Posts Tagged ‘James Urquhart’

Unsafe At Any Speed: The Darkside Of Automation

July 29th, 2011 5 comments

I’m a huge proponent of automation. Taking rote processes from the hands of humans & leveraging machines of all types to enable higher agility, lower cost and increased efficacy is a wonderful thing.

However, there’s a trade off; as automation matures and feedback loops become more closed with higher and higher clock rates yielding less time between execution, our ability to both detect and recover — let alone prevent — within a cascading failure domain is diminished.

Take three interesting, yet unrelated, examples:

  1. The premise of the W.O.P.R. in War Games — Joshua goes apeshit and almost starts WWIII by invoking a simulated game of global thermonuclear war
  2. The Airbus 380 failure – the luck of having 5 pilots on-board and their skill to override hundreds of cascading automation failures after an engine failure prevented a crash that would have killed hundreds of people.*
  3. The AWS EBS outage — the cloud version of Girls Gone Wild; automated replication caught in a FOR…NEXT loop

These weren’t “maliciously initiated” issues, they were accidents.  But how about “events” like Stuxnet?  What about a former Gartner analyst having his home automation (CASA-SCADA) control system hax0r3d!? There’s another obvious one missing, but we’ll get to that in a minute (hint: Flash Crash)

How do we engineer enough failsafe logic up and down the stack that can function at the same scale as the decision and controller logic does?   How do we integrate/expose enough telemetry that can be produced and consumed fast enough to actually allow actionable results in a timeframe that allows for graceful failure and recovery (nee survivability.)

One last example that is pertinent: high frequency trading (HFT) —  highly automated, computer driven, algorithmic-based stock trading at speeds measured in millionths of a second.

Check out how this works:

[Check out James Urquhart’s great Wisdom Of the Clouds blog post: “What Cloud Computing Can Learn From Flash Crash“]

In the use-case of HFT, ruthlessly squeezing nanoseconds from the processing loops — removing as much latency as possible from every element of the stack — literally has implications in the millions of dollars.

Technology vendors are doing many very interesting and innovative things architecturally to achieve these goals — some of them quite audacious — and anything that gets in the way or adds latency is generally not considered “useful.”  Security is usually one of them.

There are most definitely security technologies that allow for very low latency insertion of things like firewalls that have low single-digit microsecond latency figures (small packet,) but interestingly enough we’re also governed by the annoying laws of physics and things like propagation delay, serialization delay, TCP/IP protocol overhead, etc. all adds up.

Thus traditional approaches to “in-line” security — both detective and preventative — are not generally sustainable in these environments and thus require some deep thought so as to provide solutions that will scale as well as these HFT systems do…no short order.

I think this is another good use for “big data” and security data analytics.  Consider very high speed side-band systems that function along with these HFT systems that could potentially leverage the logic in these transactional trading systems to allow us to get closer to being able to solve the challenges of these environments.  Integrate these signaling and telemetry planes with “fabric-enabled” security capabilities and we might get somewhere useful.

This tees up nicely my buddy James Arlen’s talk at Blackhat on the insecurity of high frequency trading systems: “Security when nano seconds count”  You should plan on checking it out…I know I will.


*H/T to @reillyusa who also pointed me to “Questions Raised About Airbus Automated Control System” regarding the doomed Air France 447 flight.  Also, serendipitously, @etherealmind posted a link to a a story titled “Volkswagen demonstrates ‘Temporary Auto Pilot'” — what could *possibly* go wrong? 😉

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Incomplete Thought: Cloudbursting Your Bubble – I call Bullshit…

April 5th, 2011 6 comments

My wife is in the midst of an extended multi-phasic, multi-day delivery process of our fourth child.  In between bouts of her moaning, breathing and ultimately sleeping, I’m left to taunt people on Twitter and think about Cloud.

Reviewing my hot-button list of terms that are annoying me presently, I hit upon a favorite: Cloudbursting.

It occurred to me that this term brings up a visceral experience that makes me want to punch kittens.  It’s used by people to describe a use case in which workloads that run first and foremost within the walled gardens of an enterprise, magically burst forth into public cloud based upon a lack of capacity internally and a plethora of available capacity externally.

I call bullshit.

Now, allow me to qualify that statement.

