Smearing Cloud Lipstick on a Legacy Tech Pig

On November 5, 2009, in Internet and Telecom, by Administrator

The Cloud Computing Conference and Expo in Santa Clara has come to an end, leaving a fair share of opinion, skepticism, and robust Lipstick on the Cloud Pigdiscussion for the period of incubation leading up to the next conference. Many companies have adopted “Cloud-something or other” as their new name, and are aggressively bringing their products to market. We observed exhibitors displaying cloud network management software, cloud email and SMS messaging, cloud security – basically cloud everything.

According to the conference organizer (SYS-CON’s Jeremy Geelan), the conference exceeded all their expectations. Those expectations were to enlighten attendees on the state of cloud computing, train those who need to need to know more about clouds, and offer a forum to debate both the value and future of cloud computing.

I try not to be one of those expo attendees who find joy in tormenting booth staff, as often you will meet sales and marketing people who have no technical knowledge of their product, and are trying to simply collect cards and develop potential business from visitors and conference attendees. A model used over the past 100 years of industry conferences and expos.

However, of around 50 booths at the conference, only a handful of vendors could really be considered directly involved in development of cloud products or services. The rest either resell somebody else’s service, have tagged their legacy product with a “cloud” prefix of suffix, or simply set up a booth to have visibility or presence at the conference.

Now this is not a bad thing, in my opinion. As a cloud evangelist, a person who has dreamed about cloud computing, GRID computing, high performance computing, and network computing for most of my professional life, seeing the tag “cloud” plastered on just about everything makes me happy. It means the term and enthusiasm for cloud computing is no longer the domain of engineers, but is about to hit the “hype scale” that will drive the vision into the eyes and minds of just about everybody on the street. Without hitting this phase of “hype” development, cloud will risk dying or fading away like many of the other great ideas of our generation.

If that is what it takes to continue forcing companies to build faster, cheaper, and more agile cloud products; if that is what it takes to push governments to understand the value of virtualization and consolidation; if that is what it takes to push entertainment, social media, the financial community, and all industry information technology planning over to the cloud, then I will gladly buy the lipstick and distribute it freely to marketing companies to smear on the next startup’s branding plan.

Getting Past the “Geek”

As with all well-attended conferences, the most robust discussions took place in hallways, the exposition floor, and café tabletops. It is exciting to be in the early stages of technology shifts, as everybody has a different vision, different direction, and different opinion on the best way to create technologies, and apply them to business and social problems. Bringing back the Internet analogy of the 90′s, when email was considered a tools for geeks (circa 1992), and would never replace robust and mature technologies such as fax, cloud computing has a fair share of skeptics and “nay-sayers” as well.

Why? As engineers we are probably much more agile when jumping on the technology “first-mover bandwagon.” We are the ones with home entertainment systems which frequently pop circuit breakers, and occasionally attract local police departments to gently remind us we are being obnoxious and disturbing our neighbors.

Financial officers, operations staff, sales people, and other professionals are inherently reluctant to refresh technology and processes which work. To disrupt a business process requires a very compelling argument outlining and presenting the need for change, the risk of not making a recommended change, the potential outcome if the change fails, and the “pain point” technology refresh will solve when adopted.

Another example. Today most sales organizations have adopted some kind of CRM (customer relationship management) platform. It might be a SaaS product such as SalesForce.Com, Microsoft Dynamics, or other internal application. 15 years ago no sales person would willingly put their sales “funnel” into an online system, nor would they even give up their address book without a fight. Time has proven CRM systems are good for both the sales person, as well as the company, and facilitates the book-to-bank process. But it took a very long time to prove to both companies and sales people this process was valid, and still today has a strong lobby of reluctant old-timers who resist CRM.

Virtualizing IT applications and consolidating data centers makes sense. Economic, environmental, and performance sense. Let’s support the marketing efforts to bring cloud to the headlines. As engineers we need to be tolerant of those efforts, and understand without the marketing phase of cloud development it will take us longer to get into the DNA of future network and compute technologies.

