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Hack The Stack Or Go On a Bender With a Vendor?

September 24th, 2010 4 comments
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I have the privilege of being invited around the world to talk with (and more importantly) listen to some of the biggest governments, enterprises and service providers about their “journey to cloud computing.”

I feel a bit like Kwai Chang Caine from the old series Kung-Fu at times; I wander about blind but full of self-assured answers to the questions I seek to ask, only to realize that asking them is more important than knowing the answer — and that’s the point.  Most people know the answers, they just don’t know how — or which — questions to ask.

Yes, it’s a Friday.  I always get a little philosophical on Fridays.

In the midst of all this buzz and churn, there’s a lot of talk but depending upon the timezone and what dialect of IT is spoken, not necessarily a lot of compelling action.  Frankly, there’s a lot of analysis paralysis as companies turn inward to ask questions of themselves about what cloud computing does or does not mean to them. (Ed: This comment seemed to suggest to some that cloud adoption was stalled. Not what I meant. I’ll clarify by suggesting that there is brisk uptake in many areas, but it’s diversified, split between many parallel paths I reference below; public and private deployments. It doesn’t mean it’s harmonious, however.)

There is, however, a recurring theme across geography, market segment, culture and technology adoption appetites; everyone is seriously weighing their options regarding where, how and with whom to make their investments in terms of building cloud computing infrastructure (and often platform) as-a-service strategy.  The two options, often discussed in parallel but ultimately bifurcated based upon explored use cases come down simply to this:

  1. Take any number of available open core or open source software-driven cloud stacks, commodity hardware and essentially engineer your own Amazon, or
  2. Use proprietary or closed source virtualization-nee-cloud software stacks, high-end “enterprise” or “carrier-class” converged compute/network/storage fabrics and ride the roadmap of the vendors

One option means you expect to commit to an intense amount of engineering and development from a software perspective, the other means you expect to focus on integration of other companies’ solutions.  Depending upon geography, it’s very, very unclear to enterprises of service providers what is the most cost-effective and risk-balanced route when use-cases, viability of solution providers and the ultimate consumers of these use-cases are conflated.

There is no one-size-fits-all solution.  There is no ‘THE Cloud.”

This realization is why most companies are spinning around, investigating the myriad of options they have available and the market is trying to sort itself out, polarized at one end of the spectrum or trying to squeeze out a happy balance somewhere in the middle.

The default position for many is to go with what they know and “bolt on” new technology both tactically (in absence of an actual long-term strategy) to revamp what they already have.

This is where the battle between “public” versus “private” cloud rages — where depending upon which side of the line you stand, the former heralds the “new” realized model of utility computing and the latter is seen as building upon virtualization and process automation to get more agile.  Both are realistically approaching a meet-in-the-middle strategy as frustration mounts, but it’s hard to really get anyone to agree on what that is.  That’s why we have descriptions like “hybrid” or “virtual private” clouds.

The underlying focus for this discussion is, as one might imagine, economics.  What architects (note I didn’t say developers*) quickly arrive at is that this is very much a “squeezing the balloon problem.” Both of these choices hold promise and generally cause copious amounts of iteration and passionate debate centered on topics like feature agility, compliance, liability, robustness, service levels, security, lock-in, utility and fungibility  of the solutions.  But it always comes back to cost.

Hard costs are attractive targets that are easily understood and highly visible.  Soft costs are what kill you.  The models by which the activity and operational flow-through — and ultimate P&L accountability of IT — are still black magic.

The challenge is how those costs are ultimately modeled and accounted for and how to appropriately manage risk. Nobody wants the IT equivalent of credit-default swaps where investments are predicated on a house of cards and hand-waving and at the same time, nobody wants to be the guy whose obituary reads “didn’t get fired for buying IBM.”

Interestingly, the oft-cited simplicity of the “CapEx vs. OpEx” discussion isn’t so simple in hundred year old companies whose culture is predicated upon the existence of processes and procedures whose ebb and flow quite literally exist on the back of TPM reports.  You’d think that the way many of these solutions are marketed — both #1 and #2 above — that we’ve reached some sort of capability/maturity model inflection point where either are out of diapers.

