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Abstracting IaaS… or not

Customer inquiry around cloud IaaS these days is mostly of a practical sort — less “what is my broad long-term strategy going to be” or “help me with my initial pilot” like it was last year, and more “I’m going to do something big and serious, help me figure out how to source it”.

My inquiry volume is nothing short of staggering (shoved into 30-minute back-to-back calls the entirety of my work day, so if you talk to me and I sound a bit anxious to keep to schedule, that’s why). I’m currently clinging to the desperate hope that if I spend more time writing, people will consult the written work first, which will free me of having to go over basics in calls and hopefully result in better answers for clients as well as greater sanity for myself.

Thus, I have been trying to cram in a lot of writing in my evenings. At the moment, I’m working on a series of notes covering IaaS soup to nuts, going over everything from the different ways that compute resources are implemented and offered, to the minutiae of what capabilities are available in customer portals.

It strikes me that in more than ten years of covering the hosting industry as an analyst, this is the first time that I’ve written deep-dive architectural notes. No one has really cared in the past whether or not, say, a vendor uses NPIV in their storage fabric, or whether the chips in the servers support EPT/RVI. That’s all changing with cloud IaaS, once people get down into the weeds and look into adopting it for production systems.

It’s vastly ironic that now, in this age of the fluffy wonderful abstraction of infrastructure as a service, IT buyers are obsessing over the minutiae of exactly how this stuff is implemented.

It matters, of course. A core is not just a core; the performance of that core for your apps is going to determine bang-for-your-buck if you’re compute bound. The fine niggling details of implementation of fill-in-the-blank-here will result in different sorts of security vulnerabilities and ways that those vulnerabilities are addressed. And so on. The IT buyers who are delving into this stuff aren’t being paranoid or crazy, really; they’re wanting to evaluate how it’s done versus how they’d do it themselves, when you get right down to what’s going through their heads.

It’s a key difference between IaaS and PaaS thinking in the heads of customers. In PaaS, you trust that it will work as long as you write to the APIs, and you surrender control over the underlying implementation. In IaaS, you’re getting something so close to bare metal that you start really wondering about what’s there, because you’re comparing it directly to your own data center.

I think that over time this will be something that simply gets addressed with SLAs that guarantee particular levels of availability, performance, and so forth, along with some transparency and strong written guarantees around security. But the industry hasn’t hit that level of maturity yet, which means that for the moment, customers will and probably should do deep dives scrutinizing exactly what it is that they’re being offered when they contemplate IaaS solutions.

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