There are two primary ecosystems developing in the world: VMware and Amazon. Other possibilities, like Microsoft and OpenStack, are completely secondary to those two. You can think of VMware as “cloud-out” and Amazon as “cloud-in” approaches.
In the VMware world, you move your data center (with its legacy applications) into the modern era with virtualization, and then you build a private cloud on top of that virtualized infrastructure; to get additional capacity, business agility, and so forth, you add external cloud IaaS, and hopefully do so with a VMware-virtualized provider (and, they hope, specifically a vCloud provider who has adopted the stack all the way up to vCloud Director).
In the Amazon world, you build and launch new applications directly onto cloud IaaS. Then, as you get to scale and a significant amount of steady-state capacity, you pull workloads back into your own data center, where you have Amazon-API-compatible infrastructure. Because you have a common API and set of tools across both, where to place your workloads is largely a matter of economics (assuming that you’re not using AWS capabilities beyond EC2, S3, and EBS). You can develop and test internally or externally, though if you intend to run production on AWS, you have to take its availability and performance characteristics into account when you do your application architecture. You might also adopt this strategy for disaster recovery.
While CloudStack has been an important CMP option for service providers — notably competing against the vCloud stack, OnApp, Hexagrid, and OpenStack — in the end, these providers are almost a decoration to the Amazon ecosystem. They’re mostly successful competing in places that Amazon doesn’t play — in countries where Amazon doesn’t have a data center, in the managed services / hosting space, in the hypervisor-neutral space (Amazon-style clouds built on top of VMware’s hypervisor, more specifically), and in a higher-performance, higher-availability market.
Where CloudStack has been more interesting is in its use to be a “cloud-in” platform for organizations who are using AWS in a significant fashion, and who want their own private cloud that’s compatible with it. Eucalyptus fills this niche as well, although Eucalyptus customers tend to be smaller and Eucalyptus tends to compete in the general private-cloud-builder CMP space targeted at enterprises — against the vCloud stack, Abiquo, HP CloudSystem, BMC Cloud Lifecycle Manager, CA’s 3Tera AppLogic, and so on. CloudStack tends to be used by bigger organizations; while it’s in the general CMP competitive space, enterprises that evaluate it are more likely to be also evaluating, say, Nimbula and OpenStack.
CloudStack has firmly aligned itself with the Amazon ecosystem. But OpenStack is an interesting case of an organization caught in the middle. Its service provider supporters are fundamentally interested in competing against AWS (far more so than with the VMware-based cloud providers, at least in terms of whatever service they’re building on top of OpenStack). Many of its vendor contributors are afraid of a VMware-centric world (especially as VMware moves from virtualizing compute to also virtualizing storage and networks), but just as importantly they’re afraid of a world in which AWS becomes the primary way that businesses buy infrastructure. It is to their advantage to have at least one additional successful widely-adopted CMP in the market, and at least one service provider successfully competing strongly against AWS. Yet AWS has established itself as a de facto standard for cloud APIs and for the way that a service “should” be designed. (This is why OpenStack has an aptly named “Nova Feature Parity Team” playing catch-up to AWS, after all, and why debates about the API continue in the OpenStack community.)
But make no mistake about it. This is not about scrappy free open-source upstarts trying to upset an established vendor ecosystem. This is a war between vendors. As Simon Wardley put it, beware of geeks bearing gifts. CloudStack is Citrix’s effort to take on VMware and enlist the rest of the vendor community in doing so. OpenStack is an effort on the part of multiple vendors — notably Rackspace and HP — to pool their engineering efforts in order to take on Amazon. There’s no altruism here, and it’s not coincidental that the committers to the projects have an explicit and direct commercial interest — they are people working full-time for vendors, contributing as employees of those vendors, and by and large not individuals contributing for fun.
So it really comes down to this: Who can innovate more quickly, and choose the right ways to innovate that will drive customer adoption?
Ladies and gentlemen, place your bets.
We’re currently in the midst of agenda planning for 2012, which is a fancy way to say that we’re trying to figure out what we’re going to write next year. Probably to the despair of my managers, I am almost totally a spontaneous writer, who sits down on a plane and happens to write a research note on whatever it is that’s occurred to me at the moment. So I’ve been pondering what to write, and decided that I ought to tap into the deep well of frustration I’ve been feeling about the cloud IaaS market over the last couple of months.
