Saturday, May 03, 2008

Thinking about SLAuto in a frenzied cloud

I've been quite silent for a week or two, mostly because of my responsibilities as a sales engineer; doing my part in closing key deals for my employer. I've spent this time sitting in meetings, installing and configuring software, and measuring power savings in large dev/test lab installations. (By large I mean hundreds approaching thousands of servers.) All in all, its been a successful couple of weeks, but its kept me from keeping too close an eye on the big news coming out of the cloud and utility computing markets.

However, as I thought about this more, I realized that I have drifted significantly from my core subject, Service Level Automation (or SLAuto), in the last six months or so--mostly due to the incredible burst of cloud computing innovation to be announced and/or delivered in that time frame. I still believe that there are two key components to an open cloud market that scales:
  • Portable platforms that allow customers to change vendors on a whim
  • Automation that takes action to acquire, release or replace services based on pre-determined service targets

The latter, simply said, is SLAuto.

Of course, what is happening is sort of the nascent birth of cloud computing technologies, where the DNA hasn't had a chance to recombine to build long term survivability into any given "species" yet. We all knew that AWS was doing cool things, but who knew that they would cross the chasm in terms of customer demand as completely as they did? Yet, there is no portability story for Amazon (at least not off of Amazon); and the market forming for SLAuto (see RightScale and others) is tightly tied to the Amazon platform.

The rest of the "big" announcements are worse: Microsoft has no concept of management in Live Mesh (other than synchronization) that I can see, and Google and Yahoo are both building platforms with developers in mind, where service levels are a business agreement, not a platform differentiator. I understand we are taking baby steps here, but I wonder how long it is before corporate IT realizes that they are both a) locked in (at least in an economic sense), and b) paying too much to operate software that doesn't even run in their data center.

Now, I say all of this, but truth be told, most corporate IT shops don't do SLAuto today. So, why should this change in the cloud? I hinted at it earlier: scale. Not scale of functional execution or data access, as we usually think of the term, but scale of market--the speed at which companies will need to respond to the ever evolving marketplace for cloud services and platforms. As self-professed "open" nature of Google and Yahoo's platforms become more of a reality, combined with true innovation in "industry" standard APIs (for capacity management, code platforms and feature integration), there is little doubt that pressure will be on the IT shop to optimize the cost of delivering business services to the rest of the company. Again, I argue that this cannot be done without SLAuto. Prove me wrong.

I am really concerned that SLAuto is still considered "bleeding edge" in most IT shops. Its not rocket science, and the future of IT cost management almost certainly has to be built around it. On the other hand, perhaps as some of these customers I worked with the last couple of weeks serve as references to the value of SLAuto--at least in terms of energy costs--more of them will understand its urgency.

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