Wednesday, January 22, 2014

2014 - Curating Cloud Transparency

When we developed Azure at Microsoft, we had a great deal of internal discussion about the downside of Cloud lock-in from a customer perspective. Our technical thinking was clear, every CIO on the planet is risk adverse by nature, so how would they agree to sign up for any technology that forced them into a single provider? But business trumps technology. Sure, from a business viewpoint we all want to be part of success, so we go on our way and make choices that have much more to do with profit than with capability. In those early days we had a vision of Cloud as a "utility". From that we would be able to provide proverbial power-at-the-outlet and the customer would be able to plug in their equivalent of their power-tools anywhere, anytime. The debate was one of market-share, and the technology has lost out, at least so far.

While this kind of transparency is highly profitable, and most of all sustainable, for one company as a provider, what about many? What if we want to take our power-tool and plug it in somewhere else in the country, or in the world? What if we want to be assured that the prices the power company is charging are as low as they can be? 

If we look at the power company analogy a little deeper we have two things that are different. First is a little standard we call the National Electrical Code. That dictates what the power-at-the-outlet will provide. At least in the US, you can plug in a tool anywhere and be assured that it will work without modification. If you go to another country you can use an adapter, with no need to modify the tool. But if you take away the NEC you most likely won't be able to do that. The other aspect is that of brokerage. The power-companies, now providing common power to all outlets, have a trade business in power itself. Each company buys and sells capacity as it is available and at the best possible prices. It is a commodity market, with all the economic laws of supply and demand in full effect. 

So how did this all come to be, and what in the world does this have to do with Cloud?

As with all things technical, it is an evolution, seldom revolution, that drives maturity. The way power is provided is something that developed over a hundred or more years. In the early days there was a lack of standards, a lack of interoperability. Over time the combination of market forces, government, insurance and safety companies, and trade bodies, defined and evolved the current standards and markets we have. 

And the point of the power company analogy is one of market share and optimization. The eventual revelation that one company alone cannot do it all, and recognizing the importance of what customers wanted, eventually overrides the strictly capitalistic model and forces one of compromise. The compromise is profitable for not one, but many power companies, and it is predictable and optimized for customers. Nirvana? Well, that may be a stretch, but certainly better than a free for all. 

Much the same parallel can be drawn from the current Cloud landscape. We are in a state of non-interoperability. Sure, every company has their own set of tools to promote and support workload transparency, there is no standard. There is no easy way to do it. This is especially true when we look cross-provider. Sure, we have orchestration, proxy, import/export, and a quiver full of tools to help us achieve some sort of transparency. But what if we want to cross providers on a grand scale? Do-able? Sure. Expensive and complicated? You betcha.

So where is all this going?

This year, we will see a whole new emphasis on transparency, on a global basis. We need it, we need the standards, we need to solve the problem in other layers of the stack and push the issue away from a pure SW solution. Commoditization is good, ubiquity is the real key. It is an exciting time and we will see disruptive technologies that will lead the way to a more democratic cloud. 

This is a key focus area for us at Denali AI. We are leading the way toward global inter-provider Cloud Transparency by leveraging innovative new technologies from partners such as Cisco.

In the coming weeks there will be pivotal announcements which will take us yet one step closer to Cloud nirvana. Well then again, as in all things, maybe not nirvana, but certainly better than the risk of lock-in we face today!

So in the end, the goal is to preserve profit for all, optimize with confidence, and trust that we can deliver solutions that meet the long term post-transformation goals our customers count on us for.

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