Responding to an informative and well-researched–albeit a bit short sighted–study by McKinsey, a post earlier this week by Rajen Sheth on the Official Google Enterprise Blog helped to clarify for the world exactly what Google means when it talks about cloud computing. The post, a bit of a rail against the idea of private clouds, builds the argument for public clouds in part on the idea that Google and a few other companies have a lock on advancements in hardware infrastructure, software infrastructure, applications and innovation.
The fact is, as much as it might like to think so, if there is one area that Google does NOT have a monopoly in it is innovation, and I for one am irked by the implication that the enterprise will hand over the "keys to the kingdom" because it’s not able to innovate. Actually, enterprise IT organizations have access to many of the same innovative technologies that Google claims give advantage to public clouds.
That is the idea at the very heart of the private cloud "movement": that, through the aggressive adoption of innovative technologies like virtualization, commoditization, cloud platforms and eventually cloud-oriented software architectures, enterprises can achieve many of the advantages of public clouds without their disadvantages, which include concerns about security, visibility, control and lock-in.
So let’s look at Google’s arguments against private clouds in the order that they were presented in the original post, and discuss how enterprises can utilize the same or similar ideas in their private cloud initiatives.
Google leads off its argument with a focus on the hardware it uses, arguing that its use of commodity-grade servers it uses are cheaper than the typical "enterprise-grade" server used in corporate data centers. No argument there. (Side note: I used this slide back in ’05 to illustrate a similar point.)
What he seems to miss though is THE POINT of commoditization–that this is not cutting-edge proprietary technology only available to Google. The single-CPU server with SATA storage presented as an example of the lower-cost hardware platform that Google uses is available to any enterprise from a very large number of vendors at extremely low price points.
Rajen makes the great point that what enables Google to use very inexpensive, and inherently unreliable, servers is the fact that they’re "building reliability into the software" so that when the hardware does fail (inevitable with commodity boxes) the work continues on on another server.
Sounds very cool, but off-limits to the rank-and-file enterprise? Actually, no. This idea is one the key themes upon which Appistry was founded, and it lives on in our CloudIQ Engine product. Since this kind of software-based reliability (what we call "application-level fault tolerance") can be heady stuff, we built it into the platform itself, so that the developer doesn’t need to think about it.
Perhaps my colleague Guerry said it best in his very first blog post, "Cross-pollination, Beehives, the Game of Life, and You":
Did we actually write our software by observing bees? No, not directly; however, do stop and consider what a beehive teaches us. Individual bees, each important to the hive community, accomplish what needs to be done without central control, and with no single point of failure. Well, there is the queen, but let’s not quibble. If a bee dies, another picks up the work, and the hive continues by self-organizing, and self-healing.
The energy efficiency of Google’s servers and data centers is mentioned as a key advantage of public clouds, and this is an area that they have provided some leadership on. But the comparisons they like to make are to the "typical server" and the "typical data center" not to a data center that is pursuing a private cloud strategy. How do their servers compare to the best-in-class available from vendors like Rackable, who supplies high-density, energy efficient servers to the likes of Amazon, Yahoo, and also sells to, you guessed it, the enterprise?
The climax of the hardware-infrastructure-argument-against-private-clouds is the obligatory reference to Gartner analyst Darryl Plummer’s 2006 proclamation that enterprises spend some 80% of their budgets "keeping the lights on" versus driving change and growth in their businesses, followed by an assertion that:
The reality is that most businesses don’t gain a competitive advantage from maintaining their own data centers.
Perhaps, Google, but it’s about the applications, not the real estate. Many enterprises do in fact gain a competitive advantage by maintaining their own mission-critical applications which operate against proprietary data sources, are integrated to other back-end systems, and are tied to enterprise user repositories, all of which simply can’t and won’t be moved to the cloud immediately because of the issues mentioned above.
The next area covered in the Google post is software infrastructure. While Google’s custom database, app server and web server is mentioned in this section, the bulk of the section focuses not so much on the quality and characteristics of the software infrastructure Google provides, but on the as-a-service model through which they provide it.
What’s obviously missing in this equation are the huge portfolios of existing applications that exist within today’s enterprises, none of which were written to use BigTable. This is the reality of cloud computing for the enterprise. It will evolve from the adoption and application of cloud-like technologies within the enterprise, first applied to today’s enterprise workloads. Over time, enterprises will adopt more cloud-friendly approaches to application architecture, but it won’t happen in a big bang and it certainly can happen behind the enterprise firewall.
That’s the guiding philosophy behind our product line, Appistry CloudIQ Platform. Our CloudIQ Manager is a tool used by infrastructure and operations teams to manage untouched applications (e.g. the existing apps) in a cloud environment — private, public or hybrid. And, CloudIQ Engine is a tool used by applications teams looking to create cloud-native applications with an inherent agility and ability to scale. In this way, CloudIQ Manager serves the role the of a private cloud “on-ramp” technology, and CloudIQ Engine is more of an advanced tool used to address specific needs.
The discussion around applications in the Google post focused on the virtues of application outsourcing, with email being used as the primary example. No knocks against Gmail–it rocks, but having just come from a panel of CIOs discussing this very issue, the challenges are not simply in justifying the cost of hosted email. For those CIOs the bigger issues were legal and compliance ones related to discovery and data retention. Corporate control over the data from a legal perspective is a huge issue as well: is Google willing or able to fight a 3rd party subpoena of my data to the same extent that I am?
But what if those organizations willing to adopt less feature-rich email and collaboration environments could take a page out of the Gmail playbook and deploy agile, private cloud-based email systems for 1/2 the cost of today’s systems, versus 1/3 the cost that Gmail can offer but without the accompanying legal and control issues. My guess is they would jump at it.
As mentioned before, this is the one that got me going. Contrary to the opinion expressed in the post, today’s enterprise is better positioned to drive innovation through IT than ever before, thanks in part to technologies like those being developed to enable private clouds. Yet clearly the enterprise has more sophisticated requirements than the consumer user of SaaS services.
Rajen’s post ends by posing the question:
As companies weigh private data centers vs. scalable clouds, they should ask a simple question: can I find the same economics, ease of maintenance, and pace of innovation that is inherent in the cloud?
Unfortunately Rajesh, enterprises must also ask themselves the complicated questions: Can public clouds provide the security, visibility, control, compliance, support for existing applications, and legal protections required to even be considered for my applications?
Please don’t take any of this to mean that Sam Charrington or Appistry is a against the use of public cloud services by the enterprise or anyone else. Nothing can be further from the truth. WE ARE HUGE FANS!
That said, we strongly believe that enterprises must be empowered to choose the right cloud for the right job, and the model that we believe will emerge is one of a hybrid or federated cloud strategy centered of the private cloud but extending into the public clouds as the application use-case allows. Clearly we are not alone in holding this view. We continue to see strong end-user movement in this direction. Furthermore, both Forrester and Gartner have recently come out with proclamations of support for private clouds as the future of the enterprise data center.
So please, please, please keep up the good work, Google. The industry–no, the world(!)–needs more innovation around all flavors of cloud computing. But don’t discount the efforts of IT organizations to balance the constant drive for innovation with the unique requirements of the enterprise. And don’t discount the result of those efforts, the emergence of the private cloud.