Tag Archives: IaaS

Azure Stack – Microsoft’s White Elephant?

Microsoft’s World Wide Partner Conference is currently on again in Toronto and even though my career has diverged from working on the Microsoft stack (no pun) over the past four or five years I still attend the local Microsoft SPLA monthly meetings where possible and keep a keen eye on what Microsoft is doing in the cloud and hosting spaces.

The concept of Azure Stack has been around for a while now and it entered Technical Preview early this year. Azure Stack was/is touted as an easily deployable end to end solution that gives enterprises Azure like flexibility on premises covering IaaS, PaaS and Containers. The premise of the solution is solid and Microsoft obviously see an opportunity to cash in on the private and hybrid cloud market that at the moment, hasn’t been locked down by any one vendor or solution. The end goal though is for Microsoft to have workloads that are easily transportable into the Azure Cloud.

Azure Stack is Microsoft’s emerging solution for enabling organizations to deploy private Azure cloud environments on-premises. During his Day 2 keynote presentation at the Worldwide Partner Conference (WPC) in Toronto, Scott Guthrie, head of Microsoft’s Cloud and Enterprise Group, touted Azure Stack as a key differentiator for Microsoft compared to other cloud providers.

The news overnight at WPC is that apart from the delay in it’s release (which wasn’t unexpected given the delays in Windows Server 2016) Microsoft have now said that the Azure Stack will only be available via pre-validated hardware partners which means that customers can’t deploy the solution themselves meaning the stack loses flexibility.

Neil said the move is in response to feedback from customers who have said they don’t want to deal with the complexities and downtime of doing the deployments themselves. To that end, Microsoft is making Azure Stack available only through pre-validated hardware partners, instead of releasing it as a solution that customers can deploy, manage and customize.

This is an interesting and in my opinion risky move by Microsoft. There is a precedence to suggest that going down this path leads to lesser market penetration and could turn the Azure Stack into that white elephant that I suggested in a tweet and in the title of this post. You only have to look at how much of a failure VMware’s EVO:Rail product was to understand the risks of tying a platform to vendor specific hardware and support. Effectively they are now creating a Converged Infrastructure Stack with Azure bolted on where as before there was absolute freedom in enterprises being able to deploy Azure Stack into existing hardware deployments allowing for a way to realise existing costs and extending that to provide private cloud services.

As with EVO:Rail and other Validated Designs, I see three key areas where they suffer and impact customer adoption.

Validated Design Equals Cost:

If I take EVO:Rail as an example there was a premium placed on obtaining the stack through the validated vendors and this meant a huge premium on what could have been sourced independently when you took hardware, software and support costs into account. Potentially this will be the same for the Azure Stack…vendors will add their percentage for the validated design, plus ongoing maintenance. As mentioned above, there is also now the fact that you must buy new hardware (compute, network, storage) meaning any existing hardware that can and should be used for private cloud is now effectively dead weight and enterprises need to rethink long term about existing investments.

Validated Design Equals Inherit Complexity:

When you take something in-house and not let smart technical people deploy a solution my mind starts to ask the question why? I understand the argument will be that Microsoft want a consistent experience for the Azure Stack and there are other examples of controlled deployments and tight solutions (VMware NSX comes to mind in the early days) but when the market you are trying to break into is built on the premise of reduced complexity…only allowing certain hardware and partners to run and deploy your software tells me that it walks a fine line between being truly consumable and it being a black box. I’ve talked about Complex Simplicity before and this move suggests that Azure Stack was not ready or able to be given to techs to install, configure and manage.

Validated Design Equals Inflexibility:

Both of the points above lead into the suggestion that the Azure Stack looses it’s flexibility. Flexibility in the private and hybrid cloud world is paramount and the existing players like Openstack and others are extremely flexible…almost to a fault. If you buy from a vendor you loose the flexibility of choice and can then be impacted at will by costs pressures relating to maintenance and support. If the Azure stack is too complex to be self managed then it certainly looses the flexibility to be used in the service provider space…let alone the enterprise.

Final Thoughts:

Worryingly the tone of the offical Blog Announcement over the delay suggest that Microsoft is reaching to try and justify the delay and the reasoning for going down the different distribution model. You just have to read the first few comments on the blog post to see that I am not alone in my thoughts.

Microsoft is committed to ensuring hardware choice and flexibility for customers and partners. To that end we are working closely with the largest systems vendors – Dell, HPE, Lenovo to start with – to co-engineer integrated systems for production environments. We are targeting the general availability release of Azure Stack, via integrated systems with our partners, starting mid-CY2017. Our goal is to democratize the cloud model by enabling it for the broadest set of use-cases possible.

 

With the release of Azure Stack now 12+ months away Microsoft still has the opportunity to change the perception that the WPC2016 announcements has in my mind created. The point of private cloud is to drive operational efficiency in all areas. Having a fancy interface with all the technical trimmings isn’t what will make an on-premises stack gain mainstream adoption. Flexibility, cost and reduced complexity is what counts.

