Why I've Lost Interest In Hyperconverged and more...

Why I've Lost Interest In Hyperconverged

Boring movieWatching the current raft of hyperconverged players go at it in the blogosphere has turned into a movie where I've lost all interest in the plot and characters. Here's just one recent example of yet another intense piece from my colleague Chad Sakac.

The problem is that I'm just not interested anymore. I know how the movie predictably ends.

That wasn't always the case. Long-term readers will remember me going on and on about hyperconverged, etc. etc. Things change. I move on. Maybe you should too?

Here's the pitch: for medium-to-larger IT shops, hyperconverged isn't strategic, it's just a tactical cost-reduction tool. And if something isn't strategic to the people who buy large amounts of IT stuff, it's not strategic to me either. Everything else gets quickly commodotized.

Since I've historically done a decent job predicting shifts in the IT world, you might want to invest a few moments and understand my thinking.

Agree or disagree -- it's up to you.

What's This All About?

HyperconvergedLook beyond the buzzword, and you'll find some very simple ideas. A hyperconverged architecture generally involves implementing storage functionality in software and using server-resident storage devices vs. a traditional external storage array.

The resulting environment can be simpler, less expensive and easier to manage with this approach. And then the debates start: who's got the most technically elegant implementation, which environment is the easiest to manage, has the best feature set, is the least expensive, and so on.

At one time, I thought the idea was pretty revolutionary, and devoted much time to it. And then I stepped back and realized it was more of a band-aid then a cure.

Looking At The Enterprise Application Landscape

Simply put, IT's core job is to deliver the applications people want to use. But not all applications are created equally, are they?

Control_screenSpend any time working with moderate-to-large enterprise IT groups, and you'll find that they think in infrastructure buckets.

One bucket is clearly about taking the cost out of application infrastructure that can't justify something differentiated. Think virtualization, hyperconverged, and all that.

And another bucket consists of the enterprise applications that the business uses to run the business: ERP, SCM, financials, and so on. You'll rarely find familiar x86 virtualization, or hyperconverged approaches that use it.

Maybe separate buckets for things like VDI, or big data, and so on. Every decent-sized environment is a little bit different.

BucketsHere's the point: enterprise IT thinks about each bucket very differently. Yes, you will meet zealots who think that every class of workload can run on a single class of infrastructure, but that noble idea doesn't scale well beyond very modest environments.

For the cheap-and-cheerful bucket, it's really all about achieving the lowest cost. For the bet-your-job workloads, it's all about delivering predictable results at all times, followed by cost.

And the differences in approach matter to the folks who pay the IT bills.

Generic Infrastructure For Generic Workloads

GenericAll the hyperconverged players start with the same industry parts list, so no real differentiation is possible in hardware, or even desired. It's mostly about software and how well it does its job.

One of the underlying design principles of virtualization is to attempt to treat all workloads relatively equally. Pool your resources, everyone gets their fair share. That's its strength when it comes to generic workload consolidation.

Although there are certainly knobs that try to single out especially important VMs (e.g. CPU affinity and the like), these are mostly suggestions, introduce unwanted complexity, and aren't generally effective for most differentiated workloads.

What's a differentiated workload?

Big, honking databases and the demanding enterprise apps that use them. Large scale open analytics based on Hadoop. Real-time in-memory analytics. High-end transactional systems. You know, the really demanding stuff.  

Typically, these workloads deliver oversized economic value back to business as compared to generic workloads.  So the business -- and IT -- thinks of them quite differently.

"Fairness" isn't top-of-mind, getting results is.  Not all workloads are created equally.

While it is theoretically possible to run these demanding workloads in a hyperconverged or typical virtualized environment, you'll almost never find this in the wild. And for a good reason: that wasn't the design point.

To be fair, virtualization (and now potentially hyperconverged) has done a great job of helping IT take cost out of the "long tail" of generic workloads (aka craplications) that can't justify isolated or differentiated infrastructure.

But, as always, there's an end to the road, and it isn't pretty.  As I've said, we've all seen this movie and we know how it ends.

Racing To The Bottom

If you're a student of this industry, you know how the movie plays out.

Race_to_bottomA category gets established, initial players are somewhat differentiated, over time everyone ends up doing pretty much the same thing, the category gets largely commoditized, and it ends up being a race to the bottom.

The only question that then matters: who can do it the cheapest?

Servers and desktops have been there for a while, big pieces of the storage and network market are clearly heading in that direction, and hypervisors aren't far behind.

Now consider hyperconverged: who will be able to justify a premium in the long term, and why? Its mission in life is consolidating generic workloads on generic hardware infrastructure as cheaply as possible.

Sorry, I can't see how the entire category can avoid the black hole of commoditization, which is just one reason why I'm losing interest quickly.

