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Bimodal IT, VMworld, and the future of VMware

In Gartner’s 2014 research for CIOs, we’ve increasingly been talking about “bimodal IT”. Bimodal IT is the idea that organizations need two speeds of IT — call them traditional IT and agile IT (Gartner just calls them mode-1 and mode-2). Traditional IT is focused on “doing IT right”, with a strong emphasis on efficiency and safety, approval-based governance and price-for-performance. Agile IT is focused on “doing IT fast”, supporting prototyping and iterative development, rapid delivery, continuous and process-based governance, and value to the business (being business-centric and close to the customer).

We’ve found that organizations are most successful when they have two modes of IT — with different people, processes, and tools supporting each. You can make traditional IT more agile — but you cannot simply add a little agility to it to get full-on agile IT. Rather, that requires fundamental transformation. At some point in time, the agile IT mode becomes strategic and begins to modernize and transform the rest of IT, but it’s actually good to allow the agile-mode team to discover transformative new approaches without being burdened by the existing legacy.

Furthermore, agile IT doesn’t just require new technologies and new skills — it requires a different set of skills from IT professionals. The IT-centric individual who is a cautious guardian and enjoys meticulously following well-defined processes is unlikely going to turn into a business-centric individual who is a risk-taking innovator and enjoys improvising in an uncertain environment.

That brings us to VMware (and many of the other traditional IT vendors who are trying to figure out what to do in an increasingly cloud-y world). Today’s keynote messages at VMworld have been heavily focused on cost reduction and offering more agility while maintaining safety (security, availability, reliability) and control. This is clearly a message that is targeted at traditional IT, and it’s really a story of incremental agility, using the software-defined data center to do IT better. There’s a heavy overtone of reassurance that the VMware faithful can continue to do business as usual, partaking of some cool new technologies in conjunction with the VMware infrastructure that they know and love — and control.

But a huge majority of the new agile-mode IT is cloud-native. It’s got different champions with different skills (especially development skills), and a different approach to development and operations that results in different processes and tooling. “Agility” doesn’t just mean “faster provisioning” (although to judge from the VMware keynote and customer speakers, IT Operations continue to believe this is the case). VMware needs to find ways to be relevant to the agile-IT mode, rather than just helping tradtional-IT VMware admins try to improve operations efficiency in a desperate grasp to retain control. (Unfortunately for VMware, the developer-relevant portions of the company were spun off into Pivotal.)

Bimodal IT also implies that hybrid IT is really simply the peaceful coexistence of non-cloud and cloud application components — not the idea that it’s one set of management tools that sit on top of all environments. VMware admins are obviously attracted to the ability to extend their existing tools and processes to the cloud (whether service provider IaaS or an internal private cloud), but that’s not necessarily the right thing to do. You might run traditional IT both in non-cloud and cloud modes and want hybrid tooling for both — but you should not do that for traditional-IT and agile-IT modes (regardless of whether it’s non-cloud or cloud), but instead use best-of-breed tooling for each mode.

If you’re considering the future of any IT vendor today, you have to ask yourself: What is their strategy to address each mode of IT? The mere recognition of the importance of applications and the business is insufficient.

(Gartner clients only: See Taming the Digital Dragon: The 2014 CIO Agenda and Bimodal IT: How to Be Digitally Agile Without Making a Mess for a lot more information about bimodal IT. See our 2013 and 2014 Professional Effective Planning Guides, Coming to Terms With the Nexus of Forces and Reshaping IT for the Digital Business for a guide to what IT professionals should do to advance their careers and organizations given these trends.)

Impressions of IBM Pulse

Once upon a time, IBM Pulse was a systems management conference. But this year, IBM has marketed it as a “cloud” conference. The first day of keynotes was largely devoted to IBM’s cloud efforts, although the second day keynote went back to the systems management roots (if still with a cloudy spin). IBM has done a good job of presenting a coherent vision of how it intends to go forward into the world of cloud, which is explicitly a world of changing business demands and an altered relationship between business and IT.

Notably absent amidst all of this has been any mention of IBM’s traditional services business (strategic outsourcing, but the theme of “IBM as a service” has resonated strongly throughout. IBM possesses a deep portfolio of assets, and exposing those assets as services is key to its strategy. This is going to require radical changes in the way that IBM goes to market, with a much greater emphasis on marketing-driven online sign-up and self-service. (IBM, like other large tech vendors, is largely sales-driven today.)

Some serious brand-building for IBM’s SoftLayer acquisition is being done here, although IBM seems to be trying to redefine everything that SoftLayer does as cloud, although SoftLayer’s business is almost all dedicated hosting (bare metal, sold month-to-month), not cloud IaaS in the usual sense of the word. There’s abundant confusion as a result; the cloudwashing is to IBM’s benefit, though, at least for now.

