualized abstraction layer that sat underneath the entirety of the client/server era. These companies provided a direct link between the enterprise applications, the hypervisor and the hardware. They owned the traditional datacenter construct.

It's that construct, since rebranded as "private cloud," that is directly under attack by public cloud providers. I predict that this will be the battlefield for the heart and soul of enterprise IT for the next decade.

The response to the public cloud threat has been varied, and often reflects the ability of traditional companies to pivot and meet the challenge. Interestingly, erstwhile competitors Microsoft and VMware reacted similarly. This is because they were both uniquely positioned to create a software-defined solution to the problem.

For both companies, the response started with existing enterprise workloads. One of the largest challenges of the AWS public cloud is the fact that getting workloads, and especially data, into and out of an enterprise environment can be both technically challenging and expensive. Most workloads running on an enterprise-virtualized platform today can't be easily ported into AWS and this increases the cost and risk of any migration. As companies with extensive and hard-won experience running mission-critical enterprise workloads, Microsoft and VMware came to much the same conclusion: build a public cloud using their existing platform and allow customers and developers to leverage all of the investment they've made in their own data centers as they selectively move workloads outside of their own data centers. Thus, Microsoft Azure and VMware vCHS were born. Both are clouds that customers can move workloads to without the need to rewrite or re-architect them. They can also be licensed using existing agreements and can be managed by existing staff and tools.

Unfortunately, the traditional data center infrastructure is now the weak link in this new software-defined world. In each of the public clouds referenced, the focus has been on the abstraction layer and how it interacts with the end users. What's missing is how the abstraction layer and the applications and tools that sit on top of it interact with the infrastructure directly.

There have been attempts at hardware-based offloading, especially with regards to storage. VAAI is a good example of VMware trying to create a way to let enterprise storage arrays handle the tasks they are good at without requiring the direct involvement of the hypervisor. But even there it's a rudimentary exchange at best: the hypervisor asks "can you do this task instead of me?" and the array responds. If the answer is yes, the hypervisor waits for the task to complete; if the answer is no, the hypervisor does the task itself. This relationship isn't dynamic, and is ignorant of the reason for and context behind the task in the first place.

In summary, we have an outside force, AWS and public cloud, being the primary catalyst driving change into the enterprise, yet very little of that change is happening below the cloud management or hypervisor layer. Why is that? Why is it important that the infrastructure layer become more of an asset to the rest of the stack? What would that look like? Let's dig in.

The question of why is actually pretty simple: it's really, really hard to take legacy hardware architecture and retrofit it into something agile and programmatic. In some cases, it's just a new concept that requires a hardware refresh (like Cisco UCS and its take on XML-defined BIOS policies), but in many cases, especially around storage, it requires a complete reimagining of the platform. It's no coincidence that most of the innovation in this agile infrastructure space is being done by startups who have no legacy customers, technical debt or margins to deal with.

Why is it important? While the best hardware is boring hardware, it's still a critical part to providing a flexible, reliable and high-performance foundation to handle applications that matter to enterprises. There are times where the best way to handle the demands of an application or, more important, multiple applications at once is in hardware. This is true at the network layer, where the manipulation of packets benefits from proximity to processing resources; the compute layer, where apps can benefit from having specialized GPU resources to handle unique requirements; and most especially at the storage layer.

Storage services can have the most dramatic impact on workload performance, yet are often implemented in such a way that they have no direct relationship with those workloads. Services like compression, deduplication and quality-of-service are usually "on or off" features when it comes to storage arrays. Best case, a storage administrator will create a volume or LUN, choose the features that need to be enabled, and then a virtualization admin will map that volume to a data store. Perhaps the virtualization team will create manual storage profiles that define the features offered by that data store, but placing and migrating VMs remains a manual process, and they will not have the ability to map application policy equally across the hypervisor and hardware layers. (Of course, it's not impossible to create programmatic, hypervisor-aware infrastructure, but it is pretty hard.)