And Then There's This "Cloud" Thing

Let me share even more cynicism: what's the cheapest place to run generic workloads? Yep, a public cloud. Why invest in equipment, software and people when you can just swipe a credit card for what you're going to use this month? And -- before long -- easily move to someplace better/cheaper/faster should the need arise?

Cloud costsTo be fair, there are many reasons why public clouds aren't more popular for this use case today, but that shows every sign of changing before long, especially as better workload portability and control planes hit the market. We've already seen a race to the bottom for generic IaaS pricing, and there's no reason to believe it shouldn't continue.

The few surviving hyperconverged vendors will find themselves increasingly compared to public cloud services, as their only raison d'etre is saving money.

Unfortuantely, none of the hyperconverged players have a public cloud, nor the resources to build a viable one.

A quick side note: I am continually amused by the hyperconverged vendor cloudwashing that ignores a fairly obvious truth. Being "AWS-like" is not the same as being AWS, nor is being "Google-like" the same as being Google.  That's like saying I'm as fast as Usain Bolt because I wear the same shoes.

But What About Cloud-Native Applications?

Cloud nativeThere is an interesting school of thought that deserves a mention: cloud-native applications that are designed to run well in generic environments, whether they be on-premises or using generic IaaS.   And, no doubt, most new applications being created are moving towards this model.

But look at the proposition from a purely business perspective: invest many millions of dollars and several years to re-architect and re-create the essential applications that are running the core of the business today, just so you can have the privilege of eventually running on more generic infrastructure?   Errr, when do the savings start?  

Yes, you see it being done in a very few situations; but for most it's just not a reasonable option.  Which helps explain why mainframes and UNIX systems and bare metal and similar are still with us.

Differentiation Matters

Briefly putting on my Oracle hat, it is fair to say that Oracle has an offering that falls into the hyperconverged category, although it is certainly not marketed that way.  It's the Oracle Database Appliance, or ODA.

Apples and orangesIts one mission in life is to run the Oracle Database faster/better/cheaper than anything else, except perhaps for a larger Oracle product like Exadata or SuperCluster.

It is extremely differentiated, as it was designed by the same team that is responsible for the Oracle Database.  Yes, that is an unfair advantage.

It is not like -- nor does it attempt to be like -- generic hyperconverged approaches. If you've got a handful of oh-so-important applications that use the Oracle Database (and there are a LOT of those), it immediately becomes an interesting offering.

Otherwise, not so interesting.

To sweeten the deal, the same set of capabilities are available via the public Oracle Cloud via DBaaS. Workloads are easy to migrate back and forth as it's basically the same software running in two different places. As a result, cloud just becomes an extension of what you're already doing today.

The Life Cycle Of An Industry Category

In our infrastructure industry, categories are a result of both supply and demand: technology innovation and how IT organizations prefer to consume those technologies.  They born, garner initial interest, mature and eventually sink into the sea of marketing mush.

CycleIf you are an IT vendor, you have clear choices.

You can ignore the category, and thus miss out on all the excitement and customer interest. You can join the category and battle it out with all the other players, thus accelerating the commoditization of the category. You can take a deep breath, and establish your own category, which -- if successful -- will quickly attract other players and eventually commoditize.

Or, you can choose to transcend the typical category game by precisely targeting an enterprise IT need that existed decades ago, and will likely exist decades from now: optimizing for the critical and demanding workloads that power the core of any modern enterprise.

When it comes to the hyperconverged category, I've lost all interest.  We all know how this movie is going to end.

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The Significance Of Cloud Quotas

Missed targetWith every industry trend, there frequently emerges a tipping point that signifies "yes, this is real, this is happening".

I offer for your consideration "cloud quotas".

The idea is simple: executive management, frustrated by progress, creates a timeline for the IT function to get to cloud, e.g. 80% of workloads by 2020 or similar. Yearly goals are established to get to the desired state.

And to put some teeth into it, the IT budget is then forcibly partitioned into two segments: cloud and non-cloud, starting with 2016. The proportion of earmarked cloud spend is raised every budgeting year until the desired strategic target is achieved.

The goals are structured in such a way that typical IT cloud-washing won't help much.

Yes, IT will get credit for moving desktop and collaboration out, and perhaps that handful of pilot applications that have been moved, and of course any SaaS implemented -- but IT is not likely to get credit for, say, that IaaS-only private cloud sitting in the data center.

This is not theoretical: I have seen many examples from around the globe. Where I've seen it implemented, it's non-negotiable.

It's real, and it's happening for more than a few large IT organizations.

Why I Find This Fascinating

My favorite William Gibson quote is "the future is already here, it's just not evenly distributed". That observation would apply here as well.  Cloud quotas are definitely here, but they're certainly not everywhere -- yet.

Future fastMost of my real-world examples come from banking and finance -- a notoriously IT-intensive industry - but there are also several data points from sectors as diverse as retail, public sector and manufacturing.

