Many people who have seen me present over the past year have heard me discuss the notion of complexity and who truly benefits from it. Given the current state of IT budgets and resources, the time is ripe to take a closer look at this issue.
Most organizations that I work with are grappling with mandates to be more efficient and responsive to business or department needs (said in another way, more agile) and to improve application availability, all while maintaining a flat budget. These mandates often lead to public, private and hybrid cloud initiatives that include an emphasis on high degrees of automation.
What is the Goal?
A typical first step on the private/hybrid cloud journey is to look at the innovators in the public cloud for inspiration and then either adopt those solutions and/or work to build an internal private or hybrid cloud. This is where the problem often starts. Look at the major public cloud IaaS providers and you will notice that they all share the same common architectural tenets:
- A single x86 hypervisor platform and common virtual infrastructure layer
- A single purpose-built cloud management platform
- A stack whose value is mostly derived from software and not hardware
Now consider how those principles compare to some of the private cloud architectural proposals you’ve probably seen. Over the past two years, I have seen dozens of private cloud architectures, and I place most in the Frankencloud category. Frankenclouds are often built from a collection of parts using a somewhat democratic process and many either fail completely or come at too high a cost. Let me explain.
From a political perspective, it’s far easier to allow each IT group to keep working with their favorite technologies than to standardize on one set of integrated components. Multisourcing is often encouraged as a means to potentially save on acquisition costs. So while a private cloud project may begin with a goal of emulating successful public cloud IaaS implementations, the resulting architecture may look nothing like it. Common attributes can include:
- A multi-hypervisor stack with separate management silos
- One or more cloud management platforms that orchestrate across a variety of virtualization, storage, networking and security components
- A stack that has both hardware and software optimized components
If multisourcing throughout the cloud IaaS stack is such a good thing, then why isn’t it pervasive in the public cloud? The reason is simple. It’s not. That said, enterprises are often encouraged to multisource virtualization, storage, networking and compute infrastructures, among other layers. The reason why:
Complexity is great for profits!
Many traditional vendor and consulting practices have business models that depend on high degrees of complexity and the professional services revenue that it brings. It’s far better to offer a catalog with an infinite number of possibilities than to simply prescribe an optimal solution. When faced with complexity, ask yourself this:
Do my clients and stakeholders care how many hypervisors I have?
Regardless of your constituent – business unit, department, agency, customer, etc. – most are not interested in telling you how to do your job. Yes some factors such as workload mobility between data centers or clouds can dictate platform choices and necessitate closer parity for requirements such as disaster recovery or data center load balancing; however, those are additional reasons that favor standardized architectures.
The Way Forward
Most organizations are still just drafting their private and hybrid cloud plans, so it’s not too late to change course. If you want the lowest total cost of ownership (TCO) and the highest degrees of agility, the fewer moving parts the better. That’s not rocket science; it’s basic math.
If you want to emulate public cloud IaaS from VMware, Amazon, Google or anyone, the architectural principles of simplicity and standardization still apply. Sure, one could argue that a standardized architecture could benefit VMware. That’s true, but it benefits you as well. When you hear from those that encourage complexity, ask them why. Ask whose interests are truly at stake.
In the cloud era, you will have to place big bets with a small set of strategic vendors; the alternative is blazing your own path, which does bring flexibility, but also potential for higher costs and staffing challenges. We at VMware believe that we have the very best turnkey offering to bring the benefits of public cloud to your organization, while also providing the greatest degree of flexibility and provider choice. The integration you see in the vCloud Suite enables turnkey automation from the application down to the infrastructure – and not just VMware infrastructure, but that of its key hardware and software partners too. Automation should simply be a feature, not a professional service offering, and that’s a core attribute of the vCloud Suite, whose breadth will continually expand with time. In addition, while standardized from management and infrastructure down, the VMware stack is fully heterogeneous at the top and supports more than two hundred OS versions and all popular application stacks.
Regardless of whether you choose VMware or not, keep the focus on the core private cloud architectural principles of standardization and simplicity, while continuing to emphasize value delivered via software. The data center is evolving and VMware’s hardware partners are demonstrating that they are onboard with this fundamental shift by developing their own software-based offerings. It’s a great time to take steps to closely align the private cloud architectures in your data centers with those of major public cloud IaaS providers. Using SDDC technologies such as vSAN and a cloud management platform such as vCAC in development, test, and training environments are ideal first steps.
Focus on What’s Important
The most cost efficient and scalable IaaS platforms offer a core of standardized components from a single vendor or provider. That common core is essential to enable and maintain high degrees of automation. Look for solutions with a rich ecosystem of partners that can add value to that core platform while not expanding complexity. Make smart investments in just enough professional services. Getting a private cloud deployed right is essential for long-term success. To that end, leverage the expertise from folks who have already built a number of successful private clouds. The goal of the professional service engagement should be integrating the turnkey solution, not taking a blank framework and building a fully customized solution that will be costly to maintain.
In the end, this simple standardized architecture is what you should demand. Times have changed. As IT decision makers, our value is now defined in how we can better enable business agility, speed, and availability while keeping costs under control. Building and maintaining complex systems no longer has to be something we hang our hats on. That approach simply preserves an industry that needs complexity to remain profitable. Pick strategic partners you are confident you can grow with and who truly have your core interests at heart, not their legacy business model.
What do you think? I welcome your comments.