Enterprises have come to expect some fundamental features from the public cloud space: simple architecture, linear scaling, API availability and granular application of services. These features allow an infrastructure to respond to the increased requirements of a workload natively, without the overhead of a bolt-on orchestration engine. They provide the ability for the hypervisor to be both a northbound and southbound policy enforcer. They enable the Next-Generation Data Center, one in which the hardware, the hypervisor and the application all play an integrated, coordinated role in providing the performance and availability demanded by the enterprise.

No matter where your workloads run, the rise of public cloud has ushered in an era of computing defined by a seamless, programmatic experience. The old, monolithic infrastructure of yesterday's client/server wave is giving way to a more agile, more responsive, more services-rich and more scalable cloud-based model. The battle for the enterprise soul is beginning and, inside or outside the firewall, the clouds that can best adapt to the demands of the workloads they are supporting will be best positioned for success.

More Stories By Jeramiah Dooley

Jeramiah Dooley joined the SolidFire team as a Cloud Architect on the Technology Solutions team. Prior to SolidFire he was most recently at VCE and before that Peak 10. You can check out his Virtualization for Service Providers blog or follow him on twitter @jdooley_clt.

Comments (0)

Share your thoughts on this story.

Add your comment
You must be signed in to add a comment. Sign-in | Register

In accordance with our Comment Policy, we encourage comments that are on topic, relevant and to-the-point. We will remove comments that include profanity, personal attacks, racial slurs, threats of violence, or other inappropriate material that violates our Terms and Conditions, and will block users who make repeated violations. We ask all readers to expect diversity of opinion and to treat one another with dignity and respect.