If this were the case, these debates wouldn’t happen and I wouldn’t be writing this blog.  There are many, many tradeoffs to be made here. It’s not a simple exercise, no matter who it is you ask — vendors excluded ;)

Ultimately these discussions — and where these large companies and service providers with existing investment in all sorts of solutions (including previous generations of things now called cloud) are deciding to invest in the short term — come down to the following approaches to dealing with “rolling your own” or “integrating pre-packaged solutions”:

  1. Keep a watchful eye on the likes of mass-market commodity cloud providers such as Amazon and Google. Use (enterprise) and/or emulate the capabilities (enterprise and service providers) of these companies in opportunistic and low-risk engagements which distribute/mitigate risk by targeting non-critical applications and information in these services.  Move for short-term success while couching wholesale swings in strategy with “pragmatic” or guarded optimism.
    .
  2. Distract from the back-end fracas by focusing on the consumption models driven by the consumerization of IT that LOB and end users often define as cloud.  In other words, give people iPhones, use SaaS services that enrich user experience, don’t invest in any internal infrastructure to deliver services and call it a success while trying to figure out what all this really means, long term.
    .
  3. Stand up pilot projects which allow dabbling in both approaches to see where the organizational, operational, cultural and technological landmines are buried.  Experiment with various vendors’ areas of expertise and functionality based upon the feature/compliance/cost see-saw.
    .
  4. Focus on core competencies and start building/deploying the first iterations of “infrastructure 2.0″ with converged fabrics and vendor-allied pre-validated hardware/software, vote with dollars on cloud stack adoption, contribute to the emergence/adoption of “standards” based upon use and quite literally *hope* that common formats/packaging/protocols will arrive at portability and ultimately interoperability of these deployment models.
    .
  5. Drive down costs and push back by threatening proprietary hardware/software vendors with the “fact” that open core/open source solutions are more cost-effective/efficient and viable today whilst trying not to flinch when they bring up item #2 questioning where and how you should be investing your money and what your capabilities really are is it relates to development and support.  React to that statement by threatening to move all your apps atop  someone elses’ infrastructure. Try not to flinch again when you’re reminded that compliance, security, SLA’s and legal requirements will prevent that.  Rinse, lather, repeat.
    .
  6. Ride out the compliance, security, trust and chasm-crossing comfort gaps, hedging bets.

If you haven’t figured it out by now, it’s messy.

If I had to bet which will win, I’d put my money on…<carrier lost>

/Hoff

*Check out Bernard Golden’s really good post “The Truth About What Really Runs On Amazon” for some insight as to *who* and *what* is running in public clouds like AWS.  The developers are leading the charge.  Often times they are disconnected from the processes I discuss above, but that’s another problem entirely, innit?

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VMware vCloud Director Security Hardening Guide Is Available

September 23rd, 2010 No comments
Image representing VMware as depicted in Crunc...
Image via CrunchBase

I’ll be adding a material review of this document here later, but I wanted to make sure folks know this resource exists.

It’s titled the “VMware vCloud Director Security Hardening Guide”

You can download it here (PDF)

The Table of Contents appears reasonably robust…content is TBD

/Hoff

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An Ode to Oracle’s Cloud…

September 22nd, 2010 2 comments
SAN FRANCISCO - SEPTEMBER 24:  Oracle CEO Larr...
Image by Getty Images via @daylife

Try not to be
such an Oracle Hater,
Build a big, honkin’ Cloud:
Exalogic &  -data

It’s fluffy & shiny
it’s new & fantastic
It scales like butta,
cos it’s so damned elastic

It may cost you millions,
but it’ll save you a buck.
Is it really a cloud?
Larry don’t give a f*ck.

It’ll castigate partners
and alienate friends
it’s got unbreakable linux
and it also self-mends

The kernel is magic,
OVM’s where it’s at
Some might disagree,
especially RedHat

Infiniband, ten Gig,
many Sun-powered cores
It’s got enough cycles
for HPC chores

The issue some have,
is Larry’s evil plot
It’s really quite simple,
a mortgage and yacht.

