I attended Interop last week for the first time to participate in its cloud computing track (I spoke on cloud computing total cost of ownership). Several things stood out for me:
Cloud computing is hot. The cloud computing track sessions at Interop were well-attended and the audiences were highly engaged--always a sign of a topic in which the audience members are personally involved. The session organization, Alistair Croll (@acroll on Twitter), did a great job of putting together a heterogeneous mix of topics--devops (which I blogged about over the past few weeks here and here), legal issues, and private cloud (which I blogged about last week) as well as cloud economics (yours truly).
Clouds and Enterprises
There was a good panel on how different enterprises are using cloud computing. A common drawback to these kind of sessions is that the enterprises represented are interesting, but don't seem that "enterprisey" if I may coin a word. In other words, a company like Netflix presents on how they use Amazon Web Services (AWS) to transcode their movies to prepare them for online delivery. A great use case, but I'm not sure everyone thinks of Netflix as an "enterprise."
However, this panel had someone from Domino's, which is pretty mainstream. Domino's currently has a server in every one of its stores (must be a real admin headache, one would think) and is considering, I gather, moving to serving those computing needs via cloud computing. One of the panelists works for Reddit, a subsidiary of Conde Nast; despite the parent company having a centralized IT organization, Reddit runs on AWS because it's cheaper and faster than central IT. This with the approval the parent company's CTO.
The example illustrates an emerging theme: individual business units pursuing cloud initiatives due to dissatisfaction with internal IT agility or cost. Here is a link to a very good blog posting on the session, written by Larissa Fair, who I was sitting next to at the session; she works at ScienceLogic, which managed the Interop network center.
The best attended session of the tracks was the one on private cloud--not an empty seat in the room. It's title was "Private Clouds are Just Another Name for IT Done Right." Alistair moderated the session, which had Steve Riley of Amazon and John Stetic of Novell as panel members. There was general agreement among the panelists and audience members that private clouds required IT done right, defined as fully virtualized infrastructures, repeatable and transparent processes, transparent pricing. At that point, things diverged widely. Alistair and Steve strongly stated that internal IT groups could not reach the "best of breed" level of capability that public cloud providers attain. John took a middle road, arguing that internal IT groups have the tools to achieve high efficiency. The audience--to a person--maintained that private cloud was the only way to go.
I posed a question to the audience: "IT budgets are tight; we hear about budget cuts and spending lids all the time. It seems to me that 'IT done right' will require significant investment in new hardware, software tools, and employee education. How will you afford the investment in a budget-constrained environment so that you can reach the efficiencies of cloud providers?"
There was general silence in the room until one fellow raised his hand and said "we don't necessarily have to be that good, but if we're just a little better than we are now." Without trying to sound harsh toward the individual, it seems to me that this is a completely inadequate response. Justifying a significant investment on the basis of marginal improvement seems like a non-starter and practically guarantee a directive to start using public cloud providers. This kind of internal focus ("we're better than we used to be") and a refusal to recognize the easily availability of external benchmarks (i.e., the publicly posted pricing of the on-demand public cloud providers) does not build a strong business case for investment in a private cloud. And, in light of the "Clouds and Enterprise" example cited above, perhaps is going to be overtaken by events.
The Show Floor: Nothing but Cloud
The Interop Show Floor itself, surprisingly, had a very small section devoted to cloud computing, populated mostly by startups. On the rest of the show floor, however, every company had cloud smeared all over their product descriptions, even for products that seemed very far afield from cloud computing, and even for products that are antithetical to cloud computing.
I heard quite a few complaints about this "cloudwashing." The attempt to wrap one's products in a cloud covering is understandable, since it provides a glimmer of technical hipness. In reaction to this trend, I even heard a few people voicing a hope that we could go back to using the term "utility computing." I think it's a bit late for that, though, and probably a good thing.
Cloud computing is perhaps too vague and subject to misrepresentation, but at least it doesn't act as a soporific like "utility computing" does. I'm getting sleepy just typing the words!
Cloud Computing and the Law
Nolan Goldberg of the Proskauer law firm presented a session on the legal questions surrounding cloud computing. It was easily the best presentation on this topic I have ever seen. Most legal discussion of cloud computing I've seen mention European privacy requirements, talk about 'who owns your data,' and present some questions about SLAs--all of it in a superficial fashion. Nolan mentioned all of these topics and some other ones as well, but presented more information about them and even cited recent cases that might affect how these issues could be interpreted in the future. I hope he puts his slides up on Slideshare, as they're well worth viewing.
Bernard Golden is CEO of consulting firm HyperStratus, which specializes in virtualization, cloud computing and related issues. He is also the author of "Virtualization for Dummies," the best-selling book on virtualization to date.
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