Friday, May 7, 2010

Unlocking the Value of IaaS

Until recently I've been in an odd spot, generally speaking my biggest competition when a potential customer came to us looking for an Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) platform was either to build it yourself (aka huge risk) or buy it from us. (Yes there were a few other competitors) But for the most part the space was a greenfield, we really didn't have to worry about our competitors because there weren't many and the ones that were out there were positioned in a significantly different way than us. The problem with being first is one of education, most potential customers didn't even realize they needed a cloud platform. The good news is things are changing, the idea of Infrastructure as a service is no longer a radical one. IaaS companies are getting funded left and right and customers are buying. I've long held the notion that an industry isn't real until you have direct competitors. This both proves there is an opportunity as well as brings a broader awareness. A rising tide floats all boats if you will. In my post today, I thought I'd briefly explore the value proposition of IaaS.

So you ask what's the value of providing an Infrastructure as a Service? From a private point of view it's most about efficiency, the draw back is you need to spend money to save money. Which can be a tough sell in a rough economic climate. From a public cloud context it's about converting costs (Fixed to Variable, Capex to Opex etc). Ok, we've heard the story before. It's really about saving money or not losing it to a more nimble competitor. So the real question becomes how do you unlock the value of an IaaS cloud, either internally or externally or both? For me it's all about the application.

If done right, an IaaS platform provides a simple unified interface to your infrastructure. At it's heart it simplifies your infrastructure so you can focus on what matters most, the applications that run on it. It also changes the job of a system/network admin from one of being reactive to one of being proactive. If a server dies, who cares -- leave it. Instead hot-add additional servers just in time based on automatic utilization notifications. Where previously a sysadmin could manage dozens of servers that same admin can now manage thousands, because no one server really matters. It's the overall cloud that matters. IaaS allows you to focus higher in the stack, where the real business value really lies. Do you think end users really case what flavor of load balancer you're using? Probably not. What they do care about is what application they can have instant access to when they have a real problem they need solved. And when it's deployed it will scale to handle anything they through at it. The application just works.

Another one of the more puzzling approaches I've seen a lot lately in the virtualization and IaaS space is that of the so called "Virtual Data Center". Basically what a few of the more backward thinking vendors are saying is, let's recreate the traditional physical experience of running a datacenter but in a virtual or cloud context. Some have even gone to the extent of creating virtual blades which graphically look like physical servers to get their point across. To which I say why? Infrastructure is already too complex so why would I want to recreate an already painful experience. The sales pitch is do what you've already done. I think a better approach is to instead take what you've already done and make it better, easier, more efficient and ultimately simpler. Instead of recreating complexity, I say remove it. If someone is trying to sell you a "Virtual Data Center" I say run. What they should be selling you is business value, how can this save or make you money. The value of IaaS is that it just works, it just scales and it makes you money. Not how many features can we cram into a user interface. And more importantly from a technical standpoint it doesn't require endless hours of configuration and testing. Yep, it's turnkey.

The biggest value of an IaaS platform is as a stepping stone -- one that allows you to gracefully migrate from the traditional physical single tenant infrastructure of the past to a multi-tenant distributed cloud of the future, while not requiring you to completely re-architect or rebuild your applications for it. What IaaS does is move the need to make your applications multi-tenant by making your infrastructure mutli-tenant. If it doesn't accomplish this, than it's not IaaS and there's not a lot of value in it.

#DigitalNibbles Podcast Sponsored by Intel

If you would like to be a guest on the show, please get in touch.