Write side up - by Freeform Dynamics

April 2, 2019  10:54 AM

Hard drives that do their own data processing

Bryan Betts Bryan Betts Profile: Bryan Betts

It’s getting hard these days to find places where container technology doesn’t feature, but in a hard drive? Yet that’s what is being explored in one of the Storage Networking Industry Association (SNIA) technical working groups under the title of computational storage.

The idea seems simple: all storage devices already contain microprocessors to handle the data management tasks, so why not give them a bit more compute power, some working memory and something else to do? And while that would have been difficult a few years ago, because these things aren’t designed to be reprogrammed by outsiders, adding a dock for containers makes it rather easier.  

There are a couple of caveats, of course, one being that the average hard drive doesn’t have a lot of processor resource to spare, so it might not cope with more than a single container. Some smaller formats, such as M.2, might not even allow that. The other, as I realised when discussing it recently with storage industry veteran and SNIA board director Rob Peglar, is that computational storage is only ‘computational’ when seen through SNIA’s eyes. That’s to say, it is only about compute tasks that are specific to storage.

There’s a lot to compute in storage

However, that in turn is a wider field than we might first think. As well as obviously-relevant tasks such as data compression or calculating RAID parities and erasure code pairs, it could also stretch to things such as video transcoding, for example using the likes of FFmpeg to compress audio and video for storage.

You could even have a drive with computational capabilities providing peer-to-peer services to non-computational drives on the same PCIe subsystem. P2P services might also give us a way around the single container limitation, which means that each computational storage element is likely to be fixed-purpose. Multiple drives, each with a different computational capability, could potentially share those over PCIe.

Examples of intelligent and computationally-capable drives already exist, for example from Eideticom, Netint, NGD Systems and ScaleFlux. But as Rob cautioned, there is still some standardisation work and ecosystem development to be done. In particular, computational storage is distributed processing so it needs orchestration, and storage-related application stacks will need adjustment to take advantage of it. “We are looking to the software industry for careful guidance,” he said.

Offloading drive I/O is the real win

It’s also worth noting that despite the ‘computational storage’ name, offloading the computational workload is a secondary benefit. More important is that all these storage processing tasks also require a lot of data to be moved between the processor and the storage device – lots of I/O, in other words.

As everything else in the system speeds up, I/O delays become more prominent and there is more incentive to find ways to reduce them. For example, as well as computational storage, which keeps the I/O within the drive (or the PCIe subsystem) for storage-specific processing work, there is non-volatile memory (NVM), which provides a different route to I/O reduction for mainstream tasks.

NVM puts fast and persistent storage in a slot next to the processor, and therefore keeps its I/O on the memory bus – we’ll write more about this soon. It is very likely that we will see systems incorporate both NVM and computational storage, as they address different needs.

February 19, 2019  4:39 PM

Cybersecurity needs both psychologists and field marshals

Bryan Betts Bryan Betts Profile: Bryan Betts
breach, cyber security training, cyber-attacks, IBM, Psychology

Many cybersecurity professionals like military analogies. Indeed, some security pros are ex-military. But after a recent security exercise involving IBM’s new lorry-mounted SOC (security operations centre), I found myself wondering just how apt those analogies really are.

For example, there’s the popular statement that is frequently misquoted as “No battle plan survives contact with the enemy.” What its author, the 19th century German field marshal and strategist, Moltke the Elder, actually said* translates as it won’t “go with certainty past first contact with the enemy’s main strength.” His thesis was not that battle plans were pointless, but that commanders should establish flexible operational frameworks, giving stated intentions rather than detailed orders.

Cybersecurity versus the big battalions

So it is – or should be – with cybersecurity. When problems arrive one by one, they can be triaged, assigned and dealt with, like an army dealing with skirmishers and probing attacks. But when a major incident occurs, that’s when the fertiliser hits the fan. The enemy’s main battle tanks have arrived en masse, and you are about to find out which of your lieutenants can think on their feet.