@CloudExpo Stories
"Cloud Academy is an enterprise training platform for the cloud, specifically public clouds. We offer guided learning experiences on AWS, Azure, Google Cloud and all the surrounding methodologies and technologies that you need to know and your teams need to know in order to leverage the full benefits of the cloud," explained Alex Brower, VP of Marketing at Cloud Academy, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clar...
In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Carl J. Levine, Senior Technical Evangelist for NS1, will objectively discuss how DNS is used to solve Digital Transformation challenges in large SaaS applications, CDNs, AdTech platforms, and other demanding use cases. Carl J. Levine is the Senior Technical Evangelist for NS1. A veteran of the Internet Infrastructure space, he has over a decade of experience with startups, networking protocols and Internet infrastructure, combined with the unique ability to it...
The question before companies today is not whether to become intelligent, it’s a question of how and how fast. The key is to adopt and deploy an intelligent application strategy while simultaneously preparing to scale that intelligence. In her session at 21st Cloud Expo, Sangeeta Chakraborty, Chief Customer Officer at Ayasdi, provided a tactical framework to become a truly intelligent enterprise, including how to identify the right applications for AI, how to build a Center of Excellence to oper...
"IBM is really all in on blockchain. We take a look at sort of the history of blockchain ledger technologies. It started out with bitcoin, Ethereum, and IBM evaluated these particular blockchain technologies and found they were anonymous and permissionless and that many companies were looking for permissioned blockchain," stated René Bostic, Technical VP of the IBM Cloud Unit in North America, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Conventi...
Gemini is Yahoo’s native and search advertising platform. To ensure the quality of a complex distributed system that spans multiple products and components and across various desktop websites and mobile app and web experiences – both Yahoo owned and operated and third-party syndication (supply), with complex interaction with more than a billion users and numerous advertisers globally (demand) – it becomes imperative to automate a set of end-to-end tests 24x7 to detect bugs and regression. In th...
In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, James Henry, Co-CEO/CTO of Calgary Scientific Inc., introduced you to the challenges, solutions and benefits of training AI systems to solve visual problems with an emphasis on improving AIs with continuous training in the field. He explored applications in several industries and discussed technologies that allow the deployment of advanced visualization solutions to the cloud.
Agile has finally jumped the technology shark, expanding outside the software world. Enterprises are now increasingly adopting Agile practices across their organizations in order to successfully navigate the disruptive waters that threaten to drown them. In our quest for establishing change as a core competency in our organizations, this business-centric notion of Agile is an essential component of Agile Digital Transformation. In the years since the publication of the Agile Manifesto, the conn...
"MobiDev is a software development company and we do complex, custom software development for everybody from entrepreneurs to large enterprises," explained Alan Winters, U.S. Head of Business Development at MobiDev, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Large industrial manufacturing organizations are adopting the agile principles of cloud software companies. The industrial manufacturing development process has not scaled over time. Now that design CAD teams are geographically distributed, centralizing their work is key. With large multi-gigabyte projects, outdated tools have stifled industrial team agility, time-to-market milestones, and impacted P&L stakeholders.
"ZeroStack is a startup in Silicon Valley. We're solving a very interesting problem around bringing public cloud convenience with private cloud control for enterprises and mid-size companies," explained Kamesh Pemmaraju, VP of Product Management at ZeroStack, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Enterprises are adopting Kubernetes to accelerate the development and the delivery of cloud-native applications. However, sharing a Kubernetes cluster between members of the same team can be challenging. And, sharing clusters across multiple teams is even harder. Kubernetes offers several constructs to help implement segmentation and isolation. However, these primitives can be complex to understand and apply. As a result, it’s becoming common for enterprises to end up with several clusters. Thi...
"Space Monkey by Vivent Smart Home is a product that is a distributed cloud-based edge storage network. Vivent Smart Home, our parent company, is a smart home provider that places a lot of hard drives across homes in North America," explained JT Olds, Director of Engineering, and Brandon Crowfeather, Product Manager, at Vivint Smart Home, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at @ThingsExpo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
"Codigm is based on the cloud and we are here to explore marketing opportunities in America. Our mission is to make an ecosystem of the SW environment that anyone can understand, learn, teach, and develop the SW on the cloud," explained Sung Tae Ryu, CEO of Codigm, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
"Infoblox does DNS, DHCP and IP address management for not only enterprise networks but cloud networks as well. Customers are looking for a single platform that can extend not only in their private enterprise environment but private cloud, public cloud, tracking all the IP space and everything that is going on in that environment," explained Steve Salo, Principal Systems Engineer at Infoblox, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Conventio...
High-velocity engineering teams are applying not only continuous delivery processes, but also lessons in experimentation from established leaders like Amazon, Netflix, and Facebook. These companies have made experimentation a foundation for their release processes, allowing them to try out major feature releases and redesigns within smaller groups before making them broadly available. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Brian Lucas, Senior Staff Engineer at Optimizely, discussed how by using ne...
Vulnerability management is vital for large companies that need to secure containers across thousands of hosts, but many struggle to understand how exposed they are when they discover a new high security vulnerability. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, John Morello, CTO of Twistlock, addressed this pressing concern by introducing the concept of the “Vulnerability Risk Tree API,” which brings all the data together in a simple REST endpoint, allowing companies to easily grasp the severity of the ...
While some developers care passionately about how data centers and clouds are architected, for most, it is only the end result that matters. To the majority of companies, technology exists to solve a business problem, and only delivers value when it is solving that problem. 2017 brings the mainstream adoption of containers for production workloads. In his session at 21st Cloud Expo, Ben McCormack, VP of Operations at Evernote, discussed how data centers of the future will be managed, how the p...
"NetApp is known as a data management leader but we do a lot more than just data management on-prem with the data centers of our customers. We're also big in the hybrid cloud," explained Wes Talbert, Principal Architect at NetApp, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.
Coca-Cola’s Google powered digital signage system lays the groundwork for a more valuable connection between Coke and its customers. Digital signs pair software with high-resolution displays so that a message can be changed instantly based on what the operator wants to communicate or sell. In their Day 3 Keynote at 21st Cloud Expo, Greg Chambers, Global Group Director, Digital Innovation, Coca-Cola, and Vidya Nagarajan, a Senior Product Manager at Google, discussed how from store operations and ...
"We're focused on how to get some of the attributes that you would expect from an Amazon, Azure, Google, and doing that on-prem. We believe today that you can actually get those types of things done with certain architectures available in the market today," explained Steve Conner, VP of Sales at Cloudistics, in this SYS-CON.tv interview at 21st Cloud Expo, held Oct 31 – Nov 2, 2017, at the Santa Clara Convention Center in Santa Clara, CA.