Specifically, it started me in on thinking about the most common fallacies that I hear from current cloud IaaS providers, or from vendors who are working on getting into the business. I think each of these things is worthy of a research note (in some cases, I’ve already written one), but they’re also worth a blog post series, because I have the occasional desire to explode in frustrated rants. Also, when I write research, it’s carefully polite, thoughtfully-considered, heavily-nuanced, peer-reviewed documents that will run ten to twenty pages and be vaguely skimmed, often by mid-level folks in product marketing. If I write a blog post, it will be short and pointed and might actually get the point through to people, especially the executives who are more likely to read my blog than my research.
So, here’s the succinct list to be explored in further posts. These are things I have said to vendor clients in inquiries, in politely measured terms. These are the blunt versions:
Doing this cloud infrastructure thing is hard and expensive. Yes, I know that VMware told you that you could just get a VCE Vblock, put VMware’s cloud stack on it (maybe with a little help from VMware consulting), and be in business. That’s not the case. You will be making a huge number of engineering decisions (most of which can screw you in a variety of colorful ways, either immediately or down the road). You will be integrating a ton of tools and doing a bunch of software development yourself, if you want to have a vaguely competitive offering for anything other than the small business migrating from VPS. Ditto if you use Citrix (Cloud.com), OpenStack, or whomever. Even with professional services to help you. And once you have an offering, you will be in a giant competitive rat race where the best players innovate fast, and the capabilities gap widens, not closes. If you’re not up to it, white-label, resell, or broker instead.
There is more to the competition than Amazon, but ignore Amazon at your peril. Sure, Amazon is the market goliath, but if your differentiation is “we’re not like Amazon, we’re enterprise-class!”, you’re now competing against te dozens of other providers who also thought that would be a clever market differentiation. Not to mention that Amazon already serves the enterprise, and wants to deepen its inroads. (Where Amazon is hurting is the mid-market, but there’s tons of competition there, too.) Do you seriously think that Amazon isn’t going to start introducing service features targeted at the enterprise? They already have, and they’re continuing to do so.
Not everything has to be engineered to five nines of availability. Many businesses, especially those moving legacy workloads, need reliable, consistently high-performance infrastructure. Howeve, most businesses shouldn’t get infrastructure as one-size-fits-all — this is part of what is making internal data centers expensive. Instead, cloud infrastructure should be tiered — one management portal, one API, multiple levels of service at different price points. “Everything we do is enterprise-class” unfortunately implies “everything we do is expensive”.
Your contempt for the individual developer hugely limits your sales opportunities. Developers are the face of the business buyer. They are the way that cloud IaaS makes inroads into traditional businesses, including the largest enterprises. This is not just about start-ups or small businesses, or about the companies going DevOps.
Prospective customers will not call Sales when your website is useless. Your lack of useful information on your website doesn’t mean that eager prospects will call sales wanting to know what wonderful things you have. Instead, they will assume that you suck, and you don’t get the cloud, and you are hiding what you have because it’s not actually competitive, and they will move on to the dozens of other providers trying to sell cloud IaaS or who are pretending to do so. Also, engineers hate talking to salespeople. Blind RFPs are common in this market, but so is simply signing up with a provider that doesn’t make it painful to get their service.
Just because you don’t take online sign-ups doesn’t mean your cloud is “safe”. Even if you only take “legitimate businesses”, customers make mistakes and their infrastructure gets compromised. Sure, your security controls might ensure that the bad guys don’t compromise your other customers. But that doesn’t mean you won’t end up hosting command-and-control for a botnet, scammers, or spammers, inadvertently. Service providers who take credit card sign-ups are professionally paranoid about these things; buyers should beware providers who think “only real businesses like you can use our cloud” means no bad guys inside the walls.
Automation, not people, is the future. Okay, you’re more of a “managed services” kind of company, and self-service isn’t really your thing. Except “managed services” are, today, basically a codeword for “expensive manual labor”. The real future value of cloud IaaS is automating the heck out of most of the lower-end managed services. If you don’t get on that bandwagon soon, you are going to eventually stop being cost-competitive — not to mention that automation means consistency and likely higher quality. There’s a future in having people still, but not for things that are better done by computers.
Carriers won’t dominate the cloud. This opinion is controversial. Of course, carriers will be pretty significant players — especially since they’ve been buying up the leading independent cloud IaaS providers. But many other analyst firms, and certainly the carriers themselves, believe that the network, and the ability to offer an end-to-end service, will be a key differentiator that allows carriers to dominate this business. But that’s not what customers actually want. They want private networking from their carrier that connects them to their infrastructure — which they can get out of a carrier-neutral data center that is a “cloud hub”. Customers are better off going into a cloud hub with a colocated “cloud gateway” (with security, WAN optimization, etc.), cross-connecting to their various cloud providers (whether IaaS, PaaS, SaaS, etc.), and taking one private network connection home.
