WWT GeekDay 2013

I had the privilege this week to attend the opening keynote and SDN panel of WWT’s Geek Day.  The SDN panel was made up of heavy hitters from Cisco, VMware, HP, and Embrane.  They each presented their vision and solutions for SDN, then teamed up for questions.  The session was very good and was recorded.  I highly recommend watching them at the links below.  For more info on attending or sponsoring this great event see www.geekday.com

Cisco’s Balaji Sivasubramanian:

 

VMware’s Brad Hedlund:

HP’s Mauicio Sanchez:

Embrane’s Tom Nosella:

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A Salute to Greatness

There are two things I’ve spent my life doing: being a class clown (laughed at or with is your choice) and building my career.  Since I was 16 I’ve worked no less than 40 hour weeks and more consistently been immersed in IT upwards of 80.  I have rarely taken time off, I typically watch PTO disappear on a spreadsheet January first of each year.  If you count my five years of proud service to my country as a Marine you can do the math on the fact that a Marine is a 24/7 occupation, scratch that, life.  I’ve striven to learn, to advance and to grow both personally and professionally.  I’ve also caught many lucky breaks, more than I deserved.  Most of those breaks were in the form of mentors who saw something better than I was in me and helped me to mold myself into it (if you’re not aware the best mentors are merely guides that help you see the path.  The work is always yours.) The luckiest break I’ve had has been my employment with World Wide Technology (www.wwt.com.)  

WWT is a highly awarded $5 billion dollar systems integrator and VAR who’s has been included in the Fortune Top 100 great Places to work.  While impressive in and of itself, that does not scratch the surface of what makes WWT amazing.  WWT’s culture is the core of both its success and its position on Fortune’s list.  WWT is a culture of excellence, intelligence and talent, but more importantly of integrity, teamwork and value in its people.  In the nearly two and a half years I have been with WWT, I have built both professional relationships and friendships with some of the best of the best in all aspects of IT business.  Every day I am impressed by someone, something or the company as a whole.  The knowledge of the engineers, the dedication of the teams, the loyalty and comradery,  are unmatched.  But still that’s not everything that makes WWT such a great place.

I’ve tried to find the words to describe how WWT treats its people.  The dedication to them that the company, the executives, and the management provides.  I cannot.  Instead I have one example of many that go unannounced, are not done for publicity and in many cases are not even widely known known about internally.  Doug Kung was a WWT engineer I never had the pleasure of meeting.  He was well respected and liked by everyone that knew or worked with him.  Doug passed away in October of 2010 after losing a battle with cancer.  WWT as a company, at the direction of the executive team and directly in-line with the company core values supported Doug, his wife, and his two children through the entire process.  This went well above and beyond what was legally required but more so above what would be reasonably expected.  The support did not stop with his passing, WWT annually arranges events to raise money for Doug’s family and matches the donations made.  While the story itself is a tragedy, the loss of a great person, this brief piece is an example of WWT’s character as a company.  As I said, this is one example. 

The friends and connections I’ve made, the opportunities I’ve had, and the support I’ve been given at WWT are unmatched.  I thank WWT and the people that make it great for those opportunities.  With that being said it is with great regret that I’ve come to the decision to part ways with WWT.  Events in my personal life have brought me to this decision and I will be taking some time for myself.  Over the next couple of months I will be spending some much needed time with family and friends.  It is long overdue and that is the silver lining in everything.  I will do my best to stay abreast of technology trends and intend to immerse myself in technology areas that stretch my abilities (one can’t remain completely idle.)  As a note this is not an issue of health, I am as healthy as I’ve ever been (mmm bacon.)

If anyone is interested in contributing here and “Defining the Cloud” the SDN, the Big Data or any other buzzword please contact me.  I’d hate to see a good search ranking go to waste Winking smile

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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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Thoughts From a Tech Leadership Summit

This week I attended a tech leadership Summit in Vail Colorado for the second time.  The event is always a fantastic series of discussions and brings some of the top minds in the technology industry.  Here are some thoughts on the trends and thinking that were common at the event.

Virtualization and VDI:

There was a lot less talk of VDI and virtualization then in 2011.  These conversations were replaced with more conversations about cloud and app delivery.  Overall the consensus felt to be that getting the application to the right native environment on a given device was a far better approach then getting the desktop there.

