Monday, January 16, 2012

Will Cloud Era Beer Be Mostly Generic?

Disclaimer: I am employed by VMware and work with the Cloud Foundry team.

The Cloudbees guys like stirring the pot a bit, which is fine, but I’m taking the bait this time.  In several of their blog posts they try and paint OS or virtualization vendors with a broad brush that can't possibly be relevant in the cloud era, which they believe is a very convenient argument for them.  Today Sacha Labourey offered some commentary on the recent EC2 Windows free tier announcement and I think he's got it wrong enough (at least about the non-obvious points) that it inspired me to write some thoughts down of my own.

Sacha's outline is something like:

  • Microsoft Windows is more expensive than Linux (sorry Microsoft)
  • VMware is more expensive than Xen (sorry VMware)
  • Paid Linux is more expensive than free Linux (sorry Redhat)
  • Hosting margins are smaller than license or subscription margins (sorry licensed and subscription software vendors)
  • Windows has weak cloud DNA
  • Amazon will be the new Microsoft
  • Therefore, try Cloudbees, the closed-source Java PaaS!

To really dumb it down, my take away is that Sacha feels like cloud providers like Amazon will commoditize the operating system and virtualization companies to an extreme almost exclusively because they will have the lowest raw compute cost per hour.  He implies that totally free open source software without commercial support will dominate the entire stack and dramatically erode business from commercial and subscription based software providers.  Virtualization and operating systems won’t matter as Amazon Linux will become defacto.  He thinks we're all going to love the taste of the blandest and cheapest generic cloud beer.

I disagree that server-side operating system and virtualization software will become undifferentiated and therefore irrelevant in the cloud era.  If the only prism you view things in is cost per hour of raw compute instances available on-demand, then sure, running Amazon Linux on EC2 is tough to beat.  Some fraternity parties make beer selection decisions with a framework like that.  However, an overwhelming majority of the workloads don't and won't fit that model.  Even if PaaS really takes off, it will run better on great virtualization and operating systems.  Public coulds are not the only way to operate cloud era infrastructure.  Cloud can be a malleable term, when I think cloud I think multi-data center, physical layer abstraction, high availability, great density, elasticity, self-service, and organization-relevant billing and metering.  Vendors that offer a holistic solution that spans public and private clouds and integrates with pre-cloud systems will have loyal customers that are willing to pay a premium over cheaper solutions with gaps.  A winning solution will leverage innovations and differentiation in the operating systems and virtualization.

It's not too hard to think of a few examples of why enterprises run Windows which include Exchange, Active Directory, Office, .NET and SQL Server.  These customers choose to pay more when there are free Linux alternatives!  It would be cheaper for everyone to sustain themselves on ramen noodles every night, yet the restaurant business seems to be doing just fine.  Macs cost more than non-Mac laptops, yet I see lots of cloud people using Macs.  I believe that generic beer will not be the only option and probably not even the most popular choice on the menu in the cloud era.  Customers will pay a premium for stuff that lets them accomplish their goals, which may not be directly aligned with the cheapest compute cost per hour on the blandest stack.  Time-to-market, ease-of-use, locality, quality and reliability could all conceivably prioritized over raw compute cost per hour depending on the need.  EC2 already illustrates this breadth of menu approach by the variety of OS's supported and different tiers of pricing.

A few other random points.  I recently learned that many of the worlds ATM's run an embedded version of Windows blue-screen-of-death jokes aside.  Windows has demonstrated it can be optimized for very small footprints.

Amazon Linux might be great for some situations, but Red Hat has indicated that they may not continue letting their operating system innovations to trickle downstream easily as shown by their decision to ship the kernel with patches pre-applied in RHEL 6.  Operating system R&D is funded by customers and there will be differentiated features for paid offerings.  Why else would Joyent invest so much in SmartOS?  Amazon Linux is basically equivalent to RHEL today, but this is a fluid situation.

Cheap beer has it’s time and place, but the majority of customers want choice and are willing to pay for quality on most occasions.  Keep yourself honest and try the cheap beer every once in awhile, just to be sure.  It reinforces my appreciation that you get what you pay for.

Generic beer image is attributed to pdxdiver from flickr.


Sacha Labourey said...

Hello James,

I think you actually do NOT disagree with my post, you simply tone it down, that's it :)

Since you are working on the CF team, is HP paying VMW anything for their usage of CF? Is VMW paying anything to any Linux vendor for their mini-Linux they have embedded in vSphere? Is CF running best on vSphere or on XEN/KVM? By what margin? How much money do you think AWS is paying to Citrix for their usage of Xen on AWS?

I am simply pushing those questions to their logical conclusion, 5-y from now.

Now, you are right, it goes for beer much like for cars, there is definitively a market for Maserati, Bugatti Veyron and Ferrari.

