Monthly Archives: July 2009

What’s mid-sized?

As I talk to clients, it strikes me that companies with fairly similar IT infrastructures can use very different words to describe how they feel about it. One client might say, “Oh, we’re just a small IT shop, we’ve only got a little over 250 servers, we think cloud computing is for people like us.” Another client that’s functionally identical (same approximate business size, industry, mix of workloads and technologies) might say, much more indignantly, “We’re a big IT shop! We’ve got more than 250 servers! Cloud computing can’t help enterprises like us!”

“SMB” is a broadly confused term. So, for that matter, is “enterprise”. I tend to prefer the term “mid-market”, but even that is sort of cop-out language. Moreover, business size and IT size don’t correlate. Consider the Fortune 500 companies that extract natural resources, vs. their neighbors on the list, for instance.

Vendors have to be careful how they pitch their marketing. Mid-sized companies and/or mid-sized IT shops don’t always know when they’re talking about them, and not some other sort of company. Conversely, IT managers have to look more deeply to figure out if a particular sort of cloud service is right for their organization. Don’t dismiss a cloud service out of hand because you think you’re either too big or too small for it.

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Bits and pieces

Interesting recent news:

Amazon’s revocation of Orwell novels on the Kindle has stirred up some cloud debate. There seems to have been a thread of “will this controversy kill cloud computing”, which you can find in plenty of blogs and press articles. I think that question, in this context, is silly, and am not going to dignify it with a lengthy post of my own. I do think, however, that it highlights important questions around content ownership, application ownership, and data ownership, and the role that contracts (whether in the form of EULAs or traditional contracts) will play in the cloud. By giving up control over physical assets, whether data or devices, we place ourselves into the hands of thir parties, and we’re now subject to their policies and foibles. The transition from a world of ownership to a world of rental, even “permanent” lifetime rental, is not a trivial one.

Engine Yard has expanded its EC2 offering. Previously, Engine Yard was offering Amazon EC2 deployment of its stack via an offering called Solo, for low-end customers who only needed a single instance. Now, they’ve introduced a version called Flex, which is oriented around customers who need a cluster and associated capabilities, along with a higher level of support. This is notable because Engine Yard has been serving these higher-end customers out of their own data center and infrastructure. This move, however, seems to be consistent with Engine Yard’s gradual shift from hosting towards being more software-centric.

The Rackspace Cloud Servers API is now in open beta. Cloud Servers is essentially the product that resulted from Rackspace’s acquisition of Slicehost. Previously, you dealt with your Cloud Server through a Web portal; this new release adds a RESTful API, along with some new features, like shared IPs (useful for keepalived and the like). Also of note is the resize operation, letting you scale your server size up or down, but this is really handwaving magic in front of replacing a smaller virtual server with a larger virtual server, rather than expanding an already-running virtual instance. The API is fairly extensive and the documentation seems decent, although I haven’t had time to personally try it out yet. The API responses, interestingly, include both human-readable data as well as WADL (Web Application Description Language, which is machine-parseable).

SOASTA has introduced a cloud-based performance certification program. Certification is something of a marketing gimmick, but I do think that SOASTA is, overally, an interesting company. Very simply, SOASTA leverages cloud system infrastructure to offer high-volume load-testing services. In the past, you’d typically execute such tests using a tool like HP’s LoadRunner, and many Web hosters offer, as part of their professional services offerings, performance testing using LoadRunner or a similar tool. SOASTA is a full-fledged software as a service offering (i.e., it is their own test harness, monitors, analytics, etc., not a cloud repackaging of another vendor), and the price point makes it reasonable not just for the sort of well-established organizations that could previously afford commercial performance-testing tools, but also for start-ups.

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Cloud computing adoption surveys

A recent Forrester survey apparently indicates that that one out of four large companies plan to use an external provider soon, or have already done so. (The Cloud Storage Strategy blog has a good round-up linking to the original report, a summary of the key points, and various commentators.)

Various pundits are apparently surprised by these results. I’m not. I haven’t been able to obtain a copy of the Forrester report, but from the comments I’ve read, it appears that software as a service and hosting (part of infrastructure as a service) are included as part of the surveyed services. SaaS and IaaS are both well-established markets, with significant penetration across all segments of business, and interest in both IaaS and SaaS models has accelerated. We’ve wrapped the “cloud” label around some or all of these existing markets (how much gets encompassed depends on your definitions), so it shouldn’t come as a surprise to already see high adoption rates.

Gartner’s own survey on this topic has just been published. It’s titled, “User Survey Analysis: Economic Pressures Drive Cost-Oriented Outsourcing, Worldwide, 2008-2009“. Among its many components is a breakdown of current and planned use of alternative delivery models (which include things like SaaS and IT infrastructure utilities) over the next 24 months. We show even higher current and planned adoption numbers than Forrester, with IaaS leading the pack in terms of current and near-term adoption, and very healthy numbers for SaaS as well.

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A hodgepodge of links

This is just a round-up of links that I’ve recently found to be interesting.

