Today is the day Dell officially acquires EMC. Having spent 18 years at EMC (and two at VMware), my attention keeps wandering to the topic -- and its meaning -- even though I've moved on to bigger and better things. Maybe it's time for a little writing ...


DellEMC -- Bittersweet Thoughts and more...

DellEMC -- Bittersweet Thoughts

Blackhole2Today is the day Dell officially acquires EMC. Having spent 18 years at EMC (and two at VMware), my attention keeps wandering to the topic -- and its meaning -- even though I've moved on to bigger and better things.

Maybe it's time for a little writing therapy?

We all have had plenty of time to process the single largest tech acquisition in history. Today, the combined DellEMC marketing machine is fully cranked up, blasting Happy Rays into the interwebs.

All as expected.

As most big events are a mixture of positives and negatives, this one is no exception.

Congrats To Joe Tucci

Joe_tucciI'm not shy to say, I've always been a big fan of Joe's. His plan to build EMC from a pure play storage company into something more meaningful (e.g. EMC Federation) was well-intended.

He also gets credit for the smartest IT acquisition evah -- VMware.

Many of us knew for many years that EMC as a standalone entity wasn't going to be critical mass in the new world order. Joe did the right thing, he sold the company to the right guy for the right price.

Way to go, Joe. It was a privilege to be on your team.

The Biggest IT Supermarket On Earth?

Big_marketI can't speak for what Michael Dell is planning, but from here it looks like he wants to be able to sell more stuff to more people. A lot more. I keep thinking WalMart for traditional IT shops. I believe Michael Dell is one smart business dude.

But to make his model work, he's going to have to crank up the volume, and slash costs. Not to mention pay down a staggering debt.

That's somewhat at odds with the high-touch model of EMC, overlapping product lines, and lavish spending on R&D.

So EMC must change -- and drastically -- before too long.

VMware -- The Crown Jewel?

CrownToday, VMware announced that Michael Dell was elected Chairman of the Board at VMware. Don't make the mistake of thinking this is some sort of ceremonial appointment.

Michael Dell, now more than any other single person, is in control of VMware' future - bought and paid for.

As a result, changes will inevitably occur. Perhaps at a more measured pace, but they will happen. Many VMware employees mistakenly think that, because they are a publicly held company, they can act independently of ownership.

I beg to disagree.

That's why people buy things -- they want to put them to use.

And Then There's This Cloud Thing

EMC doesn't have a viable public cloud offering. Neither does Dell. Nor does VMware for that matter.

That's a problem. Handing out one-way tickets for your customers to get to other vendors' public clouds doesn't strike me as a viable long-term strategy.

CloudmonsterThe combined DellEMC will be restrained from building out a viable public cloud offering in the near future. Why? It takes billions of dollars and years of work before you even have a hope of making money. Not exactly an attractive proposition if you're an investor.

I would think that Dell's investment syndicate would want to get paid on the existing debt first, and that's going to take a while.

What do Amazon, Microsoft, Google and Oracle have in common? All have big public clouds, all have founders still engaged with the company with serious equity ownership.  All are somewhat immune from activist investors.

Building a viable public cloud at global scale isn't for the faint of heart.

Michael Dell has stated that he sees the rise of public cloud as a great opportunity to sell stuff: servers and presumably storage. I think he's whistling in the dark. I think his play is to get increased market share in the shrinking on-premises enterprise IT market. HPE and IBM appear to be trying to do the same.

Back to my earlier comment about cranking up volumes and slashing costs.

Avoiding The Commoditization Trap

Differentiated things quickly become commoditized in our industry. That's true for both on-premises and cloudy stuff. Vendors who can't avoid commoditization get caught in a death spiral: lower margins mean less money to spend on creating new stuff that customers want and need.

TrapGetting Really Big is one classic play to help stave off commoditization; the other is differentiating through unique IP that customers find valuable. In the IT world, differentiation usually means software farther up the stack. Oracle has chosen to invest up the stack: applications, databases, middleware, developer services, etc.

It's a very differentiated play.

IBM seems to be betting heavily on Watson. Neat technology, but I'm not sure that play can support IBM in its current form. HPE is rumored to be getting out of the software business, so we know where Meg wants to go.