And solve the final question, “which shade of lipstick is best for the cloud?”

John Savageau, Long Beach, from Sunnyvale, California

The SMS message was desperate. AJ sent the plea “If I have to see one more picture of a cloud in a PPT I might lose it…” After two days of presentations at the Cloud Computing Conference and Expo, where companies tried to bring the audience up to an Intro to Clouds 101 level, some attendees were grasping for new ideas, new information, new reasons why companies should release their IT models currently based on strict FUD-Factor (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) compliance, to the new generation of cloud computing.

The “same slides, different day” approach was starting leave some Shelton Shugar - Yahooattendees a bit glazed, until Shelton Shugar, SVP of Cloud Computing at Yahoo! kicked off the morning with his keynote speech “Accelerating Innovation with Cloud Computing.” Shugar woke the audience up with an overview of how Yahoo! Is “walking the talk” with cloud computing deployments in their own network.

Yahoo! Mail, Sports, Finance, and other applications – all are using some level of cloud compute support based on HADOOP. Shugar detailed Yahoo’s support of the open source community through their “Open Cirrus” program. Not only aggressive cloud computing thought leadership, but actual industry leadership.

Insulating Innovators

Perhaps the most enlightening “sound bite” of the morning is Shugar’s statement that cloud computing relieves the developers from spending time on IT, allowing them to “focus time on their (business) problems, and not on the infrastructure.”

This is really significant. Having joined several presentations at the Cloud Computing Conference and Expo in Santa Clara, mostly repeating the same lines of reduced OPEX, CAPEX, energy savings, IaaS, PaaS, Saas, and so on, Shugar finally started bringing the ideas into a perspective business managers could relate to their own professional pain points, as well as open new ideas of what value this cloud “thing” might actually offer.

I remember in the old days (of the ’90s) while working at a telecom company breaking into the emerging Internet industry. We had a training section which consumed a lot of their schedule supporting remote access training for NOC (network operations center) technicians needing high level access to servers and routers. The training section maintained dozens of switches, routers, and servers in a computer room to support the training environment.

Each student needed practice working at the command line interface of network hardware, however in their day-to-day job they would never need to physically touch a network device, as the actual device could be located anyplace around the world – they simply need to practice troubleshooting and monitoring through remote access.

Looking around the conference hall at the Cloud Computing Conference, companies such as 3tera offer a provisioning tool that is able to automatically produce images of servers, switches, and routers within a virtual environment. You need a new LINUX box, you drag and drop a pre-configured LINUX image into your environment. It “spools” and is ready for access within about 2 seconds. From the user’s perspective, it is a physical LINUX server that could very well be mounted in the next room. The object functions exactly as a physical server would behave.

Within the virtual environment the instructor (or students) could spool up as many virtual images of the LINUX box as needed to meet the class’ training requirements. The instructor and training division no longer has to spend a lot of time each day wiping servers, reloading images, replacing failed memory or hard drives – any of the non-productive tasks that traditionally prevented them from spending their valuable time building better training curriculum, spending more time with their students, or delivering the course as an eLearning course anyplace in the company.

Now apply the same idea to any job where you have either knowledge workers or manual workers spending any amount of their time working on IT infrastructure-related tasks which do not directly produce revenue or some level of customer service (a broad category). Even better if you consider the supporting IT infrastructure may not even be in the same building, city, or even region. You may be getting your applications and IT support through a public cloud service provider (CSP) physically located in a different country!

The idea of insulating your knowledge workers from the IT infrastructure is one more item for our bag of 30 second cloud elevator pitches. It is great when such as simple statement can have such profound meaning. Looking around the auditorium, when Shugar may the statement and described the need to insulate our knowledge workers from the burden of IT infrastructure operations and management, I could see about 1000 pairs of eyes lighten, eyebrows rise a bit higher into the foreheads, and smiles appear on the faces of attendees who finally breeched the layer of skepticism and fog which had drawn them to the conference.

