Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Q&A with Egenera's CMO

Jeremy Geelan of Virtualization Journal had a nice pre-holiday interview w/my boss, Christine Crandell of Egenera.

For some time, Egenera's been known in the somewhat rarified circles of high-performance, mission-critical computing for Wall Street, Government & Service Providers. We've recently unbundled our infrastructure orchestration & management software, and are now shipping it on Dell hardware as well. Because the software is infrastructure, I/O and network centric, it's highly complementary to any form of virtualization:
Customers will begin to demand tools that manage not just virtual machines, but that integrate the management of all forms of virtualization - OS, I/O, network and storage - and do so across multi-vendor technologies. When coupled with network and storage virtualization, virtual machines offer sophisticated forms of high availability, disaster recovery, and service migration across all forms of platforms. When managed together, these new levels of abstraction will enable true utility computing, "cloud" style elastic compute services, and forms of IT services that are fully driven by business priorities rather than technical convenience.
The elegant aspect to this form of management is that it's transparent to the form of virtual or physical applications it supports. Wouldn't it be nice to have a unified infrastructure management system (yes, with HA and DR) across all physical & virtual environments?

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Five 9's of pooled resources with standard hardware!

Today Egenera & Dell announced the start of shipping their Dell / PAN system. I believe this marks a new strategic direction for the company, and hopefully, a new set of infrastructure management options for mission-critical users of any kind of physical/virtual environment.

Egenera has been best known for combining its high-performance BladeFrame hardware with its PAN Manager (Processing Area Network) software. This duo has historically been used by hundreds of customers to create
very high-performance, highly-reliable, and instantly-reconfigurable compute environments. The system essentially virtualizes and orchestrates pools of servers, networks (including I/O) and SANs to create scalable & flexible assets. But let me be clear: this is an infrastructure play, not a virtualization play. The technology works on servers whether-or-not virtualization is present. More on that later.

What's nifty about today's announcement (the deal was originally announced back in May) is that it's the first time that the PAN software is being delivered (actually, OEM'd) on third-party equipment, specifically Dell PowerEdge servers. That means that if you're building a mission-critical environment or one that's being repurposed frequenty, or one that's mixed physical/virtual, the Dell / Egenera System can support it all on standard Dell hardware.
"The Dell / PAN System by Egenera is a highly available and flexible computing platform that eliminates the need to dedicate servers to applications. Instead, the Dell / PAN System creates a processing area network (PAN) that connects and centrally manages multiple Dell PowerEdge servers together with standard network and storage resources. The Dell / PAN System delivers rapid server provisioning and re-deployment in minutes, plus high availability and site recovery at lower total cost than competitive offerings. The fully-integrated solution enables customers to measurably simplify operations by creating a single resource pool and management tool for both physical and virtual servers, resulting in rapid response to organizational changes and heightened business agility."
Egenera & Dell's "big bets" on the market here are clear:
  • More companies are going to want to buy standard, off-the-shelf servers, especially as the economy slows
  • More IT staffs will find they have mixed physical and virtual environments, and at least two distinct management systems for them. Somehow this will need unification
  • More IT Operations groups will find it inevitable that they will have 2 or more virtualization technologies, and therefore will need a unified approach to HA, DR, network and storage management to support these systems as well.
In general, this form of infrastructure management is highly complementary (and mostly transparent) to users of virtualization. And *I'm* betting that we see more of it in use.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Virtualization’s definition broadens, and so do management technologies

VMBlog's David Marshall has begun a series titled "Prediction 2009: The future of Virtualization" and has been polling industry representatives on their perspectives.

In my contribution to the series I believe that during 2009, we will see the market for virtualization finally evolve. It will expand from the current myopic perspective of hardware virtualization to include realizations that:
  • There are many types of hardware and OS virtualization, each appropriate for different uses and environments
  • For true flexibility, IT operations will also need to leverage virtualization of I/O, networks and storage.
Ergo, we'll see many more attempts to orchestrate infrastructure, chasing Egenera's approach where the underlying HW, Network, I/O and storge is part of a highly-reliable fabric -- on top of which virtualization (or, simply native HW/SW) can be placed.

Wednesday, December 3, 2008

A Google Cloud In Your Data Center?

I love it when idle ruminations possibly come true. Sort of.

Back in October, I blogged about a thought experiment: what if you could have an Amazon EC2 "appliance" behind your corporate firewall? Would it validate the concept/legitimacy of an "internal cloud" architecture?

Well, in an article by John Foley today, that might just be the case, except with Google's App Engine:

One technology company is working on a way to provide "a complete wrapper around App Engine," with the goal of recreating the App Engine environment outside of Google's data center, according to Google product manager Pete Koomen. "It would let you take an App Engine application and run it on your own servers if you needed to," he says. Koomen declined to name the company involved, but my sense is that it's just one of several options that will become available. The subject came up in a discussion of public clouds, private clouds, and hybrid clouds that are a public-private combination.

To me, this is helping establish the fact that whatever architecture the "big guys" are building in their hosted environments may well make its way into private data centers in the no-so-distant future.

The concept of how static internal infrastructure is managed today is changing... not doubt in my mind that compute resources are becoming more adaptive, agile, "elastic", etc., and that the economic advantages will follow.

Post-Script -
As I'm about to publish this, I also should highlight a bit of caution: Some would call Google's App Engine a proprietary cloud (PaaS) architecture. If such an App Engine "appliance" were really true, then this *could* be an attempt by Google to enhance adoption. Enterprises that were loathe to risk lock-in to Google's cloud, could instead run their App Engine jobs internally. You'd still be locked-into the App Engine architecture, but not into Google's infrastructure.

Monday, December 1, 2008

Virtual DR - Don't risk tunnel vision

I just read an interesting article today by Bridget Bothello pointing out that automated virtualization disaster recovery is not a silver bullet.

While the article used VMware's Site Recovery Manager (SRM) as an example, it alludes to limitations of all VM-based HA and DR: While these tools provide simplified failover, remember that they only apply to vendor-specific virtualized instances. The article referenced Mike Laverick, a VMware and Citrix Certified Instructor who wrote a book on SRM.

Here's the gotcha: Nearly all environments have both physical and virtual applications - and short of creating independently-managed DR and HA "silos", there aren't too many ways to unify P & V DR/HA. Said Laverick of this quandry (and I quote) "It is such a royal PITA."

There are a few products on the market that can unify DR replication of HW environments from bare metal, regardless of whether they consist of physical instances or virtual hosts. For example, Egenera's PAN Manager software will replicate an entire HW, network & storage environment (and provision new VM hosts) in a matter of minutes.

But this all begs a few Q's:
- Do we really expect production to virtualize 100% of applications?
- What apps are unlikely to be virtualized? And,
- How desirable is mixed P & V HA/DR?