Customers today are hyper-connected and their connectivity is rewriting the rules of business. Access to mobility, social networks, wearable devices, connected cars and hotels managed by robots are rapidly changing the behaviors of how customers engage and purchase. Think how you watch a film, shop or order a taxi.
The disruptive power in the hands of newly tech-savvy customers is forcing every business to evolve into a digital business or perish.
Infrastructure is at the center of the Digital Transformation
The digital transformation requires that organizations evolve their underlying technology infrastructure investments to fuel a business technology (BT) agenda, with technology designed to win, serve, and retain customers. Infrastructure – whether it is managed internally or hidden behind some cloud service – is a big part of the digital in digital business. I&O leaders can no longer simply focus on the same old approach to infrastructure. Internal business operations, or systems of record will remain important, but the emphasis must shift more to systems powering the newer digital customer experience
We are all aware that software is at the center of transitioning every successful business today. This software focus fueled a rapid expansion of cloud services and many argue that there is no longer a necessity to own hardware. This has turned the infrastructure world upside down. Hardware speeds and feeds no longer dominate infrastructure and operations (I&O) professionals' criteria. In some use cases, qualities like the fastest packet-processing chip or largest disk capacity are critical, but they matter less to many of the systems of engagement in the BT agenda. As you design your BT services, be aware of which solution is right for optimizing the customer experience.
The acquisition of EMC by Dell has is generating an immense amount of hype and prose, much of it looking forward at how the merged entity will try and compete in cloud, integrate and rationalize its new product line, and how Dell will pay for it (see Forrester report “Quick Take: Dell Buys EMC, Creating a New Legacy Vendor”). Interestingly not a lot has been written about the changes in the fundamental competitive faceoff between Dell and HP, both newly transformed by divestiture and by acquisition.
Yesterday the competition was straightforward and relatively easy to characterize. HP is the dominant enterprise server vendor, Dell a strong challenger, both with PCs and both with some storage IP that was good but in no sense dominant. Both have competent data center practices and embryonic cloud strategies which were still works in process. Post transformation we have a totally different picture with two very transformed companies:
A slimmer HP. HP is smaller (although $50B is not in any sense a small company), and bereft of its historical profit engine, the margins on its printer supplies. Free to focus on its core mandate of enterprise systems, software and services, HP Enterprise is positioning itself as a giant startup, focused and agile. Color me slightly skeptical but willing to believe that it can’t be any less agile than its precursor at twice the size. Certainly along with the margin contribution they lose the option to fight about budget allocations between enterprise and print/PC priorities.
I was in Tokyo last week, for the latest OpenStack Summit. Over 5,000 people joined me from around the world, to discuss this open source cloud project's latest - Liberty - release, to lay the groundwork for next year's Mitaka release, and to highlight stories of successful adoption.
Tokyo's Hamarikyu Gardens combine old with new (Source: Paul Miller)
And, unlike many events, this wasn't a hermetically sealed bubble of blandly anodyne mid-Atlantic content, served up to the same globe-trotting audience in characterless rooms that could so easily have been in London, Frankfurt, or Chicago. Instead, we heard from local implementers of OpenStack like Fujitsu, Yahoo! Japan, and - from just across the water - SK Telecom and Huawei.
In keynotes, case studies, and deep-dive technical sessions, attendees learned what worked, debated where to go next, and considered the project's complicated relationship to containers, software-defined networks, the giants of the public cloud, and more.
We have been watching many variants on efficient packaging of servers for highly scalable workloads for years, including blades, modular servers, and dense HPC rack offerings from multiple vendors, most of the highly effective, and all highly proprietary. With the advent of Facebook’s Open Compute Project, the table was set for a wave of standardized rack servers and the prospect of very cost-effective rack-scale deployments of very standardized servers. But the IP for intelligently shared and managed power and cooling at a rack level needed a serious R&D effort that the OCP community, by and large, was unwilling to make. Into this opportunity stepped Intel, which has been quietly working on its internal Rack Scale Architecture (RSA) program for the last couple of years, and whose first product wave was officially outed recently as part of an announcement by Intel and Ericsson.
While not officially announcing Intel’s product nomenclature, Ericsson announced their “HDS 8000” based on Intel’s RSA, and Intel representatives then went on to explain the fundamental of RSA, including a view of the enhancements coming this year.
RSA is a combination of very standardized x86 servers, a specialized rack enclosure with shared Ethernet switching and power/cooling, and layers of firmware to accomplish a set of tasks common to managing a rack of servers, including:
· Asset discovery
· Switch setup and management
· Power and cooling management across the servers with the rack
I recently attended VMware’s vForum 2014 event in Beijing. The vendor has established a local ecosystem for the three pillars of its business: the software-defined data center (SDDC), cloud services, and end user computing. VMware is working with:
Huawei to refine SDDC technologies.VMware is leveraging Huawei’s technology capability to improve its product feature. VMware integrated Huawei Agile Controller into NSX and vCenter to operate and manage network automation and quickly migrate virtual machines online. Huawei provides the technology to unify the management of virtual and physical networks based on VMware’s virtualization platform. This partnership can help VMware optimize its existing software features and improve the customer experience.