All this seems obvious to us today in a military context – individual leaders are expected to use their initiative and judgement to get the job done within their commander’s overall framework. And yet, while it’s standard for modern militaries, anyone who has had the misfortune to work for a micro-manager will know how firmly it is ignored in much of civilian life.

So, back to the IBM lorry. Called the X-Force Command Cyber Tactical Operation Centre (CTOC), it’s designed for multiple roles. The primary one is training exercises for cybersecurity incident response teams, but it can also be used as a mobile SOC for special events – think of IBM’s Wimbledon sponsorship, for instance – and for educational outreach.

An obvious target for the latter is schools and colleges, to interest and inspire the next generation of security professionals, but it’s more than that. Outreach can also be to anyone from journalists and industry analysts to a company’s board members – the board of course being where the data protection buck ultimately stops.

It’s a fantastic set-up inside the X-Force CTOC lorry, with its expanding sides that open into a good-sized room. As well as the fully-equipped desks of the SOC itself, there’s huge screens on the walls to throw up events and chart the progress of the ‘incident’, plus a computer room, satellite connectivity and a generator make it all independent of the grid.

During an exercise, IBM’s backstage trainers phone in and send messages, playing the roles of end users, anxious customers, TV reporters and more. But while this all is usually referred to as training, this is where military analogies might lead us astray. What civilians picture is soldiers practising combat skills and small-unit tactics, but in reality – and in cybersecurity – that’s only part of the story.

The psychology of stressed teams is fundamental

A far bigger part is the psychology element. Firstly, it’s getting used to thinking on your feet and taking the initiative, as old Moltke might have said. But it’s also testing how your people – both individually, and more importantly as a team – respond to stress. Do they remember the framework or do they panic? Do they co-operate with colleagues or retreat inwards, ignoring the ringing phones? Do their assignments match their individual strengths and weaknesses? And of course, does the organisation’s draft response plan actually help or hinder?

The psychology of stressed teams is fundamental to an organisation’s response to a breach or other incident. So not only is it absolutely essential to invest in adequate incident response training for your team, it must be more than just tech skills – you need to test and stress them as a team too. Only then will you find out not just how their training benefits everyday business operations, but how it works in the heat of a cyberattack.


*In the original: “Kein Operationsplan reicht mit einiger Sicherheit über das erste Zusammentreffen mit der feindlichen Hauptmacht hinaus.”

January 9, 2019  2:08 PM

How Brexit-friendly are your SaaS contracts?

Dale Vile Profile: Dale Vile
Brexit, Contract negotiations, cost reduction, Downsizing, SaaS applications

If you think Brexit will be advantageous for the UK economy and the British people, this post is not for you. If your assessment of the available information, like mine, is that our economy will suffer and many UK businesses will need to cut overheads, then you need to review the Software as a Service (SaaS) contracts you have in place.

This is because so many SaaS contracts are fixed term, typically one to three years, and work on a ratchet basis. You can add seats, capacity, etc at any time during the contract term, but only once the current contract term is up can you reduce your commitment, or indeed cancel the service and/or move to an alternative provider. And if you choose to renew, you are then locked in for another year or more.

The exact details and level of rigidity varies by provider, but some of the big players with more of an ‘old school’ commercial culture like Salesforce.com and Microsoft are pretty strict and uncompromising on both terms and enforcement.

Other significant SaaS providers, e.g. Google, Dropbox and Slack to name but three, are more flexible. They allow you to contract on a rolling monthly basis, with the right to adjust the number of contracted seats down as well as up as the level of activity, requirement and/or performance changes within your business.

Flexible vs fixed terms

The value of such flexibility is obvious if you need to downsize your workforce, or reduce the number of contractors or collaborators you work with who would have previously had access to the system. Either way, you aren’t left paying an ongoing subscription for seats that aren’t being used.

