Commoditization and economies of scale drive cloud computing. We've seen before what commoditization means to the IT industry: It stimulates standardization and consolidation to serve a volume market. The success of x86-based CPUs, which dominate everything from data centers to high-performance computing, is a common example. In the software industry, commoditization raised standards and led to the commercial adoption of open source.
It is impossible to imagine a corporate data center without Linux. Even if it’s not used under the core applications, Linux is present in web servers, routers, firewalls, and storage appliances. Upcoming cloud computing providers face increasing price pressures and must therefore provide greater economies of scale than the majority of corporate data centers. They use Linux heavily as an operating system today.
But open source goes beyond Linux for cloud providers. Many providers of public cloud services (or the more local flavor of virtual private clouds) have realized that developing a full cloud computing management stack requires significant software development efforts. Some of the leading midrange cloud providers, such as Rackspace, as well as several cloud component vendors (such as cloud billing systems) support an open source initiative called OpenStack. The goal is to provide a full cloud management stack based on open source for cloud providers and large-scale corporate data centers, such as NASA. What a Linux distribution was for a traditional server, OpenStack is for a full cloud provider business model, regardless of privacy level — public, private, or virtual private.
The Nebula appliance announced today jumps right into this space and provides a standardized hardware configuration for OpenStack implementations. It offers scaled-out compute power based on commoditized x86 CPUs and standardizes a configuration of switches and other components to glue a large number of these CPUs together. The new VC-backed startup will thus compete head to head with EMC’s Vblock and Microsoft’s Azure appliance; neither of these are based on open source, and the latter isn’t really on the market yet.
But Nebula is more than just a hardware deliverable. Its mission is to transparently standardize the cloud hardware stack. Basically, it’s nothing more than the complex specification Microsoft worked out with its hardware partners (Dell, Fujitsu, and HP) to deliver the Azure appliance to local cloud providers and large-scale private clouds. However, Nebula’s openness is the differentiator; it reminds me a bit of IBM’s approach around the original personal computer back in the 1970s. Sure, it enabled hardware competitors to produce compatible PCs — but it also brought mass adoption of the PC, outperforming Apple over four decades.
If Nebula delivers a compelling price point, it has an appealing approach that could gain significant share in the growing cloud hardware market. If the new company aims to spur a revolution similar to that of the PC, its founders need to tweak their strategy soon:
What does this mean? Mobile, video-communicating, iWorkers will be able stay connected easily and affordably later this quarter when all of these components are generally available. Using the PC client, a very portable codec (about the size of a half-notebook at 8” x 5” x 1”) and camera, and a hosted bridging service, these iWorkers can connect to many standards-based, open video endpoints at HD resolutions. The required components are:
LifeSize Connections service - $360/year.
LifeSize Passport Connect codec and camera - $1,000 up front.
Mirial ClearSea client account - $480/year (this is available today, and it worked well when I tried it).
I just returned from Las Vegas where my meetings with Cisco executives, including John Chambers, Gary Moore, David Hsieh, Murali Sitaram, Kara Wilson, and OJ Winge, clearly demonstrated that Cisco is still moving forward. John Chambers and his team were in lockstep talking about two things: corporate strategic imperatives and organizational foundations for success
I believe that Cisco is sounding very much like a mature market leader as it balances risks and rewards in the rapidly changing markets for networking and collaboration. Precise financial measures got little talk time, but there were plenty of mentions that forward-looking statements do not supersede financial guidance given at regular updates — the team was focused on Cisco's plans to fuel future innovation, maintain its market position, and continue working on strategic relationship development with its most important customers.
John and the entire Cisco management team are focused on five corporate strategic imperatives:
Core routing/switching innovation and optimization.
Virtualization (including data center and cloud) technologies.
Video as a primary communication medium and IT task.
Architecture — defining and delivering IT architecture for businesses and service providers.
I am starting a report looking at the social capabilities that will be of use to business and how those integrate (or don’t) with existing unified communications and collaborations solutions (UC&C). One truism that I am incorporating into my thinking is that engagement — users want to come back and use a tool because it was easy, useful, and (gasp) fun — will drive adoption, and thus penetration and ultimately business value. This seems to be the way that Mark Zuckerberg is thinking about Facebook growth as well. In his discussion of the integration with Skype yesterday, he posited that user volume is not the metric to watch for Facebook right now — despite its attainment of 750 million users. So what does Facebook see as its strategic imperative, and how does Skype help it attain that?
It’s not the absolute number — it’s the ubiquity. If it is reasonable for people to find information or people on Skype, it will accelerate the momentum of adoption. Something Forrester has been saying since 2008.
It’s not the people — it’s the activities you do jointly with the people. “Farmville,” “Friend,” “Group,” “Like,” “Stalk,” “Status,” and “Wall” are all words with new or special meaning to users because they describe what they do on Facebook. This is the engagement point from above — it’s not who you connect with, but what that connection enables you to do with them.
Many non-US organizations operate under privacy regulations that require that customer data remain within their countries or jurisdictions. In response, US cloud providers build data centers and host their applications inside countries that they're selling their solutions to.
However, all this is nothing but theater. These requirements are far more useful as a local jobs program rather than as an effective privacy practice. I've warned about this before: Any US vendor is going to be handing over data under a US subpoena, and most certainly under a National Security Letter. It doesn't matter if it resides in a data center on US soil, in the EU, or even in outer space.
So it's refreshing to see a vendor openly admit this, as Microsoft has.
Maybe now that we're all starting to be honest with each other this issue will gain some traction, and vendors will begin to incorporate some real data protection measures into our cloud environments, such as encrypting the data in such a way where only customers - not the cloud providers - have the keys. I suspect we'll start to see such requirements begin to show up in a lot of RFPs.