DellEMC? Once you get beyond VMware's on-premises hypervisor business, and Pivotal's CloudFoundry, there's not a lot of there there. And big software acquisitions take big money, something that's in short supply these days.

The WalMart Example

WalmartYes, I do visit WalMart occasionally. When I'm looking for inexpensive, undifferentiated and commoditized stuff, that's where I go. I make my visits as short and focused as possible. Great selection, great prices. That being said, I'm starting to like the grocery section.

WalMart is one of the two companies that has revolutionized how stuff gets into people's hands. The other, of course, is Amazon. I don't want to even think how much my family spends with Amazon Prime. It's almost too easy.

Both companies have mastered optimizing consumer supply and demand, albeit with different models. Both are masters of taking costs out of the model, and then doing it again.  Both have made a lot of money in the process.

Unlike our enterprise IT world, neither is facing an obvious existential threat to their classic business model, e.g. the rise of public cloud.  DellEMC, VMware, HPE and IBM certainly are.

Best wishes to all going forward.


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Legacy Cloud?

Sometimes, you see a phrase that makes you pause and think. I tripped over this one, courtesy of Justin Warren, who was commenting on the recent VMworld announcements.

The phrase made me think. Thinking is good. Thank you, Justin.

Brightshiny2New ideas in the IT world are bright, shiny objects that initially capture our attention. They then become utterly familiar, and the world progresses to newer, brighter and shinier things.

VMware was founded in 1998. It was acquired by EMC over 12 years ago. Next week, EMC disappears and becomes part of Dell. Life moves on. VMware has been very successful in helping to define what "private cloud" means inside a data center.

Amazon Web Services was publicly launched in 2006, a decade ago. It too has been wildly successful, and has helped to define what "public cloud" means outside of data centers.

Both can reasonably be described as "legacy", if nothing else than through age and maturity alone. Both could be described as providing infrastructure as a service, or IaaS. They also can be described as two competing industry forces attempting to capture each other's territory.

When it comes to enterprise IT, I can't make the argument that either is "winning" the IaaS wars. It appears to be a standoff, with no clear road ahead.

So, what might be next?

One way of envisioning "what's next?" is to step back, and ask yourself -- where are there clear gaps in the market?  Unmet needs that really matter?  

So here's my list when it comes to enterprise IaaS:

Public Vs. Private? No, Public And Private

Marketgap2Public cloud IaaS services have their strong and weak points. On-premises private cloud IaaS has their strong and weak points. Attempting to hybridize them at scale means you've signed up to be in the systems integration business, as they use fundamentally different models.

Remember when we had IT silos around mainframe, UNIX and Windows? And nothing really worked together all that well? Same story, different chapter.

Both VMware and AWS are doing their level best to capture each other's territory. VMware shows demos of NSX interoperating with AWS. They add container and OpenStack support on top of their foundational hypervisor.

AWS positions itself to be as attractive as possible for cloud-native developers. Lambda, anyone? They promote a variety of migration tools and programs to ship those VMware VMs to their cloud.

So, if we're answering the question "what's next?", one part of the answer might be a single architecture and set of services at both ends of the wire (on-premises and off-premises), designed to be used together.

The only choice left would be the desired consumption model: opex or capex, on-prem or not.

Applications: Past, Present and Future

BarnI always go on and on about how enterprise IT is different than other forms of computing.

One of its defining attributes is -- unfortunately -- a very broad application portfolio. If you've never patiently gone through a large enterprise's production application portfolio, you don't know the huge fun you're missing.

Some of it is prepackaged stuff from another era. Some of it is home grown, maybe with tools from the last decade. Some of it might be described as somewhat contemporary in architecture and tool set. Then there's the bright and shiny world of containers, microservices and "serverless" architectures.

And not all of it can conveniently run in an elastic x86 VM :)

JugglerHere's the problem: enterprise IT can't pick and choose which application workloads to support. Rationalization and rearchitecting is a very expensive (and sometimes risky) proposition.  

So if all those enterprise application workloads are going to move to a cloud of some sort, that cloud will have to offer *very* broad support for multiple application models: past, present and future.