But SaaS contract flexibility provides options for cost reduction in other ways. For example, even for core applications, it is not unusual to have a core of essential users, plus a set of users for whom system access is more of a ‘nice to have’ – a luxury you could afford when times were good, but one that’s harder to justify when the squeeze is on.

And if you review your SaaS portfolio carefully, you’re likely to spot solutions that the organisation could easily live without. One benefit of SaaS is that you can put a solution in place very quickly, but the downside is that this encourages speculative commitments. You may therefore have accumulated some ‘cloud clutter’ – services that seemed like a good idea at the time, but which ultimately didn’t deliver the expected value.

In an ideal world, where flexible contracts exist, you would manage costs through ongoing reviews of needs and usage patterns. You would flex subscriptions up or down, terminate services that are no longer needed, and switch providers where appropriate.

Review those contracts – are they worth it?

Back in the real world, the real challenge is those providers who still insist on long-term fixed contracts and ratchet-style subscription mechanisms. For some core services, you may decide that the value is worth the pain, but even then it’s worth asking for a concession if you need it. While the most likely response to smaller businesses will be “Tough, that’s what you signed up to,” we have heard cases of providers willing to compromise on occasions. This is more likely to happen if you are into your second or third contract term.

For those borderline-value services, consider switching from an annual to a monthly rolling contract until your situation becomes more certain, if that option is available. Not all providers will offer this, and the ones that do will charge you more per seat per month if their preference is for fixed-term, but it can give you the flexibility to make tough choices in the interim without a major cost penalty.

For now though, I would urge anyone making new SaaS commitments in these uncertain times to make contract and commitment terms important factors in your decision-making. Having just one opportunity per year to terminate, switch or optimise means you are constrained by an arbitrary timetable which has nothing to do with your own business cycle or related milestones and events.

That kind of contract clearly isn’t consistent with the ‘on-demand’ and flexible spirit of the original cloud proposition, nor is it very Brexit-friendly. Now, more than ever, it is vital to beware of contractual lock-in when reviewing and making SaaS related commitments.

January 4, 2019  4:46 PM

How long will your New Year stay Happy?

Bryan Betts Bryan Betts Profile: Bryan Betts
Data governance, DevOps, Facebook, forecasts, GDPR, Predictions

The Freeform Dynamics crystal ball has been given a polish for 2019. Here’s a few of the upcoming events – and risks – that we glimpsed in it…

Online privacy back in the headlines

A year on from GDPR, the PR machine again goes into overdrive as the EU ePrivacy Regulation, which expands on and supersedes parts of GDPR, comes into force. However, following the way that the original web-cookie rules were dodged by the use of large OK buttons, and the (incorrect) perception that GDPR was a damp squib, many in industry assume the ePrivacy fuss is a case of IT “crying wolf”. Then, with the regulators now having GDPR under their belts, the first fines hit – and they’re calculated at the same level as GDPR, so that’s up to 20m Euro or 4% of world wide annual turnover…

Data governance pays off – for some

Real benefits start to flow for those foresighted organisations that put strategic data governance and value-extraction plans in place, rather than simply aiming to minimise their GDPR costs. This is the upside of GDPR for those that saw it more as an opportunity than a risk, and – crucially – were willing to invest the time and effort that was needed to establish that data governance.

DevOps risks failure as it goes mainstream

More and more organisations scale-out their DevOps strategy this year, so they can leverage its cost, quality and predictability benefits more broadly. Defining a more repeatable, scalable and infrastructure-driven approach becomes a priority, even for slower-moving application areas. It takes a DevOps failure or three, however, before the realisation spreads that while DevOps is full of goodness, it is not a panacea. The winners in all this are the IT architects, because at enterprise level, the ability to design, build and operate a resilient yet flexible systems architecture is far more important than the ability to cut code.

Facebook Workspace goes the way of Google+

Many people love Facebook, but no one has yet cracked the challenge of creating a secure equivalent for businesses, not even the web giant. Is it because the demands of business security are fundamentally incompatible with classic Silicon Valley attitudes to customer data? (As an aside, that oft-quoted line attributed to former Sun Microsystems boss Scott McNealy – “You have no privacy – get over it!” – is now 20 years old.) Or could it simply be that none of the work-focused services really offers enough beyond what Twitter and LinkedIn already provide?

