Tuesday, August 1, 2017

Dr. StrangeCloud – Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Cloud

I wrote this blog a few years ago when I was still CTO at VMware. I didn't realize it was published on the web by VMware until someone sent me this link today. The last paragraph is a sales pitch for VMware products so I've deleted it below but the rest is a fairly honest assessment of the cloud and its impact on infrastructure that I still stand by.

Dr. StrangeCloud – Or, How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Love the Cloud

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By Ben Fathi, Chief Technology Officer, VMware
Marc Andreesen famously wrote “Why Software is Eating the World” in August 2011:
“More and more major businesses and industries are being run on software and delivered as online services—from movies to agriculture to national defense. Many of the winners are Silicon Valley-style entrepreneurial technology companies that are invading and overturning established industry structures. Over the next 10 years, I expect many more industries to be disrupted by software, with new world-beating Silicon Valley companies doing the disruption in more cases than not.”
A scant three years later, it’s time for us to admit that software has already eaten the world. It’s also time for us to get over it and start dealing with the consequences.
Here’s a simple challenge: Name one industry or a single aspect of our social lives that hasn’t been dramatically and irreversibly changed by the power of software. Whether entertainment or education, travel or medicine, genetics or physics, banking or shopping, driving or communicating – I challenge you to find a single activity not influenced by or totally redefined through software. Entire industries – travel agencies, bookstores, photography labs, music stores, telcos – have either disappeared or have had to reinvent themselves to survive.
Until recently, incumbents routinely enjoyed decades of prosperity in every industry – including software. But in this brave new world, whether consumer or enterprise, we are innovating at such a pace that products introduced just a few years ago are already obsolete or being disrupted. As computation and storage costs continue to decrease and network bandwidth increases – as computing finally becomes a true utility – we’ll find more and more applications that can benefit from the power of software.
We are truly starting to live in a digital universe with software at the core of everything we do.
Just like we stream or download our movies and music today rather than going to Blockbuster or Tower Records, we download most of our applications from the internet as well. When was the last time you installed software by going to Best Buy and buying a shrink-wrapped box? The new cloud-based consumption experience is more convenient. It gets rids of the inventory problem, the manufacturing problem and the supply chain problem, but it also presents new challenges. Having these services available 24×7 is no simple feat. To pull it off, we run massive data centers in the cloud, with software designed to be resilient and scalable.
I sincerely believe we are at an inflection point in the history of computing. The future will be “cloudy” – not just for consumers but for enterprises too. The massive and unmistakable move toward cloud computing further reduces the barrier to entry for startups and simplifies the consumption experience dramatically.
We’re already seeing this in the consumer space as the complexity of Windows has given way to the simplicity of Android and iOS—simple operating systems augmented by compelling cloud services, with “worry free” upgrade and maintenance.
The same benefits apply to enterprise software as well.. Many categories of enterprise software are now being delivered as cloud based services: Salesforce for CRM, LinkedIn for recruiting, Workday for HR, Office365 for productivity, etc. Even infrastructure, such as servers and storage, can now be consumed through the Internet with IaaS offerings from the various public cloud providers.
Now let’s put ourselves in our customers’ shoes for a minute: As a progressive virtual infrastructure/private cloud admin, I would like to install the latest release of vSphere once a year so I can get access to the latest innovations from VMware and its partner ecosystem. Realistically, though, upgrading to a new version is often tied to hardware refresh cycles, so I may have to wait 3-4 years for the latest innovations. I also have a lot invested in high-end storage gear and network switches, so I want to continue to utilize them. As part of the upgrade process, I will have to install the right third-party drivers and firmware on the servers and the SAN arrays and the network switches, install and configure disaster recovery solutions, etc. In essence, I become the system integrator and take on a significant amount of work for my IT organization, in the process creating a bespoke environment that is different from every other enterprise.
Now let’s switch hats for a minute and become a “cloud” customer.  I pull out my credit card, go to www.vcloudair.com (or one of our 4,000 or so service provider partners in the VMware vCloud® Air™ Network), click a few buttons, and I’m up and running my application in minutes. If I need high availability, I just check a little box that says “Make my workload resilient to two simultaneous infrastructure failures” and the cloud takes care of the rest.
You will correctly point out that I’m comparing apples to oranges here. I’ve just outsourced my IT to VMware by using their cloud. Some poor administrator is still installing software on those servers somewhere and maintaining them. True enough, but that’s our specialty and I think we’re better positioned to handle it. The key point here is that the cloud provider optimizes their capital expenditure and operational costs by drastically reducing the hardware and software configurations that he supports to provide the service.
Let’s face it. The cloud experience is a major leap ahead of any improvements we can ever make to the “shrink-wrapped” experience. Even if we ship perfect bug-free software, we are still asking the admin to do integration of all the third party components on-site and to manage the lifecycle of all these products by performing upgrades and patching. Increasingly, admins (and CIOs) today are being asked to choose between this model and the cloud model.
... [Rest of blog (VMWare-specific comments) available here] ...