The only historical precedent that comes to mind was the wave of outsourcing that swept the industry a decade or so ago.

Outsourcing's siren song of "your mess for less" proved to be too tempting to many business leaders. And, as we know, things didn't end up so well for most of those that pursued this path.

At its essence, outsourcing was about running steady-state IT for less cost than doing so in-house. IT was simply another expense to be managed. Flexible and agile it was not.

This time around? It's about achieving the twin goals of reduced costs as well as increased agility.

Business Motivations Can't Be Denied

If you're on the board of directors of, say, a major bank, you have at least two very serious concerns that are relevant here.

BankerOne is serving the needs of shareholders by showing increased earnings year over year, even in flat economies. Until recently, the default answer was to acquire or be acquired -- but sheer size alone is no guarantee of continued success.

Cloud is compelling to business leaders as it directly attacks one of the largest budget items in any bank or financial shop:  IT costs. Cloud also makes it easier to bring new products and services to market in the hopes of retaining customers and growing revenues.

No wonder I'm seeing more and more banking and finance IT shops that are now on a forced march towards cloud.

But there's a second, more troubling motivation: fear of disruption. Rivers of venture capital are pouring into smaller startups who want nothing more than to disrupt the status quo in banking and finance. Imagine PayPal on steroids, or crowdsourcing auto and home loans.

That's the sort of thing that can keep a senior executive up at night.

IT Resistance Is Hard To Overcome

Cutting to the uncomfortable truth, IT organizations are far smaller and leaner when using a cloud model. The infrastructure types, in particular, take a heavy hit.

50-reasons-not-to-changeThe traditional IT objections to public cloud models end up being a layer of legitimate-sounding business concerns wrapped in a hot core of concern for their careers.

So IT drags their feet. They run evaluation after evaluation. They build incompatible private clouds that lack the cost structure, agility and rich feature set of public clouds. If anything is moved, it's usually the least-demanding and least-sensitive workloads.

How long, exactly, have we been talking about hybrid clouds? At least seven years. Wise business leaders have started to figure out what's really going on.

If IT won't go willingly to the next IT model, business leadership has to step in and lay down the law. Yes, it's that important to them -- obviously.

And now, IT leadership needs a real, actionable game plan to move enterprise workloads to the agility and cost structure of a cloud model.  Simply studying the problem won't suffice.

There Are Exceptions

The enterprise IT universe is a very large place, with wonderful diversity.

I have met a few (very few) larger IT organizations that have had some success hand-crafting a private cloud that delivers a reasonable set of infrastructure, platform and database services. They did so out of necessity at the time. None of them has told me that they'd do it again, and are all looking to get out from under the beast they've created.

I have met handfuls of IT organizations that have leaped headfirst from the familiar world of being datacenter systems integrators to the brave new world of learning to be cloud systems integrators. Any forward progress they make seems to be more than offset by the confounding complexity created in the process.

But it doesn't have to be that way.

There Is A More Logical Path

The main reason I and many of my colleagues have chosen to work at Oracle is that Oracle has figured out this enterprise cloud thing with a tantalizing combination of strategy, technology, resources and execution.

No one else in the industry could do anything close.

Oracle_cloud_logo2So we voted with our feet.

For the medium-to-large organization that's trying to figure out how to cloudify their enterprise application portfolio, it's worth learning about.

Maybe you'll see the unique appeal we all saw:

- Integrated enterprise SaaS that's designed to work together, and not as functional silos.

- Integrated enterprise PaaS that's targeted at making enterprise application developers far more productive.

- Integrated enterprise IaaS that's optimized for demanding enterprise workloads: Oracle and non-Oracle

- Engineered systems optimized for databases, applications and analytics, deployed in the datacenter or with precise equivalents in the Oracle Cloud.

- Cloud machines that bring the power of the public cloud model into the datacenter: for application development, database and analytics.

One open architecture, one extensible management framework, one trusted vendor to hold accountable -- that runs Oracle and non-Oracle workloads.  

IT can now focus on getting results vs. being perpetual system integrators: both in the data center and in the cloud.  The path to cloud is yours to define and control in a way that makes sense for you and your business.  

That'll Never Happen Here ... Or Will It?

Burning_platformIf you're reading this, you may be thinking "that's never going to happen in our environment".

And you may be right. IT transitions tend to roll quickly in some segments, more slowly in others, and perhaps not at all in some.

But if you've noticed that the continual drumbeat to "do cloud" isn't going away, I'd argue it's only a matter of time before your IT function joins the ever-growing club of learning to work under the new breed of cloud quotas.

Why?

Because business people have this way of getting what they need.

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Playing In The Band

Chuck_playingI play in two different bar bands these days. I love it. I've been in about a half-dozen other bands, and have auditioned for maybe several dozen over the years.

When you invest the time and energy with the right people, it can be enormously fun and deeply satisfying.

