Support St. Jude and the Fight Against Childhood Cancer

For some time I’ve been looking for a charity that Define the Cloud could support.  I have no desire to try and monetize my traffic through ads and clutter the content.  I also get plenty of benefits from running the site and wouldn’t ask for help with that.  That being said I do generate decent traffic and would like to use that traffic to give back.  I definitely don’t do enough personally to give back and this is a start.  I’ve finally settled on a charity I can stand behind.  Being a lover of the under dog and a hater of cancer I couldn’t pick a charity I’d rather support than St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital (www.stjude.org.)  With that, the only banner you’ll ever see on Define The Cloud is that of St. Jude.  If you’ like my content and prefer free and ad free, you’ve got it.  If instead you’d like to support the site, do so by supporting St. Jude.  If you prefer donating time to donating money you can find plenty of ways to do so here: http://www.stjude.org/volunteers.

In addition to your donations Define the Cloud will match dollar for dollar all donations made by 10/31/2012 up to $1,000.00 USD (we’re on a shoe string budget here.)  If you donate please leave a comment here with the amount so that I can track.  I’m trusting the honor system on this one. 

 

Meet Grace

Disclaimer: My support of St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital in no way implies their support of me or my content.  Let’s not be silly.

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Much Ado About Something: Brocade’s Tech Day

Yesterday I had the privilege of attending Brocade’s Tech Day for Analysts and Press.  Brocade announced the new VDX 8770, discussed some VMware announcements, as well as discussed strategy, vision and direction.  I’m going to dig in to a few of the topics that interested me, this is no way a complete recap.

First in regards to the event itself.  My kudos to the staff that put the event together it was excellent from both a pre-event coordination and event staff perspective.  The Brocade corporate campus is beautiful and the EBC building was extremely well suited to such an event.  The sessions went on smoothly, the food was excellent and overall it was a great experience.  I also want to thank Lisa Caywood (@thereallisac) for pointing out that my tweets during the event were more inflammatory then productive and outside the lines of ‘guest etiquette.’  She’s definitely correct and hopefully I can clear up some of my skepticism here in a format left open for debate, and avoid the same mistake in the future.  That being said I had thought I was quite clear going in on who I was and how I write.  To clear up any future confusion from anyone:  if you’re not interested in my unfiltered, typically cynical, honest opinion don’t invite me, I won’t take offense.  Even if you’re a vendor with products I like I’ve probably got a box full of cynicism for your other product lines.

During the opening sessions I observed several things that struck me negatively:

  • A theme (intended or not) that Brocade was being lead into new technologies by their customers.  Don’t get me wrong, listening to your customers and keeping your product in line with their needs is key to success.  That being said if your customers are leading you into new technology you’ve probably missed the boat.  In most cases they’re being lead there by someone else and dragging you along for the ride, that’s not sustainable.  IT vendors shouldn’t need to be dragged kicking and screaming into new technologies by customers.  This doesn’t mean chase every shiny object (squirrel!) but major trends should be investigated and invested in before you’re hearing enough customer buzz to warrant it.  Remember business isn’t just about maintaining current customers it’s about growing by adopting new ones.  Especially for public companies stagnant is as good as dead.
  • The term “ Ethernet Fabric” which is only used by Brocade, everyone else just calls it fabric.  This ties in closely with the next bullet.
  • A continued need to discuss commitment to pure Fibre Channel (FC) storage.  I don’t deny that FC will be around for quite some time and may even see some growth as customers with it embedded will expand.  That being said customers with no FC investment should be avoiding it like the plague and as vendors and consultants we should be pushing more intelligent options to those customers.  You can pick apart technical details about FC vs. anything all day long, enjoy that on your own, the fact is two fold: running two separate networks is expensive and complex, the differences in reliability, performance, etc. are fading if not gone.  Additionally applications are being written in more intelligent ways that don’t require the high availability, low latency silo’d architecture of yester year.  Rather than clinging to FC like a sinking ship vendors should be protecting customer investment while building and positioning the next evolution.  Quote of the day during a conversation in the hall: “Fibre channel is just a slightly slower melting ice cube then we expected.’
  • An insistence that Ethernet fabric was a required building block of SDN.  I’d argue that while it can be a component it is far from required, and as SDN progresses it will be irrelevant completely.  More on this to come.
  • A stance that the network will not be commoditized was common throughout the day.  I’d say that’s either A) naïve or B) posturing to protect core revenue.  I’d say we’ll see network commoditization occur en mass over the next five years.  I’m specifically talking about the data center and a move away from specialized custom built ASICS, not the core routers, and not  the campus.  Custom silicon is expensive and time-consuming to develop, but provides performance/latency benefits and arguable some security benefits.  As the processor and off the shelf chips continue to increase exponentially this differentiator becomes less and less important.  What becomes more important is rapid adaption to new needs.  SDN as a whole won’t rip and replace networking in the next five years but it’s growth and the concepts around it will drive commoditization.  It happened with servers, then storage while people made the same arguments.  Cheaper, faster to produce and ‘good-enough’ consistently wins out.

