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My Cloud Learning Journey Part 1: "Once Upon a Cloud" An Interview with Christian Verstraete
By guest Author Tim Clayton, HPE Marketing Business Services, part 1 of his cloud journey.
Christian Verstraete has been using the cloud since long before there was even a cloud in existence. His experience goes back decades to when he specialized in manufacturing and devices called “historians” which were attached to machines to collect all their performance data. If there is any one man I need to speak to start my cloud journey, it's Christian. Not only has he been there and done it all, he was there at the very beginning. Christian was one of the first three or four people attached to Ann Livermore’s cloud team in 2006 and has been continuously blogging about it ever since. As others have fallen by the wayside, he remains a sole survivor; he’s been there from the early days of clunky machines on factory floors, through the company’s first attempts to take the cloud seriously, and into the present time as HPE Chief Technologist and Global Advisory Lead. And he’s not stopping there; he is a man with a clear vision of the future.
Christian is also a great guy to speak to first because he is uniquely able to translate every piece of complex computing information into a metaphor or everyday example that a Luddite like myself can fully understand. Concepts that others have previously failed to dumb down enough for me to comprehend suddenly become simple when Christian explains them. For those of you who have struggled with some basic concepts before, here is just one great example, regarding different kinds of cloud, told the way Christian related it to me:
Private cloud is just a set of servers that is only used by one enterprise, so that they can keep things safe and secure. Larger enterprises usually prefer this and companies like Uber—whose main value comes from customer data—are also fans because it largely eliminates the chance of data breaches. Learn more about our private cloud in the white paper "The Forrester Wave: Private Cloud Software Suites, Q1 2016"
Public cloud is a set of servers which process the data for multiple companies, favored by smaller enterprises which cannot afford private cloud and do not need such a huge compute.
Hybrid cloud is when a company starts off private but migrates certain appropriate data to public clouds once they start hitting capacity on their private servers. Seems simple enough? Trust me, I’ve had a dozen people explain that badly to me in the past!
In fact, Christian is so great at breaking things down that he told me the story of the past, present, and future of the Cloud. It really is a great starting point for this blog series. If you don’t know much about Cloud, read on; you’ll find out where it came from, where we are, and what comes next. If you feel you know everything, read on anyway; it is a great example of how to tell the story to beginners in a way that makes the Cloud less of a riddle.
“Once upon a time, there was a company called Amazon.” I kid you not, this is how Christian begins. I felt like a child at storytime. All I needed to do was pull up a cushion, cross my legs, and listen. “They had a great business but it was seasonal. Their servers were ten times busier in December than at any other time during the year. They had a massive need for compute, but only when people were thinking about buying Christmas presents. So, Werner Vogels and his guys started thinking ‘what can we do to make use of all that power when we are not using it?’ And they came up with the idea of renting out the resources they had built up, letting other companies make use of their servers when they were not in need of all that compute.”
What then followed was a process of automation and standardization. The concept of giving people a virtualized server caught on and was automated to the point where it became the press of a button to assign server space to outside enterprises. And the standardization came in what Christian refers to as “T-shirt sizes”, as companies could choose small, medium, large, XL, or XXL to suit their needs and buy a chunk of server space off-the-rack.
It all sounds very simple but there were, of course, a thousand false starts and dead ends along the way. Take server usage, for example. As servers got cheaper, companies were buying one per app, rather than running several apps on one server, meaning that they eliminated the chance of bugs that could occur when servers ran several different processes at the same time. This one-server-one-app approach meant that servers were running apps perfectly, but were only using 10% of their potential. That is wonderful for the compute but pretty terrible economics for the footprint and the electric bill! That problem was solved by VMware, which sections off one server into several independent parts, running without bleeding into one another, allowing compartmentalization without the extra overheads.