Think we’re right – or wrong? Let us know in the comments below!

December 20, 2018  2:47 PM

Six months on, GDPR is a qualified success

Bryan Betts Bryan Betts Profile: Bryan Betts
Data protection, EU, GDPR, meaningful consent, privacy

Anyone hoping that we would by now have greater clarity on GDPR will have been sadly disappointed. Large swathes of the Regulation have yet to be tested in a court, and many of the high profile fines that you may have read about were actually issued for contraventions of the pre-GDPR rules.

That’s partly because GDPR remains as I and others described it a year ago: descriptive, not prescriptive. Still, when I joined a recent debate on what’s emerged in the months since GDPR Day, we were able to identify several notable clarifications, consequences and caveats.

The biggest caveat for UK readers is yet another Brexiter own-goal that will see the UK giving up control, not taking it back, as and when it leaves the EU. Put simply, while inside the EU, national legislation such as the Investigatory Powers Act 2016 – the “snooper’s charter” pushed through by then-home secretary Theresa May – may be challenged in the European courts, but that doesn’t prevent UK companies moving personal data around the EU.

However, if the UK is outside the EU (or EEA), it will need the equivalent of the USA’s Privacy Shield* – a declaration from the European Commission that the UK’s data protection regime matches EU expectations. In other words, if you are an EU member the Commission can’t examine your laws under GDPR and declare them inadequate, but if you are a ‘third country’ it can.

So if Prime Minister May manages to get the UK out of the jurisdiction of the European courts – which frustrated her ambitions more than once as home secretary – the UK could actually end up with even less room for manoeuvre in the area of data privacy than it has now.

Recognising the importance of data governance

On a wider and more positive note, speakers in the debate noted that GDPR has been a boon for CIOs. It has made data protection and the value of data much more visible at board level – which is of course where the legal responsibility for data privacy sits. In doing so, GDPR has also brought a stronger recognition of the need for data governance.

That means there has been more budget and a greater impetus to get data protection and privacy sorted out from a process, policy and technology perspective. As one speaker put it, GDPR has been a catalyst for a lot of things we should have been doing anyway! Another added that it has empowered some of those responsible for data governance to rein in and cull projects which had run out of control.

And it’s not just European CIOs and data subjects who are benefiting. Increasingly, GDPR is seen world-wide as the ‘gold standard’ for data protection, with similar regulations appearing in other jurisdictions. Multi-national companies are choosing to implement GDPR world-wide too, with Microsoft the highest profile example. For these companies, not only does this demonstrate good faith, it also simplifies their data governance regimes.

Consent may be less important than you think

On the other hand, there’s still far too many people who don’t understand that consent is only one of the possible legal grounds for processing personal data under GDPR, and that in many cases, consent may not be the best one to use. There’s a need too for more and better analytics to help organisations understand the data they collect – what’s sensitive, what’s important, what they can safely discard, and of course which bits they should never have collected in the first place.

For now though, GDPR has made individuals more aware of their data and their rights, it has made privacy easier to define, and perhaps most importantly, it has ensured that data and privacy are seen as strategic issues within organisations. Overall then, the general feeling was that, even with elements awaiting clarification, GDPR has been a success.

*Though this too has been challenged as inadequate in both the European courts and in the European Parliament.

My thanks to fellow GDPR-watchers Renzo Marchini, a partner at law firm Fieldfisher who specialises in privacy and security; Joe Garber who heads the governance product group at Micro FocusHorizon CIO Network host Mark Chillingworth; Johan Dreher, sales engineering director at Mimecast; and Alex McDonald, who chaired the debate and is both a director at SNIA Europe and an industry evangelist for NetApp.

You can read more research and insight about GDPR on our website here.

