Monthly Archives: June 2009
Two public cloud announcements from hosting providers this week, with some interesting similarities…
Verizon has launched its Computing as a Service (CaaS) offering. This is a virtual data center (VDC) offering, which means that it’s got a Web-based GUI within which you provision and manage your infrastructure. You contract for CaaS itself on a one-year basis, paying for that base access on a monthly basis. Within CaaS, you can provision “farms”, which are individual virtual data centers. Within a farm, you can provision servers (along with the usual storage, load-balancing, firewall, etc.). Farms and servers are on-demand, with a daily price.
Two things make the Verizon offering distinctive (at least temporarily). First, farms can contain both physical servers and virtual (VMware-based) servers, on an HP C-class blade platform; while hybridized offerings have become increasingly common, Verizon is one of the few to allow them to be managed out of a unified GUI. Second, Verizon offers managed services across the whole platform. By default, you get basic management (including patch management) for the OS and Verizon-provided app infrastructure. You can also upgrade to full managed service. It looks like, compared to similar providers, the Verizon offering is going to be extremely cost-competitive.
In yet another example of a smaller hoster “growing up” with serious cloud computing ambitions, Carpathia has released an offering it calls Cloud Orchestration. It’s a hybrid utility hosting model, combining its managed dedicated hosting service (AlwaysOn) with scaling on its virtual server offering, InstantOn.
Carpathia has stated it’s the first hybrid offering; I don’t agree that it is. However, I do think that Carpathia has rolled out a notable number of features on its cloud platform (Citrix Xen-based). It’s made a foray into the cloud storage space, based on ParaScale. It also has auto-scaling, including auto-provisioning based on performance and availability SLA violations (the only vendor I know of that currently offers that feature). OS patch management is included, as are other basic managed hosting services. Check out Carpathia CTO Jon Greaves’s blog post on the value proposition, for an indication of where their thinking is at.
Side thought: Carpathia is one of the few Xen-based cloud providers to use Citrix Xen, rather than open-source Xen. However, now that Citrix is offering XenServer for free, it seems likely that service providers will gradually drift that way. Live migration (XenMotion) will probably be the main thing that drives that switch.
Everyone has vendor horror stories. No matter how good a vendor normally is, there will be times that they screw up. Some customers will exacerbate a vendor’s tendency to screw up — for instance, they may be someone the vendor really shouldn’t have tried to serve in the first place (heavy customization, i.e., many one-offs from a vendor who emphasizes standardization), or they may just be unlucky and have a sub-par employee on their account team.
Competitors of a vendor, especially small, less-well-known ones, will often loudly trumpet, as part of a briefing, how they won such-and-such a customer from some more prominent vendor, and how that vendor did something particularly horrible to that customer. I often find myself annoyed at such stories. It’s fine to say that you frequently win business away from X company. It’s great to explain your points of differentiation from your rivals. I’m deeply interested in who you think your most significant competitors are. But it’s declasse’ to tell me how much your competitors suck. Also, I can often hear the horror-story anomalies in those tales, as well as detect the real reason — like the desire to shift from a lightly-managed environment to a entirely managed one, or the desire to go from managed to nearly entirely self-managed, etc. I’ll often ask a vendor point-blank about that, and get an admission that this was what really drove the sale. So why not be honest about that in the first place? Say something positive about what you do well.
I think, for the most part, that it doesn’t work on prospective customers any better than it works on analysts. Most decent people recoil somewhat at hearing others put down, whether they are individuals or competing vendors. Prospects often ask me about badmouthing; naturally, they wonder what’s behind the horror stories, but they also wonder why the vendor feels the need to badmouth a competitor in the first place.
I often find that it’s not really the massive, boneheaded incidences that tend to drive churn, anyway. They can be the flash point that precipitates a departure, but far more often, churn is the result of the accumulation of a pile of things that the customer perceives as slights. The vendor has failed to generate competence and/or caring. While sincerity is not a substitute for competence, it can be a temporary salve for it; conversely, competence without conveying that the customer is valued can also be negatively perceived. Human beings, it seems, like to feel important.
Horror stories can be useful to illustrate these patterns of weakness for a particular vendor — a vendor that has trouble planning ahead, a vendor whose proposed customer architectures have a tendency not to scale well, a vendor with a broken service delivery structure, a vendor that doesn’t take accountability, and so on. Interestingly, above-and-beyond stories about vendors can cut both ways — they can illustrate service that is consistently good but is sometimes outstanding, but they can also illustrate exceptions to a vendor’s normal pattern of mediocre service.
As an analyst, I tend to pay the most attention to what customers say about their routine interactions with the vendor. Crisis management is also an important vendor skill, and I like to know how well a vendor responds in a crisis; similarly, the ramp up to getting a renewal is also an important skill. However, it’s the day-to-day stuff that tends to most color people’s perceptions of the relationship.
Still, we all like to tell stories. I’m always looking for a good case study, especially one that illustrates the things that went wrong as well as the things that went right.
Recent links of interest…
I’ve heard that no less than four memcached start-ups have been recently funded. GigaOM speculates interestingly on whether memcached is good or bad for MySQL. It seems to me that in the age of cloud and hyperscale, we’re willing to sacrifice ACID compliance in many our transactions. RAM is cheap, and simplicity and speed are king. But I’m not sure that the widespread use of memcached in Web 2.0 applications, as a method of scaling a database, reflects the strengths of memcache so much as they reflect the weaknesses of the underlying databases.
Column-oriented databases are picking up some buzz lately. Sybase has a new white paper out on high-performance analytics. MySQL is plugging Infobright, a column-oriented engine for MySQL (replacing MyISAM, InnoDB, etc., just like any other engine).
Brian Krebs, the security blogger for the Washington Post, has an excellent post called The Scrap Value of a Hacked PC. It’s an examination of the ways that hacked PCs can be put to criminal use, and it’s intended to be printed out and handed to end-users who don’t think that security is their personal responsibility.
My colleague Ray Valdes has some thoughts on intuition-based vs. evidence-based design. It’s a riff on the recent New York Times article, Data, Not Design, Is King in the Age of Google, and a departing designer’s blog post that provides a fascinating look at data-driven decision making in an environment where you can immediately test everything.