IBM has an enormous installed base, across its broad portfolio, and for a large percentage of that base, it is a strategic vendor. IBM has to figure out how to get that customer base to buy into its cloud vision, and to make the bet that IBM is the right strategic partner for that cloud journey. IBM looks to be taking a highly neutral stance on the balance of cloud (services) versus internal IT; arguably, much like Microsoft, its strength lies in the ostensible ability to blend on-premises do-it-yourself IT with services in the cloud, extending the lifetime of existing technology stacks.

Much like Microsoft, IBM has an existing legacy of enterprise software — specifically, software built for single-tenant, on-premise, bespoke environments. Such software tends not to scale, and it tends not to be easily retrofitted into a services model. Again like Microsoft, IBM is on a journey towards “cloud first” architecture. IBM’s acquisition of Cloudant isn’t just the acquisition of a nice bit of technology — it’s also the acquisition of the know-how of how to build a service at scale, a crucial bit of engineering expertise that it needs to absorb and teach within IBM, as IBM’s engineers embark on turning its software into services.

Again like Microsoft, IBM has the advantage of an existing developer ecosystem and middleware that’s proven to be sticky for that ecosystem — and consequently IBM has the potential to turn itself into a compelling cloud platform (in the broadest of senses, integrated across the IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS boundaries). Since cloud is in many ways about the empowerment of the line-of-business and developers, this is decidedly helpful for IBM’s future ambitions in the cloud.

So another juggernaut is on the move. Things should get interesting, especially when it comes to platforms, which is arguably where the real war for the cloud will be fought.

Results of Symposium workshop on Amazon

I promised the attendees at my Gartner Symposium workshop, called “Using Amazon Web Services“, that I would post the notes from the session, so here they are — with some context for public consumption.

A workshop is a structured, facilitated discussions that are designed to assist participants in working through a problem, coming up with best practices, etc. This one had thirty people, all from IT organizations that were either using Amazon or planning to use Amazon.

Because I didn’t know what level of experience with Amazon the workshop attendees would have, I actually prepared two workshops in advance. One of them was a highly structured work-through of preparing to use Amazon in a more formal way (i.e., not a single developer with a credit card or the like), and the other was a facilitated sharing of challenges and best practices amongst current adopters. As the room skewed heavily towards people who already had a deployment well under way, this workshop focused on the latter.

I started the workshop with introductions — people, companies, current use cases. Then, I asked attendees to share their use cases in more details in their smaller working groups. This turned into a set of active discussions that I allowed extra time for, before I asked each of the group to make a list of their most significant challenges in adopting/using Amazon, and their solutions if any. Throughout, I circulated the room, listening and, rarely, commenting. Each group then shared their findings, and I offered some commentary and then did an open Q&A (with some more participant sharing of their answers to questions).

Broadly, I would say that we had three types of people in the room. We had folks from the public sector and education, who were at a relatively early stage in adoption; we had people who were test/dev oriented but in a significant way (i.e., formal adoption, not a handful of developers doing their thang); and we had people who were more e-business oriented (including people from net-native businesses like SaaS, as well as traditional businesses with a hosting type of need), although that could be test/dev or production. Most of the people were mid-level IT management with direct responsibility for the Amazon services.

Some key observations:

Dealing with the financial aspects of moving to the cloud is hard. Understanding the return on investment, accurately estimating costs in advance, comparing costs to internal costs, and understanding the details of billing were common challenges of the participants. Moreover, it raises the issue of “is capital king or is expense king?” Although the broader industry is constantly talking about how people are trying to move to expense rather than capital, workshop participants frequently asserted that it was easier for them to get capital than to up their recurring expenses. (As a side note, I have found that to be a frequent assertion in both inquiry and conference 1-on-1s.) Finally, user management, cost control, and turning resources on/off appropriately were problematic in the financial context.

Move low-risk workloads first. The workshop participants generally assessed Amazon as being suitable only to test/dev, non-mission-critical workloads, and things that had specifically been designed with Amazon’s characteristics in mind. Participants recommended a risk profile of apps, and moving low-risk apps first. They also saw their security organizations as being a barrier to adoption. Many had issues with their Legal departments either trying to prevent use of services or causing issues in the contracting process (what Amazon calls an Enterprise Agreement); participants recommended not involving Legal until after adopting the service.

Performance is a problem. Performance was cited as a frequent issue, especially storage performance, which participants noted was unsuitable to their production applications, and one participant made the key point that many test/dev situations also require highly performant storage (something he had first discovered when his ILM strategy placed test/dev storage at a lower more commodity tier and it impacted his developers).

