Brocade isn’t the loudest networking vendor on the block, but more than two weeks ago it released a subscription switching service that should have sent a shockwave through the industry. With Brocade Network Subscription,customers pay for their network infrastructure on a monthly basis. Sadly, the new service was not some new xfabric or new-fangled technology, the industry was quick to dismiss the news as anything more than another cloud announcement, and so Brocade’s subscription program registered only a murmur. What was missed was that the service helps to solidify I&O as a business unit on the same level as manufacturing, services, energy, and other businesses.
I’ve written extensively about how networking solutions need to support two business realities: 1) Enterprises are embedding themselves in their customers’ lives, and 2) businesses are forming symbiotic relationships with their vendors. In regard to the latter, businesses want to ensure that their vendor is creating products and solutions that are in the best interest of that company, and so there is an expectation that their partners will carry some of the financial risk and burden, ensuring that they will stay committed. On the vendor side and with respect to embedding themselves, the reasoning is twofold. First, Wall Street rewards recurring revenue streams, and this is more likely if the vendor can create something the customers can only get from that particular source. Second, vendors know it costs ten times as much to find new customers and would prefer to have a customer keep coming back to keep their operating costs as low as possible.
As a result, there has been a shift to a subscription service model. Take for example three distinct markets that support this strategy:
I’ve always looked at technology not just for technology’s sake, but for what it can enable for the business across the board. While speeds and feeds are important to some extent, I need to understand how technology adds to the top line, plain and simple. In today’s enterprises, your technology platform is part of your competitive advantage. It’s been a challenge to link business and IT together, but we’re starting to see it happen.
There’s no other place I’m starting to see it more and more than in the area of "Big Data." Although already a hyped term, whatever you want to call it, big data, small data, ANY data, the reality is that it’s exploding. Consumers are empowered by social media and sharing honest feedback. Sales and marketing organizations are hungry to analyze, as close to real time as possible, all this sentiment and feedback, and other external data from blogs, wikis, online surveys, Twitter, Facebook and the tons of other consumer sites. This in turn allows them to re-iterate, revamp, revise and/or further tailor their products and offerings for a more targeted audience. Other areas, such as finance and HR, also want to analyze their own internal data from enterprise applications and internal collaboration tools, in order to better service their employees/customers and maintain employee satisfaction. The reality is that there is data coming from everywhere, in every way shape and form.
I just attended IDF and I’ve got to say, Intel has certainly gotten the cloud message. Almost everything is centered on clouds, from the high-concept keynotes to the presentations on low-level infrastructure, although if you dug deep enough there was content for general old-fashioned data center and I&O professionals. Some highlights:
Chips and processors and low-level hardware
Intel is, after all, a semiconductor foundry, and despite their expertise in design, their true core competitive advantage is their foundry operations – even their competitors grudgingly acknowledge that they can manufacture semiconductors better than anyone else on the planet. As a consequence, showing off new designs and processes is always front and center at IDF, and this year was no exception. Last year it was Sandy Bridge, the 22nm shrink of the 32nm Westmere (although Sandy Bridge also incorporated some significant design improvements). This year it was Ivy Bridge, the 22nm “tick” of the Intel “tick-tock” design cycle. Ivy Bridge is the new 22nm architecture and seems to have inherited Intel’s recent focus on power efficiency, with major improvements beyond the already solid advantages of their 22nm process, including deeper P-States and the ability to actually shut down parts of the chip when it is idle. While they did not discuss the server variants in any detail, the desktop versions will get an entirely new integrated graphics processor which they are obviously hoping will blunt AMD’s resurgence in client systems. On the server side, if I were to guess, I would guess more cores and larger caches, along with increased support for virtualization of I/O beyond what they currently have.
Well, maybe everybody is saying “cloud” these days, but my first impression of Microsoft Windows Server 8 (not the final name) is that Microsoft has been listening very closely to what customers want from an OS that can support both public and private enterprise cloud implementations. And most importantly, the things that they have built into WS8 for “clouds” also look like they make life easier for plain old enterprise IT.
Microsoft appears to have focused its efforts on several key themes, all of which benefit legacy IT architectures as well as emerging clouds:
Management, migration and recovery of VMs in a multi-system domain – Major improvements in Hyper-V and management capabilities mean that I&O groups can easily build multi-system clusters of WS8 servers, and easily migrate VMs across system boundaries. Muplitle systems can be clustered with Fibre Channel, making it easier to implement high-performance clusters.
Multi-tenancy – A host of features, primarily around management and role-based delegation that make it easier and more secure to implement multi-tenant VM clouds.
Recovery and resiliency – Microsoft claims that they can failover VMs from one machine to another in 25 seconds, a very impressive number indeed. While vendor performance claims are always like EPA mileage – you are guaranteed never to exceed this number – this is an impressive claim and a major capability, with major implications for HA architecture in any data center.
On 22-Nov-2010, Attachmate Corporation announced it was acquiring the assets of Novell, Inc. Once on top of the IT world, Novell's glory had clearly faded. Along the way, however, it acquired several attractive assets of its own (e.g., PlateSpin, Managed Objects). Towards the end of its independence, the future certainly looked bleak for Novell and especially its management software businesses.
