Last summer a CIO for a high profile ecommerce company told me that the smartest way to play the cloud was to rent the spike. I just read the same thing from Zynga’s Infrastructure CTO Allan Leinwand in Inside Zynga’s Big Move To Private Cloud by InformationWeek’s Charles Babcock:
“We own the base, rent the spike. We want a hybrid operation. We love knowing that shock absorber is there.” – Allan Leinwand
In 2008 when we formed the Infrastructure 2.0 working group, many of the most influential voices were trumpeting a new (8th) layer in the OSI stack as a solution to the critical ability to move workloads between clouds. I remember watching senior executives from Cisco, F5, and others roll their eyes when one of the participants was sketching out what would have been a massive re-architecting of the network as we know it.
Those of us absorbed in the workings of the working group saw the network as strategic to the evolution of the cloud (see Urquhart blog “The network: the final frontier for cloud computing”). Yet the traditional network hardware players could be at risk as private clouds explore x86-centric solutions that avoid the perils of politics (what a senior cloud exec at a recent Gartner conference called the 8th layer), ASIC churn and “packet ping pong complexity” as dedicated physical appliances are under more scrutiny in virtualized environments where networks are terminating inside the hypervisor, in a privileged layer in front of the VMs.
Sensors, shims and hairpins connecting x86 blades with arrays of specialized network appliances are temporary fixes and are as compelling today as the conventional and wasteful data center built to last less than seven years (and only to be replaced by yet another massive 7 year investment). As IT infrastructure becomes more robust and dynamic the facilities need to be designed to address the new demands, including increased power, cooling and density.
What I took from my campfire chat with a PayPal exec and the Leinwand interview: innovative companies have found ways to move virtual machines between clouds and that has given them considerable competitive advantages over peer companies trying to shim the network with elaborate schemes or create an eighth layer. They are also using commoditized hardware increasingly to deliver highly custom infrastructures, tightly aligned with their applications and services, that can easily scale.
Looking back, it seems that what was once custom (like the arcane world of ASIC-based network appliances) will go (x86)vanilla and what was once commodity (one design fits all network management software differentiable by release date and requiring ever more complex additional management software) is being increasingly customized by enterprise to enable strategic advantage.
Note my earlier blog about Looking Beyond the Vanilla Data Center, where I argued that the once commodity “one design fits all” data center with fixed modules and vanilla electrical and mechanical design would be under increasing pressure from developers who build highly custom facilities optimized for extreme energy efficiency, scalability and alignment with strategic operational objectives.
Contrary to Carr’s Does IT Matter? Information Technology and the Corrosion of Competitive Advantage, enterprises are gaining more control over their applications, services and even data center environments thanks to the commoditization of server hardware and the potential of commoditization of network hardware. They are utilizing IT to an even fuller extent to gain competitive advantage.
Consumerization is creeping into IT with as much speed as it has spread to users. That means more choice, more differentiation and more influence over future vendor releases and the design and construction of new data centers.
If you want to track the evolution of the wholesale data center space from vanilla to high efficiency and customization, check out the following articles from this week:
Recent ARCHIMEDIUS blog mention of x86 network inspired by Gartner DC conference: Getting a Mindful from Gartner Summit: Virtualization, Networks and Data Centers « ARCHIMEDIUS.
If you are an editor or analyst and we missed connecting during our recent tour, feel free to drop me a line and I’ll send you our slide deck, and/or we can set up a follow-on briefing.