November 23, 2018  5:18 PM

Google Chrome: It’s more than a browser

Richard Edwards Richard Edwards Profile: Richard Edwards
Chromebook, Desktop, Desktop virtualization, Google Chrome

I was talking with some of my peers about the changing landscape of the digital workplace. ‘So, what do you think about Google Chrome Enterprise,’ I asked. Not for the first time, I was met with a couple of blank stares. Maybe Google needs a bit of advice in getting its message out? Let me help.

Google Chrome Enterprise is an operating system (Chrome OS), a browser (Chrome), and a device (Chromebook). There’s plenty of ‘cloudy’ stuff too of course, with the likes of G Suite being the more familiar component, but this is Google setting out its alternative desktop agenda as Microsoft flounders amidst the turbulent waves of forced Windows 10 upgrades and migrations.

Are you a ‘cloud worker’?

So, who’s Google Chrome Enterprise aimed at I hear you ask. Well, it’s for the ‘cloud worker’ of course. I suspect we’re going to hear this term used quite a bit, so we might as well get used to it. A cloud worker is someone who spends most of their time working with cloud-based, browser-based apps and services.

You’re probably well on your way to becoming a cloud worker yourself if you’re using Office 365, Salesforce, ServiceNow, etc. Indeed, with the growing prevalence of SaaS solutions and cloud delivery models, we’re all going to be cloud workers before long. This will eventually put the term in the same meaningless category as ‘information worker’, but let’s not worry about that for now.

Chrome OS: the optimum thin client

I’ve written about the viability of Chrome OS as a real alternative to Microsoft Windows in previous articles, including a mention of CloudReady from Neverware (a Google-invested firm) if you want to quickly and easily retrofit Chrome OS to your existing PC fleet. But it’s the combination of Chrome OS with desktop and application virtualisation solutions that put it over-the-top for me.

Chrome OS devices (Chromebooks, Chromeboxes, Chromebases and converted PCs) present a range of advantages if we consider them as thin clients. They’re relatively mainstream, they’re affordable, they’re manageable, they’re self-maintaining and they’re very capable. They won’t suite every use case, but they do sit very comfortably between Windows PCs and zero clients.

The capabilities of Google Chrome Enterprise come to life when considered alongside partner products, such as Citrix Workspace. Using the Citrix Workspace app for Chrome (formerly known as Citrix Receiver), IT departments can provide instant access to SaaS and web applications, virtualized Windows applications, files, and even legacy desktop environments if needed.

I expect we’ll also see some intriguing options come to market when Microsoft makes its Azure-based Windows Virtual Desktop generally available. The offering promises to deliver a multi-user Windows 10 experience that is optimised for Office 365 ProPlus and the subscription generating revenues that go with it. And I see no reason why those revenues can’t equally well be generated on AWS or Google Cloud Platform.

What does Google Chrome Enterprise mean for your organisation?

Setting aside Chrome OS and Chromebooks for a moment, the Chrome browser itself is designed with enterprise IT administrators in mind. It can be managed using Windows Group Policy and has over 400 policy settings to choose from. Please don’t use them all! You can also configure policies on Mac and Linux computers, of course.

You’re already on the Google Chrome Enterprise glidepath if you’ve deployed the browser across your enterprise, so you might want to consider which direction this is taking you. There’s no need to panic, but it’s worth considering how this plays into your desktop strategy.

Chrome has come a long way since its introduction in 2008, but the journey might only just be starting. What do you want Chrome to become? Let us know.

Read more from the Freeform Dynamics EUC team here

November 20, 2018  1:28 PM

Don’t ignore the complexity of hybrid multi-cloud

Bryan Betts Bryan Betts Profile: Bryan Betts
Application delivery, cloud, Kubernetes, Multi-cloud, Software development

Many vendors will argue that moving to cloud brings consistency and simplicity, thanks to service-based delivery models, application access via standard Web browsers and so on. It’s rarely true though – at least, not in the real world.