On the positive side Brocade has some vision that’s quite interesting as well as some areas where they are leading by filling gaps in industry offerings.

  • Brocade is embracing the concept of SDN and understands a concept I tweeted about recently: ‘Revolutions don’t sell.’  Customers want evolutionary steps to new technology.  Few if any customers will rip and replace current infrastructure to dive head first into SDN.  SDN is a complete departure from the way we network today, and will therefore require evolutionary steps to get there. This is shown in their support of ‘hybrid’ open flow implementations on some devices.  This means that OpenFlow implementations can run segregated alongside traditional network deployments.  This allows for test/dev or roll-out of new services without an impact on production traffic.  This is a great approach where other vendors are offering ‘either or’ options.
  • There was discussion of Brocade’s VXLAN gateway which was announced at VMworld.  To my knowledge this is the first offering in this much needed space.  Without a gateway VXLAN is limited to virtual only environments. This includes segregation from services provided by physical devices.  The Brocade VXLAN gateway will allow the virtual and physical networks to be bridged. (http://newsroom.brocade.com/press-releases/brocade-adx-series-to-unveil-vxlan-gateway-and-app-nasdaq-brcd-0923542) To dig deeper on why this is needed check out Ivan’s article: http://blog.ioshints.info/2011/10/vxlan-termination-on-physical-devices.html.
  • The new Brocade VDX 8770 is one bad ass mamma jamma.  With industry leading latency and MAC table capacity, along with TRILL based fabric functionality, it’s built for large scalable high-density fabrics.  I originally tweeted “The #BRCD #VDX8770 is a bigger badder chassis in a world with less need for big bad chassis.” After reading Ivan’s post on it I stand corrected (this happens frequently.)  For some great perspective and a look at specs take a read: http://blog.ioshints.info/2012/09/building-large-l3-fabrics-with-brocade.html.

On the financial side Brocade has been looking good and climbed over $6.00 a share.  There are plenty of conversations stating some of this may be due to upcoming shifts at the CEO level.  They’ve reported two great quarters and are applying some new focus towards federal government and other areas lacking in recent past. I didn’t dig further into this discussion.

During lunch I was introduced to one of the most interesting Brocade offerings I’d never heard of: ‘Brocade Network Subscription”: http://www.brocade.com/company/how-to-buy/capital-solutions/index.page.  Basically you can lease your on-prem network from Brocade Capitol.  This is a great idea for customers looking to shift CapEx to OpEx which can be extremely useful.  I also received a great explanation for the value of a fabric underneath an SDN network from Jason Nolet (VP of Data Center Networking Group.)  Jason’s position (summarized) is that implementing SDN adds a network management layer, rather than removing one.  With that in mind the more complexity we remove from the physical network the better off we are.  What we’ll want for our SDN networks is fast, plug-and-play functionality with max usable links and minimal management.  Brocade VCS fabric fits this nicely.  While I agree with that completely I ‘d also say it’s not the only way to skin that particular cat.  More to come on that.

For the last few years I’ve looked at Brocade as a company lacking innovation and direction.  They clung furiously to FC while the market began shifting to Ethernet, ignored cloud for quite a while, etc.  Meanwhile they burned down deals to purchase them and ended up where they’ve been.  The overall messaging, while nothing new, did have undertones of change as a whole and new direction.  That’s refreshing to hear.  Brocade is embracing virtualization and cloud architectures without tying their cart to a single hypervisor horse.  They are positioning well for SDN and the network market shifts.  Most impressively they are identifying gaps in the spaces they operate and executing on them both from a business and technology perspective.  Examples of this are Brocade Network Subscription and the VXLAN gateway functionality respectively.

Things are looking up and there is definitely something good happening at Brocade.  That being said they aren’t out of the woods yet.  For them, as a company, purchase is far fetched as the vendors that would buy them already have networking plays and would lose half of Brocade’s value by burning OEM relationships with the purchase.  The only real option from a sale perspective is for investors looking to carve them up and sell off pieces individually.  A scenario like this wouldn’t bode well for customers.  Brocade has some work to do but they’ve got a solid set of products and great direction.  We’ll see how it pans out.  Execution is paramount for them at this point.

