Disclaimer: I recently attended Storage Field Day 18. My flights, accommodation and other expenses were paid for by Tech Field Day. There is no requirement for me to blog about any of the content presented and I am not compensated in any way for my time at the event. Some materials presented were discussed under NDA and don’t form part of my blog posts, but could influence future discussions.
We were lucky enough to have Dave Hitz (now “Founder Emeritus” at NetApp) spend time with us on his last day in the office. I’ve only met him a few times but I’ve always enjoyed listening to his perspectives on what’s happening in the industry.
In a previous life I worked in a government department architecting storage and virtualisation solutions for a variety of infrastructure scenarios. The idea, generally speaking, was that those solutions would solve particular business problems, or at least help to improve the processes to resolve those problems. At some point, probably late 2008 or early 2009, we started to talk about developing a “Cloud First” architecture policy, with the idea being that we would resolve to adopt cloud technologies where we could, and reduce our reliance on on-premises solutions as time passed. The beauty of working in enterprise environments is that things can take an awfully long time to happen, so that policy didn’t really come into effect until some years later.
So what does cloud first really mean? It’s possibly not as straightforward as having a “virtualisation first” policy. With the virtualisation first approach, there was a simple qualification process we undertook to determine whether a particular workload was suited to run on our virtualisation platform. This involved all the standard stuff, like funding requirements, security constraints, anticipated performance needs, and licensing concerns. We then pushed the workload one of two ways. With cloud though, there are a few more ways you can skin the cat, and it’s becoming more obvious to me that cloud means different things to different people. Some people want to push workloads to the cloud because they have a requirement to reduce their capital expenditure. Some people have to move to cloud because the CIO has determined that there needs to be a reduction in the workforce managing infrastructure activities. Some people go to cloud because they saw a cool demo at a technology conference. Some people go to cloud because their peers in another government department told them it would be easy to do. The common thread is that “people’s paths to the cloud can be so different”.
Can your workload even run in the cloud? Hitz gave us a great example of some stuff that just can’t (a printing press). The printing press needs to pump out jobs at a certain time of the day every day. It’s not going to necessarily benefit from elastic scalability for its compute workload. The workloads driving the presses would likely run a static workload.
Should it run in the cloud?
It’s a good question to ask. Most of the time, I’d say the answer is yes. This isn’t just because I work for a telco selling cloud products. There are a tonne of benefits to be had in running various, generic workloads in the cloud. Hitz suggests though, that the should it question is a corporate strategy question, and I think he’s spot on. When you embed “cloud first” in your infrastructure architecture, you’re potentially impacting a bunch of stuff outside of infrastructure architecture, including financial models, workforce management, and corporate security postures. It diens’t have to be a big deal, but it’s something that people sometimes don’t think about. And just because you start with that as your mantra, doesn’t mean you need to end up in cloud.
Does It Feel Cloudy?
Cloudy? It’s my opinion that NetApp’s cloud story is underrated. But, as Hitz noted, they’ve had the occasional misstep. When they first introduced Cloud ONTAP, Anthony Lye said it “didn’t smell like cloud”. Instead, Hitz told us he said it “feels like a product for storage administrators”. Cloudy people don’t want that, and they don’t want to talk to storage administrators. Some cloudy people were formerly storage folks, and some have never had the misfortune of managing over-provisioned midrange arrays at scale. Cloud comes in all different flavours, but it’s clear that just shoving a traditional on-premises product on a public cloud provider’s infrastructure isn’t really as cloudy as we’d like to think.
Bridging The Gap
NetApp are focused now on “finding the space between the old and the new, and understanding that you’ll have both for a long time”. And that’s what NetApp’s focusing on moving forward. They’re not just working on cloud-only solutions, and they have no plans to ditch their on-premises. Indeed, as Hitz noted in his presentation, “having good cloudy solutions will help them gain share in on-premises footprint”. It’s a good strategy, as the on-premises market will be around for some time to come (do you like how vague that is?). It’s been my belief for some time that companies, like NetApp, that can participate in both the on-premises and cloud market effectively will be successful.
Thoughts and Further Reading
So why did I clumsily paraphrase a How To Destroy Angels song title and ramble on about the good old days of my career in this article instead of waxing lyrical about Charlotte Brooks’s presentation on NetApp Data Availability Services? I’m not exactly sure. I do recommend checking out Charlotte’s demo and presentation, because she’s really quite good at getting the message across, and NDAS looks pretty interesting.
Perhaps I spent the time focusing on the “cloud first” conversation because it was Dave Hitz, and it’s likely the last time I’ll see him presenting in this kind of forum. But whether it was Dave or not, conversations like this one are important, in my opinion. It often feels like we’re putting the technology ahead of the why. I’m a big fan of cloud first, but I’m an even bigger fan of people understanding the impact that their technology decisions can have on the business they’re working for. It’s nice to see a vendor who can comfortably operate on both sides of the equation having this kind of conversation, and I think it’s one that more businesses need to be having with their vendors and their internal staff.