Hypervisors were barely mentioned except in a recurring theme that the hypervisor itself has hit commodity.  This means that management and upper layer feature set are the differentiators.  Parallel to this thought was that VMware no longer has the best hypervisor yet their management system is still far superior to the competition (KVM was touted as the best hypervisor several times.)

The last piece of the virtualization discussion was around VMware’s acquisition of Nicira.  Some bullet points on that:

  • VMware paid too much for Nicira but that was unavoidable for the startup-to-be in the valley and it’s a great acquisition overall.
  • It’s no surprise VMware moved into networking everyone is moving that way.
  • While this is direct competition with Cisco it is currently in a small niche of service provider business.  Nicira’s product requires significant custom integration to deploy and will take time for VMware to productize it in a fashion usable for the enterprise.  Best guess: two years to real product. \
  • Overall the Cisco VMware partnership is very lucrative on both sides and should not be effected by this in the near term.
  • A seldom discussed portion of this involves the development expertise that comes with the acquisition.  With the hypervisor being commodity, and differentiation moving into the layers above that, we’ll see more and more variety in hypervisors.  This means multi-hypervisor support will be a key component of the upper level management products where virtualization vendors will compete.  Nicira’s team has proven capabilities in this space and can accelerate VMware’s multi-hypervisor strategy.

Storage:

There was a lot of talk about both the vision and execution of EMC over the past year or more.  I personally used ‘execution machine’ more than once to describe them (coming from a typically non-EMC Kool-Aid guy.)  Some key points that resonated over past few days:

  • EMC’s execution on the VNX/VNXe product lines is astounding.  EMC launched a product and went on direct attack into a portion of NetApp’s business that nobody could really touch.  Through both sales and marketing excellence they’ve taken an increasingly large chunk out of this portion of the market.  This shores up a breech in their product line NetApp was using to gain share.
  • EMC’s Isilon acquisition was not only a fantastic choice, but was quickly integrated well.  Isilon is a fantastic product and has big data potential which is definitely a market that will generate big revenue in coming years.
  • EMC’s cloud vision is sound and they are executing well on it.  Additionally they were ahead of their pack of hardware vendor peers in this regard. EMC is embracing a software defined future.

I also participated in several discussions around flash and flash storage.  Some highlights:

  • PCIe based flash storage is definitely increasing in sales and enterprise consumption.  This market is expected to continue to grow as we strive to move the data closer to the processor.  There are two methods for this: storage in the server, servers in the storage.  PCIe flash plays in the server side and EMC Isilon will eventually play on the storage side.  Also look for an announcement in the SMB storage space around this during VMworld.
  • One issue in this space is that the expensive fast server based flash becomes trapped capacity if a server can’t drive enough I/O to it.  Additionally there are data loss concerns with this data trapped in the server.
  • Both of these issues are looking to be solved by EMC and IBM who intend to add server based flash into the tiering of shared storage.
  • Most traditional storage vendors flash options are ‘bolt-ons’ to traditional array architecture.  This can leave the expensive flash I/O starved, limiting it’s performance benefit.  Several all flash startups intend to use this as an inflection point with flash based systems designed from the ground up for the performance the disk offers.
  • Flash is still not an answer to every problem, and never will be.

The last point that struck me was a potential move from shared storage as a whole.  Microsoft would rather have you use local storage, clusters and big data apps like Hadoop thrive on local storage and one last big shared storage draw is going away: vMotion.  Once shared storage is no longer need for live virtual machine migration there will be far less draw for expensive systems.

Cloud:

The major cloud discussion I was a part of (mainly observer) involved OpenStack.  Overall OpenStack has a ton of buzz, and a plethora of developers.  What it’s lacking is customers, leadership and someone driving it who can lead a revolution.  Additionally it’s suffering from politics and bureaucracy.  It was described as impossible to support by one individual who would definitely know one way or another.  My thinking is that if you have CloudStack sitting there with real customers, an easily deployed system, support and leadership why waste cycles continuing down the OpenStack path?  The best answer I heard for that: Ego.  Everyone wants to build the next Amazon and CloudStack is too baked to make as much of a mark.