Barroso and Holzle (Google): Warehouse-Scale Computing. This is a formal lecture-paper covering the design of what these folks from Google refer to as WSCs. They write, “WSCs differ significantly from traditional data centers: they belong to a single organization, use a relatively homogenous hardware and system software platform, and share a common systems management layer. Often, much of the application, middleware, and system software is built in-house compared to the predominance of third-party software running in conventional data centers. Most importantly, WSCs run a smaller number of very large applications (or Internet services), and the common resource management infrastructure allows significant deployment flexibility.” The paper is wide-ranging but written to be readily understandable by the mildly technical layman. Highly recommended for anyone interested in cloud.

Washington Post: Metrorail Crash May Exemplify Automation Paradox. The WaPo looks back at serious failures of automated systems, and quotes a “growing consensus among experts that automated systems should be designed to enhance the accuracy and performance of human operators rather than to supplant them or make them complacent. By definition, accidents happen when unusual events come together. No matter how clever the designers of automated systems might be, they simply cannot account for every possible scenario, which is why it is so dangerous to eliminate ‘human interference’.” Definitely something to chew over in the cloud context.

Malcolm Gladwell: Priced to Sell. The author of The Tipping Point takes on Chris Anderon’s Free, and challenges the notion that information wants to be free. In turn, Seth Godin thinks Gladwell is wrong, and the book seems to be setting off some healthy debate.

Bruce Robertson: Capacity Planning Equals Budget Planning. My colleague Bruce riffs off a recent blog post of mine, and discusses how enterprise architects need to change the way they design solutions.

Martin English: Install SAP on Amazon Web Services. An interesting blog devoted to how to get SAP running on AWS. This is for people interested in hands-on instructions.

Robin Burkinshaw: Being homeless in the Sims 3. This blog tells the story, in words and images, of “Alice and Kev”, a pair of characters that the author (a game design student) created in the Sims 3. It’s a fascinating bit of user-generated content, and a very interesting take on what can be done with modern sandbox-style games.

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Magic Quadrant (hosting and cloud), published!

The new Magic Quadrant for Web Hosting and Hosted Cloud System Infrastructure Services (On Demand) has been published. (Gartner clients only, although I imagine public copies will become available soon as vendors buy reprints.) Inclusion criteria was set primarily by revenue; if you’re wondering why your favorite vendor wasn’t included, it was probably because they didn’t, at the January cut-off date, have a cloud compute service, or didn’t have enough revenue to meet the bar. Also, take note that this is direct services only (thus the somewhat convoluted construction of the title); it does not include vendors with enabling technology like Enomaly, or overlaid services like RightScale.

It marks the first time we’ve done a formal vendor rating of many of the cloud system infrastructure service providers. We do so in the context of the Web hosting market, though, which means that the providers are evaluated on the full breadth of the five most common hosting use cases that Gartner clients have. Self-managed hosting (including “virtual data center” hosting of the Amazon EC2, GoGrid, Terremark Enterprise Cloud, etc. sort) is just one of those use cases. (The primary cloud infrastructure use case not in this evaluation is batch-oriented processing, like scientific computing.)

We mingled Web hosting and cloud infrastructure on the same vendor rating because one of the primary use cases for cloud infrastructure is for the hosting of Web applications and content. For more details on this, see my blog post about how customers buy solutions to business needs, not technology. (You might also want to read my blog post on “enterprise class” cloud.)

We rated more than 60 individual factors for each vendor, spanning five use cases. The evaluation criteria note (Gartner clients only) gives an overview of the factors that we evaluate in the course of the MQ. The quantitative scores from the factors were rolled up into category scores, which in turn rolled up into overall vision and execution scores, which turn into the dot placement in the Quadrant. All the number crunching is done by software — analysts don’t get to arbitrarily move dots around.

To understand the Magic Quadrant methodology, I’d suggest you read the following:

Some people might look at the vendors on this MQ and wonder why exciting new entrants aren’t highly rated on vision and/or execution. Simply put, many of these vendors might be superb at what they do, yet still not rate very highly in the overall market represented by the MQ, because they are good at just one of the five use cases encompassed by the MQ’s market definition, or even good at just one particular aspect of a single use case. This is not just a cloud-related rating; to excel in the market as a whole, one has to be able to offer a complete range of solutions.

Because there’s considerable interest in vendor selection for various use cases (including non-hosting use cases) that are unique to public cloud compute services, we’re also planning to publish some companion research, using a recently-introduced Gartner methodology called a Critical Capabilities note. These notes look at vendors in the context of a single product/service, broken down by use case. (Magic Quadrants, on the other hand, look at overall vendor positioning within an entire market.) The Critical Capabilities note solves one of the eternal dilemmas of looking at a MQ, which is trying to figure out which vendors are highly rated for the particular business need that you have, since, as I want to re-iterate again, a MQ niche player may be do the exact thing you need in a vastly more awesome fashion than a vendor rated a leader. Critical Capabilities notes break things down feature-by-feature.

In the meantime, for more on choosing a cloud infrastructure provider, Gartner clients should also look at some of my other notes:

For cloud infrastructure service providers: We may expand the number of vendors we evaluate for the Critical Capabilities note. If you’ve never briefed us before, we’d welcome you to do so now; schedule a briefing with myself, Ted Chamberlin, and Mike Spink (a brand-new colleague in Europe).

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