You routinely will witness the ‘everyone wants to be the architect’ behaviors, especially in large multi-disciplinary initiatives such as data centre modernisation, cloud architecture, or virtual infrastructure deployments.
Admittedly, architects carry a lot of weight. Driving the technical architecture and keeping the business onboard is no job for slackers and has a lot of perks. Yet, one bad architect, or too many architects, or pseudo-architects (the worst) drive a lot of great ideas straight into the ground.
So how do you tell the difference? Here are a few telltale traits:
After spending some time at VMware VFORUM yesterday it left quite an impression. I’ve not seen this kind of market unanimity since years 1999-2000 and the market wide race to beat the clock with Y2K and launch every business onto the internet, hell or high water. It was awesome. Companies were spending money like drunken sailors on the west coast US, especially in tech-hubs like the bay area or Seattle.
Now were racing against a similar pressure clock to cloud enable anything with a bit and a silicon soul. It’s quite exciting to see VMware, with a leading market position in enterprise virtualisation, rally practically every hardware/software vendor, consultancy, and techie/VCP into a common charge.
Amazingly, the Australian market is seemingly saturated with companies proporting ‘We know cloud’ when arguably there are no truly elastic cloud players operating in region. (I’m intentionally not counting platform as a service or virtualisation with a wrapper as cloud. Just because you’re billing as OPEX doesn’t make it elastic!)
But the race is on in spite of the facts:
- No one really has a firm grasp of the market opportunity
- The payback potential for consumers is undeniably large
- The actual definition of cloud is still contested (mainly because everyone spins it against their existing capability, whatever that happens to be)
- True cloud providers don’t exactly publish their P&L’s or provide forecasts inclusive of actual risk
- Therefore the risks and actual payback for providers is yet to be proven
But in the end, I’m happy to be back in the land of tech-hype and excitement. For a lot of us, it’s why we’re in the game, because it tends to shift and change a lot. It’s just like 1999 Seattle VC days when ideas were rich and bottom line was not a topic of popular discourse. And we’re collectively chasing a concept, some of which is real and some of which is fantasy.
Some of the fantasy will come true. This reminds me of a young entrepreneur who told me in 1999 about how virtual economies will be a legitimate business, and her’s would provide a ‘virtual pony’ for little kids to mind. Beyond my rude beer choking reaction, we now have Farmville and a 2B virtual market economy. At any rate, it’s good to see some excitement back in the industry after a couple dull GFC years.
Since settling in Sydney, I’ve been dabbling in setting up internet home-theatre. At this point I have all home entertainment media (local and online streaming) available through a single connection and server. Why, well partly because the technology is easy to figure out without cracking a manual and partly due to the fact you don’t really need a dedicated phone line and cable/satellite TV contract anymore. Granted, back in the US I had a tendency to keep these services alive, and ignore the fact you’re dumping 1000’s a year on services that are 5% utilised.
So here’s the setup:
- Naked ADSL 120 GB/month internet connection (fortunately only a few hundred feet from the DSLAM)
- VPN connection (www.strongvpn.com) (which is absolutely required for most US media streaming services, setup to run all the time for all traffic)
- NetFlix Account (9.99/month)
- Various free accounts (Pandora, LastFM, Hulu, etc.)
- Plex (www.plexapp.com, free software for an internet home theatre)
- PlexAeon skin (installed to Plex application to make it intuitive)
- Itunes (for inventory of audio library)
- Mac Mini (2.4GHz Intel Core 2, 2GB RAM base model, which is earning it’s keep)
- HDMI cable (for Audio/Video from Mac Mini to HDTV)
- RCA stereo cable (for sound from HDTV monitor outs to my sound system, since you can only route sound from one interface at a time from the Mac Mini)
- Apple Remote
- Macbook (for remote administration, which you could do just as well with a Bluetooth mouse/keyboard)
So after a lot of tweaking, the Plex/Mac home theatre is working well. It still requires some nurturing, but in general the solution is an incredible alternative to web-browsing and using separate applications for streaming video, photography services, online and local music, etc. So all the standard issue streaming giants (NetFlix, Hulu, Last.fm, Pandora, etc.) and the dozens of others (Picasa, National Geographic, PBS, Pitchfork Media, etc.) are all available in your living room all the time. When it works, you have a personal cloud portal to video, music, and photography user services available with a silly-simple Apple remote interface.
A couple of key items to note:
- Plex is geek-friendly software for setup, but extremely user friendly once stable and running, but you still may need the geek when it needs to be restarted, modified, etc.
- Plex with it’s native interface/skin is confusing, but the PlexAeon skin is a functional makeover
- Energy saver mode on Plex does nasty things (wiping out media inventory, freezing application, kicking VPN connections, etc.)
- US media services are getting smarter to VPN international users – keep it on all the time and don’t let them log repeated login failures
- Remote management and login is absolutely required – so either have an OSX machine nearby to remote login, or get a solid Bluetooth keyboard/mouse (this is a major barrier for non-geeked out households)
- Why spend the extra dollars for expensive, hardware? Basically so I’m not spending my time rebooting or dealing with driver and compatibility issues, and instead spending my time with semi-stable applications
- Turn down the bells and whistles (like music visualisation emulators) – Plex is doing a lot of lifting and some of the ‘slick’ features get in the way of stability/performance
Overall, the value for money is incredible once you get this setup. Next the server will start additional-purpose roles as a DVR (for over the air recording), a private FTP server, and IP/Skype dedicated ‘land-line’ home phone.
The first time I saw Werner Vogels present was about 2 years ago at a conference keynote in SFO. Sitting amongst a couple thousand storage and data management architects and engineers, I got this strange sensation the Dutch had taken over the planet of IT and I was sitting amongst legions of luddites, completely obvious to the tsunami of change upon the horizon. Even Werner’s PowerPoint style embodied this futuristic minimalist format with super-crisp concepts and ideas that somehow blended IT architecture genius and Baby Einstein graphics into something meaningful. So, as the room emptied out, the group think = ‘wow, that was cool, what just happened’.
Flash forward a couple of years and now most people are talking about cloud and not many really have a firm definition of what it is. I’m just glad to see Werner is taking a stand and calling it out: a private cloud is not the cloud. All of the classic IT vendors are rapidly promoting their wares as gateways to the cloud, when in fact they are pushing the same old capital intensive approach to IT infrastructure.
This is at the heart of this blog: to bridge the classic world of IT infrastructure to the emerging model of operating cash-driven infrastructure services. You look at Amazon’s latest advance, merging EC2 compute services and virtual private networking, and this is taking a significant step towards ‘data center friendly’ cloud architecture. If I can buy multi-carrier MPLS circuits between my data centers, and also between my data centers and Amazon data centers, what’s the difference?