Category Archives: ITaaS

Q&A: Data Center Expert Shares What’s Next for Higher Education IT

Check out my interview with Nicci Fagan here:

Q&A: Data Center Expert Shares What’s Next for Higher Education IT

VMware PEX 2014 – Notes Part 2 – The Good

The most significant part of VMware PEX, for me this year, was the Solutions Exchange floor and the rather small number of vendors. My focus was on convergence of compute and storage resources. This appears to be a popular path. There were a few things along the way, other than cheap swag, that caught my eye. One interesting conversation involved FusionIO. They validated that many customers concentrate more on storage space instead of performance and that this is not good. Some more progressive enterprises are very focused on performance. For instance, eBay actually measures costs based on url per kilowatt. Read more »

VMware PEX 2014 – Notes Part 1 – The Bad

I have been attending various VMware Partner Exchange (PEX) and VMworld events since around 1996. Typically, I prefer to attend PEX over VMworld. The number of attendees is significantly smaller and access to the VMware brain trust is easier. There is usually a good mix of NDA roadmaps and decent technical information. The Solutions Exchange floor is less crowded and the vendors are able to spend more time with you. The hands on labs are the same top-quality as VMworld, but typically with no lines.

I did not attend VMworld 2013, but I did attend PEX 2014 last week. Sadly, I was a little bit underwhelmed again this year, as I was last year too. There was no real feeling of innovation. No buzz. Just ho-hum. There seemed to be fewer exhibitors on the Solutions Exchange floor as compared to previous years. I did have some very educational conversations with some vendors that I will detail later.

Despite all of the drama around Veeam and Nutanix being missing in action, there was no mention of VMTurbo. The people at the Cisco booth had nothing about Whiptail or Insieme.

The push is bundled suites of software, which will offer a single management point and a common interface. But many parts of these suites will likely end up as shelf-ware to many. Let’s face it, many enterprises will need to change significantly in order to fully utilize the vCloud suite. If it is not a top down directive, either the networking silo or storage silo is going to protest over lack of control. Try explaining to network engineers that you need a pool of VLANs and associated IP addresses that will be out of their control and probably will be difficult to integrate with the many manual processes that are used.  Try telling a storage administrator that we can now do self-service provisioning of a storage array, including all of the parts in the middle, like zoning and masking. Like VDI, they see that ROI is heavy on “soft costs.” Try explaining how you save on labor costs without reducing workforce in this economy where IT shops are already understaffed. Many people don’t get it when it comes to Cloud, which suddenly became Software Defined Data Center (SDDC) and now Software Defined Enterprise (SDE). But that can be the subject of a future post.

There was a little video before the keynote on Tuesday morning that hammered it home. Think about VMware in its first ten years. No one “got” virtualization. But VMware persisted and stuck to its guns. Now it has become standard issue in a data center. VMware is taking the same approach to the Software Defined Data Center. They are even starting to call it Software Defined Enterprise instead. Their stance is that, with persistence, the SDDC message will be heard and will become the norm. There is a constant struggle between the people that deliver IT and the people that consume IT. The fundamental ideas of SDDC help calm that struggle.

Right now, Microsoft appears to be hot on the tail of VMware and I see many people seriously reconsidering their method of delivery. I think the biggest things that VMware has going for it right now are vCenter Operations Manager (vCOPS) and Site Recovery Manager (SRM). I think that SRM is possibly the only thing keeping some enterprises on VMware for business critical applications. VMware is trying to display an air of non concern. Possibly, they are ignoring the “Evil Empire.” When many enterprises are already paying for Windows Datacenter Edition and System Center, there needs to be justifications to keep vSphere. I see Hyper-V taking a foothold, especially in SMB and branch offices and in places where basic server virtualization is good enough.

It is interesting to see some of the visions play out over the course of time. I remember back in 2007 or 2008, when PEX was still Technical Solutions Exchange (TSX). I remember Carl Eishenbach (http://www.vmware.com/company/leadership/carl-eschenbach.html) announcing the VCDX program. I remember he said that there would be about 200 of us by the end of 2008. Back then, customers needed someone to design their greenfield environment and assist with migration from physical to virtual. I don’t find myself needing to prove that vMotion works any more. Although there are likely many greenfield opportunities out there, most of my design expertise is now spent assisting with creating higher consolidation ratios and helping customers deliver a more optimized datacenter that may not always have vSphere at the top of the list. I have seen VMware go from a stand alone hypervisor to centrally managed solution to the defacto standard then to what I describe as “meh.” There is no pop anymore. No excitement. Maybe I am getting too pessimistic in my old age.