Overall it’s an interesting topic but my thought is: with limited developers the industry should be getting behind the best horse and working together.

Big Data:

Big Data was obviously another fun topic.  The quote of the week was ‘There are ten people, not companies, that understand Big Data.  6 of them are at Cloudera and the other 4 are locked in Google writing their own checks.’  Basically Big Data knowledge is rare and hiring consultants is not typically a viable option because you need people holding three things: Knowledge of big data processing, knowledge of your data, and knowledge of your business.  These data scientists aren’t easy to come by.  Additionally contrary to popular hype, Hadoop is not the end-all be-all of big data, it’s a tool in a large tool chest.  Especially when talking about real-time you’ll need to look elsewhere.  The consensus was that we are with big data where we were with cloud 2-3 years ago.  That being said CIO’s may still need to show big data initiatives (read: spend) so you should see $$ thrown at well packaged big data solutions geared toward plug-n-play in the enterprise.

All in all it was an excellent event and I was humbled as usual to participate in great conversations with so many smart people who are out there driving the future of technology.  What I’ve written here is a a summary from my perspective on the one summit portion I had time to participate in.  There is always a good chance I misquoted/misunderstood something so feel free to call me out.  As always I’d love your feedback, contradictions or hate mail comments.

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WWT’s Geek Day 2012

A BrightTALK Channel

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The Business Suit: Spinach and Kryptonite

For VMworld this year I decided to pack heavy.  I spent the week in suits rather than my typical IT polos and jeans, slacks and shirts type attire.  No particular reasoning for the change although the factors were along the lines of: change of pace, stepping it up, and ‘It’s Vegas Baby!.’  To say the least it was an interesting experience being at VMworld in a suit for the first time.

The IT community is typically a dressed down society, we toil away in data centers, call centers, and cubicles and have no need for dress up.  Jeans and a polo is business and flip flops put us in business casual.  This means a suit is out of the norm.  VMworld only amplifies that as the walking, back-to-back sessions, and being away from the home office make the case for casual.  This means wearing a suit is not necessarily unique but noticeable, especially on the show floor.

 

The Spinach:

Like spinach for Popeye the suit had its benefits.  I’m a firm believer in you can’t be overdressed (even if I don’t heed that often) and Vegas is no exception.  During customer engagements, partner meetings, and vendor video shoots the suit boosted my confidence and professional appearance.  It even had benefits on the gaming floor as pit bosses were much more accommodating of special requests such as opening new tables, raising maximum bets or lowering minimums than I recall in t-shirt and jeans.  You definitely can’t overdress in Vegas.

 

The Kryptonite:

Like Kryptonite for Superman while working the booth or having discussions with vendor engineers I found that the suit downgraded my status as an engineer.  By that I mean I had to prove I was technical, rather than sales, business development, etc.  the immediate assumption of customers while I was at the WWT booth was that I was the sales guy and they needed to find the engineer.  It was definitely an interesting experience.  I had a lot more high level sales pitches, marketing fluff etc. thrown at me while walking the floor than I have in past years.  Even more interesting was that I did not get harassed by the ‘booth babes’ as much.  That brings me to my next point.

 

Booth Babes:

I’ve always enjoyed the attractive models known as booth babes that many vendors hire to scan badges and attract attention at trade shows.  IT is a very male heavy industry and I looked at it as harmless marketing.  I didn’t however think of it from the big picture perspective.  Matt Simmons enlightened me with one of his post show blogs: http://www.standalone-sysadmin.com/blog/2011/09/seriously-stop-with-the-booth-babes/.  The booth babes themselves may be harmless but the way in which they train us to stereotype women in a booth is not.  In a similar way to the way in which my suit identified me as non-technical, booth babes cause us to look at women working trade show booths as non-technical or eye candy, that is a very bad thing (quick note I’m not equating the suit discrimination to sexual discrimination only drawing a parallel to the way our brains begin to stereotype.) There are some amazing women in IT and we should be encouraging more to join the ranks, not making an inhospitable atmosphere.

I encourage you to read matt’s blog and take part in ‘Operation Eliminate booth Babes.’

