Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Postcards from TelaData's Convergence Conference

I attended and presented at TelaData's Data Center "Convergence" conference yesterday, and had the opportunity to chat with a number of Facilities and IT Operations managers for really big companies. Over 300 folks were at the event, and I bet 2/3 of them were facilities managers looking for an edge to improve the efficiency (and reduce the cost) of building/maintaining large data centers.

Bob Brown, TelaData's CEO offered that the theme of "convergence" applied to 3 areas:
  • Technology Convergence as it applies to voice, video & data all converging to a IP-based standards, and what the implications are on data center build-out, power, cabling, etc.
  • Organization Convergence - the need/requirement that IT and Facilities cooperate and drive new efficiencies; without this cooperation, breakthrough efficiencies and cost reductions just aren't possible
  • Automation convergence, e.g. building/facilities automation standards (like BACnet) interoperating with IT automation (power control, distribution)
One of the highlights was an end-of-day panel with Robert Aldrich (Cisco - Green Data Center solutions), Bill Weihl (Google's "Energy Czar"), and Dean Nelson (Sun's Global lab & data center services person). The panel was congenial, but it was clear that the companies approach "greenness" from slightly different perspectives:
  • Google made it clear that all employees are encouraged to look at Total Cost of Ownership for every project they pursue; they encourage tradeoffs from everyone, esp. between Facilities, operations and IT. It's a numbers game, which benefits the company overall.
  • Cisco operates huge data centers as well - they're also numerically driven, and seem focussed on deriving metrics and standards around energy use - before they implement new programs/policies
  • Sun also drove home the need for IT & Facilities to interact (Dean brought his Facilities counterpart along) and really emphasized that one of the massive benefits of efficient IT is to "give back" real estate to the company. Real estate is the 2nd largest cost to a company (next to payroll) and this has made a huge impact on Sun's margin and bottom line.
A number of talks on the "energy efficiency" track (including mine) dealt with power control at the server level. During our presentations, Cassatt, Server Technology, PowerAssure and VMware all alluded to various approaches to actively managing server power status. Server Tech took a clearly Facilities-minded approach to "Load Shedding" in emergency conditions; PowerAssure takes a managed-services approach, and VMware spoke to future product capabilities. Cassatt (from my biased perspective) had the best holistic and cross-platform story for actively managing server power status across an enterprise.

What was clear from conversations with folks who attended was that there still a rift between facilities managers and IT. For there to be any meaningful progress in data center efficiency, there had to be shared corporate and economic goals for both. And this had to start at the CFO level (for example).

Sunday, October 14, 2007

More Leading Indicators for Cloud Computing

Two more companies I've recently come across that will help accelerate this model: RightScale, essentially brokers AWS infrastructure, while providing a easier-to-use "dashboard, and FlexiScale, a UK-based company, that's trying to take-on Amazon's web services at its own game. (I guess you need to have the word "scale" in your name nowadays...)
  • RightScale provides a platform and consulting services that enable companies to create scalable web solutions running on Amazon Web Services (AWS) that are reliable, easy to manage, and cost less. The RightScale dashboard saves time in maintaining, managing and monitoring all AWS activities, while RightGrid coordinates the auto-scaling of servers according to usage load. The RightImage library provides pre-built installation templates for common software stacks, and RightScale DeltaSets make it easy to customize and manage modifications to machine images. Together with Amazon Elastic Compute CloudAmazon Simple Storage Service (S3) and Amazon Simple Queue Service (SQS) — RightScale enables a next-generation platform for deploying highly scalable web applications.
  • FlexiScale's claims:
    • Provisioning & Scalability:Additional servers can be launched and load-balanced in <1 style="font-weight: bold;">
    • Flexibility:OS agnostic - we support MS Server and all common versions of Linux; Clone a server image and re-use for another test or production server; Policy engine based load-balancing between physical servers
    • Self-service via Control Panel or API:Provisioning of Virtual Dedicated Servers; Start, stop and delete Virtual Dedicated Servers; Resize memory and storage
    • Quality of Service: Fully monitored system - network, storage and servers; Fully automated HW recovery;Flexible snapshot based backups;Secure - each customer has their own VLAN and their own virtual disks
    • Pricing: No subscription fees and no minimum term contract;Simple to understand utility pay-as-you-go pricing model with no catches;Billing module that lets customers see transparently what resources they have been using
I'm sure we'll be seeing more competitors like these in the coming months.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Is Cloud Computing Mainstream?

Well, not yet. But by now you've probably heard of the deal between IBM and Google to provide an initial 6 universities (University of Washington in Seattle, Carnegie Mellon University, Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Stanford University, University of California at Berkeley and University of Maryland) with hardware to allow students to program to the cloud.

But this just accelerates my prediction that the concept of "cloud computing" will quickly mature. Folks are beta-testing Amazon's (somewhat fault-prone) EC2 and S3, upon-which anything from components (i.e. queuing services) to entire website storage, can be hosted.

So now, students will be educated in this form of programming, and go into industry with a new level of comfort with this paradigm. This will surely turn the hosting market on its ear in 1-2 years.