OpenStack “State of the nation”

Over the past few days I have had the pleasure of attending the OpenStack Summit in Paris. The 6000 person attendance figure alone tells a story of the massive momentum behind this open source software project. Over a 5 day period thousands of vendors, integrators and developers got together to shape the future of this amazing project.

So, what is OpenStack? It is a collection of open source tools and technologies, augmented by commercial tools, that allows customers to build private, public and hybrid cloud services.

I am currently involved in a project to build a cloud platform that will deliver public cloud services, and I selected OpenStack as the underlying technology to base my platform on. OpenStack is a relatively unknown quantity in South Africa, and one of the questions I always get asked when discussing my plans, is “why not VMWare or Hyper-V?”. Most people assume that the answer will have something to do with cost, or some crusade against big and evil tech empires. The answer is actually quite simple. OpenStack is the only platform today, that allows customers to build the cloud they want, with no vendor lock in. And while there are other open cloud platforms out there, OpenStack has the largest and most vibrant community, with the largest partner eco system. The challenge and opportunities lie in the fact that it is not a pre-packaged product (that is changing with most open source vendors now offering easy to deploy systems for enterprise use) but a framework that allows you to make component selections to build the cloud you need. The Lego of the cloud world 🙂

This was not always the case. In the earlier releases (Grizzly, Folsom, Havana etc) there was a lot of features missing, and the toolset was difficult to deploy. The latest release is Juno, and the community is working to release Kilo in a few months time. Today, the stack is easy to deploy, with distributions and vendors such as SUSE, Red Hat, Mirantis, Canonical, HP and IBM all having easy to use deployment tools. Vendors such as Canonical and Mirantis take this deployment further, with their FUEL and JuJu tools providing several deployment options, making OpenStack as easy to deploy as traditional virtualization technologies. The partner ecosystem has dramatically expanded, with more and more companies providing focussed add-on’s for the platform, making it easier to deploy, operate and manage this environment.

The layer above the basic cloud platform Infrastructure-as-a-Service layer has also expanded. Platform-as-a-Service tools, container technology and others such as software defined network and network function virtualization are all driving the new applications and services that allows businesses to be more agile with their technology services.

The use cases for the cloud platforms feature three recurring themes. More speed, more agility, less cost. We now live in an era where “credit card” decisions are made, where a manager will swipe a company credit card to buy and instantly access a service if internal IT moves too slow. The way savvy companies counter this, to maintain control while delivering on the new business requirements for faster availability of infrastructure and services, is to deploy clouds internally. I saw several case studies being presented where companies shared their numbers of how fast services can now be deployed and adopted, and how their internal IT user satisfaction scores went up.

It is important to note that virtualization and cloud are not terms to be used interchangeably. Yes, OpenStack contains virtualization (select your hypervisor from KVM, Hyper-V, ESXi or XEN and others), but it provides technology for an “Amazon AWS like” web layer where users can authenticate and select options to be deployed as they need them. Traditional virtualization vendors such as VMWare are also throwing their weight behind OpenStack, integrating their technology with OpenStack to provide a single control plane and great user experience.

What does this mean for South African companies? In short, you now have access to a set of technologies that enables you to make smart choices, delivering IT as a service, providing your users with a great, flexible platform, capable of quickly delivering infrastructure and apps.

If you’d like more info, to see how this can work for your business, leave a comment and I’ll reach out to you.

Undocking your cloud

In a recent post I spoke about lock-in and how I hate being locked into services. Expanding on that topic, I should note that cloud services is a lot more elastic than other products we use or services we consume…up to a point. You can easily turn services on, off or move between plans. But moving from cloud platform A to B? Nope, not so easy… until now.

Docker is going to revolutionize the way we build, run and move applications around. Referring to my previous post, Docker is the way I am going to make it easy for you to get on my platform, run your apps, scale them and finally take them with if you decide to switch platforms. And if you go out there, try the others and realize my platform as best after all, Docker is how you get back in 🙂

So, what is Docker? This page will give you a great quick overview, but allow me to summarize here. Remember the old Java promise of “build once, run anywhere”? Well Docker is that promise delivered. You can have a quick start with 13000+ Dockerized applications or build your own. By using the Docker you can build an application, run it on any environment and finally ship it to any cloud platform that supports Docker and run the app at scale.

Have a look at it, if you are a Dev or SysAdmin guy, you’ll love this tech.

download

No lock in. At all. Ever

Quickly logged in to my mobile phone provider account this morning. My Samsung Galaxy S3 LTE device, running CyanogenMod, is getting a bit long in the tooth. Eagerly logged in to have a look at the new phone models available (time for a Sony, or another Samsung?), imagine my shock and disgust when I realized that I am only due for a free upgrade days before Christmas this year. I stared in disbelieve at the date, looking at the accumulated bill in front of me, amounting to thousands per month. Surely this cannot be? I spend big bucks per month, so surely my phone is not an expense but an enabler? Allow me to elaborate. I burn in excess of 1000 minutes per month, spend a couple of GB’s of data (despite wireless all over my office and home) and even pop off a few text messages a month. Making sure that I have a top flight phone should be an investment not an expense! In fact, giving me a free phone once a year would great. And not a “free” phone, but a real free phone.

