October 5th, 2011

Let’s Talk iPhone

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iCloudWe all know what was rumored for several weeks, that the star of yesterday’s iPhone unveiling would not be the hardware. And it wasn’t. Sure it was upgraded: A5 versus A4, eight megapixels versus five etc. But the physical update ranked up there with Intel’s introduction of the 486 for emotional pull. For many loyal Apple customers, including myself, the news was disappointing on first impression.

Still, first impressions are not always the most accurate. The true star of yesterday’s event was the integration of the iPhone to the Cloud. From iCloud through Find My Friends, iTunes Match, Photo Stream, Backup and of course the Siri personal assistant, Apple has tethered its phone to a series of concentric Clouds that span the personal, familial and public.

Now, one can argue that every app on the iPhone has, in one way or another, always been a portal, in miniature, to some shared Web-like Cloud service. What makes yesterday’s series of Cloud announcements different is how intertwined these Cloud services have become with the core propositions of the iPhone. Apple has tried to tie Cloud to most of the primary functions of the iPhone: communication, music, photos, search, social networking, calendaring etc.

Clearly, Apple benefits from anchoring our devices to a Cloud of its own invention. Defecting to another phone platform will become more complicated and cumbersome because of the iPhone’s many Clouds. Despite this, there is no denying the benefit that accrues to me and every consumer of Apple products from the cocooning effect of the Cloud. Apple’s Cloud services simplify a range of tasks and make possible some like Siri, which would have been impossible otherwise.

Like all good innovators, Apple did not invent the idea of integrating the Cloud to a mobile device. Google has been experimenting with this for years. Even Amazon, with its new Kindle Fire, is leveraging its AWS Cloud to accelerate Web browsing. However, Apple has the mass market reach to truly make Cloud integration with mobile devices mainstream.

For enterprise software vendors like Oracle, IBM WebSphere and Layer 7 Technologies, which are marrying software with hardware to deliver integrated appliances, the lesson is obvious: software plus hardware may be incomplete. Perhaps a better mnemonic is: “Software. Hardware. Cloud. Complete.” This may explain why Larry Ellison chose to replace Mark Benioff’s Cloud keynote today at Oracle OpenWorld 2011 with his own.

May 11th, 2011

Layer 7 to Demonstrate Cloud Network Elasticity at TMForum Management World in Dublin

I’ll be at the TMForum Management World show this May 23-26, 2011 in Dublin, Ireland to participate in the catalyst demonstrating cloud network elasticity, which is sponsored by Deutsche Telekom and the Commonwealth Bank of Australia. For those of you not yet familiar with TMForum, it is (from their web site) “the world’s leading industry association focused on enabling best-in-class IT for service providers in the communications, media, defense and cloud service markets.” We’ve been involved with the TMForum for a couple of years, and this show in Dublin is going to showcase some major breakthroughs in practical cloud computing. TMForum offers catalysts as solution proof-of-concepts. A catalyst involves a number of vendors which partner together to demonstrate an end-to-end solution to a real problem faced by telco providers or the defense industry. This year, we’re working closely with Infonova, Zimory, and Ciena to showcase a cloud-in-a-box environment that features elastic scaling of compute resources and network bandwidth on-demand, all of which is fully integrated with an automated billing system.We think this solution will be a significant game-changer in the cloud infrastructure marketplace, and Layer 7′s CloudControl product is a part of this solution. CloudControl plays a crucial role in managing the RESTful APIs that tie together each vendor’s components. What excites me about this catalyst is that it assembles best-of-breed vendors from the telco sector to create a truly practical elastic cloud. Zimoury contributes the management layer that transforms simple virtualized environments into clouds. We couple this with Ciena’s on-demand network bandwidth solutions, allowing users to acquire guaranteed communications capacity when they need it. Too often clouds elasticity starts and stops with CPU. Ciena’s technology ensures that the network resource factors into the elastic value proposition. The front end is driven by Zimory’s BSS system, ensuring that all user actions are managed under a provider-grade billing framework. And finally, Layer 7′s CloudControl operates as the glue in the middle to add security and auditing, integrate disparate APIs, and provide application-layer visibility into all of the communications between different infrastructure components.