Know what your SLA isn’t. Amazon’s limited SLAs were cited as an issue, particularly the mismatch in what many users thought the SLA was versus what it actually was, and what it’s actually turned out to be in practice (given Amazon’s outages this year). Participants also stressed business continuity planning in this context.

Integration is a challenge. Participants noted that going to test/dev in the cloud, while maintaining production in an internal data center, splits the software development lifecycle across data centers. This can be overcome to some degree with the appropriate tools, but still creates challenges and sometimes outright problems. Also, because speed of deployment is such a driving factor to go to the cloud, there is a resulting fragmentation of solutions. A service catalog would help some of these issues.

Data management can be a challenge. Participants were worried about regulatory compliance and the “where is my data?” question. Inexperienced participants were often not aware that non-S3 data is generally local to an availability zone. But even beyond that, there’s the question of what data is being put where by the cloud users. Participants with larger amounts of data also faced challenges in moving data in and out of the cloud.

Amazon isn’t the right provider for all workloads in the cloud. Several workshop participants used other cloud IaaS providers in addition to Amazon, for a variety of other reasons — greater ease of use for users who didn’t need complex things, enterprise-grade availability and performance, better manageability, security capabilities, and so forth.

I have conducted cloud workshops and what Gartner calls analyst/user roundtables at a bunch of our conferences now, and it’s always interesting what the different audiences think about, and how much it’s evolving over time. Compared to last year’s Symposium, the state of the art of Amazon adoption amongst conference attendees has clearly advanced hugely.

Gartner Symposium this week

I am at Gartner Symposium in Orlando this week, and would happy to meet and greet anyone who feels like doing so.

I am conducting a workshop on Thursday, at 11 am in Salon 7 in Yacht and Beach, called “Using Amazon Web Services“. (The workshop is full, but it’s always possible there may be no-shows if you’re trying to get in.) This workshop is targeted at attendees who are currently AWS customers, or who are currently evaluating AWS.

Gartner Invest clients, I’ll be at the Monday night event, and willing to chatter about anything (CDNs, especially Akamai, seem to be the hot topic, but I’m getting a fair chunk of questions about Rackspace and Equinix).

I hope to blog about some trends on my one-on-one interactions and other conversations at the conference, as we go through the week.

How to get a meeting with me at VMworld

I will be at VMworld in Las Vegas this year. If you’re interested in meeting with me during VMworld, please do the following:

Gartner clients and current prospects: Please contact your Gartner account executive to have them set up a meeting (they can use a Gartner internal system called WhereRU to schedule it). I’ve set aside Thursday, September 1st, for client meetings. If you absolutely cannot do Thursday, please have your account executive contact me and we’ll see what else we can work out. (Because there are often more meeting requests than there are meeting times available, I will allow our sales team to prioritize my time.)

Non-clients: Please contact me directly via email, with a range of times that you’re available. In general, these will be meetings after 5 pm, although depending on my schedule, I may fit in meetings throughout the day on Wednesday, August 31st, as well.

I am particularly interested in start-ups that have innovative cloud IaaS offerings, or which have especially interesting enabilng technologies targeted at the service provider market.

Cloud as a Business Executive Forum

On Wednesday, April 13th, I will be speaking at Joyent’s Cloud as a Business Executive Forum, an all-day event that they’re holding at the Le Meridien Hotel in San Francisco.

I’ll be delivering a presentation on the cloud computing opportunity for service providers, as follows:

Service providers face unprecedented opportunity to grow their revenues and profits and deepen their customer relationships as more and more SMBs and enterprises consider moving their applications to the cloud. But how big, exactly, is the cloud market? From which market segments is the growth coming? How can service providers capitalize most effectively on the growth in the market? How can service providers maximize their margins as cloud products and services rapidly commoditize?

(Per Gartner’s rules for analysts speaking at these kinds of events, my presentation is a market view only, and does not advocate for Joyent.)

The event also includes presentations by Joyent CEO David Young, and chief scientist Jason Hoffman, along with a roundtable discussion with Joyent’s customers and a look at Joyent’s SmartDataCenter software.

If you’re a service provider and are interested in attending, please contact Joyent Sales directly.

The event also anchors my usual monthly visit to the Bay Area, so if you’re interested in meeting in person, please contact your Gartner account executive. (I think my meeting slots have mostly been taken, but these are always somewhat fluid as executive schedules change, and even if I don’t see you this time around, I’ll be back in May.)

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Observations from the Gartner data center conference

I’m at Gartner’s Data Center Conference this week, and I’m finding it to be an interesting contrast to our recent Application Architecture, Development, and Integration Summit.