Stay tuned. More to come.
(This is part of a series of “catch-up” posts of announcements that I’ve wanted to comment on but didn’t previously find time to blog about.)
Recently, Citrix acquired Cloud.com. The purchase price was reported to be in the $200m+ vicinity — around 100x revenues. (Even in this current run of outsized valuations, that’s a rather impressive payday for an infrastructure software start-up. I heard that VMware’s Paul Maritz was talking about how these guys were shopping themselves around, into which some people have read that they ‘had’ to sell, but companies that sell themselves for 100x trailing revenues don’t ‘have’ to be doing anything, other than sniffing around to see if anyone is willing to give them even more money.)
Cloud.com (formerly known as VMOps) is one of a great many “cloud operating system” companies — it competes with Abiquo, OpenStack, Eucalyptus, Nimbula, VMware (in the form of vCloud Director), and so on. By that, I mean that you can take Cloud.com and use it to build cloud IaaS of your very own. While you can use Cloud.com to build a private cloud, the reason that Cloud.com commanded such a high valuation is that it’s currently the primary alternative to VMware for service providers who want to build public cloud IaaS.
Cloud.com is a commercial open-source vendor, but realistically, it’s heavily on the commercial side, not the open-source side; people running Cloud.com in production are generally using the licensed, much more featureful, version. Large service providers who want to build commodity clouds, particularly on the Xen hypervisor (especially Citrix Xen, rather than open-source Xen), are highly likely to choose Cloud.com’s CloudStack product as the underlying “cloud OS”. We’re also increasingly hearing from service providers who intend to use Cloud.com to manage VMware-based environments (using the VMware stack minus vCloud Director), as part of a hypervisor-neutral strategy.
Key service provider customers include GoDaddy and Tata Communications. A particular private cloud customer of note is Zynga, which uses Cloud.com to provide Amazon-compatible (and thus Rightscale-compatible) infrastructure internally, letting it easily move workloads across their own infrastructure and Amazon’s.
Citrix, of course, now has a significant commitment to OpenStack, in the form of Project Olympus, their planned commercial distribution. The Cloud.com acquisition is nevertheless complementary, though, not competitive to the OpenStack commitment.
Cloud.com provides a much more complete set of features than OpenStack — it’s got much of what you need to have a turnkey cloud. Over time, as OpenStack matures, Cloud.com will be able to replace the lower levels of its software stack with OpenStack components instead. For Citrix, though (and broadly, service providers interested in VMware alternatives), this is a time-to-market issue as well as a solution-completeness issue.
In my conversations with a variety of organizations that are deeply strategically involved with OpenStack and working in-depth on the codebase, consensus seems to have developed that OpenStack is about 18 months from maturity (in the sense that it will be stable enough for a service provider who needs to depend on it to run their business to be able to reasonably do so). That’s forever in this fast-moving market. While Swift (the storage piece) is currently reliable and in production use at a variety of service providers, Nova (the compute piece) is not — there are no major service providers running Nova, and it’s acknowledged to not be service-provider-ready. (Rackspace is running the code it got via the acquisition of Slicehost, not the Nova project.) Service providers want to work with proven, stable code, and that’s not Nova right now — that’s Cloud.com. (Or VMware, and even there, people have been touchy about vCloud Director.)
It’s not that the service providers have a deep interest in running an open-source codebase; rather, they are looking for an alternative to VMware that is less expensive. Cloud.com currently fills that need reasonably well.
Similarly, it’s not that most of the members of the OpenStack coalition are vastly interested in an open-source cloud world, but rather, that they realize that there needs to be an alternative to VMware’s ecosystem, and it is in the best interests of VMware’s various competitors to pool their efforts (and for vendors in more of an “arms merchant” role, to ensure that their stuff works with every ecosystem out there). Open source is a means to an end there. Cloud.com’s stack, whether commercial or open source, is only a benefit to the OpenStack project, in the long term.