However, much of the time, not so much. Finding the right band situation isn't easy. One or more things won't click -- often out of your control -- and you have to make the tough choice to stick it out, or move on.

Are work situations so different? Not from my perspective.

When it all works and works well, teams in the workplace can be huge fun and deeply satisfying. Other times you have to decide whether to slog through it, and hope for the good stuff down the road apiece.

And if the magic doesn't materialize, sometimes the wise decision is to politely move on and set up shop elsewhere.

Being In A Band

Lots of good musicians out there who do well as solo artists. They have my respect. However, playing in a band requires an additional set of musical, social and -- sometimes -- leadership skills.

Justice_league.bandYou're thrown into a situation with people with widely varying backgrounds, priorities and perspectives on life. They are not like you.

Despite that, everyone has to agree on shared goals. Everyone has to buy into a shared target: a sound, an audience, a vibe, a set list. Everyone has to be prepared to invest long sweaty hours: learning individual parts, and then melding together as a unit.

There is no shortcut.

You don't play in a weekend bar band for money, that's for sure. Six hours of labor nets me $50-100 on average. The trick is to keep your bar tab below that. Seriously: you do it for love.

Some gigs completely rock, others not so much. You hope for more good shows than bad ones. When it all works, there is nothing quite like that rush when we're all playing in the zone, and the audience is right there with us.

The experience is completely intoxicating, and you immediately want to do it all over again.

Being On The Team

Modern corporate work is all about teams -- being on them, leading them, and working across them. Lots of folks with good solo chops out there. They have my respect. Being successful at the team thing, however, requires an additional set of skills: intellectual, social and -- sometimes -- leadership.

Strange_bandYou're thrown into a situation where everyone is coming from a different perspective. You have to agree on shared goals, and often fill in the blanks on what good might look like. You invest long sweaty hours: not only doing your individual work, but even more effort to make your contributions meld and blend with the team.

Yes, you're doing it for a paycheck, but if that's all you get out of it -- I think you're being short-changed.

Best Practices From The Band

A band is only as good as its weakest musician. Each musician has to listen carefully to what everyone else is doing, bring their individual game, and ultimately blend in for the greater good. There's also this trust thing: you can't be at your best unless you can trust others to do their part.

If one of the musos isn't cutting it, you have to confront the situation, and quickly. If it's temporary and can be rectified, great. If there's no willingness to address the gaps, the best course of action is to quickly part ways and find someone else.

The best decisions I've made are the bands I haven't joined. I go for an audition, they like what they hear, and want me to sign up. I don't suck. The real question is -- do I want them? Will I get what I want from the time invested? Can I make the commitment?

A hard choice -- but an important one. Life is too short to be playing bad music.

Guitar_playerSelf-absorbed musicians are the bane of any band.

It's all about the music you make together, not individually. Sure, we all get a chance to shine here and there, but that's not what it's all about. When we suck, we collectively take the blame and don't name names. And when we rock, we collectively share the credit -- we're all just doing our part.

As I got better musically, I found myself outgrowing one band situation and needing to find more challenging ones. A big part of the enjoyment for me is growing your my own abilities and maturity. It's a satisfying journey, and not a final destination.

There is no shortcut for doing the hard work: individually or together. Nothing kills a rehearsal like a musician who didn't make the time to learn their parts. And if they can't make band rehearsals, well then, you'll be rehearsing in front of your audience. It won't be a good gig for anyone.

Creative differences of opinion are the norm, but you can't let them become an obstacle. Meet, discuss and ultimately defer to the implied leader. Power struggles can be corrosive, and have to be dealt with immediately - although there is such a thing as "soft power": someone who knows some aspect of a given situation better than the others.

Taking Band Lessons Into The Workplace

MeetingWhen I show up for work in the morning, I'm thinking "let's rock this joint!" Better yet, we even get paid for it -- hopefully more than what I make in a bar band.

Yes, of course I want to work with talented people.  Who doesn't?

But I also want to be with people who understand that working together as a cohesive unit is far better than any solo act. I want people who are willing to put in the hard work: individually and collectively. I want team members who can trust others to do their part.

We should be willing to share the joys and sorrows together, and see ourselves growing over time.

And when we rock it, people notice and are right there with us.

If someone isn't cut out for the team, we should address it quickly and decisively. If I've personally outgrown the situation, or it's obvious that dysfunction can't be remedied, it's me that solves the problem by politely moving on.

Life is too short to be playing bad music.

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The Private Cloud Has Failed Us

Perhaps there is no deeper disappointment in life than when a cherished concept fails to produce the desired results. Such is the case with the industry’s notion of private clouds.

DespairI’m throwing in the towel, walking away – and cursing under my breath. It’s a failed concept.