Lest you think that the future model will be dozens of clouds, optimized for different application models, that just brings up back to IT being in the systems integration business once again, just this time across dozens of cloud service providers.

Not an attractive scenario.

So, as we're contemplating "what's next?", another part of the answer might be having a cloud service with the ability to support a very wide breadth of infrastructure models.

A set of IaaS services that reflect the harsh reality of the typical enterprise application portfolio and its challenging diversity.

Control Planes Matter

Another key area where IT is different is their mandate to control the enterprise computing environment. Security management, application monitoring, resource consumption, financial management, and so on.

Fpl_blue_controlroomIt doesn't matter where the computing is actually done, what does matter is that enterprise IT organizations are responsible for outcomes -- and being in control. To do this, they invest in people, process and tooling.

Now consider most public clouds: they have their own way of doing things, don't they? Once again, we're back to this unpleasant scenario of multiple, competing control planes as well as investing in significant systems integration to hopefully make it all work together again.

Back to our rumination about "what's next": how about the ability to easily extend current and future enterprise IT control planes with a public cloud service?

Workload Portability?

CartOne thing that is endemic with many IT professionals is avoiding the feeling that they're locked in. Yes, there's always some friction involved with moving something from A to B and then C. But I would also argue that there's a clear opportunity for friction reduction.

On-premises virtualized workloads should be relatively easy to move from on-premises to IT's choice of public cloud provider. And back again, if desired.

Containerized applications should be able to be moved across public clouds, or be run on-premises if that's what is desired.

Once again, as we consider "what's next?", part of the answer could be around seriously reducing the friction associated with these tasks. I am a realist, though. Friction can be minimized, but not eliminated. And various forms of perceived lock-in will be with us for a very long time.

Moving Beyond Legacy Cloud

I don't think VMware will ever be a serious player in the public cloud, despite their desperate desire to do so.

SomethingnewThey're a software company; running a cloud at scale necessitates a completely different business model. Heck, I'd like to be a long distance runner, I just don't have the body for it.

Maybe they can recruit folks like IBM to supply the hardware behind their software, but that's essentially a marriage of convenience, and certainly not a strategic play.

I don't think AWS understands enterprise IT, and what the world looks like through that lens. Given their growth rates elsewhere, maybe they don't need to.

AWS and their services can certainly be part of the answer, but I just can't see them being "the answer".

I believe that there's a clear gap in the market when it comes to IaaS and what's next.

Simply put, the world needs an IaaS that works the way enterprise IT does.

Warts and all.


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For Even More Reading ...

Soapbox2I must be getting old.  I can't remember whether I mentioned it here or not.  

I've been writing pieces for Forbes for a while now, and just realized that I've built up a decent number of articles there.

You'll note that the tone and target audience is a bit different than what I do here.  

I think some of the pieces came out pretty well, if I do say so myself :)

Chuck's articles on Forbes


When Cloud Ate Hyperconverged

WritingLast week, I wrote a blog post "Why I've Lost Interest In Hyperconverged".

My argument, in a nutshell, was that the central value proposition for hyperconverged was taking cost out of infrastructure by consolidating less-important applications.

That creates two strategic problems for its vendors.

First, as it's all about saving money and not providing any relevant application-specific differentiation, all players will soon be in a race to the bottom: who can do the job for the least money?

Second, if the primary customer motivation is cost reduction, the next logical step would be to ship those virtualized clusters off to some sort of public cloud. Especially if it was super-easy to do so.

Basically, game over for on-premises vendors at that point. Once a workload has gone to the public cloud, there is precisely zero economic opportunity left for any of the familiar hyperconverged players because -- well -- none of them have a public cloud.

BuzzwordThis move to the public cloud is not simple hand-waving on my part. It's way easier than you think, and is being widely used today.

I'm going to use Oracle Ravello as just one example as to why I am resolute in my prediction that -- before too long -- the hyperconverged category will collapse into the black hole of commoditization and irrelevance.

And, as a special bonus, I'll arm you with a new buzzword to impress your friends: cloud hypervisor.

Nothing Like Kicking The Hornets Nest

HornetsI always find it disheartening when people who might disagree with me decide to discredit me (or question my motives) rather than take on the arguments themselves. In my opinion, ad hominem attacks are tools of the insecure. I try to avoid that kind of behavior at all costs.