Stay tooned! I have more to come on the interesting finds on the Solutions Exchange floor.

More on Cisco UCS, HP Matrix and ITaaS

I just finished reading Project California: a Data Center Virtualization Server – UCS (Unified Computing System) from Cisco. It gave an excellent take on Cisco’s view of how UCS benefits a datacenter. It also explains how new technologies from Intel, QLogic and Emulex all complement the Cisco gear. As a matter of fact, the first four chapters are all about the complementing technologies. Obviously, it is all twisted into a nice package that Cisco offers as their Unified Computing System. Its a great, educational geek book.

The UCS depends on several enabling technologies, like FCoE. FCoE allows you to take your existing Fibre Channel investment and send it down an ethernet channel. A big FAT 10GbE channel. The benefit here is that you can have eight cables feed everything to eight blades and have a nice neat rack. But Scott Lowe points out some limitations on his blog. Right now, it appears that Cisco’s FCoE will terminate at the top of the rack with the Nexus 5000. The book explains how iSCSI is a great alternative and you don’t even need a CNA to make that work, but you need an iSCSI interface on the storage system. So the UCS requires change at some point in the data path.

The HP Matrix is really just the C-Class blade offering coupled with the software to enable management and orchestration, both are important aspect that I believe will assist in making Cloud Computing a reality. The beauty part of the C-Class Blades is that you can keep using Fibre Channel and Ethernet as separate entities, so you don’t really need to make a change in order to use them. The problem is that it doesn’t seem that HP has a mezzanine available to provide FCoE, or some of the virtualization technologies, like SRIOV, VNTag, etc. So, if you want to jump on the FCoE bandwagon or start using some of the neat new networking toys, you will need to wait for a bit.

So, there’s some things about storage, what about networking? Well, the UCS uses what is termed a Fabric Interconnect, which is described as a multiplexer that funnels the sixteen 10GbE ports from the blades down to eight 10GbE uplink ports. I am taking this to be their version of HP’s Virtual Connect, with the added benefit of transferring all of those little Cisco features right up to the Nexus 1000-V dvSwitch. This returns control of the complete network path back to the network admins. This gives the network admins the ability to set up things like policies at the VM level. These settings will follow the VM during VMotion activities, which should allow for a more efficient network.

HP only offers Virtual Connect if you want 10GbE switching within the chassis. Don’t misunderstand me, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Virtual Connect. I have even set them up in (traditionally) Cisco networks. But there are also politics involved when choosing the networking. If HP wants to tout flexibility with interconnects, they may want to make nice with Cisco and come up with a Nexus offering. Or is this a case of Cisco taking their ball and going home to try to force people to buy UCS? I don’t know a lot about Dell Blades, but I don’t see a Cisco 10GbE there either. I used to hear the quip that all of the winders, Linux and Unix boxes are just I/O attached to the Mainframe. Is this a case of the x64 boxes being just I/O attached to the network?

As for ITaaS, both UCS and HP offer some pretty software to allow for management and orchestration. Both have their plusses and minuses (C’mon Cisco… Java? Really?!?) This could be where HP has a big leg up on Cisco. With all of their management software having the same look and feel, on-the-fly dynamic changes can take place with less sdministrator interaction. I’m not so sure CIsco can allow you to provision server, network and storage from the OS to the LUN. Like I said Cloud Computing won’t become a commonplace reality until all of the moving parts can be managed, monitored and provisioned (Orchestration). I’m still not convinced that HP software will allow me to create a RAID/Disk group and provision storage on an EMC box. I’m not so sure that Cisco will play nice in a Brocade fabric and allow for all of the Brocade specific features. And what about someone that chooses to (*GASP*) install an OS directly on the blade? I know that I can provision any hypervisor or winders or Linux on an HP blade. Can Cisco provide an interface to provision an OS directly on the hardware? How about the ability to have VMware running on a blade today, Xen next week and Linux the following week? All without an administrator mounting a CD or interacting with the installer? And how about having that VMware or Xen or Linux OS jump over to a different blade, with or without service interruption, but without manual intervention? That’s ITaaS. That’s Cloud Computing.

DISCLAIMER: I work for a company that is both an HP Partner and a Cisco Partner. These are my opinions, not theirs. Also, I did not pay for the book, but that did not influence this post either.