Oh, and since you are working on the CF team, I think you should avoid sentences like "Even if PaaS really takes off" - remember we are working in the same direction, just on parallel tracks :)



Bob Bickel said...

I loved your summary of CloudBees position at the top. I think you got it half right with your bullet points.

And of course you are right that there are plenty of customers who love to buy software for real business needs as well as because it is the only way it has been done. That of course is why you guys have grown so fast and customers bought $2Billion of your licenses and support last year, and why I own some stock in VMWare.

But I think you dismiss too easily the other half of our position. That the Cloud era is about Services - not about software and stacks. People should be freed from having to run and manage their own environment because at the end of the day that is not what they are in business to do.

And to produce a service, it is a whole lot more than just open source bits thrown out to the community. Sure, some will want to take those bits and run with it like the Appfog folks, and doubtless CloudFoundry will be very successful with those people. But you must admit that the CloudFoundry project does not contain a full open source stack that does everything including the operations of running the environment (Appfog's value-add).

Hence, we believe that our focus should be on a Services-based approach. Yes, it should run everywhere and be open and not lock customers in and lower the cost to customers and improve agility (I hate that word, btw).

I do think one area that we should start looking at the world in a common manner is standardizing on API's for the services. It is tough for smaller companies to have the bandwidth for that, but we would love to collaborate with VMWare, Oracle, IBM, HP, Dell, Salesforce, Amazon, OpenStack and others on common API's to assure standardization. We understand that the big companies need to test markets and figure out if PaaS is real. But we are eagerly awaiting the chance where we can productively collaborate. And our view is that we are not all that far apart as we are obviously learning from each other and have similar API's already ;-)

Bob Bickel

jambay said...

Sacah and Bob, I appreciate the civil tone. It's more fun this way.

Sacha, I don't think it's simply a matter of toning your post down, it's also that you are only looking at a small fraction of the overall market: publicly rentable compute servers and their lowest cost per hour without caring which OS is used. My main point is that while the slider bar may move higher for the summing of all workloads that can and customers will choose to run that way, it would still be a small fragment of the overall market, even in 5 years. Someone has to pay the R&D costs to innovate the stack that Amazon benefits from. They are clear leaders and innovators in the public Service aspect, but they don't offer a holistic solution that covers private and pre-cloud systems. Vendors that solve that problem will be rewarded.

Yes, I believe PaaS will take off. Even though proper PaaS is an extremely small % of workloads today, I came to work on Cloud Foundry at VMware to be part of it because I think it's game-changing. I think Cloud Foundy's open PaaS approach has it right for a polyglot world.

Bob, you're totally right about capital "S" Service being very significant and very different from traditional consumption., AppFog, Iron Foundry, etc do add value above and beyond OSS bits because they operate it as a Service. On that I totally agree.

As for PaaS standardization, Java EE7 already is trying to be the API layer for Java PaaS. I'd like to understand what you have in mind. When you look at Cloud Foundry, Heroku, Cloudbees, Azure, etc I think it's going to be tough to find a model that works uniformly, but I'd like to hear more about it. With Cloud Foundry, the approach is opt-in value-add, meaning that you don't HAVE to use CF specific API's. Apps written elsewhere can be moved in and moved out. Azure got this totally wrong the first time around. Maybe you're referring to operational and administrative API's for provisioning services, scaling up / down, etc?

Cheers, James

Bob Bickel said...

I owe you a beer! My wife never says I am right...

Anyway, I think one of the reasons for the popularity of JavaEE was the promise of portability and customers were not locked into one vendor. I think the same promise of non-lock-in is necessary for the PaaS market to move forward faster.

This will entail lots of things. Like sticking to the standards of JavaWP from a coding perspective, but also in connecting with other services and legacy systems as well as the administration, management and deployment. This will take a few years to ring out in terms of what is needed and what the priorities are. I think it will be necessary for small and large vendors to work together on these issues as they emerge.

Sacha Labourey said...

Hello James,

I really think that "in the future" (TM), most workloads will either happen on SaaS or PaaS i.e. either you have a standardized offering that matches the bill or you create your own application. This to me means the slow "death" (I am speaking statistics here, nothing ever dies in IT) of traditional "systems" that you take virgin and on top of which you install your software, maintain it, etc. SaaS+PaaS is where tomorrow's workloads will be, en masse, and that is also where tomorrow's money will be spent.

As for who is going to implement the underlying (FOSS) software required to operate those stacks, there are some known statistics today already: the vast majority of the Linux Kernel development is NOT done by one of the Linux "vendor (RHT, ORCL, NOVL). There is no reason to think this will be vastly different tomorrow, especially as those layers will get thiner, not bigger.

But yes, this won't happen overnight and mainframes from the 60's are still running in many datacenters - this doesn't mean the future lies in mainframes :)

We'll just have to wait I guess... ;)


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