Yes, I was seriously seduced early on. Check out this Jan 2009 post where I breathlessly made the case for this new private cloud model. If I wasn't the first person to do so, I was certainly close to being the first.

I argued vigorously for the cause for many years. For me, it was the right answer at the right time.

I hereby publicly admit the error of my ways. The world has changed, and so must I.


Why is it that traditional private clouds have left most IT shops at a dead end?

A Simple Concept

Private_cloudThe idea behind a private cloud was straightforward: use virtualization and a little automation to create an easy-to-consume data center infrastructure service that provides virtual machines and their associated storage.

By keeping a little extra capacity around, IT could be much more responsive to that next provisioning request.

At the time, private clouds were far more efficient as compared to manually provisioning virtual resources, or – worse – physical resources. And, make no mistake, they were a big improvement over what came before.

And then the world changed.

The Business Wants An Enterprise Cloud

DigiworldIf private clouds were the supply side, what’s happened to the demand side?

For so many business models, the digital economy is here and now: disrupt or be disrupted. The business now craves the speed, agility, functionality – and cost structure -- of public clouds.

Competitors new and old are arming themselves with the new weaponry. For many, it’s a matter of urgency.

Against modern demands, traditional private clouds now look like an antiquated response.

Here’s why.

1 -- The Private Cloud Consumption Model Is All Wrong

Why?  It ain't cloud.

Computer_racksIT buying racks of equipment and attempting to offer a “service” (just like the cloud guys!) has turned out to be misguided at best. IT is still in the capital expenditure business – they have to guess how much stuff they’re going to need.

Buy too much and you waste resources. Buy too little and you’ll come up short at the wrong time. Nobody ever gets it right twice.

We’re back to “have a hunch, provision a bunch”. IT is asking the business to spend ahead of actual demand, and bear the risk for IT’s inability to accurately forecast. Public cloud vendors don’t force this on their customers.

The consumption model is wrong on another level. Business consumers crave cost transparency: show me how much it actually costs for what I’m consuming, and no one else. The reason is simple: business people need to understand true costs.

It is the rare IT organization that has achieved this cost transparency back to its business users. Why? It’s very hard to do. Equipment, licenses and labor is bought in bulk, but consumed as a service. And the required skills to price variably consumed services from those static ingredients isn’t trivial.

PinocchioThat’s why you typically find a “flat corporate tax” back to IT consumers. As any armchair economics student will tell you, that’s about the most destructive pricing mechanism one can imagine – it incentivizes all sorts of suboptimal behaviors.

When pressed, IT organizations will often create something that looks like a price list for their services catalog, but everyone knows the truth – it’s usually a made-up corporate fiction.

2 -- The Private Cloud Functionality Model Is All Wrong

The better public clouds aimed at enterprises have rich suites of ready-to-use functionality. Not the case with private clouds. Or many popular public clouds, for that matter. It’s often a build-your-own world for both.

Want to deliver a speedier environment for your application developers? You’ll have to design, integrate and support your own. Want a powerful platform for your analytics users? Same story – significant assembly and required. Want great integrated infrastructure support for your enterprise application portfolio? Sorry, no can do.

Can private clouds deliver out-of-the-box functionality that is immediately usable by the business? Yes, if all you want is a generic VM.

VDIExamples of standalone usable private cloud functionality are hard to come by, but virtual desktops just might qualify.

OK, fine, but … my view is that simply recreating a legacy desktop paradigm using VMs isn’t exactly a game changer for most business types. The same is true for virtualizing, say, your email server or collab site.

Put differently: private clouds do OK at consolidating existing stuff.  They're aren't designed - out of the box -- for the new stuff people want to do.  And that ain't cloud.

Yes, IT folks care about consolidating stuff; but business people – well, not so much.

Just ask them.

Although there is no shortage of converged and hyperconverged vendors who are !!hyperexcited!! about consolidating existing workloads. Mea culpa, I’ve been there before. Sometimes I feel they’re offering a better COBOL compiler. Cool stuff, but hard to be relevant in the bigger picture.

Just don’t confuse consolidating existing physical workloads with delivering the new capabilities business users crave.

3 -- The Private Cloud Compatibility Model Is All Wrong

CollideMost private clouds are built around vSphere. Most public clouds aren’t. Most vSphere shops use a vSphere-based set of tools to run their shop. Most public clouds don’t. Most private clouds offer IT a high degree of control. Most public clouds don’t.

Can you see where this is going?

There are strong and powerful reasons why many enterprises will want to use an integrated combination of on-premises and off-premises resources. Each has strong pros and cons. But what happens when you try and use them together?

Can you move simplistic VMs around from here to there? Sure, we’ve all seen that demo, and it never fails to impress the non-enterprise IT crowd.

Let’s try something a bit more practical: how about seamlessly integrating public clouds with on-premises versions of the same, and run demanding enterprise workloads as a single, integrated architecture?

