Have you seen the movie Birdman — the one that just won the Best Picture and Best Director Oscars? It’s about a middle-aged man who was once a popular movie star but has been criticized throughout his career and how he finally achieved a breakthrough performance and found great success in a Broadway production of the play What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.
The story of Microsoft Azure is similar. Microsoft was hugely popular in the age of the PC but has sailed into troubled waters in the cloud era. But now — a year after Azure’s commercial launch in China — CIOs and EA professionals must understand how and where Azure might impact their existing MSFT technology investments to achieve business transformation. Azure is one of the leading forces driving cloud adoption in China. We attribute this to the progress that Microsoft has made by:
Expanding product offerings.Microsoft Azure now has local products in four key categories: compute, network, data, and application. Beyond basic components like virtual machines, websites, storage, and content delivery networks, Azure also has advanced features that are important for Chinese customers to address their unique challenges, including mobile services for the rapid development of mobile apps to accommodate the massive shift to mobile; a service bus for integration to eliminate information silos in the cloud; and HDInsight for big data capabilities to gain the customer insights necessary to compete with digital disruption from local Internet companies.
I’ve been talking to a number of users and providers of bare-metal cloud services, and am finding the common threads among the high-profile use cases both interesting individually and starting to connect some dots in terms of common use cases for these service providers who provide the ability to provision and use dedicated physical servers with very similar semantics to the common VM IaaS cloud – servers that can be instantiated at will in the cloud, provisioned with a variety of OS images, be connected to storage and run applications. The differentiation for the customers is in behavior of the resulting images:
Deterministic performance – Your workload is running on a dedicated resource, so there is no question of any “noisy neighbor” problem, or even of sharing resources with otherwise well-behaved neighbors.
Extreme low latency – Like it or not, VMs, even lightweight ones, impose some level of additional latency compared to bare-metal OS images. Where this latency is a factor, bare-metal clouds offer a differentiated alternative.
Raw performance – Under the right conditions, a single bare-metal server can process more work than a collection of VMs, even when their nominal aggregate performance is similar. Benchmarking is always tricky, but several of the bare metal cloud vendors can show some impressive comparative benchmarks to prospective customers.
The rise of the DevOps role in the enterprise and the increasing requirements of agility beyond infrastructure and applications make the platform-as-a-service (PaaS) market one to watch for both CIOs and enterprise architecture professionals. On December 9, the membership of Cloud Foundry, a major PaaS open source project, announced the formation of the Cloud Foundry Foundation.
In my view, this is as important as the establishment of OpenStack foundation in 2012, which was a game-changing move for the cloud industry. Here’s why:
PaaS is becoming an important alternative to middleware stacks. Forrester defines PaaS as a complete application platform for multitenant cloud environments that includes development tools, runtime, and administration and management tools and services. (See our Forrester Wave evaluation for more detail on the space and its vendors.) In the cloud era, it’s a transformational alternative to established middleware stacks for the development, deployment, and administration of custom applications in a modern application platform, serving as a strategic layer between infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and software-as-a-service (SaaS) with innovative tools.
Cloud Foundry is one major open source PaaS software. Cloud Foundry as a technology was designed and architected by Derek Collison and built in the Ruby and Go programming languages by Derek and Vadim Spivak (wiki is wrong!). VMware released it as open source in 2011 after Derek joined the company. Early adopters of Cloud Foundry include large multinationals like Verizon, SAP, NTT, and SAS, as well as Chinese Internet giants like Baidu.
My January 2013 report “PaaS Market Dynamics in China, 2012 To 2017,” forecast that China’s platform-as-a-service (PaaS) market would remain in flux until 2015. But now I think it will take even longer for the cloud landscape in China to consolidate and stabilize, for three reasons:
1. The boundary between infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and PaaS is breaking down.
2. Emerging technologies like Docker are having an impact on technology and mindsets.
3. China has emerging startups in both the IaaS and PaaS segments.
The startups mainly focus on differentiating the cloud user experience by automating various layers to deliver unique value to potential adopters of cloud solutions. They include:
QingCloud.Founded in 2012, QingCloud raised US$20 million in Series B funding in January 2014. Its IaaS offerings for public and virtual private cloud include computing (image and instances), network (VxNet, routing, elastic IP, and load balancing), storage (volume and snapshot), database (MySQL-based, master/slave synchronization support with auto-snapshot), security (group policy and SSH key pair login), and management features (web console to deploy, manage, and monitor resources), which are billed on a per-second basis.
Practice makes perfect. In daily life, if someone has proven experience and a good reputation in specific area for relatively long time, we would normally consider them to be trustworthy. For example, if Amazon Web Services claimed that it was a trusted public cloud service provider — if not the most trusted provider — not many professionals in the US would argue against that.
However, this does not necessarily hold true in China; cloud service providers need to receive an official authorization from the government that certifies them as a provider of trusted cloud services (TRUCS). I recently attended the International Mobile and Internet Conference, where I got an update on TRUCS.
TRUCS is an official recognition of standards compliance and quality. TRUCS is issued by the trusted cloud servicesworking group of the China Academy of Telecommunications Research of the Ministry of Industry and Information Technology. The working group defined the basic principles in June 2013; earlier this year, it finalized the evaluation standards in the form of a cloud service agreement reference framework.
On April 23, IBM rolled out the long-awaited POWER8 CPU, the successor to POWER7+, and given the extensive pre-announcement speculation, the hardware itself was no big surprise (the details are fascinating, but not suitable for this venue), offering an estimated 30 - 50% improvement in application performance over the latest POWER7+, with potential for order of magnitude improvements with selected big data and analytics workloads. While the technology is interesting, we are pretty numb to the “bigger, better, faster” messaging that inevitably accompanies new hardware announcements, and the real impact of this announcement lies in its utility for current AIX users and IBM’s increased focus on Linux and its support of the OpenPOWER initiative.
