Friday, May 29, 2009

Can We Talk About Cloud Computing as Rational Adults?

I participate on a lot of seminars. A year or two ago I was doing seminar on wide area networking and part of my presentation included a discussion of some emerging trends that would impact the WAN. One of the trends that I mentioned in my presentation was Services Oriented Architectures (SOA). One of the other panelists was the VP of marketing for a mid sized WAN service provider. He loved the fact that I talked about SOA and its impact on the WAN and encouraged me to spend a lot more time on that topic in order to “really hype the impact of SOA”. I tried to politely decline saying that I was not sure that SOA would have that much of an impact in the short term and I did not want to over-hype it. This thoroughly confused the VP of marketing who in a loud voice repeatedly tried to convince me that “it is impossible to over hype a technology”.

My feelings are just the opposite. I strongly believe that not only is it possible to over hype a technology but that over hyping a technology is the normal mode of operation in our industry. The problem as I see it is that some marketers really believe that IT organizations make decisions based on PowerPoint slides, analyst reports, and general hysteria. Having run networking groups in two Fortune 500 companies I can say that in my experience IT organizations make decisions based on facts.

That brings me to cloud computing. Before I go on, I want to emphasize that I am somewhat bullish on the potential of cloud computing. I am not going to use this blog to bash cloud computing. I am, however, going to use this blog to bash the zealous over hyping of cloud computing. I just finished a phone call with a VP at a company that offers cloud computing services. I was hoping to discuss with him what IT organizations need in their own environment as well as from their service providers in order to realize the potential benefits of cloud computing. Instead of an intelligent discussion, all that I got was hype. According to the person that I was talking with, there are no fundamental impediments to cloud computing and IT organizations are really anxious to use cloud computing services because of their supposed revulsion to ever buying another server.

As I stated, I am somewhat bullish on the potential of cloud computing. However, I think that IT organizations will realize that potential a lot sooner if we can talk about cloud computing as rational adults. In particular, we need to have an intelligent discussion about what has to be in place for IT organizations to make a very fundamental shift in terms of how they offer services. I tried to explain to the gentleman that I was talking to today, that IT organizations do not make fundamental shifts in a matter of months. He didn’t understand the concept.

OK, it is 5:00 somewhere. I am gong to get a glass of wine and go into the pool. Yes, I will look up at the clouds as I sip (gulp?) my chardonnay.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

Last Comments from Interop

I always love coming to Interop in Vegas. This year’s show is over and it definitely was a success. Ok, it was not the Interop of ten years ago. The show did, however, perform a critical task. For three days it brought together thousands of IT professionals and provided them with a platform by which they could learn about technology, ask questions and in general expand their understanding of technology and its myriad uses.  

One of my panels today explored the need for IT organizations to rethink their LAN strategy. The four panelists were Manfred Arndt of HP, Jeff Prince of Consentry, Barry Cioe of Enterasys and Kumar Srikantan of Cisco.  These are four leaders in our industry and I was very pleased to have them on the panel.

It should not come as a surprise to any of you that all four panelists were of the opinion that IT organizations need to deploy LAN switching functionality that is different from what was deployed just a few years ago. For example, Prince stated his belief that LAN access switches need to be able to natively understand context and use that for myriad purposes, including providing more flexible security. Cioe suggested that the movement to SaaS and cloud computing drives the need for visibility and control beyond Layer 4 in order to understand transactions and prevent the leak of intellectual property or confidential content. Arndt discussed how the growing movement to implement unified communications drives the need for technology such as Power over Ethernet (POE), POE Plus with intelligent power management and multi-user network access protection (NAP) based on 802.1X. Srikantan talked about how the next generation of LAN switching is characterized by base hardware (i.e., Gig Access w/ POE Plus), base services (i.e., L2 and routed access), enhanced services (i.e., MPLS and IP SLA), service modules (i.e., server balancing and firewalls) and investment protection; i.e., 7 to 10 year lifecycle and incremental upgrades.

I buy off on one of Srikantan’s key points – that being that the LAN switches that IT organizations deploy need to have a 7 to 10 year lifecycle and be able to also support incremental upgrades. I also believe that access switches need to be intelligent enough to support applications such as unified communications and also support the evolving security requirements. One last point that I buy off on is that the data center LAN needs to evolve in order to support the highly consolidated, highly virtualized data centers that many large companies are on the road to implementing. At this point in time, however, I don’t have a good handle on what I think the new data center LAN needs to look like.   That is still a work in progress.