Oh, sure, if you are able to stay within a single cloud ecosystem you can achieve a fair amount of consistency. Or if you’re a start-up choosing to go Web-only to minimise your capital costs, you can indeed make some things simpler.

But for most companies in the real world, cloud makes things more complex, not less. As our research has consistently shown, single ecosystem companies are a minority, with most having five, 10 or even 20-plus ‘cloudy suppliers’, once you add up public cloud, private cloud, hosted, SaaS and so on. That’s on top of all that traditional on-site IT, which shows no signs even of shrinking, never mind disappearing altogether.

I don’t often hear cloudy vendors acknowledging that hybrid complexity though. Yet lots of them now have a strong multi-cloud message. whether they’re coming from the cloud side, like Rackspace and CloudHealth (now part of VMware), or more from the systems side such as HPE, SUSE, and of course both IBM and Red Hat – acquiring additional multi-cloud capability was stated as a major reason for the Red Hat purchase.

That’s why it was refreshing to see acknowledged complexity as a subtext underpinning several of the keynotes at the recent BMC Exchange customer event in London. The message was that BMC – which has been pushing its multi-cloud management capabilities for some time now – fully understands the challenge of working across multiple hybrid services and wants to help you manage it. Whether it can keep to that message in the long term, only time will tell – but the signs are good, as it’s one of the few software companies with both the technology breadth and depth to make sense of it all.

Cloud, what is it good for? Huh!

Look at the relative immaturity of the public cloud, the shortage of cross-cloud standards, and at how the relationships around key portability-enabling technologies such as Kubernetes are shifting almost week by week. It’s clear that cloud isn’t the panacea or magic bullet that some would have us believe.

Fortunately though, it is very far from being a useless dead-end – it is quite the opposite, in fact. The real benefit of cloud, the benefit that trumps all that multi-cloud complexity, is at least as much conceptual as technical. What cloud does, most importantly, is to change both mindsets and delivery models.

Cloudy services may be like a swan on a swift river – all smooth and graceful on the surface, but lots of frantic paddling underneath – but by appearing accessible and easy-to-use they change people’s attitudes to and expectations of IT. Better still, mechanisms such as APIs and the use of a standard user-interface in the browser make it relatively easy to get software tools from different sources working together.

Indeed, the default assumption now is that they will work together. And that’s important because easy interworking is a big part of what’s liberating innovation and creativity. Software developers don’t think twice now, and nor should they – they turn first to the cloud, whether that’s to source tools, store data or run services.

But pretending it’s as easy to provide those services as it is to consume them would be extremely dangerous. Software development is a highly skilled task, even more so now that secure-by-design and privacy-by-design are becoming the norm, but it’s quite different from the task of building and operating multi-cloud infrastructure. That’s why it’s good to hear companies such as BMC acknowledge the complexity, even as they also advertise the fact that it is all perfectly doable and workable – with the right tools, skills and preparation.

Read more from Freeform Dynamics’ software delivery research here.

November 13, 2018  6:50 PM

Open source is growing up – and here’s how

Bryan Betts Bryan Betts Profile: Bryan Betts
API, Docker, Kubernetes, Open source, OpenStack

If you’re among those who still think that open source is just for hobbyists and academics, think again. Open source is mature now, both as a concept and as tools for building enterprise IT, and we have two major shifts in understanding to thank for that.

The first key change is that there’s a much more mature understanding now of how the layers of IT architecture relate to each other – of what fits where, in other words. Instead of trying to do too much, adding in every feature or capability that might be related, open source projects have become more focused.

For example, instead of misunderstanding them as rivals, we can now see OpenStack and Kubernetes for what they are. The former is an infrastructure layer, upon which you can run platform layers such as the latter.
In parallel with that, open source developers now better understand the need to align their projects with each other. That’s partly driven by users pushing for interoperability – make that easier and you get more users. But it’s also the growing recognition that, as open source usage increases, their project is part of something much bigger – potentially a whole suite of interoperating enterprise-grade software. Open infrastructure, as it’s already being called.