OK, so we’re numb, but it’s still interesting. POWER8 is an entirely new processor generation implemented in 22 nm CMOS (the same geometry as Intel’s high-end CPUs). The processor features up to 12 cores, each with up to 8 threads, and a focus on not only throughput but high performance per thread and per core for low-thread-count applications. Added to the mix is up to 1 TB of memory per socket, massive PCIe 3 I/O connectivity and Coherent Accelerator Processor Interface (CAPI), IBM’s technology to deliver memory-controller-based access for accelerators and flash memory in POWER systems. CAPI figures prominently in IBM’s positioning of POWER as the ultimate analytics engine, with the announcement profiling the performance of a configuration using 40 TB of CAPI-attached flash for huge in-memory analytics at a fraction of the cost of a non-CAPI configuration.[i]
A Slam-dunk for AIX users and a new play for Linux
Microsoft is officially launching the commercial operations of its cloud offerings in China today. It’s been only nine months since Steve Ballmer, the former CEO of Microsoft, made the announcement in Shanghai that Windows Azure — now renamed Microsoft Azure — would be available for preview in the Chinese market.
I call that Episode I of the China Cloud War. In the report that I published at the time, “PaaS Market Dynamics in China, 2012 To 2017”, I made three predictions — predictions that are now being fulfilled. More global players are joining the war; customers have gotten familiar with cloud concepts and are planning hybrid cloud implementations for their businesses; and traditional IT service providers have started to transform themselves into cloud service providers.
I talked with Microsoft and Citrix last week, and I strongly believe that Episode I has ended and Episode II has just begun. In the battle for partner ecosystems and real customer business, here are the three major plots that enterprise architects and CIOs in China should watch unfold:
The thrree kingdoms will fight with the gloves off. In my blog post last year, I described three kingdoms of global vendors in Chinese cloud market: Microsoft, Amazon, and vendors behind open source technology like OpenStack and CloudStack.
Microsoft is leading the market as the first company in China to provide unified solutions for public cloud, private cloud, and hybrid cloud across infrastructure (IaaS) and middleware (PaaS). This builds on its deep understanding of enterprise requirements, its massive developer base, and the ease of use on the Windows platform.
The classic work of Chinese historical fiction “Romance Of Three Kingdoms” describes the history of China after the Han dynasty. This work focuses on three power blocks that fought against each other in an attempt to be the dominant kingdom. After my discussions with many users and vendors at the OpenStack Summit 2013, I see an analogy between these three kingdoms and the evolution of the IaaS market in China as I described it in my report “PaaS Market Dynamics In China, 2012 To 2017” early this year.
Three categories of players are emerging in public cloud market in China, and similar to the Three Kingdoms, these players will fight against each other and collaborate at the same time, accelerating both the adoption and the maturing of cloud solutions in Chinese market.
State of Shu: Amazon Web Services. The king of Shu was the descendant of Han dynasty before the era of the Three Kingdoms; because of his “royal blood,” he had many supporters and followers to fight against the other two kingdoms.
Amazon.com is in a similar situation: It has very good reputation among architects and developers in China. However, Amazon’s promotion activities are lagging. Amazon is trying to expand its cloud territory into Chinese market by building a data center in Beijing and recruiting local personnel. However, its relationship with the government is not as good as Microsoft’s, and Amazon’s ambition to launch AWS in China has been slowed down due to local regulations.
State of Wu: Microsoft Windows Azure and its alliances. The state of Wu is competitive because it has the natural advantage of the Yangtze River, helping it defend against invasion and expand its territory.
Recently we attended a Colt Technology Services analyst day in London. It was great to see a technology services provider who is trying to embrace both disruptive ICT trends and challenges facing enterprise IT. Here is a high level summary of our views from the event:
Dan: Colt views its network assets not as its key differentiators - but its IT services. Although IT services today account for only a small fraction of Colt revenues, Colt views its network infrastructure assets as a means to an end to support IT services. Whilst we agree that network infrastructure runs the risk of commoditisation, Colt’s network helps to differentiate Colt’s offering from both IT service providers without network infrastructure and carriers with a less impressive network footprint. Quality network infrastructure is the basis for developing reliable, secure, and compliant ICT solutions. Maybe Colt ought to view itself more as a communications integrator than an IT Services provider.
John: Colt’s provides a strong European IaaS offering. One of the presentations focussed on Colt’s European datacenter footprint. At Forrester we get many inquiries on hosting and IaaS-specific options for Europe as many clients have to address regulatory and business requirements for data to reside in specific countries. Colt has a substantial number of data centers in European countries including the UK, France, Germany, Spain, Italy, and Switzerland.
Back in October 2011, Microsoft named the initiative to introduce Windows Azure cloud platform into the Chinese market “Moon Cake,” which represents harmony and happiness in Chinese culture. On May 23, 2013, Microsoft made the announcement in Shanghai that Windows Azure will be available in Chinese market starting on June 6 — almost half a year after its agreement with Shanghai government and 21ViaNet to operate Windows Azure together last November. Chinese customers will finally be able to “taste” this foreign moon cake.
I believe that a new chapter of cloud is going to be written by a new ecosystem in China market, and Microsoft will be the leader of this disruption. My reasons:
The cloud market in China will be more disrupted. Due to the regulatory limitations on data center and related telecom value-added services operations for foreign players, the cloud market for both infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS) has been an easy battlefield for local players, such as Alibaba/HiChina. Microsoft’s innovative way working with both government and local service partners to break through this “great wall” shows all of the major global giants, such as Amazon.com, the great opportunity from this approach to the Chinese market. We can anticipate that they will also enter the Chinese market in the coming six to 18 months.