Containers - there really is substance behind the hype

Containers. One of those nasty terms, like metadata (ok - maybe you had to move in the odd circles I did for that one to resonate), cloud, or big data. To some, the solution to every problem. To others, yet another unforgivable explosion of over-exuberant hype that should be ignored at all costs. And, like so many things, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

Containers are an important component in broader efforts to transform the way in which an enterprise builds, tests, deploys, and scales its applications. Particularly, today, its customer-facing systems of engagement. But they're not the answer to every problem, and they don't replace all your virtual machines, mainframes, and other infrastructure.

Most enterprise CIOs, today, have probably heard of containers... or Docker. And, for most of you, there will be a group or individual inside your organisation loudly singing containers' praises. There will be an equally vocal group or individual, pointing to every factoid supporting their view that the container emperor has nothing on.

My latest Brief takes a look at some of the ways containers are being used, and argues that CIOs need to pay attention - now. That's not to say you should wholeheartedly embrace containers in everything you do. But you do need to ensure you're aware of their strengths, and track the rapid evolution in the underlying technologies. Some pieces are even beginnint to be standardised, between competing companies.

And, just to see if the metadata crowd are still reading... Z39.50! 

OpenStack Returns To Austin, Stressing Evolution Over Revolution


(Austin. Source: Paul Miller)
My very first report for Forrester, last summer, explored the ways in which the open source OpenStack cloud project has grown up. Once a science project for those interested in exploring the technologies or celebrating open source, OpenStack now runs key enterprise workloads for the likes of AT&T, BMW, Best Buy, and Volkswagen. They are choosing OpenStack because it gets the job done, not because they have some affinity for it, its community, its components, or its philosophy.

Last week, OpenStack returned to the scene of the very first community Summit - Austin - for an event that drew over 7,500 attendees from around the world.

There was little to wow, there was little that was truly new, there was little that deserved a headline. But there was a lot that demonstrated the steady, difficult, important slog to improve, to harden, to simplify. OpenStack continues to grow up.

A few Forrester analysts where there, and we prepared this summary of our immediate impressions. Take a look, and let us know what you think.

Hyperscale public clouds are a fixture on the European scene - learn to live with them

Not too long ago, Europe’s cloud providers saw the big American imports as nothing but competition. They were to be challenged at every turn, they were to be dissed at every opportunity, they were to be beaten, stomped upon, and sent packing back across the water.

Only, it didn’t work out that way. Even the most paranoid, isolationist, protectionist, and Europe-ist of customers found reasons to use a bit of AWS, or a bit of Azure, or a bit of Google, or a bit of SoftLayer. They used European providers too, but the polarising rhetoric from so many of those home-grown vendors did them no favours with their customers. Very real issues around data territoriality, or proximity to data centres, or low-latency continent-spanning networks got lost in a sea of FUD and negativity. Customers, largely, stopped hearing the valid arguments, and too often just dismissed the lot as sour grapes, or negative marketing.

Thankfully, things appear to be changing. Europe’s providers of public cloud infrastructure have realised that AWS et al aren’t going away. They’ve realised that their prospective customers want to use these hyperscale clouds too. But, instead of disappearing, European providers are finding ways to integrate their offerings with those of the hyperscale cloud providers. Instead of pushing their products as alternatives to a hyperscale offering, they’re now finding ways to augment and add value.

Done right, (almost) everyone might stand to benefit.

In my latest report, Market Overview: Public Cloud Infrastructure-As-A-Service (IaaS) In The European Market, I take a look at how Europe’s providers of public cloud infrastructure are finding new ways to deliver value to their customers, alongside the hyperscale clouds.

Open Source Escapes The Bedroom, Enters Your Boardroom

The myth that open source software is exclusively written by and for lonely — rather odd — individual geeks remains remarkably prevalent. And yet it’s a myth that is almost entirely wrong.

A bottle of Free Beer, photographed by Edward BettsMany of the world’s best-known technology firms make sizeable investments of time and money in open source projects: guiding their strategy, contributing code and expertise, and baking the results deeply into their commercial offerings. Some, like Facebook or Google or IBM, might be names you’d not be too surprised by. Others, like Microsoft or Oracle, are still unfairly associated with an earlier age, in which Linux was branded “a cancer,” and proprietary power ruled.

Many of the world’s biggest brands depend upon open source projects: using them directly, and buying commercial solutions that are themselves dependent upon open source underpinnings.

Red Hat built a $2 billion company on the back of open source software, and the likes of Hortonworks are keen to repeat that feat.

Again and again, we encounter executives who do not grasp how much their organisation already depends on open source. More importantly, they do not see the key role that open source technologies and thinking will play in enabling their efforts to transform into a customer-obsessed business that really can win, serve, and retain customers.

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Hadoop, Spark, and the emerging big data landscape

Not very long ago, it would have been almost inconceivable to consider a new large-scale data analysis project in which the open source Apache Hadoop did not play a pivotal role.

Every Hadoop blog post needs a picture of an elephant. (Source: Paul Miller)

Then, as so often happens, the gushing enthusiasm became more nuanced. Hadoop, some began (wrongly) to mutter, was "just about MapReduce." Hadoop, others (not always correctly) suggested, was "slow."

Then newer tools came along. Hadoop, a growing cacophony (innacurately) trumpeted, was "not as good as Spark."

But, in the real world, Hadoop continues to be great at what it's good at. It's just not good at everything people tried throwing in its direction. We really shouldn't be surprised by this. And yet, it seems, so many of us are.

For CIOs asked to drive new programmes of work in which big data plays a part (and few are not), the competing claims in this space are both unhelpful and confusing. Hadoop and Spark are not, despite some suggestions, directly equivalent. In many cases, asking "Hadoop or Spark" is simply the wrong question.

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The Internet Of Things Will Drive Customer Relationships, And The Industrial Sector Is Realising The Opportunity

The Internet of Things, or IoT, finds its way into a lot of conversations these days. CES in Las Vegas last week was awash with internet-connected doo-dahs, including cars, fridges, televisions, and more. Moving away from the home and into the world of business, the IoT furore continues unabated. Instead of connecting cars to Netflix or a teen-tracking insurance company, we connect entire fleets of trucks to warehouses, delivery locations, and driver monitoring systems. Instead of connecting the domestic fridge to Carrefour or Tesco or Walmart in order to automatically order another litre of milk, we connect entire banks of chiller units to stock control systems, backup generators, and municipal environmental health officers. And then we connect the really big things; a locomotive, a jet engine, a mountainside covered in wind turbines, a valley bursting with crops, a city teeming with people.

A picture of wind turbines in Scotland
Wind turbines in Ayrshire. (Source: Paul Miller)

The IoT hype is compelling, pervasive, and full of bold promises and eye-watering valuations. And yet, despite talking about connected cars or smarter cities for decades, the all-encompassing vision remains distant. The reality, mostly, is one in which incompatible standards, immature implementations, and patchy network connectivity ensure that each project or procurement delivers an isolated little bubble of partially connected intelligence. Stitching these together, to deliver meaningful views — and control — across all of the supposedly connected systems within a factory, a company, a power network, a city, or a watershed often remains more hope than dependable reality. 

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Your Business Is Already A Multicloud Business

For all sorts of reasons, CIOs increasingly find themselves trying to introduce (or impose, resurrect, or enforce) governance, compliance, audit and oversight across a dizzying array of cloud solutions. Some may have been introduced by themselves or their predecessors, but most have entered the business by other means.

image of clouds in the desert

Multiple clouds, in the Nevada desert (Source: Paul Miller)

Perhaps they've been procured, properly, by departments from Sales and Marketing to Logistics and Customer Support. Or perhaps it's a lone developer or a small team, with a company credit card and a problem to solve.

However it happened, your business is already a multicloud business, and the CIO is — increasingly — expected to answer for inefficiencies, regulatory lapses, poor financial controls, and more, wherever they crop up in a sprawling and confused IT estate.

The easy solution might be, at first glance, to assert control. To select a single provider, and to enforce that selection. To prowl the corridors of the business, plucking public cloud credentials and SaaS admin accounts from the unwilling fingers of employees. 

But the braver CIO is the CIO who embraces their multicloud reality, who works to understand how and why committed and engaged employees felt it necessary to seek out their own solutions, and who learns lessons from the failures of the recent past.

And it's this CIO who is the champion of my latest report, published today: A Clear Multicloud Strategy Delivers Business Value.

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Microsoft and T-Systems Find Innovative Solution To Address Customer Data Privacy Concerns

The big public cloud providers, most of which are still from the United States, sometimes have a hard time finding ways to balance their legal obligations at home with the quite different sensitivities they encounter amongst their new international customers. For a long time, the toolkit has been pretty consistent: site data centres as close to the customer as possible, vehemently support political efforts to harmonize laws, and ocassionally be seen to stand up to the worst execesses of Government over-reach.

Photo of German and European flags in Berlin, from Flickr user Luigi Rosa
(Source: Flickr user Luigi Rosa. Image licensed under Creative Commons Attribution License)

Microsoft's announcements in Germany today appear, on the surface, to follow that model pretty closely. But there's a twist that's potentially very important as we move forward.

First, the standard bit. Microsoft, yesterday, announced new data centres will be operational in the UK next year, joining existing European facilities in Dublin and Amsterdam. Big competitor Amazon did much the same last week, announcing that a new UK data centre will be online in the UK by "2016 or 2017." Given the vague timescales, it might be easy to assume that Amazon was trying to steal a little of Microsoft's thunder with a half-baked pre-announcement. And then, today, Microsoft announced two new data centres in Germany. Amazon already has a facility there, of course.

So, why's this interesting? 

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OpenStack Pushes Local Stories In Tokyo

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.

My colleague, Lauren Nelson, and I have just published a Quick Take to capture some of our immediate impressions from the event. As our report discusses, the Foundation is making some good progress but there are a number of clear challenges that must still be addressed. How well do you think the Foundation is addressing the challenges we discuss?

Amazon Web Services Pushes Enterprise And Hybrid Messages At re:Invent

The hordes gathered in Las Vegas this week, for Amazon's latest re:Invent show. Over 18,000 individuals queued to get into sessions, jostled to reach the Oreo Cookie Popcorn (yes, really), and dodged casino-goers to hear from AWS, its partners and its customers. Las Vegas may figure nowhere on my list of favourite places, but the programme of Analyst sessions AWS laid on for earlier in the week definitely justified this trip.

The headline items (the Internet of Things, Business Intelligence, and a Snowball chucked straight at the 'hell' that is the enterprise data centre (think about it)) are much-discussed, but in many ways the more interesting stuff was AWS' continued - quiet, methodical, inexorable - improvement of its current offerings. One by one, enterprise 'reasons' to avoid AWS or its public cloud competitors are being systematically demolished.

Not headline-worthy, but important. And, as I and a number of my colleagues note in our Quick Take view on this week's show, AWS is most definitely turning up the heat. Frogs, we're told, don't know they're being boiled alive if you just turn up the heat slowly. CIOs, hopefully, are paying more attention to the warmth of AWS, all around them.