Dell today announced its new FX system architecture, and I am decidedly impressed.
Dell FX is a 2U flexible infrastructure building block that allows infrastructure architects to compose an application-appropriate server and storage infrastructure out of the following set of resources:
Multiple choices of server nodes, ranging from multi-core Atom to new Xeon E5 V3 servers. With configurations ranging from 2 to 16 server nodes per enclosure, there is pretty much a configuration point for most mainstream applications.
A novel flexible method of mapping disks from up to three optional disk modules, each with 16 drives - the mapping, controlled by the onboard management, allows each server to appear as if the disk is locally attached DASD, so no changes are needed in any software that thinks it is accessing local storage. A very slick evolution in storage provisioning.
A set of I/O aggregators for consolidating Ethernet and FC I/O from the enclosure.
All in all, an attractive and flexible packaging scheme for infrastructure that needs to be tailored to specific combinations of server, storage and network configurations. Probably an ideal platform to support the Nutanix software suite that Dell is reselling as well. My guess is that other system design groups are thinking along these lines, but this is now a pretty unique package, and merits attention from infrastructure architects.
On October 20 at TechEd, Microsoft quietly slipped in what looks like a potential game-changing announcement in the private/hybrid cloud world when they rolled out Microsoft Cloud Platform System (CPS), an integrated hardware/software system that combines an Azure-consistent on premise cloud with an optimized hardware stack from Dell.
Early next month, Forrester will publish a report on the dynamics of China’s private cloud market. This research demonstrates that Chinese I&O pros have started to leverage the benefits of private cloud — including highly standardized and automated virtual pooling and metered pay-per-use chargeback — to support the digital transformation of traditional business. By using private cloud, Chinese I&O pros not only support their business units’ digital transformation, but also provide the cost transparency that the CFO’s office demands. In practical business terms, Chinese organizations use private cloud to:
Improve business agility. There is fierce market competition to give Chinese consumers more choices. To do this, Chinese organizations must shift their business operations to increase their product portfolio to win new customers and provide a better customer experience to serve and retain existing customers. Chinese I&O pros need to provide a cloud platform that also supports business units’ requirement to lower their capital and operating expenditures.
Avoid disruption by Internet companies. Chinese web-based companies have started to use high-quality service to disrupt traditional businesses. Chinese I&O pros need to provide more flexible computing to help the application development team to improve the development cycle and respond to customers more quickly, flexibly, and effectively.
Develop new business without adding redundancy. Chinese organizations want to scale up new business to offset declines in revenue. However, the existing IT infrastructure at these firms often cannot support new business models — and can even take a toll. Chinese I&O pros need to find a new way — such as private cloud — to support business development and reuse existing infrastructure.
As the new year looms, thoughts turn once again to our annual reading of the tea leaves, in this case focused on what I see coming in server land. We’ve just published the full report, Predictions for 2014: Servers & Data Centers, but as teaser, here are a few of the major highlights from the report:
1. Increasing choices in form factor and packaging – I&O pros will have to cope with a proliferation of new form factors, some optimized for dense low-power cloud workloads, some for general purpose legacy IT, and some for horizontal VM clusters (or internal cloud if you prefer). These will continue to appear in an increasing number of variants.
2. ARM – Make or break time is coming, depending on the success of coming 64-bit ARM CPU/SOC designs with full server feature sets including VM support.
3. The beat goes on – Major turn of the great wheel coming for server CPUs in early 2014.
4. Huge potential disruption in flash architecture – Introduction of flash in main memory DIMM slots has the potential to completely disrupt how flash is used in storage tiers, and potentially can break the current storage tiering model, initially physically with the potential to ripple through memory architectures.
In 2012, I wrote a blog titled Private Cloud: 'Everyone's Got One, Where's Yours?' which looked at the perception of private cloud versus the reality of the environments that carry this name. Although reported interest and adoption were high, most environments fell short of the basic characteristics of cloud. Almost 1.5 years later, Forrester continues to see interest in and reported adoption of private cloud -- according to Forrester's Hardware Survey, in 2014, 55% of North American and European enterprises plan to prioritize building an internal private cloud, and 33% already having adopted private cloud. Despite the increased awareness in private cloud shortcomings, Forrester found that only 1/4 of these "private cloud" environments establish self-service access for its users. What's most interesting is that most of these enterprises aren't looking to private cloud for cloud-specific benefits.