Would you like Kubernetes with that, too?

A good example is the way that hardly a week goes by now without a reference to some new cooperation or interworking with Kubernetes. It was there at the recent Cloud Foundry Summit, it was there when I spoke with Red Hat and SUSE, and it’s here in spades at this week’s OpenStack Summit in Berlin – or the Open Infrastructure Summit, as it’ll be from next year.

What we see is that Kubernetes has won the platform debate. Most major players in the cloud-native ecosystem seem agreed that Kubernetes will be the common platform orchestration layer over or under which they’ll all build – and they have aligned themselves and their own software accordingly.

For example, development frameworks such as OpenShift and Cloud Foundry were once positioned as the key platform layers, but it is more likely now that you will find them used as application layers within Kubernetes, rather than vice versa. And while Docker is still popular as a container format, those containers are likely to run on a Kubernetes platform. Focus on your strengths, is the message.

We should perhaps retain a little caution, of course. The open source community has been notorious in the past for rebel developers deciding that such-and-such a project has “sold out” or taken a wrong turn, and setting up a fork or rival project. After all, even Kubernetes was once the young upstart, with the early attention focused instead on Docker.

The case for open infrastructure

But we should also take comfort in that community’s growing maturity, and with the greater speed of open source. Not just the velocity of development, which is impressive, but also the speed with which the people driving projects are willing to pivot and embrace new and better ideas.

And I get a distinct sense that, as APIs and open standards come to dominate our thinking, modularity is now accepted as the way to get things done. Need a container orchestration layer? Don’t reinvent the wheel. Need converged file, block and object storage? Ceph has come on in leaps and bounds – but even if it doesn’t suit, there’s alternatives.

So yes, open infrastructure is a reality now. Sure, there will be use cases where it’s not appropriate or where proprietary software will be a better fit. But it’s become an attractive alternative for a growing number of organisations, and it’s going to remain a key topic in our research going forward.

Read more from the Freeform Dynamics core infrastructure & services team here

November 12, 2018  8:26 PM

The mainframe returns – as a platform for large-scale Linux

Tony Lock Profile: Tony Lock
IBM, Linux, Mainframe, Mission-critical computing

There are several ways to build large scale Linux server environments, with x86 and public cloud being obvious ones. But there’s another option too, as I reminded myself when I caught up with Adam Jollans, program director for LinuxOne product marketing at IBM. LinuxOne is a solution built by IBM using the mainframe platform as its base, but it’s solely focused on running Linux workloads.

We discussed the way some organisations are using LinuxOne to keep mission-critical open source solutions running without service interruption and, just as importantly, to keep them secure. Typical workloads his customers run include core banking services – where resilience is essential, not just desirable – and similar solutions for Telcos and SPs. These are services that must scale to hundreds or even thousands of virtual machines, doing so both cost-effectively and without risk.

The characteristics of such mission-critical workloads clearly resonate with the traits of the venerable mainframe. After all, the mainframe is regarded by many, even those who have never seen one, as the gold standard for IT resilience and availability. Unfortunately for IBM, and arguably for the wider world, the mainframe is also widely thought of as being out-dated, expensive, and difficult to manage – even though this hasn’t been true for a long time, and is certainly not the case with LinuxOne.

Linux admins, managing mainframes

LinuxOne is built on modern technology, and the management tools available from IBM and other vendors, such as CA Technologies, Compuware and BMC, have done much to simplify everyday tasks. Just as importantly, a trained Linux administrator can look after the platform using the same skills they use on any other Linux system.

While the scalability, security and resilience characteristics of the mainframe are now widely recognised, IBM is still faced with the perception of the mainframe as expensive. True, they’re not cheap, but neither is any system designed to run very large workloads. Indeed, some cost comparison studies indicate that LinuxOne is at least as cost effective as x86 systems to run applications at high scale.

