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Where were the application clouds when I needed them…..

Earlier in my career, I ran a corporate IT and managed services tooling team.   I wish it was garage type tools, but it was IT operational management tools.   My team was responsible for developing and integration a set of ~20 applications that was the “IT for the IT guys”.  It was a great training ground for 120 of us; we worked on the bleeding edge and we were loving it.   We did everything from product management, development, test, quality engineering deployment, production and operational support.  It was indeed an example of eating your own cooking.  Applications where king in our group.  We had .NET, J2EE, JAVA, C, C+, C++ and other languages.  We have custom build and COTS (commercial off the shelf) software applications.

One day on a fateful Friday, my  teenagers happily asleep on a Friday night way past midnight (I guess that made it Saturday), I was biting my nails at 2 AM with my management and technical  team on a concall wondering what went wrong.  We were 5 hours into a major yearly upgrade and Murphy was my co-pilot that night.  I had DBAs, architects, Tomcat experts, QA, load testing gurus, infrastructure jockeys, and everyone else on the phone.  We had deployed 10 new servers that night and were simultaneously doing an upgrade to the software stack.  I think we had 7 time zones covered with our concall.   At least for my compatriots in France it was not too bad; they were having morning coffee in their time zone.  Our composite application was taking 12 seconds to process transactions; it should have taken no more 1.5 secs.    The big question:  can we fix this by Sun at 10 PM when our user base in EMEA showed up for work, or do we (don’t say this to the management)  roll back the systems and application….  I ran out of nails at this point….  My wife came into my dark home office and wondered what the heck was going on…..

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The Value of Orchestration: What Did Captain Kirk Know That Scotty Didn’t? & The Roach Motel Infrastructure Issue

Recently, a customer asked me what was the value of using automation to operate a private cloud?  It was a good question. Working  in the middle of the reality distorition field of the cloud industry I take it for granted that everyone knows automation’s benefits.

Fundamentally, automation tools help to reduce labor costs, rationalize  consumption and increase utilization.

Costs are lower because the labor required to configure and deploy is eliminate. This automation is possible by creating standard infrastructure offerings. Standard infrastructure offering make possible a new operational model: to move from the artesanal approach of delivering infrastructure ,where every system and configuration is uniqe, to the industrialized approach, that ensures repeatability, quality and agility.  It’s the difference between custom tailoring and standardized sizes at The Gap. Both have their place, but one costs more.

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What provisioning the Cloud infrastructure and cooking have in common…

What provisioning the Cloud infrastructure and cooking have in common…

 

I like to cook. Sometimes, I’ll grab whatever ingredients I have on hand, put them in a Dutch oven, throw in a few spices, and make a delicious casserole that can never be repeated. At other times, I’ll follow a recipe to the letter, measure and weigh everything that goes in, and produce a great meal that I can repeat consistently each time.

When provisioning servers and blades for a Cloud infrastructure, the same 2 choices exist: follow your instinct and build a working (but not repeatable) system, or follow a recipe that will ensure that systems are built in an exacting fashion, every time. Without a doubt, the latter method is the only way to proceed.

Enter the Cisco Tidal Server Provisioner (an OEM from www.linmin.com) , an integral component of Cisco Intelligent Automation for Cloud and Cisco Intelligent Automation for Compute. TSP lets you easily create “recipes” that can be easily deployed onto physical systems and virtual machines with repeatability and quality, every time. These recipes can range from simple, e.g., install a hypervisor or an operating system, to very complex: install an operating system, then install applications, run startup scripts, configure the system, access remote data, register services, etc.

Once you have a recipe (we call it a Provisioning Template), you can apply it to any number of physical systems or virtual machines without having to change the recipe. Some data centers use virtualization for sand box development and prototyping, and use physical servers and blades for production. Some data centers do the opposite: prototype on physical systems, then run the production environment in a virtualized environment. And of course, some shops are “all physical” or “all virtual”. Being able to deploy a recipe-based payload consistently on both physical and virtual systems provides the ultimate flexibility. Yes, once you’ve created a virtual machine, you’ll likely use VMware vSphere services to deploy, clone and move VMs, but as long as you’re using TSP to create that “first VM”, you have the assurance that you have a known-good, repeatable way of generating the golden image. When time comes to update the golden image, don’t touch the VM: instead, change the recipe, provision a new VM, and proceed from there.

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USS Cisco Captain’s Log on Networking Tech Field Day 2

Captain’s log, October 27, 2011:

The USS Cisco took off for the Gestalt IT Networking Tech Field Day 2 with Captain Omar Sultan (see picture below, courtesy of techfieldday.com), Data Center Solutions Sr. Marketing Manager, at the helm. Tech Field Day networking industry experts gathered on the bridge, cleverly disguised as the Cisco Cloud Innovation Center (CICC) Lab, for an informal, no-holds-barred conversation on recent Nexus portfolio announcements, the continued march towards automated provisioning of cloud services and ever-evolving VM networking technologies.

Captain Omar at Cisco Networking Tech Field Day 2

For those who weren’t at the event or haven’t seen the video recording yet, please excuse my unabashed geekiness, but you’ll have to watch the first minute of the video to get the above reference. As a new member of the Data Center Solutions Marketing team, this is also my first foray into the Cisco blog-o-sphere, so I hope to share some fresh viewpoints on the day’s events.

Several things were made very apparent during the Tech Field Day session:

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The New Bronze Age: SLA’s too high and they prevent innovation, too low and they prevent operation

Where I grew up, you could buy individual cigarettes. While I played ball at the park, I’d see the young men approach the paper kiosk to get a cigarette. Not a pack, just one lonely stick. The customers overpaid on per-cigarette basis but it helped them manage their budget I’d watch them and think nothing of it. It was normal.

People also could buy shampoo in ketchup-sized packages. Unilever still sells them in India. I grew up in the third world, it was the bronze age, but only only on good days.  We’re back to bronze with cloud computing, and I’m hyper ready.

For me, the biggest invention cloud computing brings about is unreliable level services. And how important it is to have low quality service levels available on a metered basis. A metered basis the customer can manage.  Hear me out.

Today, Amazon’s block storage is unpredictable for databases. The latency in the network is funky. Machines fail to start. Machines don’t fail to fail. Service levels in the cloud don’t exist.

This is not your typical datacenter. It’s a bronze age datacenter. No great expectations, but diminished expectations.  And for a young segment of the market, it’s just right and couldn’t be be better.

I sat down with a young start up and asked them why do they use cloud computing if it’s so unreliable, if it requires so much more coding.

Answer: They have more time than money. And the money they have, they have to be parsimonious, avaricious and cautious. They are ok coding more to deal with the cloud’s weirdness. But running out of cash would kil them. The bronze age suits them just fine.

So all the cool kids in Silicon Valley are super excited about writing software for “Designed-to-Fail’ infrastructure. We can’t wait for a chaos monkey to spank us. Well…  that’s a San Francisco thing.

So what’s the lesson of this meditation? It’s that service levels are important. Too high and they prevent innovation, too low and they prevent operation.

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