Internal Clouds – Marketing the Non-Existent

I was recently asked my opinion on what were the main considerations for Cloud Computing with specific emphasis on Internal Clouds. Eager to assist I quickly gave a rundown of issues which included SLAs, distinguishing charge rates, security etc, etc. Pleased with the response received our conversation then veered off into another direction but then it struck me – I had just fallen victim to the marketing jargon. Internal Cloud? What on earth was he asking me and what on earth had I just answered with?

I thought back and reassessed my understanding of the Cloud to what I originally understood it as i.e. that the Cloud was beyond the realms of the datacenter and certainly not internal. Facts told me that Cloud storage services whether it be a backup or archive reside outside of the local datacenter and into the ‘clouds’ even to the extent of being in another continent.

So how then does the oxymoron of ‘internal cloud’ exist so much so that in depth conversations are taking place between consultants, IT managers and Storage Engineers at a datacenter near you? The answer is simple; marketing. Not content with pushing Cloud and SAAS as the future low end tiered storage, the term ‘internal clouds’ is now being marketed and ascribed to new and upcoming products which in essence are only offering added support for virtualization or clustering.

The metaphor of an ‘internal cloud’ i.e. a cloud which now exists within the datacenter leads to a rather ironic image of a misty atmosphere that causes even more confusion. Blow those ‘internal clouds’ away from your datacenter and what you’ll see are flexible solutions for scalability whether they are in the guise of global namespaces, clustering, grid storage or virtualization; solutions which were already known about and quite possibly already existed within your datacenter but were now coined as ‘internal clouds’. Hence once the haziness has disappeared it’s clear to see that the internal cloud that we’ve been marketed with never really existed in the first place.

So should I be asked my opinion on internal clouds again, let’s just say that this time my answer will require no words but a straightforward raise of the eyebrow and a protruding of the chin.

'NetApp & Microsoft' vs 'EMC Cisco VMware'

2009 seems to have been the year of corporate marriages but whether they are marriages made in heaven is yet to be seen. The ongoing saga between Oracle and Sun and their child ZFS is already suffering from the clutches of the scorned mistress ECC, while the Dell/ Perot and HP/3Com matches are still in their honeymoon period. One partnership though which does look likely to stand the test of time and causes the biggest threat to all others is that of Cisco, EMC and their wonderkid Vmware.

The discussion on how in my opinion these three will monopolise the future of ILM and cloud computing is a blog in itself but my thoughts are best expressed and summarised in a response to a recent conversation I had with a Snr Technical Consultant from an unnamed storage vendor. Scoffing at EMC and what he felt was an erratic spending spree of buying out competitor alongside overhyped marketing jargon which lacked any real focus or gameplan, I begged to differ and pointed out my conclusions:

Point 1: Already established with the DMX, when EMC purchased the Clariion, they acquired arguably the best modular storage array on the market such that still today companies such as Pillar and Huawei Symantec find it hard for their own excellent products to compete with. EMC then purchased Vmware, a server virtualisation platform which is now at the forefront of the technology and continues to innovate and lead the way for other companies to try and follow suit – the recent RedHat Virtualisation platform a prime example.

Point 2:
More recently the target based deduplication masters DataDomain have been added to the portfolio to accompany their acquisition of Legato Networker and their source based deduplication tool Avamar. Hence Storage, Server virtualisation and Backup and Recovery are bases well and truly covered.

Point 3:
As EMC pushed forward the V-Max alongside flash SSDs, the next approach was towards cloud computing and with cloud computing's major concern being security does it come as no surprise that EMC have also purchased the security firm RSA?

Point 4:
By bringing Cisco on board, they have a partner whose clout is already proven in the DataCenter such that based on their IP customer base they were able to muscle themselves in on what was quintessentially Brocade's SAN market. With that in mind does anyone really doubt that the UCS platform won't be purchased on a large scale as DataCenter managers look for the best deal to buy in new IP and SAN switches in these economically testing times?

Hence my final point to the vendor consultant - Erratic these decisions have not been but rather well calculated and planned steps towards DataCenter domination.

What I didn't mention to him is that the EMC marketing machine should not be slurred upon with stains of envy but rather commended. The news that FAST is now available for EMC storage systems has the media jumping in a frenzy despite similar products already being available for some time from other vendors. Back in 2008 I had excitedly completed my training on a great new HDS product called Tiered Storage Manager – but rarely did I see the press mentioning its great value to ILM in the same manner.

So what now of the news that Microsoft and NetApp have refused to join the lonely hearts club and concert their efforts to form a new strategic collaboration to enhance the integration of their virtualised server environments? A three year deal, which will probably extend has been pitched as a natural progression which has no relation to the EMC, Vmware, Cisco partnership , (I stroke my chin dubiously) and one that will focus on better offerings in virtualisation, cloud computing, data management and storage. After losing out on Data Domain to EMC, a partnership with Microsoft is good news for NetApp and a step in the right direction as virtualised infrastructure solutions based on Windows Server 2008 R2, Microsoft Hyper-V Server 2008 R2, Microsoft System Center will seamlessly integrate with NetApp's own systems.

This leads us to Hitachi Data Systems, who often seem to me to be the solitary playboy who refuses to chase but banks on the quality of his product such that he expects 'all' to come to him. No doubt, HDS products are still top of their game in terms of reliability and arguably performance but their current position to have not partnered with anyone runs in the same vein as their lack of drive for marketing.
For a company that offer a full range from SMB to enterprise solutions I have often found it very frustrating that their lack of marketing has often led to customers purchasing inferior products or technical solutions from either competing vendors or OEMs – point in case - see how few HDS enterprise arrays are actually virtualised with their own HDS modular arrays behind them.

As for Europe and the Middle East if you have a DataCenter with HDS enterprise storage, chances are they probably have a Hewlett Packard or SUN Microsystems badge leaving most IT Directors and CEOs unaware that they have HDS products. Couple that with the inevitable scenario of the world being 'V-Maxed' there still isn't any news on the long awaited replacement for the USPV. Moreover after recently visiting the Storage Expo in Netherlands, it was almost surreal to see the HDS stand merely offering free sushi and sumo wrestling dolls, while opposite them EMC were giving demonstrations on their DataCenter tool Ionix.

As storage and virtualization begin to nurture more partnerships than a dating agency and resources become aligned to gain more market share, HDS still remain taciturn. HDS already have top quality NAS products which most people still don't know about, top of the range archiving platforms and modular arrays so what are they waiting for? Perhaps there's a great plan on the horizon and they are being strategically patient....I hope so.