In speaking with a lot of IT users, it has become clear to me that a large swath of the enterprise IT market - particularly the mid-market - falls in between two major technology trends.
The trends are server virtualization and hybrid cloud. IT buyers are in between - with one foot firmly into virtualization - but not yet willing to put the other foot down and commit to full cloud adoption.
IT organizations are well enamored of virtualization. They are so into the trend that many have more than 80 percent of their server workloads virtualized. They like hybrid cloud conceptually, but are by no means adopting it enterprise-wide. Weâre talking less than 30 percent of all workloads for typical companies, and a lot of that is via shadow IT and software as a service (SaaS).
In effect, virtualization has spoiled IT. They have grown accustomed to what server virtualization can do for them - including reducing IT total costs - and they want more. But they do not necessarily want to wait for the payoffs by having to implement a lengthy and mysterious company-wide cloud strategy.
They want to modernize and simplify how they support existing applications. They want those virtualization benefits to extend to storage, backup and recovery, and be ready to implement and consume some cloud services. They want the benefits of software-defined data centers (SDDC), but they donât want to invest huge amounts of time, money, and risk in a horizontal, pan-IT modernization approach. And they're not sure how they'll support their new, generation 3 apps. At least not yet.
So while IT and business leaders both like the vision and logic of hybrid cloud, they have a hard time convincing all IT consumers across their enterprise to standardize deployment of existing generation 2 workloads that span private and public cloud offerings.
But they're not sitting on their hands, waiting for an all-encompassing cloud solution miracle covered in pixie dust, being towed into town by a unicorn, either.
Benefits first, strategy second
I've long been an advocate of cloud models, and I fully expect hybrid cloud architectures to become dominant. Practically, however, IT leaders are right now less inclined to wait for the promised benefits of hybrid cloud. They want many of the major attributes of what the cloud models offer - common management, fewer entities to procure IT from, simplicity and speed of deployment, flexibility, automation and increased integration across apps, storage, and networking. They want those, but they're not willing to wait for a pan-enterprise hybrid cloud solution that would involve a commitment to a top-down cloud dictate.
Instead, weâre seeing an organic, bottom-up adoption of modern IT infrastructure in the form of islands of hyper-converged infrastructure appliances (HCIA). By making what amounts to mini-clouds based on the workloads and use cases, IT can quickly deliver the benefits of modern IT architectures without biting off the whole cloud model.
If the hyper-scale data centers that power the likes of Google, Amazon, Facebook, and Microsoft are the generation 3 apps architectures of the future, the path those organizations took is not the path an enterprise can - or should - take.
Your typical Fortune 2000 enterprise is not going to build a $3 billion state-of-the-art data center, designed from soup to nuts to support their specific existing apps, and then place all their IT eggs into that one data center basket. It just doesnât work that way.
There are remote offices with unique requirements to support, users that form power blocks around certain applications, bean counters that wonât commit big dollars. In a word, there are political issues that favor a stepping-stone approach to IT infrastructure modernization. Few IT organizations can just tell everyone else how they will do IT.
The constraints of such IT buyers must be considered as we try to predict cloud adoption patterns over the next few years. For example, I recently chatted with IT leaders in the public sector, at the California Department of Water Resources. They show that what drives their buying is as much about what they donât have as what they do.
"Our procurement is much harder. Getting people to hire is much harder. We live within a lot of constraints that the private sector doesnât realize. We have a hard time adjusting our work levels. Can we get more people now? No. It takes forever to get more people, if you can ever get them, said Tony Morshed, Chief Technology Officer for the California Resources Data Center.
Weâre constantly doing more with less. Part of this virtualization is survivability. We would never be able to survive or give our business the tools they need to do their business without it. We would just be a sinking ship, he said. [Converged infrastructure like VMwareâs] EVO:RAIL looks pretty nice. I see it as something that we might be able to use for some of our outlying offices, where we have around 100 to 150 people.
"We can drop something like that in, put virtual desktop infrastructure (VDI) on it, and deliver VDI services to them locally, so they don't have to worry about that traffic going over the wide area network (WAN). [Disclosure: VMware is a sponsor of my BriefingsDirect podcasts].
The California Department of Water Resources has deployed VDI for 800 desktops. Not only is it helping them save money, itâs also used as a strategy for a remote access. They're in between virtualization and cloud, but they're heralding the less-noticed trend of tactical modernization through hyper-converged infrastructure appliances.
Indeed, VDI deployments that support as many as 250 desktops on a single VSPEX BLUE appliance at a remote office or agency, for example, allow for ease in administration and deployment on a small footprint while keeping costs clear and predictable. And, if the enterprise wants to scale up and out to hybrid cloud, they can do so with ease and low risk.
Stepping stone to cloud
At Columbia Sportswear, there is a similar mentality, of moving to cloud gradually while seeking the best of agile, on-premises efficiency and agility.
"With our business changing and growing as quickly as it is, and with us doing business and selling directly to consumers in over a hundred countries around the world, our data centers have to be adaptable. Our data and our applications have to be secure and available, no matter where we are in the world, whether you're on network or off-premises, said Tim Melvin, Director of Global Technology Infrastructure at Columbia Sportswear.
"The software-defined data center has been a game-changer for us. Itâs allowed us to take those technologies, host them where we need them, and with whatever cost configuration makes sense, whether itâs in the cloud or on-premises, and deliver the solutions that our business needs, he said.
Added Melvin: "When you look at infrastructure and the choice between on-premise solutions, hybrid clouds, public and private clouds, I don't think it's a choice necessarily of which answer you choose. There isn't one right answer. Whatâs important for infrastructure professionals is to understand the whole portfolio and understand where to apply your high-power, on-premises equipment and where to use your lower-cost public cloud, because there are trade-offs in each case."