This acquisition means something pretty straightforward: Citrix is ensuring that it can deliver a full service provider stack of software that will enable providers to successfully compete against vCloud — or to have hypervisor-neutral solutions peacefully coexist, in a way that can be easily blended to meet business needs for a broad range of IaaS solutions. While Citrix would undoubtedly love to sell more XenServer licenses, ultimately the real money is in selling the rest of its portfolio to service providers — like NetScaler ADCs. Having a hypervisor-neutral cloud stack benefits Citrix’s overall position, even if some Cloud.com customers will choose to go VMware or KVM or open-source Xen rather than Citrix Xen for the hypervisor.
It certainly doesn’t hurt that Cloud.com’s Amazon-compatible APIs (and thus support of RightScale’s functionality) is also tremendously useful for organizations seeking to build Amazon-compatible private clouds at scale. No one else has really addressed this need, and VMware (in an infrastructure context) has largely targeted the market for “dependable”, classically enterprise-like infrastructure, rather than explored the opportunities in the emerging demand for commodity cloud.
In short, I think Cloud.com is a great buy for Citrix, and VMware-watchers interested in whether or not their vCloud service provider initiative is working well should certainly track Cloud.com wins vs. vCloud wins in the service provider space.
So, we’ve just seen Verizon buy Terremark and Time Warner Cable buy NaviSite. All contemplation of the deals themselves aside, is consolidation at this stage of the market good for the progress of the cloud IaaS market?
I’m inclined to think not.
We are still pretty early in the cloud IaaS market. While most service providers in the space — especially those betting on an enterprise-oriented, VMware-based strategy — have visions and product roadmaps that converge a few years out, there is still an aggressive race to introduce new features and capabilities into cloud IaaS platforms. In other words, everybody needs engineering time, and lots of it. But they also need the fire in the belly that makes people not just do their jobs, but really push themselves — to feel a genuine sense of inexorable pressure to get things out ahead of the competition, a sense of passion for what they’re doing, and the knowledge of the freedom to go do the right thing with a minimum of encumbrance.
Acquisitions, especially ones that require significant integration work, can really extinguish fire in the belly. Verizon and Terremark, for instance, need to consolidate their systems, platforms, and roadmaps. That’s engineering energy that’s not being devoted to building awesome new stuff. (Yeah, if you have enough money, you can try to do that in parallel with your integration, but you lose precious time and willpower and creative efforts on the part of your best people, who only have so many things they can do with their day.) NaviSite is getting wedged into a cable company, which is a massive culture shock that creates a distraction, potentially sends their best people job-hunting, and requires rethinking their strategy and the engineering that should support it.
VMware really needs their service providers to be awesome, because that’s key to their hybrid vCloud strategy. These acquisitions take out two of the most innovative VMware-based providers. I suspect the market’s not really aware of this, especially in the case of NaviSite. NaviSite has never really publicized some of the things that differentiate their cloud IaaS platform and make it pretty cool — for instance, NaviSite allows VM oversubscription and prioritization coupled with auto-scaling, which is great for enterprise applications (which generally require low resourcing, as opposed to, say, consumer-facing Web properties that fully consume scale-out resources).
Just one service provider being really aggressive about adding new features to its platform spurs the others to follow suit — the slower companies may need the idea (or want to wait until someone else has done it to see how it goes), and then respond competitively. The more service providers are innovative, the more the others have an invisible flogger spurring them on. So if the pacers slow down, so to speak, the entire market potentially does.
While Amazon is innovative, and its pace of feature introductions is extremely rapid, those features are also split out between Amazon’s multiple constituent customer types. And many of the VMware-based providers habitually dismiss Amazon as a competitor and thus do not feel as internally pressured to competitively match their feature set. (This is arguably a potentially fatal mistake, especially as Citrix gets serious about its ecosystem.) Consequently, though, Amazon’s not a substitute pacer for innovation amongst the VMware-based providers.
You can argue that acquisitions potentially give innovative companies a lot more money to work with, which can significantly accelerate their roadmap and business plan. This might even be the case for Verizon/Terremark in the long term. But it still comes with a near-term cost, in almost all cases.
Cloud companies, whether service providers or software, have gotten snatched up rapidly over the last two years. How many of those companies have turned out to have accelerated, not diminished, innovation under new ownership?
Classically, hosting companies have been integrators of technology, not developers of technology. Yet the cloud world is increasingly pushing hosting companies into being software developers — companies who create competitive advantage in significant part by creating software which is used to deliver capabilities to customers.