While moderating eleven panels at Interop was fun, I am not all that sad that the show is over with. As much as I love coming to Interop in Vegas, I really love going home to Sanibel.

Jim Metzler

Day 2 at Interop in Vegas

On Wednesday I talked with a number of the exhibitors at Interop. Uniformly they stated that they were getting less booth traffic than they did last year, but that the people who were coming to the booths were more interested in talking about technology than in getting a t shirt or a nerf ball. The net result was that all of the exhibitors I talked to said they were pleased with the show. The attendance at the panels yesterday was a bit lighter than it was on Tuesday. There also appeared to be a bit of a drop in the energy of the attendees on Wednesday. Is it possible that some of the attendees stayed out late on Tuesday night?

One of the panels that I moderated on Wednesday was entitled “How Networks Can Assist Application Delivery”. One of the panelists was Gary Hemminger of Brocade. The focus of Gary’s presentation was on the role that Application Delivery Controllers (ADC) play in application delivery. One of the issues that Gary discussed was the fact that many application vendors including SAP, VMware, Microsoft and Oracle are now defining detailed APIs for interfacing their applications with network devices such as ADCs, switches and routers. One of the benefits of these APIs is that they enables] ADCs to dynamically respond to the requirements of the application. However, as Gary pointed out, each application has its own interface specification. The fact that each application has its own interface specification greatly increases the amount of effort that is required on the part of networking equipment vendors in order to take advantage of this capability.

Gary also discussed the advantages of implementing virtualized ADCs. Although it is possible to virtualize ADCs whereby multiple ADCs appear as one, Gary was referring to the opposite approach – of having one ADC appear as multiple ADCs. As he pointed out, there are two alternative approaches that a vendor can take to implement this form of virtualization. One approach is based on software. Since each virtual ADC needs to be resource constrained to prevent resource hogging, ADC vendors could use VMware along with vCenter/vSphere to manage virtual ADC instances. One of the disadvantages of this approach is that it can introduce significant overhead.

An alternative approach is to virtualize ADCs based on hardware. In particular, Gary described how ADCs can be virtualized on a per core basis and allowed for the fact that multiple cores could be assigned to a particular virtualized ADC. One of the advantages of this approach is that it avoids the overhead associated with the software approach. One of the disadvantages of this approach is scale – are there enough cores available to support the requirements.

Jim Metzler  

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

First Impressions of Interop

I landed in Vegas Monday afternoon (5/18) around 4:00. When I stepped out of the hotel I saw something that I have never seen before in Vegas – there was absolutely no line for a taxi. Every other time I have come to Vegas there has been a long line, often lasting a half hour or more. My fear was that the Interop show would be as empty as the taxi line. It is not. It appears to be down some from last year, but there still is a lot of energy here.

The first session I moderated on Tuesday morning was on Application Performance Management (APM). The panelists were from NetQoS, CA and Fluke. I find this to be a very important topic because I strongly believe that all that a company’s business managers really care about is the performance of a handful of applications that they use to run their business unit. All of the infrastructure components (e.g., LAN, WAN, SAN, servers, OSs, firewalls, WOCs – you get the idea) are just a means towards an end.

The attendance at the session was ok, but less than I expected for this topic. The three panelists did a good job of describing APM and their company’s approach. Paul Ellis of CA drove home the fact that CA believes that IT organizations need to focus on the transaction and the quality of the user’s experience with that transaction. Matt Sherrod of NetQoS and Doug Roberts of Fluke Networks both did an admirable job of creating a framework for how IT organizations should approach APM.

The bottom line is that I was quite pleased with all three presentations. Then we got to the Q&A and the gap between what is being promoted by vendors and analysts and what is being practiced by IT organizations became painfully clear. For example, vendors and analysts have been talking for years about what IT organizations need to do to meet their internal SLAs. When asked, hardly any of the participants stated that they offer internal SLAs. That did not surprise me. Even more interesting is that vendors and analysts have also been talking for years about the need for visibility into applications. When asked, relatively few of the participants stated that they had that kind of view even though most of them had some kind of APM tool. That did surprise me. The feedback from the participants was that the main reason they didn’t have that kind of visibility was the overall complexity of the IT environment. Given that I believe that things are only going to get more complex, the gap between theory and practice may well get larger over the next few years.