Final Note:  This blog was intended to stop there but this morning I received an angry accusatory email from Brocade’s head of corporate communications who was unhappy with my tweets.  I thought about posting the email in full, but have decided against it for the sake of professionalism.  Overall his email was an attack based on my tweets.  As stated my tweets were not professional, but this type of email from someone in charge of corporate communications is well over the top in response.  I forwarded the email to several analyst and blogger colleagues, a handful of whom had similar issues with this individual.  One common theme in social media is that lashing out at bad press never does any good, a senior director in this position should know such, but instead continues to slander and attack.  His team and colleagues seem to understand social media use as they’ve engaged in healthy debate with me in regards to my tweets, it’s a shame they are not lead from the front.

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Digging Into the Software Defined Data Center

The software defined data center is a relatively new buzzword embraced by the likes of EMC and VMware.  For an introduction to the concept see my article over at Network Computing (http://www.networkcomputing.com/data-center/the-software-defined-data-center-dissect/240006848.)  This post is intended to take it a step deeper as I seem to be stuck at 30,000 feet for the next five hours with no internet access and no other decent ideas.  For the purpose of brevity (read: laziness) I’ll use the acronym SDDC for Software Defined Data Center whether or not this is being used elsewhere.)

First let’s look at what you get out of a SDDC:

Legacy Process:

In a traditional legacy data center the workflow for implementing a new service would look something like this:

  1. Approval of the service and budget
  2. Procurement of hardware
  3. Delivery of hardware
  4. Rack and stack of new hardware
  5. Configuration of hardware
  6. Installation of software
  7. Configuration of software
  8. Testing
  9. Production deployment

This process would very greatly in overall time but 30-90 days is probably a good ballpark (I know, I know, some of you are wishing it happened that fast.)

Not only is this process complex and slow but it has inherent risk.  Your users are accustomed to on-demand IT services in their personal life.  They know where to go to get it and how to work with it.  If you tell a business unit it will take 90 days to deploy an approved service they may source it from outside of IT.  This type of shadow IT poses issues for security, compliance, backup/recovery etc. 

SDDC Process:

As described in the link above an SDDC provides a complete decoupling of the hardware from the services deployed on it.  This provides a more fluid system for IT service change: growing, shrinking, adding and deleting services.  Conceptually the overall infrastructure would maintain an agreed upon level of spare capacity and would be added to as thresholds were crossed.  This would provide an ability to add services and grow existing services on the fly in all but the most extreme cases.  Additionally the management and deployment of new services would be software driven through intuitive interfaces rather than hardware driven and disparate CLI based.

The process would look something like this:

  1. Approval of the service and budget
  2. Installation of software
  3. Configuration of software
  4. Testing
  5. Production deployment

The removal of four steps is not the only benefit.  The remaining five steps are streamlined into automated processes rather than manual configurations.  Change management systems and trackback/chargeback are incorporated into the overall software management system providing a fluid workflow in a centralized location.  These processes will be initiated by authorized IT users through self-service portals.  The speed at which business applications can be deployed is greatly increased providing both flexibility and agility.

Isn’t that cloud?

Yes, no and maybe.  Or as we say in the IT world: ‘It depends.’  SDDN can be cloud, with on-demand self-service, flexible resource pooling, metered service etc. it fits the cloud model.  The difference is really in where and how it’s used.  A public cloud based IaaS model, or any given PaaS/SaaS model does not lend itself to legacy enterprise applications.  For instance you’re not migrating your Microsoft Exchange environment onto Amazon’s cloud.  Those legacy applications and systems still need a home.  Additionally those existing hardware systems still have value.  SDDC offers an evolutionary approach to enterprise IT that can support both legacy applications and new applications written to take advantage of cloud systems.  This provides a migration approach as well as investment protection for traditional IT infrastructure. 

How it works:

The term ‘Cloud operating System’ is thrown around frequently in the same conversation as SDDC.  The idea is compute, network and storage are raw resources that are consumed by the applications and services we run to drive our businesses.  Rather than look at these resources individually, and manage them as such, we plug them into a a management infrastructure that understands them and can utilize them as services require them.  Forget the hardware underneath and imagine a dashboard of your infrastructure something like the following graphic.

image

 

The hardware resources become raw resources to be consumed by the IT services.  For legacy applications this can be very traditional virtualization or even physical server deployments.  New applications and services may be deployed in a PaaS model on the same infrastructure allowing for greater application scale and redundancy and even less tie to the hardware underneath.

Lifting the kimono:

Taking a peak underneath the top level reveals a series of technologies both new and old.  Additionally there are some requirements that may or may not be met by current technology offerings. We’ll take a look through the compute, storage and network requirements of SDDC one at a time starting with compute and working our way up.

