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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Comments

  1. Hi. This statement ‘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.’ hangs like a cloud over the heart of server virtualization.

    What is the technical basis of this statement? Have you seen any links that discusses this in detail? Im trying to visualize how this would work(vmotion of VMs on local disks…or is it possible you refer to a Storage appliance that possibly runs on a local disk…like say on Openfiler?).

    Thank you.

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  2. Fred,

    There are lot’s of draws for local disk, one mentioned here is common and that’s feeding the processor. Intel is fast and we don’t want it data starved. It’s difficult and expensive to increase speed at the array level, it’s also longer term lock-in then it is at the saerver level. This means that using shared storage must provide value elsewhere (which it often does.)

    One of the places it has provided value is enabling live VM migration, and the features that enables such as resource scheduling. This particular requirement is going away in several ways. Application rewrite in public clouds negates this need but not for the enterprise. In the enterprise and or private cloud the need is fading as hypervisors enable local-disk based live migration. It’s in place now and on roadmaps elseewehre.

    Joe

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  3. Greg Duplessie says:

    Nice write-up, Joe. I thought the conference was quite good as well. Lots of high-quality thinkers and talkers in a beautiful setting. Great seeing you.

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