Columbia strives to present the correct tool for the correct job. For instance, they have completely virtualized their SAP environment to run on on-premises equipment. For .software development, they use a public cloud.
And so the stepping stone to cloud flexibility: To be able to run on-premise workloads like enterprise resource planning (ERP) and VDI with speed, agility, and low-cost. And to do so in such a way that some day those workloads could migrate to a public cloud, when that makes sense.
"The closer we get to a complete software-defined infrastructure, the more flexibility and power we have to remove the manual components, the things that we all do a little differently and we can't do consistently. We have a chance to automate more. We have the chance to provide integrations into other tools, which is actually a big part of why we chose VMware as our platform. They allow such open integration with partners that, as we start to move our workloads more actively into the cloud, we know that we won't get stuck with a particular product or a particular configuration, said Melvin.
"The openness will allow us to adapt and change, and thatâs just something you don't get with hardware. If it's software-defined, it means that you can control it and you can morph your infrastructure in order to meet your needs, rather than needing to re-buy every time something changes with the business, he said.
What we're seeing now are more tactical implementations of the best of what cloud models and hyper-scale data center architectures can provide. And weâre seeing these deployments on a use-case basis, like VDI, rather than a centralized IT mandate across all apps and IT resources. These deployments are so tactical that they consist in many cases of a single box - an appliance that provides the best of hyper scale and simplicity of virtualization with the cost benefits and deployment ease of a converged infrastructure appliance.
This tactical approach is working because blocks of users and/or business units (or locations) can be satisfied, IT can gain efficiency and retain control, and these implementations can eventually become part of the pan-IT hybrid cloud strategy. Mid-market companies like this model because it means the hyper-converged appliance box is the data center, it can scale down to their needs affordably - not box them in when the time comes to expand - or to move to a hybrid cloud model later.
What newly enables this appealing stepping-stone approach to the hybrid cloud end-game? Itâs the principles of SDDC - but without the data center. Itâs using virtualization services to augment storage and back-up and disaster recovery (DR) without adopting an entire hybrid cloud model.
The numbers speak to the preferences of IT to adopt these new IT architectures in this fashion. According to IDC, the converged infrastructure segment of the IT market will expand to $17.8 billion in 2016 from $1.4 billion in 2013.
VSPEX BLUE is EVO:RAIL
plus EMCâs Management Products
A recent example of these HCIA parts coming together to serve the tactical apps support strategy and segue to the cloud is the EMC VSPEX BLUE appliance, which demonstrates a new degree to which total convergence can be taken.
The Intel x-86 Xeon off-the-shelf hardware went on sale in February, and is powered by VMware EVO:RAIL and EMCâs VSPEX BLUE Manager, an integrated management layer that brings entirely new levels of simplicity and deployment ease.
This bundle of capabilities extends the capabilities of EVO into a much larger market, and provides the stepping stone to hyper convergence across mid-market IT shops, and within departments or remote offices for larger enterprises. The VSPEX BLUE manager integrates seamlessly into EVO:RAIL, leveraging the same design principles and UI characteristics as EMC is known for.
Whatâs more, because EVO:RAIL does not restrict integrations, it can be easily extended via the native element manager. The notion of hyper-converged becomes particularly powerful when itâs not a closed system, but rather an extremely powerful set of components that adjust to many environments and infrastructure requirements.
VSPEX BLUE is based on VMware's EVO:RAIL platform, a software-only appliance platform that supports VMware vSphere hypervisors. By integrating all the elements, the HCIA offers the simplicity of virtualization with the power of commodity hardware and cloud services. EMC and VMware have apparently done a lot of mutual work to up the value-add to the COTS hardware, however.
The capabilities of VSPEX BLUE bring much more than a best-of-breed model alone; there is total costs predictability, simplicity of deployment and simplified means to expansion. This, for me, is where the software element of hyper-converged infrastructure is so powerful, while the costs are far below proprietary infrastructure systems, and the speed-to-value in actual use is rapid.
For example, VSPEX BLUE can be switched on and begin provisioning virtual machines in less than 15 minutes, says EMC. Plus, EMC integrates its management software to EMC Secure Remote Support, which allows remote system monitoring by EMC to detect and remedy failures before they emerge. So add in the best of cloud services to the infrastructure support mix.
Last but not least, the new VSPEX BLUE Market is akin to an app store and is populated with access to products and 24x7 support from a single vendor, EMC. This consumer-like experience of a context-appropriate procurement apparatus for appliances in the cloud is unique at this deep infrastructure level. It forms a responsive and well-populated marketplace for the validated products and services that admins need, and creates a powerful ecosystem for EMC and VMWare partners.
EMC and VMware seem to recognize that the market wants to take proven steps, not blind leaps. The mid-market wants to solve their unique problems. To start, VSPEX BLUE offers just three applications: EMC CloudArray Gateway, which helps turn public cloud storage into an extra tier of capacity; EMC RecoverPoint for Virtual Machines, which protects against application outages; and VMware vSphere Data Protection Advanced, which provides disk-based backup and recovery.
Future offerings may include applications such as virus-scanning tools or software for purchasing capacity from public cloud services, and they may come from third parties, but will be validated by EMC.
The way in which these HCIA instances are providing enterprises and mid-market organizations the means to adapt to cloud at their pace, with ease and simplicity, and to begin to exploit public cloud services that support on-premises workloads and reliability and security features, shows that the vendors are waking up. The best of virtualization and the best of hardware integration are creating the preferred on-ramps to the cloud.
Disclosure: VMware is a sponsor of BriefingsDirect podcasts that I host and moderate. EMC paid for travel and lodging for a recent trip I made to EMCWorld.