This got me thinking…do business execs ever place them in the shoes of their own customers? How do you think our local Telco exec’s would feel, having to spend two years waiting for the next “free” phone while shiny new tech comes along every day, and 6 months is an almost acceptable replacement cycle for certain tech goodies? Getting phones for free as an R&D expense is nice if your a telco exec, but for the rest of us it is torture…

So, customer lock in. This used to be a very acceptable business model, and it is easy to see why. 20 years to pay of a house, 5 years for a car, 2 years for that new “free” cellphone etc. So many services force you to be locked in for a fixed, minimum period. Don’t think I can easily cancel or reduce my golf driving range membership. No sir, despite your current work schedule and minor health issue, you cannot cancel or “park” your membership, locked-in you are. Order a local ADSL service from our monopoly provider and get a “free” wifi ADSL router, if sir will just sign here and be locked in for 2 years. Crazy!

Why does this happen? I now believe it is because many companies do not have the means and wherewithal to effectively compete in a constantly changing business environment. Why drive ourselves to constantly innovate and delight our customers, when we can just lock the suckers into a term contract? I hope the boardroom talk is not as blunt as that…

But, the world has changed. Even things like cloud computing platforms who bill you on a pay-as-you-go basis have you locked in, because getting your apps and data in and out is difficult or in some cases impossible. Thus while it is easy to turn your billing on and off, moving providers in not that easy.

Now take pity on my poor business partner for what I am about to say. Not only are we entering a new competitive market space, but achieving lock-in has never been part of my design or business plan. Why? Simple, I imagined myself as my own customer. How would I feel if I am locked into some sub standard and slow service? I’d be hopping mad, frustrated and ultimately tell all and sundry to avoid such a platform like the plague. No, the way I want to keep customers is by making it easy to get on my platform, make it easy to use, quick to provision, bill using modern flexible methods, and finally make it easy to leave if you are unhappy. Risky? Not all, if I constantly delight you, and charge you a reasonable rate, why would you want to move, I gave you no reason too 🙂 Will we have churn, sure, but those customers will also return when they go and try the alternatives and realize how easy getting in and out was with us. The pressure will be on us to delight and surprise our customers, keeping them with us out of loyalty due to the great service and deal they get.

On that note, a shout out to my peeps (Wilfred, Christian, Johan et all) at O’Galito’s Centurion. This Portuguese style restaurant has delighted me for almost 10 years. Last night I took some family there and we had a blast, great service and food. They have never dropped me once, which is why if you do business with me, are a friend or family, you’ll end up there with me sooner or later… Obrigado!

Competing with the big boys

Years ago, my dad and I would sit and talk about the logic behind buying a business, and competing with established players in a particular market. He would always ask why you would buy and existing business, when you can open up shop across the street, offering a better deal and thus gaining the business for “free”. It is not always as easy as that, and entering a new market, or one with established players in not for the faint hearted. Why make a radical change in our business? Well, the old adapt or die saying is super true in our case. While we are far from dead, the writing is on the wall and before we go on life support, we’d rather change what we do. Several things have changed in our industry, and I firmly believe the “reseller” model is going the way of the dinosaur. Buying a piece of technology developed by someone else and slapping a single digit markup on it to sell it to an end user customer is just not sustainable. Just ask the big players who love their turnover vanity (big numbers) but are operating on annual losses. Getting out of that game is our drive. While we’ll be buying loads of fancy legos, how we piece them together and what we do with them will be our competitive edge. To busy to improve? Entering a space with a few players seems to give some investors comfort, as they think that while they may not get to dominate a market, they can view a slice of an established business sector that is known to work. Less risky… Geoffrey A. Moore wrote a bunch of amazing books about high tech marketing, and how you deal with the Gorillas on Main street, the entrenched and well established players. You also get guys like Richard Branson, who enter established markets (airlines, railways, cellular) and bring a fresh approach to an old idea. I think the cloud computing market is set for a big shake up in South Africa, and the rest of Africa too. The question is, how do you compete with massive and established players such as Amazon, and up and coming players with loads of resources, like Google and Microsoft. It is not as difficult as you may think…Each of the new up and coming players painted a big target on Amazon’s back, and they have claimed some wins. Google is now renowned for how quickly they actually start instances up, and some flexibility with their services that Amazon does not have. One has to remember, that Amazon built the first of these mega platforms, and the IT world collectively crapped themselves. Loads of cloud stack vendors now try and at least mimic the Amazon feature set, as that does provide a good baseline of functionality. Amazon now also have a massively scaled, but “legacy” system, so turning that big ship around to plug some holes is not as easy as it seems. This creates opportunities for players like us, and that is why we’ll thrive in this business. Where does this leave me and my new platform? I do not have dreams of global domination, but I do dream of African domination. The time is right for a new innovative player to enter the local market, breaking the mould in terms of service offering, service experience, ease of use and feature set. If all goes well, in 16 weeks our platform launches in V1.0 state, but the V2.0 onwards stuff will blow your mind… I’ll keep the blog updated with our progress…