Layer 7's CloudControl acts as API glue between cloud infrastructure components.

I hope you can join me at TMForum Management World this month. We will be giving live demonstrations of the elastic cloud under real world scenarios given to us by Deutsche Telekom and Commonwealth Bank. This promises to be a very interesting show.
April 26th, 2011

VMware’s Cloud Foundry Ushers In The Era Of Open PaaS

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Mention VMware to anyone in IT and their immediate thought is virtualization. So dominant is the company in this space that the very word VM has a sense of ambiguity about it: does it refer specifically to a vmdk, or another hypervisor image like Xen? As with Kool-Aid and Band-Aid, there is nothing better for a company than to contribute a word to the English lexicon, and while VMware may not completely own virtual machine, they command enough association to get passed the doorman of that enviable club. Strong associations however, may not translate directly into revenue. From open source Xen to Microsoft’s Hyper-V, virtualization technology is rapidly commoditizing, a threat not lost on VMware. Hypervisors are now largely free, and much of the company’s continued success derives from the sophisticated management products that make mass virtualization a tractable challenge in the enterprise. But for every OpenView, there is ultimately a Nagios to content with, so the successful company is always innovating. VMware, a very successful company, is innovating by continuing its push up the stack. Last week VMware introduced Cloud Foundry, an open Platform-as-a-Service product that represents an important step to transform the company into a dominant PaaS player. You don’t have to read any tea leaves to see this has been their focused strategy for some time; you just have to look at their acquisitions. SpringSource for Java frameworks; RabbitMQ for queuing; Gemstone for scalable, distributed persistence; and Hyperic to manage it all—it’s basically the modern developer’s shopping list of necessary application infrastructure. The only thing they are still missing is security. Cloud Foundry assembles some components of this technology in a package that enables developers to skip the once-necessary evil of infrastructure integration and to instead concentrate fully on the business problems they’ve been tasked to solve. It is a carefully curated stack of cloud-centric frameworks and infrastructure made available by a cloud provider as a service. Right now, you can use Cloud Foundry in VMware-managed cloud; but the basic offering is available for any cloud, public or private. Applications should be easily portable between any instance of Cloud Foundry. VMware even promises a forthcoming micro-cloud VM, which makes any developer’s laptop into a cloud development environment. All of this reduces friction in application development. Computing is full of barriers, and we often fall into the psychological trap of perceiving these to be bigger than they actually are. Barriers are the enemy of agile, and basic infrastructure is a barrier that too often saps the energy out of a new idea before it has a chance to grow. Make the plumbing available, make it simple to use, and half the battle for new apps is over. What’s left is just fun. Cloud Foundry is important because it’s like a more open Azure. Microsoft deserves credit for keeping the PaaS dream alive with their own offering, but Azure suffers from a sense of lock-in, and it really only speaks to the Microsoft community. Plus the Microsoft ad campaign for cloud is so nauseating it might as well be bottled as a developer repellant for people who hate geeks. Cloud Foundry, in contrast, goes far to establish its claim to openness. It references the recently announced Cloud Developer’s Bill of Rights, another initiative spearheaded by VMware. Despite being a Java-head myself, I was encouraged to learn that Cloud Foundry offered not just Spring, but Ruby on Rails, Sinatra for Ruby and Node.js. They also support Grails, as well as other frameworks based on the JVM. Persistence is handled by MySQL, MongoDB, or the Redis database, which is a decent range of options. So while VMware has’t quite opened up all their acquisition portfolio to the cloud community, they have assembled the critical pieces and seem genuine in their goal of erasing the stigma of lock-in that has tarnished previous commercial PaaS offerings. I’m a fan of PaaS; I’m even a member of the club that believes that of the big three *-as-a-Services, PaaS is destined to be the dominant pattern. Managing and configuring infrastructure is, in my mind, pretty much on par with actually managing systems—a task I consider even less rewarding than shoveling manure. And I’m not alone in this opinion either. Once PaaS becomes open and trustworthy, it will be an automatic choice for most development. PaaS is the future of cloud, and VMware knows this.
April 23rd, 2011