The rest of the conference will now be a much more free and productive use of their new enthusiasm for knowledge on cloud computing, what it is today, and what innovations they will be able to apply to cloud computing platforms and infrastructure in the future.

John Savageau, Long Beach (from the Cloud Computing Conference and Expo, Santa Clara, California)

Having gone through a couple of decades worth of technology conferences, a familiar cycle occurs. For the first couple years, technology-related conferences are attended by engineers and operations people. Only after the technology has passed a couple of feasibility gates and begun to hit the business cycle do sales and marketing people Keynote Speech - Richard Marcello - Unisystake over. Cloud is now officially past the engineering phase, well into the sales phase – and the business community is scrambling to understand the implications of a virtualized world.

At the Cloud Computing Conference and Expo in Santa Clara, California, the opening keynote session venue was completely filled, with the organizer (SYS-CON Events) obliged to quickly expand the audience into two overflow rooms, in addition to mounting displays in hallways adjacent to the main ballroom. According to the conference organizer more than twice as many have signed up and are attending the conference than planned. And cloud “buzz” is electric within the halls.

Cloud computing is here, the industry innovation machine is spooling, and the “nay-sayers” are starting to quiet down as the reality of cloud computing is articulated, codified, and presented in a format that has finally gone past the high level “concepts” of recent cloud expos and conferences.

This must be true, because the hallways are now filling with people wearing suits, ties, and polo shirts with snappy logos. Engineers still roam the halls, identifiable by their blue jeans, T-shirts, and backpacks filled with gadgets and computers. The ratio is about 50:50, indicating cloud service providers are now attending conferences for the purpose of business development, rather than to simply share ideas and further develop cloud technology as an R&D community.

The Opening Keynote – Cloud Myth-Busting

Richard Marcello, President, Technology, Consulting, and Integrations Services at Unisys kicked off the conference with a keynote speech entitled “The Time is Right for Enterprise Cloud Computing.” The presentation followed a familiar model in the public (non engineering and technician audience) conditioning of a new technology – “the Nine Myths of Cloud Computing.” A very good presentation (really), which drilled into common misconceptions of cloud computing. This type approach is useful when giving an instructional presentation, with statements such as:

  • Myth #9 – Cloud computing is brand new – a revolution
  • Myth #8 – All clouds are the same
  • Myth #7 – Cloud computing is about technology
  • Myth #5 – Cloud computing is not reliable
  • And so on…

Do a search and replace of “cloud computing” with “Internet” and you could pose the same myths, with the discriminating factor being one of how you present the response in breaking each myth. Yes, it is marketing and borderline cliché, but it does go far in visualizing cloud computing to the new attendees from the business side of our industry.

Marcello did present one eloquent response to the myth “The Internal data center is more secure than the cloud.” He showed a slide which had three separate applications creating data. The data is stored in a storage cloud, as well as being manipulated in a service cloud. Data going into the cloud service (processing), and into the storage cloud is brought into a single stream, which cannot be intercepted by a “sniffer” or other device, and the actual data instances are only recognizable by the application using the data. To all others attempting to intercept the data, it appears as “water running through a pipe.”

Actually, not a bad analogy.

Marcello went on the describe his taxonomy of the “real time access engine” which controls the data streams into each application or storage device, security within an enterprise, industry, or organizational community of interest. However the most important message delivered during his speech was the idea that cloud computing will “generate new business models and ideas that none of us have yet envisioned.”

But, That’s Not What I designed…

This message is strong. All engineers have gone through the experience of creating a product, and then observing the product being used by people for activities never envisioned by the creator. Imagine the continuing astonishment of the originators of the Internet. A simple tool for distributed applications and network survivability, and it is now the basis for nearly all communications, entertainment, business, and social interaction between humans throughout the world.

What will cloud computing bring us in the future? What will smart kids who are going through an education system with complete immersion in the global Internet cloud as a normal part of life be able to see in a potential global model of data and applications virtualization? Much as the early days of the internet represented a mere tip of the future network “iceberg,” what we see in cloud computing today is just the tip of what virtualization of compute and storage resources will ultimate become.