The immediate reaction to the Attachmate acquisition was skepticism among most industry watchers, including yours truly. My reaction was similar when Attachmate acquired NetIQ. After all, what rationale is there to a legacy mainframe software company buying either NetIQ or Novell? The perception was that all of these product families would be milked for their maintenance revenue and innovation, and other development would be killed. It now appears these fears were largely unfounded, though I stand by my original skepticism. Veterans like me have seen such things unravel before.
The various Novell assets have been redistributed across four companies in the Attachmate Group, with the management assets being assimilated under the NetIQ brand. While a full merger of the NetIQ and Novell assets will take at least a year, the (now) NetIQ team has moved with impressive speed to launch its initial consolidated families.
When Something Is So Good, It's Hard To Imagine It Will Ever Be Matched
The famous connoisseur Jim Murray said of the 1974 Ardbeg Provenance: "This is the finest whisky I have ever tasted. As close to perfection as makes no difference." Ever notice that every once in a while, something comes along in which it seems heaven, earth and the stars were aligned? It's as if all of the ingredients came together to create something so amazing, it's hard to imagine it could ever be matched.
Microsoft Excel Is IT's Answer To The 1974 Ardbeg Provenance
I felt this way when I used Microsoft Excel in 1996. At the time I was a geologist responsible for accurately steering an oil drilling bit 3,000 meters below the surface of a Montana farm field. With Excel and the magical help of John Walkenbach's advanced Excel programming books, I could create a graphical representation of the well bore's profile from downhole telemetry data, condensed so that the drillers and I could easily see which way the bit was going thanks to Excel's charting functions and some tricky Visual Basic wizardry. It seemed there was nothing that Excel could not do.
Used In Ways The Designers Never Imagined
I am certain that the designers of Excel never envisioned that use case (I know this because one of the original product managers is a former colleague and we talked about it), but the product was so functional that a skilled user could make it do virtually anything. It saved us literally days of drilling at $30,000 per day because we could see so much more easily what was going on beneath our feet. We could drill a well an average of 20% faster than our competitors - a significant advantage when at the time the price of oil was so low, that the profit from the wells would take 5 years or more to be realized.
Last year at VMworld I noted Xsigo Systems, a small privately held company at VMworld showing their I/O Director technology, which delivereda subset of HP Virtual Connect or Cisco UCS I/O virtualization capability in a fashion that could be consumed by legacy rack-mount servers from any vendor. I/O Director connects to the server with one or more 10 G Ethernet links, and then splits traffic out into enterprise Ethernet and FC networks. On the server side, the applications, including VMware, see multiple virtual NICs and HBAs courtesy of Xsigo’s proprietary virtual NIC driver.
Controlled via Xsigo’s management console, the server MAC and WWNs can be programmed, and the servers can now connect to multiple external networks with fewer cables and substantially lower costs for NIC and HBA hardware. Virtualized I/O is one of the major transformative developments in emerging data center architecture, and will remain a theme in Forrester’s data center research coverage.
This year at VMworld, Xsigo announced a major expansion of their capabilities – Xsigo Server Fabric, which takes the previous rack-scale single-Xsigo switch domains and links them into a data-center-scale fabric. Combined with improvements in the software and UI, Xsigo now claims to offer one-click connection of any server resource to any network or storage resource within the domain of Xsigo’s fabric. Most significantly, Xsigo’s interface is optimized to allow connection of VMs to storage and network resources, and to allow the creation of private VM-VM links.
Oscar Wilde once said that "The cynic knows the price of everything and the value of nothing." I shudder to think what young Oscar would have said about I&O organizations that don’t know what it costs to deliver individual IT services let alone the value they deliver to the business. Just knowing that it costs “x” annually to “run IT” is no longer enough.
This might appear a little random at first but I was reminded of something I wrote two years ago when informed last week of a CIO fired because they couldn't articulate the value their IT team delivered to the business.
So ask yourself, “what value does IT deliver to the business?” Not in generic terms like business process-enablement and technology-supported efficiencies. What does the money we invest in IT each year actually deliver to the business in terms of value? More importantly, which IT services deliver the most value and which deliver little or no value?
Hold on a minute though. Do you actually know what “value” is from a business perspective? I’m not talking about the value I&O believes its IT services deliver; I’m talking about what the business thinks.
Am I moving too fast? Let’s take stock of the status quo.
“I remember when I lost my mind” … oops that’s Gnarls Barkley. I should have started with … I remember when software asset management (SAM) was on my radar as an IT service management (ITSM) practitioner. It was circa 2003, and my then employer was scared to death of the implications of non-compliance. We did some ground work but IMO it somewhat “died a death” when we realized that we had no idea where all the purchase records were – let’s assume they are all compliant now. Since then I have viewed SAM as just being on the to-do list for far too many organizations, never quite making it into the realms of actual “doing.” Sad but true.
Thankfully, however, my first three months at Forrester is changing this opinion – as 30% to 40% of my client inquiries relate to IT asset management (ITAM) and SAM (if you are interested the other 60% to 70% relate to ITIL adoption, process improvement, and ITSM tool selection – there’s a lot of tool replacement going on). SAM is rising from the ashes of its compliance era, in many ways this time “it’s all about the Benjamins.”