Why Cloud Brokers Are The Foundation For The Resilient API Network

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Amazon Web Services crashed spectacularly, and with it the illusion that cloud is reliable-by-design and ready for mission-critical applications. Now everyone knows that cloud SLAs fade like the phosphor glow in a monitor when someone pulls the plug from the wall. Amazon’s failure is an unfortunate event, and the cloud will never be the same. So what is the enterprise to do if it can’t trust its provider? The answer is to take a page from good web architecture and double up. Nobody would deploy an important web site without at least two identical web servers and a load balancer to spray traffic between them. If one server dies, its partner handles the full load until operators can restore the failed system. Sometimes the simplest patterns are the most effective. Now take a step back and expand this model to the macro-level. Instead of pair of web servers, imagine two different cloud providers, ideally residing on separate power grids and different Internet backbones. Rather than a web server, imagine a replicated enterprise application hosting important APIs. Now replace the load balancer with a Cloud Broker—essentially an intelligent API switch that can distribute traffic between the providers based  both on provider performance and a deep understanding of the nature of each API. It is this API-centricity that makes a Cloud Broker more than just a new deployment pattern for a conventional load balancer. Engineers design load balancers to direct traffic to Web sites, and their designs excel at this task. But while load balancers do provide rudimentary access to API parameters in a message stream, the rules languages used to articulate distribution policy are just not designed to make effective decisions about application protocols. In a pinch, you might be able to implement simple HTTP fail over between clouds, but this isn’t a very satisfactory solution. In contrast, we design cloud brokers from the beginning to interpret application layer protocols and to use this insight to optimize API traffic management between clouds. A well-designed cloud broker abstracts existing APIs that may differ between hosts, offering a common view to clients decoupled from local dependencies. Furthermore, Cloud Brokers implement sophisticated orchestration capabilities so they can interact with cloud infrastructure through a provider’s APIs. This allows the broker to take command of applications the provider hosts. Leveraging these APIs, the broker can automatically spin up a new application instance on demand, or release under-utilized capacity. Automation of processes is one of the more important value propositions of cloud, and Cloud Brokers are means to realize this goal. For more information about Cloud Brokers, have a look at the Cloud Broker product page at Layer 7 Technologies.
April 12th, 2011

No More Iron in the Cloud

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Category Cloud Computing
 
Iron Mountain, the well known information management company, is exiting the cloud storage business. The company announced yesterday that they will be phasing out their basic cloud storage services by 2013. Iron Mountain isn’t the first provider to turn its back on the cloud just as the space is getting off of the ground; but it is probably the most high profile company to exit this business. I’ve always liked Iron Mountain because the name makes me think of the Hobbit (remember Dain of the Iron Hills?) In fact I think that Iron Mountain is one of the all time great company names, and their marketing group deserves credit for leveraging this to build a very strong brand around what is arguably a pretty dull and conventional service—that of records management. The extension of this brand into the cloud seemed obvious and fitting, so at first blush its disappointing that they’ve made a decision to reverse course. In reality though, it seems that Iron Mountain is performing more of a realignment of its cloud strategy. Simple cloud-based storage is just not very hard to do, and so the field is rapidly becoming as crowded as the battle of five armies. Differentiation is the key to great brands, and its hard to standout from S3 or Carbonite or Mozy or any of the dozens of providers peddling mass storage services in the cloud. Iron Mountain seemed to recognize that their brand could be better served—that is, both leveraged and protected—by ducking out of the commodity bazaar and moving up the street to provide a more specialized and business-aligned service. This is all very interesting because over the next few years we will see that brand—that most mysterious response in the consumer’s mind—is going to be the deciding factor that makes or breaks a cloud provider’s success. And as Amazon has demonstrated, cloud branding can come out of the most unlikely places.