Chuck has just written a blog which was very similar to a blog that I was working and I agree with a lot of what he says but I’d take it a lot further and there are some interesting conclusions and potentials along the way which could open the market for interesting innovation going forward.
Chuck talks about storage as being software, go read his blog; there’s little I would disagree with there at all; well, until he starts talking about EMC products! However, I would go much further and suggest that we are getting to the stage where all infrastructure at a very real level is becoming software. Although I am not totally enamoured with the Intel-focussed monoculture, it has allowed a common hardware platform and it is flattening the playing field when it comes to hardware differentiation.
In fact, to differentiate your hardware is going to become increasingly expensive and hard, so why bother? Yes, there will be edge cases where hardware differentiation will be a key USP but in 90% of all use-cases; an Intel box assembled from bog-standard off-the-shelf parts will be good enough.
If we then factor in pervasive virtualisation in the data-centre; we have a platform which has become pretty much standardised and commoditised. I would like to see more ‘standardisation’ in the virtualisation arena but it’s not that bad at present and you really do not have that many choices.
So this has some interesting results; it lowers the cost of entry for new players in the market, if they no longer have to spend time developing a hardware platform and packaging their infrastructure product as a device but simply as a ‘soft appliance’; they can get it out there a lot quicker. If they can now rely on the virtualisation layer providing them with a common way of accessing hardware services; they can develop a lot quicker and they can try things much faster. The cost of failure is a lot less; it also allows integration with other types of infrastructure to be tested without a lot of expense; this is a plus for both the developer but also for the interested Infrastructure specialist.
The speed to market is greatly enhanced and they can get it front of idiots like me who will download the appliance and have a play and it’s not just storage appliances. There are products like Traffic Squeezer which do WAN Network Traffic Acceleration; there are more open-source router projects than you can shake a stick at.
I am slowly building a virtual Data Centre out of open source or at least free products; I want to see how far it would be possible to get. But I’m not suggesting that anyone would do this for real today, although I can see some Cloud providers having a really good bash at it. This approach probably would not make sense for most companies as a complete strategy but as part of a strategy, it may well be worth considering. There are large companies out there who invest in start-ups simply to develop stuff for them to use internally; the advent as ‘infrastructure as software’ without a huge investment in tooling up to build hardware means this a very viable approach for the biggest companies.
Google do it, Amazon do it but often you hear the comments, ‘Well they employ very clever people, so it’s easier for them!’ Well, don’t you employ clever people? Or are you saying that all your employees are second rate.
It took me a long time to come round to the idea that commoditisation and standardisation could drive innovation at all levels; I now believe that it could. It’s not just about more and more Web applications; it could drive a new wave of infrastructure innovation as well.
This leaves some interesting conflicts on the horizon for companies like VMware; perhaps VMware might want to get into infrastructure appliances but that would lead them into direct competition with the Mothership. Infrastructure as software; interesting times.
Here’s some links of things worth looking at or playing with, it possibly includes things which are not strictly infrastructure but are interesting anyway. Some are great, some not so great; some show great potential.
And of course, there is Ubuntu Server; which will let you build your own cloud for free; there are various ZFS-based storage appliances. You can build your own appliances as well, packaging up and integrating components in the way you want.
One area where EMC have shown great foresight and that is investing in the vSpecialist team and building a team out of diverse specialities because as infrastructure becomes software; the cross-over between the infrastructure disciplines will become even more mandated. Now the vSpecialist team may be very focused on the ‘EMC product set’ but if I was an SI or another vendor playing in this space; I would be looking at doing something very similar in the near future.
Infrastructure as software also drives IT process — if everything has APIs and can be automated, there's no excuse to be doing anything manually. This is the cloudy world we're headed towards!