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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Ignoring BYOD Spells Disaster!

Last week in a blog titled "BYOD–Bring Your Own Disaster," I urged caution and scope for BYOD projects. This week I’m playing devil’s advocate with myself. A conversation with Greg Knieriemen (@knieriemen) got me thinking of the consequences of ignoring BYOD. Let’s dive into the risk of burying your head in the sand and ignoring the BYOD push.  To see the full article visit: http://www.networkcomputing.com/private-cloud/232300959.

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BYOD: Bring Your Own Disaster

In keeping with the tradition of the last three to five years, 2012 is being touted by analysts and vendors alike as "the year for VDI." This year there is a slightly new twist to the hype and marketing, and that’s Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). It’s a simple concept: Employees own devices that they like to use and are most productive on; IT should support the apps and services used to run the business on the employees’ devices. To see the full post visit: http://www.networkcomputing.com/private-cloud/232300473.

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VDI, the Next Generation or the Final Frontier?

After sitting through a virtualization sales pitch focused around Virtual Desktop Infrastructures (VDI) this afternoon I had several thoughts on the topic I thought may be blog worthy.

VDI has been a constant buzzword for a few years now, riding the coattails of server virtualization.  For the majority of those years you can search back and find predictions from the likes of Gartner touting ‘This is the year for VDI’ or making other similar statements, typically with projected growth rates that don’t ever happen.  What you won’t see is those same analyst organizations reaching back the year after and answering to why they over hyped it, or were blatantly incorrect. (Great idea for a yearly blog here, analyzing previous years failed predictions.)

The reasons they’ve been incorrect vary over the years starting with technical inadequacy of the infrastructures and lack of real understanding as an industry.  When VDI first hit the forefront many of us (myself included) made the assumption desktops could be virtualized the same as servers (Windows is Windows right?)  What we neglected to account for is the plethora of varying user applications, the difficulty of video and voice, and other factors such as boot storms which are unique and or more amplified within VDI environments than their server counterparts.  From there for a short while the VDI rollout horror stories and memories of failed Proof of Concepts slowed adoption and interest for a short period.

Now we’re at a point where the technology can overcome the challenges and the experts are battle hardened with knowledge of success and failures in various environments; yet still adoption is slow.  Users are bringing new devices into the workplace and expecting them to interface with enterprise services; yet still adoption is slow.  We supposedly have a more demanding influx of younger generation employees who demand remote access from their chosen devices; yet still adoption is slow.  This doesn’t mean that VDI isn’t being adopted, nor that the market share numbers aren’t increasing across the board; it’s just slow.

The reason for this is that our thinking and capabilities for service delivery have surpassed the need for VDI in many environments. VDI wasn’t an end-goal but instead an improvement over individually managed, monitored, and secured local end-user OS environments.  The end-goal isn’t removing the OS tie to the hardware on the end-point (which is what VDI does) but instead removing the applications tie to the OS; or more simply put: removing any local requirements for access to the services.  Starting to sound like cloud?

Cloud is the reason enterprise IT hasn’t been diving into VDI head first, the movement to cloud services has shown that for many we may have passed the point where VDI could show true Return On Investment (ROI) before being obsoleted.  Cloud is about delivering the service to any web connected end-point on-demand regardless of platform (OS.)  If you can push the service to my iOS, Android, Windows, Linux, etc. device without the requirement for a particular OS, then what’s the need for VDI?

To use a real world example I am a Microsoft zealot, I use Windows 7, Bing for search and only IE for browsing on my work and personal computers (call me retro.)  I also own an iPad, mainly due to the novelty and the fact that I got addicted to ‘Flight Control’ on a friends iPad at release of the original.  I occasionally use the iPad for what I’d call ‘productivity work’ related to my primary role or side projects.  Using my iPad I do things like: Access corporate email for the company I work for and my own, review files, access Salesforce, and Salesforce Chatter, and even perform some remote equipment demos, my files are seamlessly synched between my various other computers.  I do all of this without a Windows 7 virtual desktop running on my iPad, it’s all done through apps connected to these services directly.  In fact the only reason I have VDI client applications on my iPad is to demo VDI, not to actually work.

Now an iPad is not a perfect example, I’d never use it for developing content (slides, reports, spreadsheets, etc.) but I do use it for consuming content, email, etc.  To develop I turn to a laptop with full keyboard, screen and some monitor outputs.  This laptop may be a case for VDI but in reality why?  If the services I use are cloud based, public or private, and the data I utilize is as well, then the OS is irrelevant again.  With office applications moving to the cloud (Microsoft Office 365, Google Docs, etc.) along with many others, and many services and applications already there, what is the need for a VDI infrastructure?

VDI like server virtualization is really a band-aid for an outdated application deployment process which uses local applications tied to a local OS and hardware.  Virtualizing the hardware doesn’t change that model but can provide benefits such as:

  • Centralized control
  • Added security
  • More efficient backup
  • Support staff reduction/repurposing
  • Broader device support
  • Reduced administrative overhead
  • etc.

Once the wound of our current application deployment model has fully healed, the band-aid comes off and we have service delivery from cloud computing environments free of any OS or hardware ties.

So friends don’t let friends virtualize desktops right?

Not necessarily.  As shown above VDI can have significant advantages over standard desktop deployment.  Those advantages can drive business flexibility and reduce costs.  The difficult questions will become

  • Whether your organization can utilize a pure service delivery model based on security needs, organizational readiness, application/service readiness, etc.
  • Whether the VDI gains will be seen before the infrastructure can be replaced with a fully service based model

Many organizations will still see benefits from deploying VDI today because the ROI of VDI will occur more quickly than the ability to deliver all business apps as a service.  Additionally VDI is an excellent way to begin getting your feet wet with the concepts of supporting any device with organizational controls and delivering services remotely.  Coupling VDI with things like thin apps will put you one step closer while providing additional flexibility to your IT environment.

When assessing a VDI project you’ll want to take a close look at the time it will take your organization to hit ROI with the deployment and assess that against the time it would take to move to a pure service delivery model (if your organization would be capable of such.)  VDI is a fantastic tool in the data center tool bag, but like all others it’s not the right tool for every job.  VDI is definitely the Next Generation but it is not The Final Frontier.

Additional fun:

Here are some sales statements that are commonly used when pitching VDI, all of these I consider to be total hogwash.  Try out or modify a few of my one line answers next time your vendors there telling you about the wonderful world of VDI and why you need it now.

Vendor: ‘<Insert analyst here (Gartner, etc.)> says that 2011 is the year for VDI.’  Alternatively ‘<Insert analyst here (Gartner, etc.)> predicts VDI to grow X amount this year.’

My answer: ‘That’s quite interesting, let’s adjourn for now and reconvene when you’ve got data on <Insert analyst here (Gartner, etc.)>’s VDI predictions for the previous 5 years.’

Vendor: ‘The next generation of workers coming from college demand to use the devices and services they are used to, to do their job.’

My answer: ‘Excellent, they’ll enjoy working somewhere that allows that, we have corporate policies and rules to protect our data and network.’  This won’t work in every case as Mike Stanley (@mikestanley) pointed out to me, universities for example have student IT consumers who are the paying customers, this would be much more difficult in such cases.

Vendor: ‘People want a Bring Your Own (BYO) device model.’

My Answer: ‘If I bring my own device and the fact that I want to matters, what makes you think I’ll want your desktop?  Just give me application or service.’

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