It’s clear that IBM has a significant challenge to educate the market on the qualities of LinuxOne. Perceptions can be difficult to change, especially those that have been actively promoted by other vendors over many years. That said, LinuxOne is picking up new customers in both developed markets and rapidly growing economies around the world. The planned take-over by IBM of Linux and cloud specialist Red Hat will undoubtedly shift the market dynamics in this area, too.

For anyone who operates Linux systems at very large scale to support services which must run without fail, especially where those services have a mainframe history, it may be worthwhile taking a broader look at the options and not just defaulting to x86 or the public cloud.

Read more from the Freeform Dynamics Core Infrastructure & Services team here.

November 5, 2018  6:27 PM

Last call for a European public cloud?

Richard Edwards Richard Edwards Profile: Richard Edwards
cloud, Europe, Hybrid cloud, Hyperscale computing, PaaS, USA Patriot Act

Europe’s self-described No.1 ‘hyper-scale cloud provider’, OVH, held its 6th annual customer conference in Paris recently. Attendees got to meet the new CEO, Michel Paulin, and hear about the company’s four ‘product universes’, but there was more to it than that.

During his keynote, OVH founder and chairman Octave Klaba gave an impassioned speech about a ‘revolution’ designed to ‘liberate and innovate’. What Klaba called for is an alternative European cloud, one that can take on the might of Amazon, Microsoft and Google. But the question is, has Europe got what it takes to compete? And does it really need a home-grown offering when the giants are opening local data centres across the region?

Multiple parallel cloud universes

In the public cloud arena OVH is indeed surrounded by giants, but that isn’t going to stop it from trying to put together a compelling range of products and services. I found the ‘universes’ branding a little strange (constellations might have worked better), but customers seem to get it. Here’s what’s on offer:

  • OVHmarket is the ‘digital toolbox’ for small businesses and entrepreneurs, with services such as domain names, web hosting and network access services. Microsoft products are also offered here, such as hosted Exchange and SharePoint, and subscriptions to Office 365. This is all very much commodity stuff, but it’s the kind of one-stop shopping that small business seem to like, and the pricing looks competitive too.
  • OVHspirit is the universe of compute, storage and networking infrastructure, and it’s where OVH has its roots. The company offers customers a wide range of dedicated servers, virtual private servers and private cloud at an attractive price/performance ratio. And if you want your dedicated servers to be in, say, the UK, then ‘multi-local’ data centres make this happen.
  • OVHstack is the Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) universe, built on open-source OpenStack. Designed to remove the hassle associated with infrastructure management, OVHstack takes up the notion of the software defined data centre. And because OpenStack is supported by a range of cloud service providers and vendors, customers should get better system portability, or ‘reversibility’ as OVH likes to call it.
  • OVHenterprise is the hybrid cloud universe. This cloud deployment model offers interoperability and a degree of consistency between two or more distinct public or private cloud infrastructures. This is appealing if you’ve already invested in on-premises IT and private cloud infrastructure, but also want to use public cloud to meet specific business needs.

This line-up of products and services is enabled by some 50 OVH partners, most of whom will be familiar to CIOs and IT professionals. Is it enough to tempt enterprises away from the competition, though? Is there something else of value that OVH can offer?

Would you like Patriot Act/Cloud Act with that?

OVH gained a foothold (and a couple of data centres) in the US when it acquired VMware’s vCloud Air business in May 2017, making it one of the few hyperscalers able to offer cloud services with or without the Patriot Act and CLOUD Act. But this distinction is unlikely to drive the kind of mega-growth required to catch-up with the market leaders, and I’m sure Klaba and his team realise this. So what’s to be done?

They believe the answer to this question lies within the European market itself. Does Europe need, or indeed want, a strong, local native public cloud provider? Klaba seems to think so. This is understandable, as the growth of OVH and other EU cloud providers will ultimately be determined by the region’s response. But what do European businesses, governments, institutions and individuals think? Share your thoughts and let us know.

Read more from Freeform Dynamics’ cloud research here

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