References:

https://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/blog/microsoft-azure-stack-delivering-cloud-infrastructure-as-integrated-systems/?utm_campaign=WPC+2016&utm_medium=bitly&utm_source=MNC+Microsite

https://rcpmag.com/articles/2016/07/12/wpc-2016-microsoft-delays-azure-stack.aspx

http://www.zdnet.com/article/microsoft-to-release-azure-stack-as-an-appliance-in-mid-2017/

http://www.techworld.com.au/article/603302/microsoft-delays-its-azure-stack-software-until-mid-2017/

Ninefold: Going Head to Head with AWS and Using Opensource is Risky in Cloud Land

Today Ninefold (an Australian based IaaS and PaaS) provider announced that they where closing their doors an would be migrating their clients to their parent companies (Macquarie Telecom) cloud services. And while this hasn’t come as a surprise to me…having closely watched Ninefold from it’s beta days through to it’s shutdown it does highlight a couple of key points about the current state of play in the public cloud in Australia and also around the world.

As a disclaimer…this post and the view points given are totally my own and I don’t pretend to understand the specific business decisions as to why Ninefold decided to shut up doors apart from what was written in the press today around operational expenditure challenges of upgrading the existing platform.

“After an evaluation of the underlying technical platform, much consideration and deep reflection, we have decided not to embark on this journey,” the company said on Monday.

However, rather than have people simply assume that the IaaS/Cloud game is too hard given the dominance of AWS, Azure and Google I thought i’d write down some thoughts on why choosing the right underlying platform is key to any Clouds success…especially when looking to compete with the big players.

Platform Reliability:

Ninefold had some significant outages in their early days…and when I say significant, I mean significant…we are talking days to weeks where customers couldn’t interact or power on VM instances to go along with other outages all of which I was led to believe due to their adoption of CloudStack and Xen Server as their hypervisor. At the time I was investigating a number of Cloud Management Platforms and CloudStack (at the time) had some horror bugs which ruled out any plans to go with that platform at the time…I remember thinking how much prettier the interface was compared to the just released vCloud Director but the list of show stopping bugs at the time was enough to put me off proceeding.

Platform Choice:

CloudStack was eventually bought by Citrix and then given to the Apache Foundation where is currently resides but for Ninefold the damage to their initial reputation as a IaaS provider for mine did not survive these initial outages and throughout it’s history attempted to transform firstly into a Ruby On Rails platform and more recently looked to jump on the containers bandwagon as well as trying to specialize in Storage as a Service.

This to me highlights a fairly well known belief in the industry that going Opensource may be cheap in the short term but is going to come back and bite you in some form later down the track. The fact that the statement on their closure was mainly focused around the apparent cost of upgrading their platform (assuming a move to Openstack or some other *stack based CMP) highlights the fact that going with more supported stacks such as VMware ESXi with vCloud Director or even Microsoft Hyper-V with Azure is a safer bet long term as their are more direct upgrade paths version to version and there is also official support when upgrading.

Competing against AWS Head On:

http://www.itnews.com.au/news/sydney-based-cloud-provides-price-challenge-247576

Macquarie Telecom subsidiary Ninefold launches next week, promising a Sydney-based public cloud computing service with an interface as seamless as those of Amazon’s EC2 or Microsoft’s Azure.

Ninefold from the early days touted themselves as the Public Cloud alternative and their initial play was to attract Linux based workloads to their platform and offer very very cheap pricing when compared to the other IaaS providers at the time…they where also local in Australia before the likes of AWS and Azure set up shop locally.

I’ve talked previously about what Cloud Service Providers should be offering when it comes to competing against the big public cloud players…offering a similar but smaller slice of the services offered targeting their bread and butter will not work long term. Cloud Providers need to add value to attract a different kind of client base to that of AWS and Azure…there is a large pie out there to be had and I don’t believe we will be in a total duopoly situation for Cloud services short to medium term but Cloud Providers need to stop focusing on price, so much as quality of their products and services.

Final Thoughts:

Ninefold obviously believed that they couldn’t compete on the value of their existing product set and due to their initial choice of platform felt that upgrading to one that did allow some differentiation in the marketplace compared to the big public cloud players was not a viable option moving forward…hence why their existing clients will be absorbed into a platform that does run a best of breed stack and one that doesn’t try to complete head to head with AWS…at least from the outside.

“Those tier two ISPs and managed services outfits standing up wannabe AWS clones cobbled together out of bits of Xen, OpenStack and cable ties?”
Roadkill.
As the industry matures, smaller local players will find they can’t make it pay and go away. The survivors will move into roles as resellers and managed services providers who make public cloud easier for those who don’t like to get hands on with the big boys. This is happening already. By 2015 we’ll see exits from the cloud caper.“

http://www.zdnet.com/article/ninefold-to-shut-operations/

http://www.itnews.com.au/news/ninefold-to-shut-down-411312?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=itnews_autopost

http://www.crn.com.au/News/411313,macquarie-telecoms-ninefold-closing-down.aspx?utm_source=twitter&utm_medium=social&utm_campaign=crn_autopost

http://www.theregister.co.uk/2013/12/19/australias_new_year_tech_headlines_for_2015/