Ben Kepes suggests that cloud bursting makes sense to an enterprise “Because you’ve spent a gazillion dollars on on-prem h/w that you want to continue using. BUT your workloads are spiky…” such that an enterprise would be focused on “…maximizing returns from on-prem. But sending excess capacity to the clouds.”  This implies the problem you’re trying to solve is one of scale.

I just don’t buy this.

Either you build a private cloud that gives you the scale you need in the first place in which you pattern your operational models after public cloud and/or design a solid plan to migrate, interconnect or extend platforms to the public [commodity] cloud using this model, therefore not bursting but completely migrating capacity, but you don’t stop somewhere in the middle with the same old crap internally and a bright, shiny public cloud you “burst things to” when you get your capacity knickers in a twist:

The investment and skillsets needed to rectify two often diametrically-opposed operational models doesn’t maximize returns, it bifurcates and diminishes efficiencies and blurs cost allocation models making both internal IT and public cloud look grotesquely inaccurate.

Christian Reilly suggested I had no legs to stand on making these arguments:

Fair enough, but…

Short of workloads such as HPC in which scale really is a major concern, if a large enterprise has gone through all of the issues relevant to running tier-1 applications in a public cloud, why on earth would you “burst” to the public cloud versus execute on a strategy that has those workloads run there in the first place.

Christian came up with another ringer during this exchange, one that I wholeheartedly agree with:

Ultimately, the reason I agree so strongly with this is because of the architectural, operational and compliance complexity associated with all the mechanics one needs to allow for interoperable, scaleable, secure and manageable workloads between an internal enterprise’s operational domain (cloud or otherwise) and the public cloud.

The (in)ability to replicate capabilities exactly across these two models means that gaps arise — gaps that unfairly amplify the immaturity of cloud for certain things and it’s stellar capabilities in others.  It’s no wonder people get confused.  Things like security, networking, application intelligence…

NOTE: I make a wholesale differentiaton between a strategy that includes a structured hybrid cloud approach of controlled workload placement/execution versus  a purely overflow/capacity movement of workloads.*

There are many workloads that simply won’t or can’t *natively* “cloudburst” to public cloud due to a lack of supporting packaging and infrastructure.**  Some of them are pretty important.  Some of them are operationally mission critical. What then?  Without an appropriate way of understanding the implications and complexity associated with this issue and getting there from here, we’re left with a strategy of “…leave those tier-1 apps to die on the vine while we greenfield migrate new apps to public cloud.”  That doesn’t sound particularly sexy, useful, efficient or cost-effective.

There are overlay solutions that can allow an enterprise to leverage utility computing services as an abstracted delivery platform and fluidly interconnect an enterprise with a public cloud, but one must understand what’s involved architecturally as part of that hybrid model, what the benefits are and where the penalties lay.  Public cloud needs the same rigor in its due diligence.

[update] My colleague James Urquhart summarized well what I meant by describing the difference in DC-DC (cloud or otherwise) workload execution as what I see as either end of a spectrum: VM-centric package mobility or adopting a truly distributed application architecture.  If you’re somewhere in the middle, things like cloudbursting get really hairy.  As we move from IaaS -> PaaS, some of these issues may evaporate as the former (VM’s) becomes less relevant and the latter (Applications deployed directly to platforms) more prevalent.

Check out this zinger from JP Morgenthal which much better conveys what I meant:

If your Tier-1 workloads can run in a public cloud and satisfy all your requirements, THAT’S where they should run in the first place!  You maximize your investment internally by scaling down and ruthlessly squeezing efficiency out of what you have as quickly as possible — writing those investments off the books.

That’s the point, innit?

Cloud bursting — today — is simply a marketing term.



* This may be the point that requires more clarity, especially in the wake of examples that were raised on Twitter after I posted this such as using eBay and Netflix as examples of successful “cloudbursting” applications.  My response is that these fine companies hardly resemble a typical enterprise but that they’re also investing in a model that fundamentally changes they way they operate.

** I should point out that I am referring to the use case of heterogeneous cloud platforms such as VMware to AWS (either using an import/conversion function and/or via VPC) versus a more homogeneous platform interlock such as when the enterprise runs vSphere internally and looks to migrate VMs over to a VMware vCloud-powered cloud provider using something like vCloud Director Connector, for example.  Either way, the point still stands, if you can run a workload and satisfy your requirements outright on someone else’s stack, why do it on yours?

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