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Thoughts From a Global Technology Leadership Forum

I recently had the privilege to attend and participate in a global technology leadership forum.  The forum consisted of technology investors, vendors and thought leaders and was an excellent event.  The tracks I focused on were VDI, Big Data, Data Center Infrastructure, Data Center Networks, Cloud and Collaboration.  The following are my notes from the event:

VDI:

There was a lot of discussion around VDI and a track dedicated to it.  The overall feeling was that VDI has not lived up to its hype over the last few years, and while it continues to grow market share it never reaches the predicted numbers, or hits the bubble that is predicted for it.  For the most part the technical experts agreed on the following:

  • VDI has had several hang-ups both technical, cost and image wise that have held it back from mass-scale adoption
  • The technical challenges have been solved for the most part, storage solutions like cache, tiering and SSD can solve the IOPS contention and help to reduce the costs.  Storage optimization products like Atlantis Computing also exist to alleviate costs per seat by reducing storage requirements to obtain acceptable IOPS.
  • The cost model is getting better but is still not at a place where VDI is a no-brainer.  The consensus was that until a complete VDI solution can be rolled out for a cost per seat equal or lower to a typical enterprise desktop/laptop it will still be a tough decision.  Currently VDI is still a soft cost ROI as in it provides added features and benefit at a slightly higher cost.

There was some disagreement on whether VDI is the right next step for the enterprise.  The split I saw was nearly 50/50 with half thinking it is the way forward and will be deployed in greater and greater scale, and the other half thinking it is one of many viable current solutions and may not be the right 3-5 year goal.  I’ve expressed my thoughts previously: http://www.definethecloud.net/vdi-the-next-generation-or-the-final-frontier. Lastly we agreed that the key leaders in this space are still VMware and Citrix.  While each have pros and cons it was believed that both solutions are close enough as to be viable and that VMware’s market share and muscle make it very possible to pull into a dominant lead.  Other players in this space were complete afterthoughts.

Big Data:

Let me start by saying I know nothing about big data.  I sat in these expert sessions to understand more about it, and they were quite interesting.  Big data sets are being built, stored, and analyzed.  Customer data, click traffic, etc. are being housed to gather all types of information and insight.  Hadoop clusters are being used for processing data, cloud storage such as Amazon S3 is being utilized as well as on-premises solutions.  The main questions were in regard to where the data should be stored and where it should be processed, as well as the compliance issues that may arise with both.  Another interesting question was the ability to leave the public cloud if your startup turns big enough to beat the costs of public cloud with a private one.  For example if you have a lot of data you can mail Amazon disks to get it into S3 faster than WAN speed, but to our knowledge they can’t/won’t mail your disk back if you want to leave.

Data Center Infrastructure:

Overall there was an agreement that very few data center infrastructure (defined here as compute, network, storage) conversations occur without chat about cloud.  Cloud is a consideration for IT leaders from the SMB to large global enterprise.  That being said while cloud may frame the discussion the majority of current purchases are still focused on consolidation and virtualization, with some automation sprinkled in.  Private-cloud stacks from the major vendors also come into play helping to accelerate the journey, but many are still not true private clouds (see: http://www.definethecloud.net/the-difference-between-private-cloud-and-converged-infrastructure.)

Data Center Networks:

I moderated a session on flattening the data center networks, this is currently referred to as building ‘fabrics.’  The majority of the large network players have announced or are shipping ‘fabric’ solutions.  These solutions build multiple active paths at Layer 2 alleviating the blocked links traditional Spanning-Tree requires.  This is necessary as we converge our data and ask more of our networks.  The panel agreed that these tools are necessary but that standards are required to push this forward and avoid vendor lock-in.  As an industry we don’t want to downgrade our vendor independence to move to a Fabric concept.  That being said most agree that pre-standard proprietary deployments are acceptable as long as the vendor is committed to the standard and the hardware is intended to be standards compliant.

Cloud:

One of the main discussions conversations I had was in regards to PaaS.  While many agree that PaaS and SaaS are the end goals of public and private clouds, the PaaS market is not yet fully mature (see: http://www.networkcomputing.com/private-cloud/231300278.)  Compatibility, interoperability and lock-in were major concerns overall for PaaS.  Additionally while there are many PaaS leaders, the market is so immature leadership could change at any time, making it hard to pick which horse to back. 

