No world of two clouds

Massimo Re Ferre’ recently posted some thoughts as a follow-up to his talk at VMworld, about vCHS vs. AWS. That led to a Twitter exchange that made me think that I should highlight a viewpoint of mine:

I do not believe in a “world of two clouds”, where there are cloud IaaS offerings that are targeted at enterprise workloads, and there are cloud IaaS offerings that are targeted at cloud-native workloads — broadly, different clouds for applications designed with the assumption of infrastructure resilience, versus applications designed with the assumption that resilience must reside at the application layer.

Instead, I believe that the market leaders will offer a range of infrastructure resources. Some of those infrastructure resources will be more resilient, and will be more expensive. And customers will pay for the level of performance they receive. There’s no need to build two clouds; in fact, customers actively do not want two different clouds, since nobody really wants to shift between different clouds as you go through an application’s lifecycle, or for different tiers of an app, some of which might need greater infrastructure resilience and guaranteed performance.

I do not believe that application design patterns change to be fully cloud-native over time. First, enterprises have hundreds if not thousands of existing legacy applications that they will need to host. Second, enterprises continue to write non-cloud-native apps, because the typical app is small — it’s some kind of business process app (I call these “paperwork” apps, usually online forms with some workflow and reporting), and it runs on a tiny VM, has few users. It’s neither cost-effective to spend the developer time to make these apps resilient, nor cost-effective to distribute them. Putting them on decently resilient infrastructure is less expensive. Some of these apps should more logically be written on a business process management suite or PaaS (BPMS or bpmPaaS), or on a more general PaaS; that underlying BMPS/PaaS should hopefully functionally provide resilience, but that won’t deal with the existing legacy apps, so there’ll continue to be a need for resilient infrastructure.

When people talk about infrastructure resilience, they’re generally referring to compute resilience in particular — essentially, trying to protect the application from the impact of potential server hardware failure. VMware pioneered two technologies in this space — they call them “HA” (fast detection of physical host failure and automatic restart of the VMs that were running on that host, on some other host) and “vMotion” (live migration of VMs from one physical host to another). However, all the other major hypervisors have now incorporated these features. There’s absolutely no reason why a cloud IaaS provider like AWS, which doesn’t currently support these capabilities, can’t add them, and charge a premium for these VMs.

When people talk about performance consistency, they’re generally referring to storage and network performance. (Most cloud IaaS providers do not oversubscribe either CPU or RAM resources.) Predictable storage performance is a very difficult engineering problem. Companies like SolidFire are offering all-SSD storage to help accomplish this (since it reduces the variability of seek times), and we’re seeing gradual uptake of this technology into cloud IaaS providers. AWS has done “provisioned iops” (PIOPS), allowing customers to buy into a more predictable range of storage performance. There’s no reason why providers wouldn’t offer this kind of predictability for both storage and network — especially when they can charge extra for it.

Now, there are tons of service providers out there building to that world of two clouds — often rooted in the belief that IT operations will want one thing, and developers another, and they should build something totally different for both. This is almost certainly a losing strategy. Winning providers will satisfy both needs within a single cloud, offering architectural flexibility that allows developers to decide whether or not they want to build for application resiliency or infrastructure resiliency.

For more on this: I’ve covered this in detail in my research note, Market Trends: Public and Private Cloud Infrastructure Converge into On-Demand Infrastructure Fabrics (Gartner clients only).

Posted on September 6, 2013, in Infrastructure and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 17 Comments.

  1. Thanks Lydia for the post. I’ll share my additional thoughts here for the benefits of our readers.

    I think that there is a misunderstanding at the root of this discussion.

    I have never suggested nor speculated that there will be two type of clouds. What you see in those slides (that may be confusing) is what these clouds are delivering today, but not what they want to aspirationally deliver (which is much broader obviously).

    I can’t speak for AWS (and technically for VMware neither) but I believe VMware made it clear vCHS wants to be the place for everyone (regardless of what it delivers today). I have never heard / AWS claiming they wanted to provide VM resiliency or DR or things like that (I have alwyas heard that applications should be re-writtent / re-architected to run on the AWS cloud).

    Having that said, I have speculated in the past (links are in that blog post) that AWS will eventually decide to go there. You seem to suggest that too. Fair enough.

    But right now it looks like we are both speculating.

    Last but not least I don’t think this is just about compute resiliency. I could provide examples but I don’t want to be seen as trolling on your blog.

    Thanks. Massimo.


  2. Oh, feel free to troll. 😉


  3. I will note, by the way, that even if you aren’t suggesting a world of two clouds, many many other vendors are. And even VMware was until it decided to go down this vCHS route.


  4. As I said I don’t speak for VMware (even though they pay the bills) 😉

    I’ll troll privately.


  5. I think that you nailed it. The idea of utility is often lost in cloud discussions (ironic given that we used to call it utility computing), level of service (storage, network, etc.) are the differentiators not the types of payloads they handles. Also most of the open source IaaS layers like Apache CloudStack already interface with the hypervisor to leverage your “HA” capabilities(which you accurately explain as really fast recovery) so things like self-service, accounting and life-cycle management are better opportunities for innovation/improvement. Nice post.


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