I’ve heard the cloud IaaS business compared to the colocation market of the 1990s — the idea that you build big warehouses full of computers and you rent that compute capacity to people, comparable conceptually to renting data center space. People who hold this view tend to say things like, “Why doesn’t company X build a giant data center, buy a lot of computers, and rent them? Won’t the guy who can spend the most money building data centers win?” This view is, bluntly, completely and utterly wrong.
IaaS is functionally becoming a software business right now, one that is driven by the ability to develop software in order to introduce new features and capabilities, and to drive quality and efficiency. IaaS might not always be a software business; it might eventually be a service-and-support business that is enabled by third-party software. (This would be a reasonable view if you think that VMware’s vCloud is going to own the world, for instance.) And you can get some interesting dissonances when you’ve got some competitors in a market who are high-value software businesses vs. other folks who are mostly commodity infrastructure providers enabled by software (the CDN market is a great example of this). But for the next couple of years at least, it’s going to be increasingly a software business in its core dynamics; you can kind of think of it as a SaaS business in which the service delivered happens to be infrastructure.
To illustrate, let’s talk about Rackspace. Specifically, let’s talk about Rackspace vs. Amazon.
Amazon is an e-commerce company, with formidable retail operations skills embedded in its DNA, but it is also a software company, with more than a decade of experience under its belt in rolling out a continuous stream of software enhancements and using software to drive competitive advantage.
Amazon, in the cloud IaaS part of its Web Services division, is in the business of delivering highly automated IT infrastructure to customers. Custom-written software drives their entire infrastructure, all the way down to their network devices. Software provides the value-added enhancements that they deliver on top of the raw compute and storage, from the spot pricing marketplace to auto-scaling to the partially-automated MySQL management provided by the RDS service. Amazon’s success and market leadership depends on consistently rolling out new and enhanced features, functions, capabilities. It can develop and release software on such aggressive schedules that it can afford to be almost entirely tactical in its approach to the market, prioritizing whatever customers and prospects are demanding right now.
Rackspace, on the other hand, is a managed hosting company, built around a deep culture of customer service. Like all managed hosters, they’re imperfect, but on the whole, they are the gold standard of service, and customer service is one of the key differentiators in managed hosting, driving Rackspace’s very rapid growth over the last five years. Rackspace has not traditionally been a technology leader; historically, it’s been a reasonably fast follower implementing mainstream technologies in use by its target customers, but people, not engineering, has been its competitive advantage.
And now, Rackspace is going head to head with Amazon on cloud IaaS. It has made a series of acquisitions aimed at acquiring developers and software technology, including Slicehost, JungleDisk, and Webmail.us. (JungleDisk is almost purely a software company, in fact; it makes money by selling software licenses.) Even if they emphasize other competitive differentiation, like customer support, they’re still in direct competition with Amazon on pure functionality. Can Rackspace obtain the competencies it will need to be a software leader?
And in related questions: Can the other hosters who eschew the VMware vCloud route manage to drive the featureset and innovation they’ll need competitively? Will vCloud be inexpensive enough and useful enough to be widely adopted by hosters, and if it is, how much will it commoditize this market? What does this new emphasis upon true development, not just integration, do to hosters and to the market as a whole? (I’ve been thinking about this a lot, lately, although I suspect it’ll go into a real research note rather than a blog post.)
Hot on the heels of a day of rumors, VMware announced the acquisition of Zimbra, the open-source email platform vendor previously purchased (and up until now, still owned by) Yahoo!.
It’s a somewhat puzzling acquisition. Its key strategic thrust seems to be enabling the service provider ecosystem. Most service providers (i.e., hosters) already offer email as a service — although today, they primarily offer Hosted Exchange. Other platforms — Open-Xchange, OpenWave, Critical Path, Mirapoint, etc. — are used for more commodity email services. Relatively speaking, Zimbra doesn’t have as much traction in the service provider space, and VMware’s service provider ecosystem is not gasping for lack of reasonable platforms on which to offer email SaaS.
The email SaaS space is super-competitive. Businesses have come to the realization that email is a commodity that can be safely outsourced, and that huge cost savings can be realized by outsourcing it; this is driving rapid growth of mailboxes delivered as SaaS, but it’s also driving aggressive price competition. That, in turn, drives service providers to push their underlying email software vendors for lower license costs.
One has to speculate, then, that this acquisition is not just about email. It’s about the broader platform strategy, and the degree to which VMware wants to own an entire stack.
My colleagues and I are working on publishing a Gartner position (a “First Take”) on this acquisition, so I’m sorry to be a bit brief, and cryptic.