I didn’t think so -- not unless you want to staff a sizable systems integration and support team, and wait around for them to eventually figure out how to glue everything together. That’s not the cloud people want, is it?

It’s simple: most public and private weren’t designed to work together.  And that's a problem.

4 -- The Private Cloud Labor Model Is All Wrong

CraftsemenClouds are supposed to be more efficient: both with resources and labor.  Simply shifting resource efficiency into greater labor costs sort of misses the point, no?   Many cloud models -- both private and public -- are showing themselves to be labor-intensive in enterprise IT settings.

Why?  They don't do what is needed out-of-the box.  People are required.  Expensive people.  The frustrating part?  These people are usually re-creating what already exists elsewhere.  That's a problem.

Re-inventing an existing proven solution doesn’t create value. Not only that, you’re very likely to do a poor job of it.

When I was working with VCE, I can’t tell you how many infrastructure teams vehemently insisted they could do a better job doing infrastructure system integration than a company dedicated and resourced to productizing infrastructure integration.

I guess it was all they knew how to do. By the way, I never saw them do a better job -- ever.

Now that I’m at Oracle years later, it’s the same story again, but this time around the gap between what my current employer can do with their technology and the in-house integration team’s capabilities is much, much more pronounced. That doesn’t mean they’ve given up, though – no matter how far-fetched their arguments sound.

It just doesn’t create value to do unneeded integration between things that weren’t designed to work together when compatible and pre-integrated alternatives are available.

Building_a_carIt’s like opting to design and build a car from piece parts vs. buying one.  And arguing that you’re delivering a better car while saving time and money in the process.

Take a look at any enterprise IT org chart, and ask a pointed question: how many people are spending their careers either trying to (a) recreating existing, proven solutions, (b) trying to support incompatible stuff working together, or (c) suffering the consequences of people attempting to do (a) and (b)?

As you’ll see in a moment, it doesn’t have to be that way.

Now, let’s take a business user’s view.

What’s the opportunity cost of IT investing in the ”unneeded systems integration business”? How long do business users have to wait for usable results vs. status meetings? How well does the IT-assembled solution work when eventually delivered? More broadly, why does IT often insist on recreating known and proven solutions, and not doing a good job at it?

Is it to justify their existence?

LinesNot all that long ago, I had to do some personal car stuff: license, registration renewal, etc. I spent the better part of a day driving to a government building, and being shuffled from long line to long line with papers in my hand.

Worse, I saw a well-staffed office of state employees behind the glass partition who didn’t exhibit any signs of urgency.

What frosted me was that I was paying for how they chose to run their business – both with my time and my tax dollars.

It took substantial effort to keep my mouth shut, smile, and get my government-required paperwork done. It was clearly designed to be self-perpetuating as only bureaucracies can be.

Is it any wonder that business people get so frustrated with enterprise IT?

Things Don’t Have To Be That Way

That’s why I consider the hypervisor-centric private cloud a failed model: there’s more to winning at enterprise IT than constructing a VM provisioning machine. It doesn’t even begin to solve the current problem of delivering an enterprise cloud: one that meets the agility and functionality needs of modern enterprise application landscapes.

Time to get off that train, and onto the next one -- one that's going where you need to go.

Oracle_cloud_logo2And, yes, there is certainly a better way. I won’t go into excruciating detail, but allow me a quick example of why things don’t have to be so hard.  Yes, this is an Oracle pitch -- but it also illustrates what you could be demanding from your vendors.

Oracle has three parts to their cloud strategy.

1 -- Oracle delivers integrated SaaS, PaaS and IaaS designed for modern enterprises, ready to use today. No assembly required, unless you want something special. It’s already trusted by many thousands of companies around the world. It supports almost any workload, and not just Oracle software.

2 -- Oracle delivers on-premises solutions engineered for modern enterprise applications – database, application logic and middleware, and analytics. All of them come with precise equivalents in the Oracle Cloud. The engineered approach delivers far better results in the data center, and no system integration is required to make private and public work together, as the public cloud is now simply an extension of your data center. If your data center plans change, everything comes with cloud insurance.

3 -- For those craving the agility of the public cloud in the data center, Oracle delivers Cloud Machines – subsets of the Oracle Cloud – that offer the same functionality, economics and operational model of the public cloud. Again, precisely equivalent with the public Oracle Cloud.

Take a moment, please, to digest the impact of all of this, and how it has fundamentally changed my perspective.  It should change yours as well.

All at once, my cold disgust with today’s failed private cloud model is gone, now replaced by the warm glow of optimism. There is hope after all. Yes, I do wish we all could have started here, but we didn’t.

To be fair, with this model you’re trusting a single vendor to be held accountable for delivering results. If the vendor doesn’t execute, you clearly have other options. But some find this all-in approach philosophically unattractive.