What will happen when SSDs (solid state disks) become part of the layer 2 switching backplane (Slapping an SSD card into a switching slot, making Fiber channel over Ethernet obsolete overnight)? An entire content delivery network and system currently using 100 cabinets of servers and disk reduced to a single card in a switch…

Integration with IPv6. Standardization in cloud services allowing formation of cloud spot markets and interoperability.

We have a lot of questions to throw both at the engineers, as well as the business visionaries attending the conference. Welcome sales and marketing folks, welcome to the new age of cloud computing.

John Savageau, Long Beach (From the Cloud Computing Conference and Expo, Santa Clara, California)

MISSION – Give people the power to share and make the world more open and connected.

Josh Elman, Senior Platform Manager at Facebook, shared some of the ideas and visions behind one of the fastest growing and most successful social networking sites in the world.

The monthly meeting of the Silicon Valley Product Management Association (SVPMA) provided the stage, and around 150 interested attendees gathered to learn some of the techniques used by Facebook to recruit more than 200 million members within the space of only two years.

Josh emphasized that Facebook tries to promote a truly global community by “giving social groups and like-minded people a way to find each other.” He went on to describe an idea which may be unique in the product marketing world, which is to not only have a company mission statement, but also a user mission statement:

USER MISSION – Create opportunities for people to share, and make the world more open & connected.

To accomplish the task of bringing people together, Facebook promotes a three stage process for new members:

  1. Create your identity. The most important thing about Facebook identities is to create credibility. Once people know who you are, and are confident you are authentic, it is much easier for them to make a connection and bring you into their community.
  2. Establish a network of friends.
  3. Begin sharing.

The word “sharing” is a common thread in all Facebook discussions. You share your ideas. You share your personal status. You share your interest through joining groups of other people sharing similar interests. You share your interest in Internet marketing, and suddenly you are a member of a community of 100,000 others around the world who share your interest in Internet marketing.

As you continue expanding your presence and circle of friends, the power of community becomes exponential. If your interest in eating sushi brings you into a community of 5000 others who like sushi, and each of those people is connected to 100 others, then your community is one step away from extending into a very large number of potential contacts. Facebook refers to the multi-dimensional extended community as their “social graph.”

If you are familiar with the ideas of one-to-one, one-to-many, and many-to-many communications, Facebook takes that concept and adds the ability to take any of those ideas and build them into three-dimensional clusters. This is the idea of many, many-to-many relationships all interconnected through common human or social group conduits.

Josh used the example of Facebook communications during President Obama’s inauguration as an example of how quickly Facebook can be used to spread a message. While online, more than 2 million comments and status updates were made through one-to-many messages, with spikes of more than 8500 status updates per second during Obama’s speech. Obama-related messages touched a majority of Facebook users, making this perhaps the fastest, most effective information or message distribution platform, ever.

Communicating with the Global Community

Just a few years ago life for many was restricted to a small geographic area, where your community consisted of others sharing your own culture, language, and traditions. When outsiders entered the community communication was strained, as there may not have been a common language, and cultural differences created a lot of stress.

Even in a global community, it is still difficult for a native Japanese speaker to easily communicate with a native French speaker – particularly if the common language (probably English) is not native to either speaker.

Facebook tries to break down those cultural and language barriers with a dynamic translation engine that allows members to communicate in their own language, while the other party receives the message their own native language. This makes, at least the language part of a relationship, transparent to both communicating parties.

Josh Elman is the perfect evangelist for Facebook. With prior experience in companies such as LinkedIN, he has the social networking technology down cold. Combine that with his enthusiasm in bringing both Facebook, as well as the vision of creating a connected world together, and you have an uplifting evening that would motivate even the most skeptical web user.

John Savageau, Long Beach

The Silicon Valley Product Marketing Association (SVPMA) meets every first Wednesday of the month at TechMart in Santa Clara. “The Silicon Valley Product Management Association (SVPMA) is an organization that was founded to address the needs of Product Managers, Product Marketing Managers and other professionals working within the Product Management field.”

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