It’s like “War of the Roses,”
‘tween Big O, Salesforce
Gets ugly in the  Valley
when partners divorce

Some CEO’s chide Larry,
and others, they scoff.
Some fire back with venom
like Mark Benioff

It’s a False Cloud, a Non-Cloud
“We’re like A-W-S”
this marketing plan
is one freakin’ mess

Just one file to patch it,
it’s IT on demand.
It’s a mainframe with JBoss,
can’t you understand!?

It’ll take all you can give it,
all you can muster,
It scales from one
to an eight headed cluster

At the end of the day,
from morning to nox
take comfort that Cloud
now comes in a box.

P.S. You may be interested in other little ditties I have scratched into existence, here.

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Don’t Hassle the Hoff: Recent & Upcoming Speaking Engagements

September 20th, 2010 1 comment
Recent Speaking Engagements/Confirmed to  speak at the following upcoming events:

There are a ton of venues I haven’t added here because they are directly related to customer visits that may not wish to be disclosed.  You can see the prior list of speaking engagements listed here.

[I often get a bunch of guff as to why I make these lists: ego, horn-tooting, self-aggrandizement. I wish I thought I were that important. ;) The real reason is that it helps me keep track of useful stuff focused not only on my participation, but that of the rest of the blogosphere.  It also allows folks to plan meet-ups]

/Hoff

VMware’s (New) vShield: The (Almost) Bottom Line

September 1st, 2010 2 comments

After my initial post yesterday (How To Wield the New vShield (Edge, App & Endpoint) remarking on the general sessions I sat through on vShield, I thought I’d add some additional color given my hands-on experience in the labs today.

I will reserve more extensive technical analysis of vShield Edge and App (I didn’t get to play with endpoint as there is not a lab for that) once I spend some additional quality-time with the products as they emerge.

Because people always desire for me to pop out of the cake quickly, here you go:

You should walk away from this post understanding that I think the approach holds promise within the scope of what VMware is trying to deliver. I think it can and will offer customers choice and flexibility in their security architecture and I think it addresses some serious segmentation, security and compliance gaps. It is a dramatically impactful set of solutions that is disruptive to the security and networking ecosystem. It should drive some interesting change. The proof, as they say, will be in the vPudding.

Let me first say that from VMware’s perspective I think vShield “2.0” (which logically represents many technologies and adjusted roadmaps both old and new) is clearly an important and integral part of both vSphere and vCloud Director’s future implementation strategies. It’s clear that VMware took a good, hard look at their security solution strategy and made some important and strategically-differentiated investments in this regard.

All things told, I think it’s a very good strategy for them and ultimately their customers. However, there will be some very interesting side-effects from these new features.

vShield Edge is as disruptive to the networking space (it provides L3+ networking, VPN, DHCP and NAT capabilities at the vDC edge) as it is to the security arena. When coupled with vShield App (and ultimately endpoint) you can expect VMware’s aggressive activity in retooling their offers here to cause further hastened organic development, investment, and consolidation via M&A in the security space as other vendors seek to play and complement the reabsorption of critical security capabilities back into the platform itself.

Now all of the goodness that this renewed security strategy brings also has some warts. I’ll get into some of them as I gain more hands-on experience and get some questions answered, but here’s the Cliff Note version with THREE really important points:

  1. The vShield suite is the more refined/retooled/repaired approach toward what VMware promised in delivery three years ago when I wrote about it in 2007 (Opening VMM/HyperVisors to Third Parties via API’s – Goodness or the Apocalypse?) and later in 2008 (VMware’s VMsafe: The Good, the Bad, and the Bubbly…“) and from 2009, lest we forget The Cart Before the Virtual Horse: VMware’s vShield/Zones vs. VMsafe API’s
    _
    Specifically, as the virtualization platform has matured, so has the Company’s realization that security is something they are going to have to take seriously and productize themselves as depending upon an ecosystem wasn’t working — mostly because doing so meant that the ecosystem had to uproot entire product roadmaps to deliver solutions and it was a game of “supply vs. demand chicken.”
    _
    However, much of this new capability isn’t fully baked yet, especially from the perspective of integration and usability and even feature set capabilities such as IPv6 support. Endpoint is basically the more streamlined application of APIs and libraries for anti-malware offloading so as to relieve a third party ISV from having to write fastpath drivers that sit in the kernel/VMM and disrupt their roadmaps. vShield App is the Zones solution polished to provide inter-VM firewalling capabilities.
    _
    Edge is really the new piece here and represents a new function to represent vDC perimeterized security capabilities.Many of these features are billed — quite openly — as relieving a customer from needing to use/deploy physical networking or security products. In fact, in some cases even virtual networking products such as the Cisco Nexus 1000v are not usable/supportable. This is and example of a reasonably closed, software-driven world of Cloud where the underlying infrastructure below the hypervisor doesn’t matter…until it does.
    _
  2. vShield Edge and App are, in the way they are currently configured and managed, very complex and unwieldy and the performance, resiliency and scale described in some of the sessions is yet unproven and in some cases represents serious architectural deficiencies at first blush. There are some nasty single points of failure in the engineering (as described) and it’s unclear how many reference architectures for large enterprise and service provider scale Cloud use have really been thought through given some of these issues.
    _
    As an example, only being able to instantiate a single (but required) vShield App virtual appliance per ESX host brings into focus serious scale, security architecture and resilience issues. Being able to deploy numerous Edge appliances brings into focus manageability and policy sprawl concerns.There are so many knobs and levers leveraged across the stack that it’s going to be very difficult in large environments to reconcile policy spread over the three (I only interacted with two) components and that says nothing about then integrating/interoperating with third party vSwitches, physical switches, virtual and physical security appliances. If you think it was challenging before, you ain’t seen nothin’ yet.
    _
  3. The current deployment methodology reignites the battle that started to rage when security teams lost visibility into the security and networking layers and the virtual administrators controlled the infrastructure from the pNIC up. This takes the gap-filler virtual security solutions from small third parties such as Altor which played nicely with vCenter but allowed the security teams to manage policy and blows that model up. Now, security enforcement is a commodity feature delivered via the virtualization platform but requires too complex a set of knowledge and expertise of the underlying virtualization platform to be rendered effective by role-driven security teams.

While I’ll cover items #1 and #2 in a follow-on post, here’s what VMware can do in the short term to remedy what I think is a huges issue going forward with item #3, usability and management.

Specifically, in the same way vCloud Director sits above vCenter and abstracts away much of the “unnecessary internals” to present a simplified service catalog of resources/services to a consumer, VMware needs to provide a dedicated security administrator’s “portal” or management plane which unites the creation, management and deployment of policy from a SECURITY perspective of the various disparate functions offered by vShield App, Edge and Endpoint. [ED: This looks as though this might be what vShield Manager will address. There were no labs covering this and no session I saw gave any details on this offering (UI or API)]

If you expect a security administrator to have the in-depth knowledge of how to administer the entire (complex) virtualization platform in order to manage security, this model will break and cause tremendous friction. A security administrator shouldn’t have access to vCenter directly or even the vCloud Director interfaces.

Since much of the capability for automation and configuration is made available via API, the notion of building a purposed security interface to do so shouldn’t be that big of a deal. Some people might say that VMware should focus on building API capabilities and allow the ecosystem to fill the void with solutions that take advantage of the interfaces. The problem is that this strategy has not produced solutions that have enjoyed traction today and it’s quite clear that VMware is interested in controlling their own destiny in terms of Edge and App while allowing the rest of the world to play with Endpoint.

I’m sure I’m missing things and that given the exposure I’ve had (without any in-depth briefings) there may be material issues associated with where the products are given their early status, but I think it important to get these thoughts out of my head so I can chart their accuracy and it gives me a good reference point to direct the product managers to when they want to scalp me for heresy.

There’s an enormous amount of detail that I want to/can get into. The last time I did that it ended up in a 150 slide presentation I delivered at Black Hat…

Allow me to reiterate what I said in the beginning:

You should walk away from this post understanding that I think the approach holds promised within the scope of what VMware is trying to deliver. I think it can and will offer customers choice and flexibility in their security architecture and I think it addresses some serious segmentation, security and compliance gaps. It is a dramatically impactful set of solutions that is disruptive to the security and networking ecosystem. It should drive some interesting change. The proof, as they say, will be in the vPudding.

…and we all love vPudding.

/Hoff

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