Innovate or Die? Three Ways to Cloud Enablement

Last week I participated in Cloud Field Day 3. If you’re not familiar with Cloud Field Day, then I would highly recommend checking out the post from my fellow delegate Nick Janetakis detailing his experience. It’s a thorough and well thought-out post describing what Cloud Field Day is, and why you might be interested.

As I watched each vendor present, I kept coming back to the same set of questions. The focus of this post is one of those. How can companies use the cloud to innovate their current product portfolio? There was a stark difference between those organizations that had embraced the cloud as an enabler of new solutions and those who had instead approached cloud like a check box on a list of things organizations should be doing. Broadly, I think the innovative companies – or the innovative branch of the company – fell into three broad categories.

  1. Those that were “born in the cloud”
  2. Those that purchased an innovative startup
  3. Those that created a center of excellence to embrace innovation

In the first category there were companies like Druva and Morpheus. These vendors got their start in tandem with cloud technologies, and so they naturally glommed onto cloud native approaches to technology. They might not be in a greenfield situation where they can pick the best of breed cloud tech for everything, but they also aren’t saddled with years of accumulated technical debt anchoring them to a legacy mindset and approach. Druva went to great lengths to explain how their SaaS data protection solution was a cloud native offering using AWS technologies to achieve their goals. That presentation actually led to a heated discussion with the delegates over whether you should care about where your SaaS solution is actually running – hint: it depends, but I would say not really. They were trying to show how their solution was architected to be massively scalable, provide unparalleled security, and drive cost optimizations that they pass on to the client.

The second category included a vendor that was actually quite a surprise to me, NetApp. Nothing against storage vendors, but I don’t look to them for any kind of real innovation in the cloud. Too many of the storage behemoths are busy burning marketing cash to explain why Hyperconverged and cloud are not the solution, and how their monolithic storage arrays are the one true and right way to storage nirvana. Simultaneously, they are developing virtualized versions of their software, and branding everything as Software Defined – a term which at this point carries the same weight as “new and improved” on paper towel packaging. So when I arrived at NetApp, I assumed that the presentation would be a conga line of “new and improved” storage products that were “Software Defined” and “Built for the Cloud” whilst all evidence spoke to the contrary. I was happily incorrect! The presentation was from Eiki Hrafnsson who was the CEO of GreenQloud, an Icelandic company purchased by NetApp last year. GreenQloud was focused on developing public cloud platforms, and NetApp purchased them in order to create a whole new solution. It leverages the ONTAP file system from NetApp, but that is where the similarities end. Eiki treated us to demos showing how their Cloud Volumes were able to outperform EBS volumes in AWS, and a full orchestrated container deployment using Kubernetes with Cloud Volumes providing native persistent container storage.

NetApp purchased an innovative company and left them alone to keep doing awesome things. If they can continue with that strategy and let it infect some of the more established portions of the organization, then I see a bright future for NetApp. Whether or not Eiki is still there in 12 months should be a solid indicator of whether NetApp’s old guard has allowed this project to thrive or crushed it with internal polictical machinations.

The third category is exemplified by another unexpected contender, Veritas. Yes, that Veritas. The presentation got off to a rocky start, with Veritas doing exactly what I had expected NetApp to do. They were talking about how their backup products could ship information up to the cloud, which is okay, I guess. Seriously, your backup product being able to use cloud storage is table stakes at best, along the same lines as being able to use VM snapshots. They even started bragging about their new backup appliances and how many petabytes it can hold. The delegates were getting restless, and finally Tim Crawford stopped the presenter and asked him to start over with some additional guidance. It was a tough love moment, but it paid off! Out of nowhere, Veritas brings out two new presenters that jump almost immediately into a demo of a cloud native backup solution that they developed from scratch. This solution, CloudPoint, was capable of backing up cloud workloads like Azure VMs, AWS RDS databases, and more. It was lightweight, and leveraged the built-in backup capabilities of cloud services, while also providing indexing, metadata management, and scheduling. The application ran in a container and had a lightweight UI. The product was clearly unpolished and rough around the edges, but it was a breath of fresh air to what had been a stifling atmosphere of superiority emanating from the Veritas folks. Be humble, stay humble, would be my advice.

What was particularly noteworthy about the Veritas offering is that the team responsible for developing it were pretty new to the organization. It felt as if someone at Veritas had hired the team, and told them to go off and make something cool with the cloud. And they did! I’ve heard of centers of excellence or centers of innovation at companies, and while no one said that’s what they were doing at Veritas, that’s exactly how it felt.

So there you go, three paths to cloud innovation. Be it, buy it, or add it. Just don’t let the haters squash your dreams.

