Some people believe that private IT clouds are just a different name for the same stuff we already have in the data center. I disagree. Regardless of what we call this new “thing”, a true IT utility or private IT Cloud, it isn’t synonymous with what we have today in the data center although many of the ingredients are the same.
The IT professionals that I’ve spoken to about private IT Clouds consider it to be the realization of IT as a utility within their own companies. It utilizes physical IT infrastructure for greater economies of scale, which is the essence of what a utility is all about. We've been talking about turning IT into a service utility for decades, so what has changed in that time? The biggest thing has been server virtualization, which creates an N-to-1 virtual server to physical server ratio. VLANs have done the same thing for networking. Additionally, some storage systems allow you to create virtual storage systems in a similar fashion. We have advanced IT technology to enable multi-tenancy and create logical systems within physical ones. The virtualization of IT infrastructure is relatively new and essential to enabling private IT clouds.
The critical pieces still missing for private IT clouds is the management, policy-based controls, reporting, analysis and "billing" systems for the entire IT ecosystem holistically. This is what will elevate private IT clouds from being a disparate set of virtual and physical infrastructure solutions to the new way we manage our data centers. However, this is the harder part to build because it requires core competencies that the infrastructure vendors don’t have. Additionally, you need to work with a wide range of solutions and vendors that may or may not cooperate.
Private IT clouds are real and will change the IT landscape but nothing is binary. We don’t go from doing things one way and switching it to another over night. It takes years with progress occurring step-by-step. There are points of acceleration and depending on the ease of making the shift, the clarity of the value proposition and the support of the ecosystem, this can happen sooner or later. Additionally, as markets emerge no one can really predict how it will all play out.
So what is an IT professional to do? Do what you always do when faced with something new and emerging. The early adopters will lead the way and some will make great choices and others will make mistakes. Keep reading, researching and analyzing. You might want to even dip your toe in if the cost and risk is minimal. Set cynicism aside and understand how private IT clouds can impact your environment for the short term and continue to evaluate the long-term implications.
Retiring applications is something that I must confess I haven't thought much about. However, I recently met with the Sai Gundavelli -CEO of an emerging vendor called Solix and he shared with me their new product called ExAPPS. Solix has been selling its data archiving appliance and in the course of doing so recognized the value of providing a solution for application retirement.
A brief description of the Solix ExApps appliance. First, this solution is designed for data base applications. It is an appliance that provides the software and storage for access and retention of the data from the retired application. In other words - you will move the data from the retired app off of your primary storage system to the ExAPPS appliance. And since the application is retired you will also access the data via the ExAPPS appliance as well as a gateway.
The things that I think are valuable and compelling about ExAPPS:
1. It is application-aware and supports ODBC and SQL92. You can retire your applications but still read all of the data, run reports and queries.
2. It re-organizes the database format and reduces the storage capacity requirements - according to Solix - by 90%. This significantly reduces your capacity costs, floor space, power consumption and cooling requirements. Remember that the application is being retired and the data is fundamentally being stored as an active archive. "Compressing" it - or more accurately - reformatting the data so that it is capacity optimized is the smart and practical thing to do. Will it perform as well? Probably not - but not because of the reformatting but because it isn't being run on big servers or big storage any more. But who cares? It's retired!
3. Since ExAPPS is actually reformatting the structure of the database it doesn't require any "rehydration" of the data. This means that even if you have to fire up the data and access it - the entire process requires no additional capacity or processing cycles as a result of a rehydration process.
It is also important to note that retiring applications is typically not taken care of by an appliance alone but requires planning and services. These projects can take months to accomplish effectively. So Solix and probably over time their channel partners will work with you on this process as well as provide the appliance.
ExAPPS is an interesting solution. Solix has taken what they've learned with database archiving and developed a solution specific to database application retirement. They were able to use a good portion of their current technology and add some additional functionality - in effect creating a blue ocean market for themselves leveraging their unique application retirement appliance.
I haven't spoken to any of their customers yet. Solix claims to have a handful of early installations with some big companies. And I intend to talk to more customers in general about the challenges with application retirement and how big of a priority this is for their respective companies. Application retirement appliances could be a new segment and other archiving companies may follow Solix's lead. It could be very interesting to see how this evolves. The IT world is getting "old" and we really do need to start thinking about application retirement as a priority.
I went to the Computer History Museum last week in Mountain View, CA to see the Difference Engine conceived and almost invented by Charles Babbage in the 1830s. Basically this was a computer run by kinetic energy (a person moving a crank) using sophisticated mechanics to make complex calculations. Babbage also conceived of the Analytical Engine - a general purpose computer that took the Difference Engine concept to the next level.
The cost of these systems and the amount of time required to build them were daunting and his personality was so volatile that he alienated the ecosystem required to build them. He finally gave up and said that "another age must be the judge". Babbage was a victim of his arrogance and as a result he played a big part in the destruction of his own dream. He also over-promised and under-delivered spending years and years on the project and endless amounts of money. At some point his funding source - which was the British government - terminated the relationship after spending what it would cost to build 22 brand new steam locomotives. Not only did the funding end but so did any good will he had with the British government since they refused to consider further funding of his Analytical Engine - which could have changed the world in deep and profound ways.
This is from the Computer Museum website - "The first complete Babbage Engine was completed in London in 2002, 153 years after it was designed. Difference Engine No. 2, built faithfully to the original drawings, consists of 8,000 parts, weighs five tons, and measures 11 feet long." And it works.
It was very cool to see the thing in action - all of the little widgets rotating and gyrating making clinking and clanking noises. I highly recommend visiting if you are in the area. (Btw - the photo was taken by a very nice girl named Sara. I left my camera back at the hotel and asked Sara if she could take one and email it to me. She did a great job too! She got Babbage in the background, the Difference Engine and me all in the frame. Well done Sara and thank you!)
What would have the world have been like if the computer was invented over 120 years earlier? Would there be an IBM? Intel? Microsoft? Apple? VMware? It was so close to happening, albeit in a different manifestation but the value would be very similar. Certainly the world as we know it would be measurably different- a compelling pun to consider when contemplating the Difference Engine.