AADI’s primary attendees are enterprise architects and other people who hold leadership roles in applications development. The data center conference’s primary attendees are IT operations directors and others with leadership roles in the data center. Both have significant CIO attendance, especially the data center conference. Attendees at the data center conference, especially, skew heavily towards larger enterprises and those who otherwise have big data centers, so when you see polling results from the conference, keep the bias of the attendees in mind. (Those of you who read my blog regularly: I cite survey data — formal field research, demographically weighted, etc. — differently than conference polling data, as the latter is non-scientific.)

At AADI, the embrace of the public cloud was enthusiastic, and if you asked people what they were doing, they would happily tell you about their experiments with Amazon and whatnot. At this conference, the embrace of the public cloud is far more tentative. In fact, my conversations not-infrequently go like this:

Me: Are you doing any public cloud infrastructure now?
Them: No, we’re just thinking we should do a private cloud ourselves.
Me: Nobody in your company is doing anything on Amazon or a similar vendor?
Them: Oh, yeah, we have a thing there, but that’s not really our direction.

That is not “No, we’re not doing anything on the public cloud”. That’s, “Yes, we’re using the public cloud but we’re in denial about it”.

Lots of unease here about Amazon, which is not particularly surprising. That was true at AADI as well, but people were much more measured there — they had specific concerns, and ways they were addressing, or living with, those concerns. Here the concerns are more strident, particularly around security and SLAs.

Feedback from folks using the various VMware-based public cloud providers seems to be consistently positive — people seem to uniformly be happy with the services themselves and are getting the benefits they hoped to get, and are comfortable. Terremark seems to be the most common vendor for this, by a significant margin. Some Savvis, too. And Verizon customers seem to have talked to Verizon about CaaS, at least. (This reflects my normal inquiry trends, as well.)

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Upcoming Gartner conferences

I will be at three Gartner conferences during the remainder of this year.

I will be at Symposium ITxpo Orlando. My main session here will be The Great Debate: Shared-Hardware vs. Shared-Everything Multitenancy, or Amazon’s Apples vs.’s Oranges. (Or for those of you who heard Larry Ellison’s OpenWorld keynote, Oracle ExaLogic vs.…) The debate will be moderated by my colleague Ray Valdes, I’ll be taking the shared-hardware side while my colleague Eric Knipp takes the shared-everything side. I’m also likely to be running some end-user roundtables, but mostly, I’ll be available to take questions in 1-on-1 sessions.

If you go to Symposium, I highly encourage you to attend a session by one of my colleagues, Neil MacDonald. It’s called Why Cloud-Based Computing Will Be More Secure Than What You Have Today, and it’s what we call a “maverick pitch”, which means that it’s follows an idea that’s not a common consensus opinion at Gartner. But it’s also the foundation of some really, really interesting work that we’re doing on the future of the cloud, and it follows an incredibly important tenet that we’re talking about a lot: that control is not a substitute for trust, and the historical model that enterprises have had of equating the two is fundamentally broken.

I will be at the Application Architecture, Development, and Integration Summit (ala, our Web and Cloud conference) in November. I’m giving two presentations there. The first will be Controlling the Cloud: How to Leverage Cloud Computing Without Losing Control of Your IT Processes. The second is Infrastructure as a Service: Providing Data Center Services in the Cloud. I’ll also be running an end-user roundtable on building private clouds, and be available to take 1-on-1 questions.

Finally, I will be at the Data Center Conference in December. I’m giving two presentations there. The first will be Is Amazon, Not VMware, the Future of Your Data Center? The second is Getting Real With Cloud Infrastructure Services. I’ll also be in one of our “town hall” meetings on cloud, running an end-user roundtable on cloud IaaS, and be available to take 1-on-1 questions.

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VMworld Europe

I will be at VMworld Europe this week.

I am speaking on Wednesday, October 13th, at 10:30 am, giving a short tutorial on outsourcing cloud infrastructure as a service. This is an NTT Communications-sponsored session. I also expect to be available to answer questions at NTT’s booth during that day.

During the rest of the conference I’m available for one-on-one meetings, regardless of whether or not you’re a Gartner client. Please send me email if you’d like to meet.

(In case you’re wondering how vendor-neutrality works when I do a vendor-sponsored day like this: NTT has no control over my presentation content whatsoever, nor anything that I say in general. It’s a risk for the vendor, in that they don’t know what I’m going to say exactly, and that what I have to say might not be entirely consonant with their strategy. But it’s part of Gartner’s policy when we speak at an external event like this, which means that you, as an attendee, don’t have to wonder about whether I’d have said something else under different circumstances.)

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Meeting up at VMworld

I’m going to be at VMworld next week. If you’re a Gartner client, and you’d like to meet up with me while I’m there, please contact your account executive to arrange it. If you’re not a Gartner client, please email me and I’ll see what I can arrange. (My days are mostly spoken for, but breakfast and post-5 pm are largely free.)

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