Their basic argument is -- since I work for Oracle, how can anyone believe what I say? While it is true that I am employed by Oracle (and it inevitably colors my perspective), my employer does have the luxury of not betting its future on a single industry category, unlike some of the respondents.

I am thus free to speak my mind, and say things that others can't.

Another respondent wondered if I was instructed to write that post by a higher power (untrue), or if it was some sort of retaliation on my part (also untrue). Sorry, I can't provide evidence for either statement, you'll just have to trust me.

Here's my big thought: the first wave of hypervisors changed the way we consumed physical hardware. And now, the next wave of "cloud hypervisors" will change the way we consume hypervisors.

Welcome To Oracle Ravello

Let's say you're running vSphere clusters, or perhaps some of the newer KVM clusters.

Maybe you're out of capacity, out of budget, or both. Cloud, anyone?

You'd like to keep some of your more important workloads around, but you wouldn't be opposed to pushing a few of the less important ones out to a public cloud as long as (a) the process was trivial, (b) the cluster configurations themselves weren't modified in any way, and (c) you had some decent choices as to which cloud and which location.

HVXIn a nutshell, that's what the Oracle Ravello cloud service does.

It encapsulates entire application clusters, abstracts compute, network and storage, and then gives you a choice as to which public cloud instance you'd like to run on -- optimized for cost or performance. In addition to Oracle Cloud, AWS and Google are supported.

Oracle Ravello does not require any hypervisor license. It does not modify your VMs or their network/storage configuration. At any time, you can pull your environment back on-premises, or push them to another cloud. It does require that you use their GUI (or APIs)  to monitor and control your VMs.

You pay Ravello for what you use, Ravello pays the public cloud provider. A simple estimator helps you to figure out what it's likely to cost you.  That's about it.

The ideal use case, obviously, would be for people doing development and test on larger, multi-VM application landscapes. And, indeed, that's one of the primary use cases where it is being used today. Software demos and training environments are popular, as well as considerable amount of low-end production workloads.

The service has been available for quite a while, and has an impressive roster of users all with glowing reviews. And anyone can try it for free for 14 days -- no credit card required.

A Bigger Lens?

CloudgrowthStudents of IT history will recall that hypervisors got their start in development and testing environments.

HVX (the technology behind Oracle Ravello) can best be described as a "cloud hypervisor", as it encapsulates a given virtualized environment and completely abstracts away the architectural differences between various public clouds.  It too is gaining a strong foothold in exactly the same way as legacy hypervisors before it.

As I mentioned above, the first wave of hypervisors changed the way we consumed physical hardware, all for the better. I would argue that this next wave of cloud hypervisors will change the way we consume legacy hypervisors.

We will no longer be bound to a particular flavor of hypervisor (if we choose) much in the way we aren't bound to a particular flavor of x86 hardware today.

Put differently, the on-premises hypervisor wars are coming to a close; as well as the hyperconverged architectures built around them. Case in point: VMware's latest cloud strategy, fresh from VMworld. Personal reaction: quite underwhleming and disappointing as I've always been such a fan.

To me, it was a clear sign of a changing of the guard. The IT world is evolving, and there isn't much VMware can do about it. One of the stories told about VMware's founders is that they wanted to create software that would be used in every data center.

They did that, and were amazingly successful.

But what about a world where people don't want to own data centers any more?

A Hypothetical Rebuttal?

GotchaThe on-premises hypervisor and hyperconverged vendors will justifiably point to features X, Y and Z that the Oracle Ravello service doesn't suppport today. Gotcha!

My pre-emptive response: (1) not every workload demands those features, so why pay for them? (2) the Ravello roadmap is quite healthy and very agile, and (3) the service is awfully cheap/easy, and works precisely as advertised.

Oracle Ravello may be the first successful example of a cloud hypervisor, but others are sure to come before long.  Welcome to a new industry category.

In a world of cloud hypervisors, it just got all that more difficult for legacy on-premises vendors to justify their existence.

And if your primary reason for existing is cost reduction, best of luck competing with public cloud economics.




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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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