Compute is the layer that requires the least change.  Years ago we moved to the commodity x86 hardware which will be the base of these systems.  The compute platform itself will be differentiated by CPU and memory density, platform flexibility and cost. Differentiators traditionally built into the hardware such as availability and serviceability features will lose value.  Features that will continue to add value will be related to infrastructure reduction and enablement of upper level management and virtualization systems.  Hardware that provides flexibility and programmability will be king here and at other layers as we’ll discuss.

Other considerations at the compute layer will tie closely into storage.  As compute power itself has grown by leaps and bounds  our networks and storage systems have become the bottleneck.  Our systems can process our data faster than we can feed it to them.  This causes issues for power, cooling efficiency and overall optimization.  Dialing down performance for power savings is not the right answer.  Instead we want to fuel our processors with data rather than starve them.  This means having fast local data in the form of SSD, flash and cache.

Storage will require significant change, but changes that are already taking place or foreshadowed in roadmaps and startups.  The traditional storage array will become more and more niche as it has limited capacities of both performance and space.  In its place we’ll see new options including, but not limited to migration back to local disk, and scale-out options.  Much of the migration to centralized storage arrays was fueled by VMware’s vMotion, DRS, FT etc.  These advanced features required multiple servers to have access to the same disk, hence the need for shared storage.  VMware has recently announced a combination of storage vMotion and traditional vMotion that allows live migration without shared storage.  This is available in other hypervisor platforms and makes local storage a much more viable option in more environments.

Scale-out systems on the storage side are nothing new.  Lefthand and Equalogic pioneered much of this market before being bought by HP and Dell respectively.  The market continues to grow with products like Isilon (acquired by EMC) making a big splash in the enterprise as well as plays in the Big Data market.  NetApp’s cluster mode is now in full effect with OnTap 8.1 allowing their systems to scale out.  In the SMB market new players with fantastic offerings like Scale Computing are making headway and bringing innovation to the market.  Scale out provides a more linear growth path as both I/O and capacity increase with each additional node.  This is contrary to traditional systems which are always bottle necked by the storage controller(s). 

We will also see moves to central control, backup and tiering of distributed storage, such as storage blades and server cache.  Having fast data at the server level is a necessity but solves only part of the problem.  That data must also be made fault tolerant as well as available to other systems outside the server or blade enclosure.  EMC’s VFcache is one technology poised to help with this by adding the server as a storage tier for software tiering.  Software such as this place the hottest data directly next the processor with tier options all the way back to SAS, SATA, and even tape.

By now you should be seeing the trend of software based feature and control.  The last stage is within the network which will require the most change.  Network has held strong to proprietary hardware and high margins for years while the rest of the market has moved to commodity.  Companies like Arista look to challenge the status quo by providing software feature sets, or open programmability layered onto fast commodity hardware.  Additionally Software Defined Networking (http://www.definethecloud.net/sdn-centralized-network-command-and-control) has been validated by both VMware’s acquisition of Nicira and Cisco’s spin-off of Insieme which by most accounts will expand upon the CiscoOne concept with a Cisco flavored SDN offering.  In any event the race is on to build networks based on software flows that are centrally managed rather than the port-to-port configuration nightmare of today’s data centers. 

This move is not only for ease of administration, but also required to push our systems to the levels required by cloud and SDDC.  These multi-tenant systems running disparate applications at various service tiers require tighter quality of service controls and bandwidth guarantees, as well as more intelligent routes.  Today’s physically configured networks can’t provide these controls.  Additionally applications will benefit from network visibility allowing them to request specific flow characteristics from the network based on application or user requirements.  Multiple service levels can be configured on the same physical network allowing traffic to take appropriate paths based on type rather than physical topology.  These network changes are require to truly enable SDDC and Cloud architectures. 

Further up the stack from the Layer 2 and Layer 3 transport networks comes a series of other network services that will be layered in via software.  Features such as: load-balancing, access-control and firewall services will be required for the services running on these shared infrastructures.  These network services will need to be deployed with new applications and tiered to the specific requirements of each.  As with the L2/L3 services manual configuration will not suffice and a ‘big picture’ view will be required to ensure that network services match application requirements.  These services can be layered in from both physical and virtual appliances  but will require configurability via the centralized software platform.

Summary:

By combining current technology trends, emerging technologies and layering in future concepts the software defined data center will emerge in evolutionary fashion.  Today’s highly virtualized data centers will layer on technologies such as SDN while incorporating new storage models bringing their data centers to the next level.  Conceptually picture a mainframe pooling underlying resources across a shared application environment.  Now remove the frame.

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