My Life as a Tech Impostor

Before I even knew there was a term, I thought I was an impostor. Not in tech mind you, but in life. I was 11 years old. Over the summer I had visited my first Head Shop, ushered in by my older and ostensibly wiser cousin. I didn’t know what a bong was, or what all these dancing bears were about. The whole place stank of some unknown odor, which I would later be able to identify as a mélange of patchouli, sandalwood, and pot. Mostly pot. What I could dimly sense – as a budding, rebellious teenager – was that this place was cool, and I wanted to be cool. My cousin explained that the dancing bear was in fact a totem of The Grateful Dead, and I vaguely recognized the name from MTV. That would, of course, be the Touch of Grey single that served as an introduction of The Dead to many of my peer group.

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Tortoise and Hare, “Software will devour us all!”

Is Technology Moving Too Fast? Yes.  Will It Slow Down?  No.

As the spectre and meltdown drama continues to play itself out in the increasingly disdainful  and disinterested public eye, a few things have come to my notice.  The first is a post from The Math Citadel taking Intel and the IT field at large to task for having a fundamental design flaw in processor that is 20 years old.  They posit that the ideas of “fail fast and fail often, the perfect is the enemy of the good, and just get something delivered” should be summarily rejected.

They rightly point out the following:

“Rushed thinking and a desperation to be seen as ‘first done’ with the most hype has led to complexity born of brute force solutions, with patches to fix holes discovered after release. When those patches inevitably break something else, more patches are applied to fix the first patches.”

They claim that in our rush to minimally viable product, and adopt Agile software development practices, we have set ourselves on a path of continual and ever increasing failure.  Being mathematicians, their prescription is of course that IT needs to think more like them.  Because as we all now know, mathematicians are rigorous and correct all of the time.   Yes I linked a Cracked article, no I don’t see why that should matter.

The writer of the post clearly has an agenda, and a lens of perception coloring how they view the world.  If I asked a baker to tell me how to fix what is wrong with IT, they might make allusions to careful measurement and have a recipe that is followed vigorously.  It’s difficult to escape the trappings of your own occupation.  But that doesn’t make the mathematicians wrong, just insufferably smug.

The other article is from Danny Crichton care of TechCrunch, and he points out a similar trend with an alarming number of examples of technology going wrong.  I don’t really need to consult that since in the last week alone, my laptop has Green Screened on reboot, my phone had to be factory reset for “reasons”, Hulu live streaming was down for 3 hours during Friday primetime, and Skype’s login has been dodgier than usual for the last five days.  Everything is broken, or in various states of broken, ever since Google started their forever Beta program. *Amen*

Crichton cites some interesting research about the need to maintain existing software rather than just speeding ahead to the next thing.  He also points out that the massively complex systems we have put together are beyond our own ken, and small changes or failures can have a massive and totally unpredictable impact.  Apparently Charles Perrow, a professor at Yale, calls these normal accidents.  I prefer the more upbeat and Bob Ross inspired happy accidents. 

What are we to make steaming pile of technology that has been pooped out over the last ten years?  Do we hold our nose and smile?  Crichton brings up the fact that it is possible to make a highly available, and resilient complex system, such as modern US aviation.  That makes sense when people’s lives are literally on the line, and not so much when the stakes are whether or not I can view  pictures of tacocat whenever I want on my phone.  What is the motivation for a company to create product that is incredibly stable, at triple the cost, for none of the return?  Consumers have become completely numb to the constant broken state of their technology.  The only time it becomes patently obvious is when you try to teach a loved one how to use some new piece of gadgetry, only to discover how broken and non-intuitive the product is.  Apple’s no bastion of light these days, but I will hand it to the Apple of five years ago.  They made a rock solid product, and ruled the ecosystem with an iron fist, much to the appreciation of their stockholders.  That level of quality is, erm, lacking somewhat these days.

I don’t know of a simple way out it, but I think it will probably end up being AI.  Our systems have become so ludicrously complex, and unfathomably labyrinthine that mere mortals stand a snowball’s chance in hell of taming the beast.  I suspect that the only way that our foundations get shored up is if a neutral third-party with infinite patience, computational power, and memory is able to start fixing things for us.  The proverbial mother cleaning up the children’s’ mess so that we may make another mess tomorrow.

Or we’ll just accidentally create our own oblivion. I feel like the odds are pretty even.

VMware on Azure – You’re still doing it wrong

Sigh.  There’s an old adage that I always come back to.  Just because you can do something, doesn’t mean that you should.  In this case I am thinking about the recent announcement by Microsoft that Azure would be supporting bare metal deployments of VMware on Azure hardware.  In case you’ve been living under a rock, AWS went GA with a very similar offering back in late August.  Of course there are some specifics that differ, but the overall theme is the same.  You can run your VMware workloads in their public cloud on bare metal, but still have close proximity to their respective public cloud services.  Alas, just because it’s on Azure now, doesn’t make the idea any better, and I stand by my previous post.

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VMware on AWS – You’re doing it wrong

This is going to be a controversial post I am almost certain.  Basically, I am going to argue that the whole premise behind running VMware on AWS is fundamentally flawed and not a viable strategy for those who are currently running VMware or for VMware itself as a company.  Get your angry comments ready, here we go!

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