Jim Metzler

Monday, May 18, 2009

A Comparison of Application Performance Management (APM) Vendors

Management used to be focused primarily on the availability of network devices such as switches and routers. However, in the last few years the focus of management has evolved to where it now typically includes the performance of both networks and applications. While the shift has been relatively recent, the industry is flooded with vendors who claim to offer application performance management (APM) products. Viewed from a hundred thousand foot level, the majority of APM tool vendors all make very similar promises. Most if not all APM tool vendors promise that their products can help to identify when the performance of an application is degrading and can help to identify the component of IT that is causing the degradation; i.e., is it the WAN or the servers that is causing the degradation. Some APM tool vendors claim that their tools also enable an IT organization to identify the particular sub-element (e.g., the particular WAN link or server) that is causing the degradation.

The first panel that I will be moderating at Interop is entitled “Application Performance Management”. The primary goal of this panel is to help IT organizations get better at APM. A secondary goal is to help IT organizations understand some of the primary similarities and differences amongst APM vendors. To achieve those goals I have invited three APM vendors to the panel. Those vendors are Fluke Networks, NetQoS and CA. I have asked each of the panelists to spend about 15 minutes discussing what it takes for IT organizations to be successful with APM. At the conclusion of the formal presentations we will have a Q&A. I will start the Q&A by asking each of the panelists to discuss how their company is differentiated in the marketplace. After that, I will turn it over to the audience for further questions.

The panel will be held Tuesday, May the 19th from 10:15 to 11:15 in Breakers E. If you are going to be at Interop, I invite you to attend.

Jim Metzler

Friday, May 15, 2009

Technologies that Enterprise CTOs Like

At the Interop conference next week in Las Vegas most of the educational sessions will feature vendors who will try to convince the attendees that they should acquire the vendor's products or services. There is nothing wrong with approach that as long as the speakers abstain from making too flagrant of a sales pitch.

One of my eleven sessions, however, does not have any vendor speakers. The session is entitled "CTO Roundtable - Which Emerging Technologies Will Make an Impact?" The session will be held on Tuesday from 2:45 to 3:45. The room for the session is Breakers E.

The exciting aspect of this session is that I have brought together CTOs from three companies that are in different industries and which very widely in size. I have asked the panelists to discuss which technologies they are bullish about and why. I am particularly interested to see if any of the CTOs are investing early in the life cycle of a technology because of the strong promise it offers.

I have also asked the three CTOs to identify which technologies they think are either over-hyped or just have little applicability for their organization. I am very interested to see which technologies make their lists for being over-hyped. To my way of thinking possibilities include SOA, SaaS, Web 2.0, desktop virtualization and public cloud computing. This session will be particularly interesting if one CTO identifyies a technology that they find to be very impactful and another CTO discusses how they find that technology to be over-hyped.

If you will be at Interop I hope that you find the time to attend this session.

Jim Metzler

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Is There a Need to Rethink the LAN?

Is There a Need to Rethink the LAN?

OK, I have been in the industry long enough that I can remember the era of slow-speed, shared LANs. I also remember an infamous article that appeared in a trade magazine in the early 1990s that argued that it was impossible to ever exhaust the capacity of a shared 10 Mbps Ethernet LAN. The authors of that article were not dumb. They were, however, very na├»ve. They assumed that the world that they knew would not change. In particular, they assumed that the primary use of the enterprise LAN would remain what it was – supporting simple applications such as word-processing and email. And of course, in their vision of the future email did not have attachments such as a 30 MB PowerPoint file or a video.

In the mid to late 1990s IT organizations made the transition from shared to switched LANs. However, for most of the last decade LAN design has been pretty staid. Now a number of vendors are talking about the need for a new, highly functional LAN switch. Some vendors are even talking about the need for a new LAN architecture. It would be easy to write this off as just vendor hype. However, we all want to avoid the previously mentioned situation. In particular, we want to avoid being surprised and unprepared for the fact that the LAN needs to undergo fundamental changes in order to support changing demands.

With this in mind, I invite those of you who are attending the Vegas Interop conference to attend my panel that is entitled ‘Is there a need for a next generation LAN switch?’ On the panel I have Manfred Arndt, Distinguished Technologist at HP; Jeff Prince, CEO at Consentry Networks; Barry Cioe, VP of Product Management & Marketing for Enterasys; and Kumar Srikantan, VP of Product Management at Cisco.

When it comes to the LAN, these speakers are some of the industry heavyweights. This should be a very interesting panel.

Jim Metzler