data center

Reactions to VMware’s VSphere 4

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I was impressed with the VMware simulcast this morning announcing VSphere, the next iteration of their enterprise virtualization platform, dubbed the first “Cloud OS.” Having deployed and administered VMware products for several years, it’s exciting to see them continue to push the evolution of virtualization, which has now expanded from a single server up to multiple data centers.

It’s also becoming quite apparent that a loose alliance is coalescing between several of the established leaders in the infrastructure space. In particular, VMware continues to align with Cisco, whose recent unveiling of a “Unified Computing System” combined with VSphere offers the promise of a private “cloud in a box.” Other members of this confederation are Intel, whose recent Xeon 5500 Nehalem chip is tailored for VM loads, in addition to EMC, whose updated Symmetrix SAN is optimized for VMware and Microsoft Hyper-V support. Dell appears to be more closely aligned than HP, and has a better position in the SMB market.

And don’t count out Oracle / Sun, one of today’s VSphere demo’s featured Sunfire servers, and when Cisco CEO John Chambers left the stage to congratulate VMware’s lead engineering team, Sun racks were featured quite prominently.

So who’s not joining the party, yet?

Here’s my list –

  • HP – not seeing innovation, very quiet these days
  • IBM – passed on Sun, noticeably low-key at today’s VSphere event
  • Google – how long before they offer a full-blown Cloud service
  • Microsoft – no support for Hyper-V in VMware VSphere
  • Citrix – falling further behind, no support from EMC Symmetrix, or VSphere

The continued limited inter-operability between major virtualization vendors – VMware, Microsoft, Citrix – and subsequent “vendor lock-in” really makes me wonder about the feasibility and likelihood of a truly Open Cloud platform, given the symbiotic relationship between Virtualization and Cloud computing.

P.S. I still think Cisco should have picked up Sun…

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Dry reflections on a possible IBM purchase of Sun

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The rumors of this IT mega-merger have been swirling and were in full force this week. I’m not sure yet how the long-term balance of strategic benefits will work out for IBM, as well as the impact on the industry. Who knows, maybe Big Blue wants to take spotlight away from possible controversy involving CEO Sam Palmisano’s monstrous $21 million bonus in 2008, in light of the current AIG drama? Just sayin’…

Benefits

  • Sun’s new Open cloud API, very cool
  • Sun’s virtualization
  • MySQL, and more open-source credentials
  • Bigger imprint into the Data center (and the cloud)
  • Java

Drawbacks

  • Accumulating more overhead…HP took years to digest Compaq
  • Sun’s cachet has been fading for many years
  • Still not a major network player, despite recent partnership with Juniper
  • Still not a major storage player – see EMC, NetApp, Dell and Hitachi
  • Java

It’s hard not to interpret IBM wanting to swipe back at Cisco in the race to dominate the emerging cloud market, given that the rumors emerged barely a day after Cisco’s major Unified Computing initiative. But IBM is enhancing their strengths – servers, open source, applications – and not addressing weaknesses in networking and storage with this potential acquisition. HP appears to have a more compelling end to end Data Center offering, with an established EVA StorageWorks line in addition to ProCurve networking. I’m not sold on this one yet…

First thoughts on Cisco United Computing Vision

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My first response to Cisco’s announcement today is measured skepticism. Cisco certainly plays a central role in most modern data centers, dominating arguably the most critical infrastructure component, the network. By consolidating network, compute, storage and virtualization systems, Cisco is essentially offering a “cloud in a box.” Aside from the obvious marketing angle of leverage the current excitement around the cloud, though, it seems that Cisco is realizing they need more to drive sales of the new Nexus enterprise switch platform. However, while VMware and Microsoft are natural partners for virtualization, I’m wary of Cisco’s initial venture into the compute space. After all, a handful of companies with names like IBM, Dell and HP already have substantial experience in delivering enterprise server solutions, and I noticed none of them were listed as partners in the Cisco announcement. This is certainly a stark illustration of the new balance of power in the infrastructure world, where hypervisors and VM’s are taking precedence over bare-metal servers. Very interesting…

One size does not fit all

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With all the recent attention around the Cloud, it appears that the line of questioning for determining strategy should begin with “how” and not “if.” The Cloud is already emerging, and while the lining is still blurry, there’s no question that an understanding and response is in order. Many analysts seem to suggest that Cloud-based services, such as Amazon EC2, are a very compelling choice, especially for emerging SMB’s seeking to maximize the value of an elastic, cost-effective, easily scalable platform, in a recessionary climate. But there are certainly cases where it may not make sense to entrust core infrastructure to an external Cloud.

A key determinant in evaluating the appropriate investment into a Cloud-based service is the degree of relative criticality of IT infrastructure to the core business. Regarding IT infrastructure, I am referring here to the collection of hardware, operating systems, networking, data, and back-end applications which comprise modern Data Centers. If your core business is driven from your IT infrastructure, why would you rush to cede control of strategic technologies to an outside vendor? Several few years ago, I managed IT operations for an online gaming company based in Los Angeles, and made a conscious decision to de-couple the central office and Data Center, separated without a WAN or permanent VPN connection. One day a technician from our ISP was onsite in the office to upgrade the Internet connection. Unfortunately, he snipped the wrong fiber cable, and the office was completely disconnected from the Net. Yet the online games hosted from the co-located Data Center continued to operate normally throughout the day and generate revenue, albeit with limited support and monitoring. Here is a very concrete illustration of the heightened criticality of IT infrastructure in a particular business environment, to the degree that having the office offline for a full business day was of minimal impact. In this case, a move to external Cloud-based services would be ill-advised, given the central role of infrastructure in this online gaming business.