Losing_my_religionI would argue that maybe it’s time to get a new religion, as the alternatives are proving  strategically disastrous for larger enterprises.

Just consider how this approach neatly solves private cloud shortcoming as outlined above:

For example, the consumption model is instantly fixed, if needed. Consume off-premises, consume on-premises – it’s the same financial model.  Mix opex and capex model as needed.  If desired, IT can get out of the capex forecasting business, and business users get full unit cost transparency. Voila!

Integrated enterprise functionality is immediately available, because Oracle has already done all the hard work to integrate their products and technologies with others. It also helps that Oracle owns its own technology stack: from storage to database to mobile apps.

As a result, IT can now focus on using modern IT vs. attempting to re-invent it.

There are almost no compatibility issues to “fix” or “engineer” or “integrate” with this model. It’s all the exact same stuff on both sides of the wire, with a single vendor supporting it all.

Tool_guyAnd – best of all – the labor model gets rightsized and realigned for the cloud era. Yes, there are people who really enjoy screwdrivers and glue guns, but the need for vast armies of them is quickly fading in the new model.

Although – I have to point out -- some of these hands-on integration folks have found a new life, doing the same sorts of gluing together of things in build-your-own clouds such as Amazon’s, essentially recreating their historical world view but now in the cloud. I admire them for their inventiveness.

My view? Unnecessary systems integration didn’t make sense in the physical world, and it certainly doesn’t make sense in the cloud world.

Where Does That Leave Us?

Maybe you like your private cloud. Maybe it delivered the intended benefits. Maybe it moved the needle from what came before, and is seen as successful. That’s all good.

But that was then, and this is now.

I now see traditional private clouds as a strategic and architectural dead end. Before long, you will too.

SimpleLike so many technologies before it, the world has moved on, and left private clouds behind.

There is no logical road forward that makes economic or strategic sense. Any proposed potential way forward would inevitably require an army of IT people doing integration and support work of questionable value – and business people patient enough to pay for it, wait for it, and live with its inadequacies.

My view is that more business people are wising up. They may sense that their dear enterprise IT colleagues may have lost their way in the era of cloud.

Surely, there will be more hard questions to come: what are you IT guys doing, how long will it take, how much will it cost – and why are you insisting on doing this the hard way?

If you’re a senior IT leader, best if you have some good answers prepared.

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Yes, Something Very New Has Come Along

BrightstarIf you're a grizzled infrastructure guy like me, you're completely justified in your skepticism when any vendor claims to have announced something Truly NewTM.  

I mean, how many flash arrays, converged thingies, etc. does the world need?

Because we tend to focus on the underlying technology, we tend to miss other equally important innovations.  For example, Uber didn't really introduce new technology to the world; they just changed a familiar consumption model.

A few weeks back, Oracle announced a new industry category -- cloud machines -- under the banner "Cloud At Customer". First up: the Oracle Cloud Machine -- on-prem PaaS/IaaS targeted at enterprise application developers.

Simply put, it's a public cloud model delivered in the data center.  It fundamentally changes the familiar consumption model.

In the short time since, I've been seriously stunned by the level of customer and partner interest. People  immediately grasp the concept, realize that it's fundamentally different alternative, and are immediately curious.

We must be on to something here :)

Sure, I personally thought the notion of a cloud machine was going to be successful.  But at the end of the day, what I think doesn't matter that much; the opinion of thousands of IT professionals matters far more.

And -- so far, so good.

Oracle Cloud Machine In 30 Seconds

30secThe Oracle Cloud Machine is a re-packaging of a portion of the public Oracle Cloud for on-premises use.

The user experience is the same, e.g. public Oracle Cloud.  The operational model is the same as the public Oracle Cloud, e.g. the service is operated and managed by the same team (and using largely the same processes) as the public Oracle Cloud. The financial model is the same as well, e.g. metered or subscription. And, of course, the software stack and user experience is identical.

Hence the description of "public cloud model delivered on-premises".

In addition to the current model targeted at enterprise application development and execution, expect two more versions before long  -- aimed at database and big data analytics. Once understood, you'll see that the model is easily extensible to other portions of the IT landscape.

Hence it's best to think about cloud machines as a new category -- they are that different.

How A Cloud Machine Is Different

DifferentFolks used to traditional on-premises private clouds may scratch their heads, and wonder why all the fuss? After all, many of the ingredients look the same to them: compute, hypervisor, PaaS, etc.

First, this is integrated PaaS/IaaS targeted at enterprise applications developers. Standalone IaaS doesn't do this unless you spend a lot of time and effort rolling your own, and few application teams want to wait for the science project to finish.

Second, you're contracting for a complete, integrated service provided by Oracle. You're not buying the separate ingredients and cooking your own meal. It's a pure opex services model, just like the public cloud.

Third, it is derived from -- and seamlessly interoperable with -- with the public Oracle Cloud. No homegrown solution can make that statement.