Hewlett Packard was on the Cloud train pretty early but a combination of not marketing ourselves very well and not aligning our hardware and software capabilities meant that we were not recognized as a Cloud leader. Christian told me that this opinion was for my ears only but it really echoes a lot of what others have told me about the Cloud—we have the technology but we have not always been as aggressive in marketing as others. Our security solutions are excellent, our Cloud technologists have been on it since day one, and we are one of the companies taking the area more seriously… and yet we don’t always seem to get that message out there. Maybe we have concentrated on substance over style?
Whatever the reason, as Cloud grew, a set of perceived leaders emerged: Amazon, Google and Microsoft for public cloud; IBM and Cisco for private. HP (now HPE) has generally sat just slightly behind. Whether this view represents technological or marketing capabilities is the deeper argument, but it is also a moot point. What really matters is the here and now.
With the public cloud so clearly dominated by Microsoft and Amazon, HPE is focusing its efforts elsewhere. We are leading the way in something called Service Brokering or Cloud Brokering. Again, this was a concept that stumped me but Christian explained it in layman’s terms.
“There are essentially four types of cloud. Private is for when you want your own servers. Public is cost-efficient but maybe a little less secure, so quite a lot of people are still resistant to it. In fact, some will never be ready for it. Hybrid cloud lets you put some things in a private cloud and move what is appropriate into the public cloud. And Community Clouds are a newer idea. They are essentially a public cloud but to a closed group of people. They are a collection of organizations that can trust one another to use shared resources in an ethical and secure way.”
Okay, so I’m following this so far…
“But companies don’t know what they need. They don’t understand all the options. What a Cloud Broker does is to act as a conduit. The customer puts in a request to use the Cloud, the broker looks at the data and then allocates it according to whatever makes sense from a security, financial, and business point of view. They are an agent. They understand the different needs of different industries, and the geographical and legal challenges that are different for a company, for example, in the EU or the USA. HPE is working at an enterprise level to get the right cloud to people in the right way.”
I couldn’t let Christian go without asking him about The Internet of Things (as people had told me I should). It was, rather predictably, a vague concept to me, but it is what he perceives to be the future of cloud. And, in a very real way, it goes all the way back to the past… way back. You see, you remember those boxes called “Historians” that kept track of manufacturing machine performance all those years ago? The ones that Christian worked with before Cloud computing was alive and before Uber, Amazon or even the Internet were part of our lives? Well, it turns out that is the future.
The Internet of Things is about little boxes linked to thousands of sensors—tiny historians, if you will—which record data on an ongoing basis and store that information on local servers. This data can then be regularly sent for analysis or retrieved upon request. It could be a health tracker that records your body temperature, heartbeat, blood-sugar level, and other vital signs, sending every moment to a Cloud to be retrieved on demand. Or, in the example Christian gives, a server bolted to a bridge can record traffic flow, load pressure, and stresses on the steel construction. Minute after minute, day after day.
The amount of data we produce is about to explode. We have the compute to store this information but the leaders in the future will be those who can understand the need for balance between granularity and perishability. Granularity means what exact level of data precision we require. Do we need to record every heartbeat to give the doctor a total record? Or do we just take readings at a few given points every day? Or maybe teach systems to only log and alert us about anomalies? More granularity means more data, which means more cost in storing it all. And perishability of data is also an issue. Do we need to keep records for a week? A year? A lifetime? Does the structural integrity of a bridge five years ago matter or is it only the current state that we need to know about?
The answer is that we need to assess requirements and create solutions on a case-by-case basis. The heart rate of a post-operational patient could be data that requires a high level of granularity but over a short period, whereas the blood-sugar level may be an infrequent reading but one that spans generations of the same family to track hereditary diabetes.
The future of the Cloud belongs to those who will be best able to broker the right solution for each need, balancing the granularity and perishability of all this data with the cost of storing it.
Now that I know the basics, thanks to Christian, I’m ready to get into some detail. Check out the next blogs to see where it takes me.
I manage the HPE Helion social media brand accounts promoting the enterprise cloud solutions at HPE for hybrid, public, and private clouds.I have put my toes in the ocean of cloud evangelism for the enterprise IT industry. But my expertise is in Social Media and Digital Marketing.
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