Another big topic was open and open source.  Open Stack, Open Flow and open source players like RedHat.  With RedHat’s impressive YoY growth they are tough to ignore and there is a lot of push for open source solutions as we move to larger and larger cloud systems.  The feeling is that larger and more technically adept IT shops will be looking to these solutions first when building private clouds.

Collaboration:

Yet another subject I’m not an expert on but wanted to learn more about.  The first part of the discussion entailed deciding what we were discussing i.e. ‘What is collaboration.’  With the term collaboration encompassing: voice, video, IM, conferencing, messaging, social media, etc. depending on who you talk to this was needed.  We settled into a focus on enterprise productivity tools, messaging, information repositories, etc.  The overall feeling was that there are more questions than answers in this space.  Great tools exist but there is no clear leaders.  Additionally integration between enterprise tools and public tools was a topic and involved the idea of ensuring compliance.  One of the major discussions was building internal adoption and maintaining momentum.  The concern with a collaboration tool rollout is the initial boom of interest followed by a lull and eventual death of the tool as users get bored with the novelty before finding any ‘stickiness.’

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Passwords Are Doomed: You NEED Two-Factor Authentication


How many people use eight-character or less passwords with the first letter being capital and last entries being numbers? People are predictable and so are their passwords. To make things worse, people are lazy and tend to use the same passwords for just about everything that requires one. A study from the DEFCON hacker conference stated, “with $3,000 dollars and 10 days, we can find your password. If the dollar amount is increased, the time can be reduced further”. This means regardless of how clever you think your password is, its eventually going to be crack-able as computers get faster utilizing brute force algorithms mixed with human probability. Next year the same researchers may state, “with 30 dollars and 10 seconds, we can have your password”. Time is against you.

Increasing password sizes and changing mandatory character types helps combat this threat however humans naturally will utilize predictable practices as passwords become difficult to remember. It’s better to separate authentication keys into different factors so attackers must compromise multiple targets to gain access. This dramatically improves security but doesn’t make it bullet proof as seen with RSA tokens being compromised by Chinese hackers. Ways to separate keys are leveraging something you know, have and are. The most common two-factor solutions are something you have and know which is a combination of a known password/pin and having a token, CAC/PIV card or digital certificate. Biometrics is becoming more popular as the cost for the technology becomes affordable.

There are tons of vendors in the authentication market. Axway and Active Identity focus on something you have offering CAC/PIV card solutions. These can be integrated with door readers to provide access control to buildings along with two-factor access to data. RSA and Symantec focus on hardware or software certificate/token based solutions. These can be physical key chains or software on smartphones and laptops that generate a unique digit security code every 30 seconds. Symantec acquired the leader of the cloud space VeriSign, which offers recognizable images, challenge and response type solutions. Symantec took the acquisition further by changing their company logo to match the VeriSign “Check” based on its reputation for cloud security.

VeriSign

PRE ACQUSITION LOGO

POST ACQUSITION LOGO

The consumer market is starting to offer two-factor options to their customers. Cloud services such as Google and Facebook contain tons of personal information and now offer optional two-factor authentication. Its common practice for financial agencies to use combinations of challenge and response questions, known images and verifying downloadable certificates used to verify machines to accounts. The commercial trend is moving in the right direction however common practice for average users is leveraging predictable passwords. As many security experts have stated, security is as strong as the weakest link. Weak authentication will continue to be a target as hackers utilizing advance computing to overcome passwords.

More security concepts can be found at http://www.thesecurityblogger.com/

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Additional Private Cloud Blogs

For those that are interested and unaware I’ve been blogging for Network Computing for about a month on their Private Cloud Tech Center.  You can find those blogs here: http://www.networkcomputing.com/private-cloud-tech-center.  You should see a new one there every week or so.  I will continue to publish content here as regularly as possible and I’m always seeking new contributors for guest posts or regular contributions.  Contact me via the About page if you’re interested.

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My Recent Guest Spot on The Cloudcast (.NET) Podcast

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Brian Gracely, Aaron Delp, and I discuss converged infrastructure stack, tech news and industry direction: http://www.thecloudcast.net/2011/06/cloudcast.html.  It was a lot of fun to chat with them and we covered some great topics.

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