ControlFolks used to familiar public cloud services also do their own head-scratching, but the questions are different.

A cloud machine lives on the premises of your choosing, under IT control. By itself, it is not dramatically elastic, but -- working with the public Oracle Cloud -- it is.

Like most public cloud services, developers are free to bring many of their favorite open source tool sets. Like most public cloud services, the infrastructure team doesn't play a direct role in providing supporting services.

Unlike public cloud services, you don't have the usual bugaboos about not being in control, data leaving the premises, latency, etc..

So the developers are free to move as fast and confidently, which matters.

What Senior IT Leaders Tell Me They Like About Cloud Machines

The senior crowd clearly appreciates the pure opex model of a cloud machine. This isn't clever financing in disguise, it's a clearly-defined integrated service you commit to for a fixed period of time. All costs are included: transparently and known in advance.

And when you're done, the service disappears and that's the end of your commitment. Just like the public cloud.

Smiling_execThese same people also appreciate that the Oracle Cloud Machine service is pre-integrated, and supported as a whole. This is not some reference architecture or solution guide; it's a baked, standardized product offering. Less time, less risk, less cost. Not to mention that Oracle has clearly integrated the whole stack: from application to database to infrastructure to support and so on.

On a more strategic note, I see that they appreciate how it brings immediate cloud agility to their enterprise application portfolio. No need to wait patiently for the various teams to cobble something together. There's also the attractiveness of easily mixing and matching with identical services from the public Oracle Cloud.

I do find it, errr,  interesting that senior IT execs who are responsible for multiple disciplines immediately grasp the concept.  Not so with the usual industry analysts, who tend to hold a partitioned (and historical) view of the world. 

What Partners Like

Oracle partners tell me they like being able to offer their clients a pure passthrough opex model for an integrated solution that sits behind one or more enterprise applications: either IaaS only, or a mix of PaaS and IaaS. It certainly helps them stand out from the crowd -- something that every partner wants to do.

I mean, just about anyone could sell you the ingredients -- how many sellers can offer a public cloud model on-premises?

It also simplifies their partner business model -- they can focus on the application, and leave the supporting infrastructure and tools to Oracle. Everything they position can run on-premises, in the public Oracle Cloud, or any combination. That's very strong differentiation.

The Infrastructure Team -- Well, Not So Much

You can't please everyone.

UnhappyHey, guys, I've worked the infrastructure end of the business my whole career.

I'd love to say cloud machines are all about the infrastructure team and what you do, but the truth is completely the opposite: it's about delivering public cloud infrastructure services on premises without the need for direct involvement by the infrastructure team.

Yes, I know you're heavily invested in VMware and everything that goes with it. Not relevant in this context. Business users want results, and aren't as obsessed with the ingredients as you've been.

More importantly, they can't afford to wait for y'all to put something together on their behalf.  Even if you could.

I gently remind people that part of being an IT professional is continually evolving your skill set forward, especially during big industry transitions. That NetWare cert I got many years ago doesn't help me much these days, nor does my extensive COBOL programming experience :)

The industry will still demand skilled IT professionals in the future; cloud or no cloud. They'll just be working with a different model.  And the market for people who specialize in hand-crafting infrastructure appears to have started its inevitable decline.

Competitive Responses? There Aren't Any.

GotnothingI can safely assert that no IT vendor is delivering anything that looks like a cloud machine today. Going farther, it's hard for me to see how any one of them could do so in the near future.

They'd need a full application stack, an enterprise-oriented public cloud, as well as the proven ability to deliver enterprise-class solutions on-premises.

Rare is it indeed in our industry when one vendor can do something so attractive for so many IT shops, and no competitors can mount a meaningful response.

I did see one deck from a competitor decrying Oracle "lock in".

As I remind people, deep integration is the flip side of lock in. I drive a Ford F-150, which I love. I use Ford parts when things break. I don't feel locked in. Besides, users are free to run almost any application (Oracle or otherwise), bring their favorite tool sets, or move the software stack elsewhere if needed.  Let's move on, shall we?

Sometimes I think some IT folks who obsess about lock in might be looking for job security in the multi-vendor integration and support business. As the industry moves to more integrated stacks, that's going to be a losing battle.

The Bottom Line - Faster, Now!

FasterThere are so many organizations I meet these days that are near-desperate to get more agility from their enterprise application portfolio. The app team is working their butts off, but don't have the modern tools they need to work effectively.  

They look longingly at public clouds, and wish they could get the same on their premises.

To be fair, the infrastructure team is working their butts off as well, but just can't close the gap.  Even if they could replicate the technology model (very difficult), there's still the financial and operational model to clone.  Oh yes, and whatever you eventually end up building won't have a compatible public cloud option.

The Oracle Cloud Machine solves this thorny IT problem brilliantly.

And this is getting fun for me :)

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