Blue glowing high energy plasma field in space, computer generated abstract background

Be the Better Choice

Aaron Sweemer Headshot

Aaron Sweemer entered a data center for the first time early in 1996 when he worked part-time as an intern while completing his undergraduate degree at the University of Maryland, College Park. In addition to typical intern tasks, like getting coffee and doughnuts for everyone, Aaron was afforded the opportunity work on some pretty powerful and expensive hardware, such as Tandem NonStop Systems. It is also where Aaron first got his hands on technologies like Linux, PERL and Cisco. He soon discovered that he had quite a knack for scripting, automation and integration, which are skills that helped him score a gig as a field network engineer traveling the world implementing complex networks for customers. And it was on his world tour where he was first introduced to VMware Workstation. He was immediately hooked on the power of virtualization, and the rest, as they say is history.

Now with close to 20 years in the industry, Aaron has had the opportunity to take on many different challenging roles and projects for companies of all sizes and across many industries. Aaron likes to live on the bleeding edge of technology, he is never satisfied with the status quo, and he lives by the motto “anything is possible.” Aaron joined VMware about 7 years ago and in his current role, Aaron is a Principal Systems Engineer where he specializes in Cloud, Automation, and DevOps. He lives and works out of his home office in Cincinnati, a place he claims to be “the best city on earth.” n

“Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”
–Mahatma Gandhi

If you are someone who works in IT, I’ve got a secret for you. The secret I’m going to share with you has the power to positively and dramatically impact your career. But before we get to that, let me kick things off with a story …

“Hi, my name is Sam and I’m a software developer for a very large pizza company. You’ve probably heard of us because we make awesome pizza. But believe it or not, we actually think of ourselves as a software company who happens to make great pizza. The reason is simple; we can no longer win on great taste alone. The way we stay ahead of the game is through software. I helped create our mobile application. The app knows your favorite orders, customizing your pizza is a snap, and it can securely remember your credit card info so ordering can be a 1-click experience. We’ve even built in loyalty points where it doesn’t take long before your next pizza is free. The app is directly responsible for millions in additional revenue as well as a significant uptick in customer loyalty.

“In the beginning, developing the app wasn’t easy. Ordering servers from IT wasn’t exactly like ordering a pizza. It was downright painful. Sure, virtualization definitely helped a bit. We could theoretically get VMs in a few minutes, but it never really happened that way. Firewall rules, IP addresses, approvals, patches, manual paperwork … all of these things took the theory of minutes to the reality of weeks before we got the systems we needed. And it was frustrating because we could get what we needed from the ‘cloud’ in minutes. Why can’t I get that kind of service from my IT guys?

“In addition, pushing code through dev -> test -> prod was a nightmare. As developers we have new languages, frameworks and methodologies that allow us to create software faster than ever before. But what good does any of that do us if we can only push our code once every six months? In order to stay competitive we need to push our code into production many times per day.

“So my team faced a major dilemma. Do we get what we need right now from the cloud, despite our concerns around security, availability, cost, and long-term supportability? Or do we wait for IT to get us what we need, staying securely wrapped in our own datacenter, yet falling behind our competition?

And here we arrive at a relatively new crossroad that, with ever increasing frequency, developers are facing today. What would you do if you were Sam? I know what I would do; I’d choose the cloud. Which leads me to the moral of the story.

The new app is king. Marc Andreesen summarized it best when he said that FedEx “… is best thought of as a software network that happens to have trucks, planes and distribution hubs attached.” Software is becoming the actual “thing” that differentiates and drives the business itself. And for this reason, Software Developers now have an elevated level of influence over business and downstream IT decisions.

Software developers have a choice. This is really the crux of the problem for those in IT. Public clouds have come a long way in the last few years … and they will continue to improve. Five years ago, enterprise software developers rarely (if ever) faced this crossroad. They didn’t have a choice. Now they do.

We in IT are left with only one real option, which is to step up and be the better choice. I know that’s a tall order; especially considering the public clouds have a few years head start, with a dedicated team of engineers, and the luxury of building their offerings from the ground up. How can we realistically become the better choice?

Start with a solid foundation
We will start with vSphere because it is a solid and well-understood virtualization platform upon which we can begin building an Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS). Of course a virtualization platform in and of itself (vSphere or otherwise) does not an IaaS make. For that, we need another layer of abstraction that can intelligently handle blueprinting, self-service, and governance. This is where vCloud Automation Center (vCAC) comes into the picture.

Now, what I’m going to say next may seem a little out of place, but just bare with me and I will get to my point shortly …

vCAC is really good with infrastructure because, well, it doesn’t care about infrastructure. It’s not vCAC’s job to care about infrastructure. Caring about the infrastructure is the job of vSphere/Xen/KVM/HyperV/Physical, or vCloud Director/OpenStack, or vCloud Hybrid Service/Amazon Web Services. What vCAC is laser focused on, and therefore really good at, is blueprinting, self-service and governance. What should a VM or an Application or a Service look like? What infrastructure should it land on? What automation needs to happen during the provisioning/decommissioning process? How much should it cost? Basically vCAC is awesome at creating a robust definition of the “thing” we want to offer our developers so they can safely consume cloud resources, but it is not responsible for the actual implementation of that “thing.”

So as promised, here’s my point. By simply standing up vCAC and pointing it at vSphere, we have the beginnings of an IaaS. vCAC is a powerful cloud engine and serves as a nice shiny wrapper which can be layered into our existing environments. And like vSphere abstracting infrastructure, vCAC is no heavy lift.

At this point, our focus needs to switch to our customers. We want to partner with them, even co-create and co-own the cloud blueprints. This is the harder part of cloud. Figuring out the people and the process is always harder than the technology. But it is only via this collaborative approach, by giving our customers co-ownership of their choices, that we can ultimately become the better choice.

Branch out
What’s next? Chances are you are not 100% virtualized on vSphere. You probably have some physical machines, maybe some other hypervisors, possibly even some OpenStack too. For vCAC, all of those things are fair game. They are merely additional resources to be carved up, serving as potential landing spots for our infrastructure blueprints.

It’s also time to look at providing a broader set of choices than what we are capable of delivering internally. Even if you’re public cloud adverse, there are use cases (such as DR and Application Development/Prototyping) you should be looking at. Maybe you are already leveraging something like Amazon or VMware’s vCHS? We can now start bringing those resources under the control of our vCloud Automation Center.

Move up
Generally speaking, developers don’t care about infrastructure, and they only marginally care about Operating Systems. Of course they need those things, so giving them quick access via our IaaS is a massive improvement. But what they want is the automated deployment of a full stack, something closer to a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS). For this we need to leverage vCAC’s application blueprinting functionality. A vCAC application blueprint encapsulates all the intelligence required to properly and securely lay down an application on a set of Operating Systems.

Which Operating Systems? The ones we defined with our infrastructure blueprints. Here again is another example of an intelligent separation of concerns. Our IaaS can serve Operating Systems directly to customers, or it can serve Operating Systems to our application blueprints, or both. Let the IaaS handle infrastructure, let the PaaS handle the platform.

Game on
So what’s the big career changing secret? For those of us in IT, we now have competition. And just as virtualization has transformed our data centers and our careers, our new competition will force a similar kind of transformation, but to a much larger degree. Embracing this fact, stepping up our game and accepting the challenge by adapting our focus and our skill-sets accordingly will positively and dramatically impact our careers. It’s not going to be easy. But you can control your actions and your focus. As Gandhi once said, “be the change you wish to see in the world” and others will follow. Game on.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *