What Makes a Good Vendor Conference

Short, sweet, and to the point. The folks at Actifio did it right in my opinion. I wasn’t paid in any way to attend. Obviously it’s self-serving but the focus was on giving back to the community when they held their eCloud Summit 2015 in Austin. It wasn’t a pitch focused around them as a company. This is how they did it right.

  • It was the perfect length. 2 days.
  • Keynotes followed by panels in the morning and early afternoon.
  • Unconference sessions in the mid afternoon until the end.

Why does this work well? The keynotes set the stage and if you don’t enjoy them, you can ignore them but they’re not persistent pitching. The panels were of users and partners with very open discussion. This means that the vendor isn’t dictating what is valuable to attendees, they’re letting a chosen few help shape things. They also didn’t dictate or try to shape what the panelists delivered.

Lastly there was an unconference portion of the conference. This isn’t new to those who have attended CloudCamps or other unconference-style events. However, this is new for vendor-sponsored conferences. In all honesty, there were a lot of attendees who this may have been new to but for those who tried something new, I think it was incredibly valuable.

I didn’t realize this was Actifio’s first self-organized conference because it seemed like they had been doing it for years. I have to give a lot of credit to Dylan Locsin and the team around him both above and below.

Am I an IT Dinosaur?


image courtesy http://flickr.com/photos/rooners on flickr

I’ve been spending a lot of time with customers lately as well as people who have an opinion how service providers can serve their customers better.  I need a reality check from someone, anyone, because I’m hearing two seemingly conflicting messages.

Let me set the stage.  We’re talking about the solutions that enterprise customers who have some internal application development and quite a few enterprise applications and workloads.

From vendors: “Our customers need a solution that is competitive with AWS.  It needs to be developer centric where people can spin up instances and deploy to the cloud using services like scalable database (RDS), load balancing (ELB), and autoscaling.”

From customers: “We need to have a cloud offering.  But does it integrate with our federated authentication and authorization?  We need guaranteed IOPs.  Can we isolate networks?  Can we have custom SNMP monitoring?  Can we deploy our own images?  Can we do this with bare metal as well as a virtualized IaaS platform?  What logging data can we get for our audits?  Can we restrict access to the provisioning portal from other tenants?  Can we also isolate storage or do turn-key data-at-rest encryption?  Can we control the keys?  Can we deploy our own network appliances or load balancing tools?  Is there an option for U.S. 24×7 support only?  Oh by the way, this needs to be cheap, pay by the drink and competitive with AWS.”

Here’s where I’m confused.  A friend and colleague, Greg Alheim (absent from the blogosphere and social media because he’s too busy solving complicated “My-mess-for-less-but-give-me-an-f’ing-cloud” issues for customers coined the term “quadracorn” for me.  I realized, Mr. Customer, you’re asking me for a quadracorn.  Yes.  You’re asking me for a unicorn with four horns and we’re almost up to eight horns.  You’re asking me for a octocorn.  But at this point I think I’m turning into someone who can’t program a VCR or some other outmoded form of technology.  I’m questioning if I really understand what will help a customer trying to modernize IT. 

When I was at Joyent I thought I came to this realization that new “cloud” technology like PaaS and very simple IaaS was where service providers needed to focus their efforts if they wanted to capture a lot of revenue.  The reality I thought I discovered was that the same reality existed in enterprise IT that did back when I was an end-user.  It’s a complicated morass of legacy systems and governance that won’t go away and still occupy the bulk of IT spending.  But… Many if not most of the conversations I have these days seem to end with the comparison to AWS.

So what do enterprise customers want?  Why do I focus on them?  Because my impression is that they spend a lot of money and time worrying about legacy IT and how to manage it better, not just deploy some shared-nothing new application architecture.

Where would you focus your efforts as a vendor?  Are enterprise IT departments asking for an octocorn?  Look… I know legacy stuff isn’t all shiny and new.  It’s not “cool”, but a business isn’t just in the business of “cool”.  They can’t throw away existing acquisitions, systems, people, and processes that they’ve accumulated over the years.  Am I a dinosaur?  What would you do?

DrupalCon: Content management, opensource and the enterprise

A couple of weeks ago Savvis we sponsored DrupalCon 2013 in Portland.  We’re known as an enterprise cloud provider so why did we do this?

A couple of reasons:

1) We launched some Drupal-specific offerings around hosting and cloud instances.

2) We want to get closer to developers, they’re important.

3) We can bring our experience running enterprise workloads to a disruptive CMS platform.

4) We built this city on rock’n’roll. Ok no we didn’t but we’re definitely continuing the process of innovating as we always have.

I was able to spend some time with Holly Ross who is an executive director at the Drupal Foundation and Joaquin Lippincott at Metal Toad Media.  It was interesting discussing the CMS market, disruption by opensource, governance models and a whole slew of other things like glitter dusted unicorns.  Have a listen if you’re interested in hearing more.

What’s exciting to me is getting closer to the application owners and developers.  They have a lot of importance in an organization these days.  As we continue to go after this market (developers in the enterprise and developers in general) I’d love to hear from you if you have an opinion about how service providers can service them better. 

Drupal is an extremely flexible platform but it takes a bit of skill to get it running and customized.  Holly said ease of use is one of the big focuses of Drupal 8.  We talked about how people get lazy and use what they know (e.g. WordPress) and then end up with something hacked together and limited in functionality.  

It’s obvious that opensource platforms need a good balance between the geeks who write the guts and people who know usability.

The Semi-regular What-Ed’s-Up-To Update:

It’s been awhile and a lot of change has happened since my last update.  I left Inktank back in February to pursue some interesting opportunities at Savvis.  My experience at Inktank was nothing short of lively.  For the first time in my career I had a non-technical focus as the Director of Alliances and Channels.  I helped put a program together and build partnerships with the likes of Intel, Alcatel-Lucent, Canonical, Suse and more.  I’ve worked on alliance teams before and have been in the reseller channel so I had a bit of exposure to both but I learned a lot trying to boot things from the ground up with some seeds that were already planted.  I got to spend time in the U.S. and abroad in places like Amsterdam, Barcelona and  Tel-Aviv.

Enter the next chapter at a cloud service provider.  I joined Savvis three months ago.  Yes, my former colleague and boss at Joyent, Jonathan King, had surfaced an opportunity for us to work together again at Savvis and I jumped at the opportunity.  I joined the Chief Scientist Organization, Ken Owens, as Director of Applied Research.  I’m doing the usual mix of roadmap and strategy discussions with customers but where it gets really interesting is the other stuff.  I’ve got responsibility for Competitive Intelligence, Proof of Concepts and User Personas.  All areas I’ve touched on before but never with this level of focus.  It’s been interesting being so much closer to the product and navigating the waters while we lead Savvis forward in the cloud.  I work with a great group of people and honestly it’s been fun adapting back into a large organization.  I feel like all of my skills I’ve developed over the years are being used simultaneously which is wonderful.  So here’s to the next chapter.

#FutureCloud Think Tank

Dell and VMware invited a diverse group of people to come to San Francisco for a day to have an open discussion around a number of different cloud-related topics.  I jumped at the chance to go and participate.  The event was live streamed on Justin.tv for people to view and we had a healthy dose of participation from twitter. The discussion was quite intense and lively.  David Linthicum moderated the two sessions in the morning and Robert Scoble came in to moderate the sessions in the afternoon.

There were four sessions, Mobile and the Cloud, The Business of Enterprise Cloud, Influence of Government on Cloud Adoption and The Future of Cloud Computing.  The opinions were flying fast and furious with a lot of gems said on Twitter.

So what were my highlights?

There was a clear divide in the conversation about cloud adoption between those who deal with more web-centric workloads and legacy enterprise workloads.  The problem was those two views were trying to discuss opposing views which really apply differently to each side.  There’s also a strong view on governments and law being huge potential barriers to the economic benefit of cloud.  We spent a lot of time discussing the balance of privacy and openness as things like Big Data make the aggregation of personal information more visible.

I think Dell and VMware did a amazing job putting the event together.  My only feedback is that sometimes it seemed like the gloom-and-doom chamber and it would’ve been good to have a couple of people on the panel from the enterprise and agile startup world who talked about cloud successes.  It was great to be part of the discussions which many incredible individuals.  I’ve included the list of attendees below.

#Disclaimer – Dell and VMware paid for my travel and accommodations for this trip.

Where Am I Going? Inktank.

As some of you may have heard, I’m leaving Joyent.  I’ve learned a lot along the way and enjoyed the experience immensely.  Jason Hoffman and the team there have been incredible to work with.  We accomplished quite a bit while I was there including building a channel, starting an adoption program, deploying SmartDataCenter in major enterprises as both green field non-legacy clouds and internal IT clouds.  Telefonica just stood up their public cloud offering which is based on Joyent’s SmartDataCenter.  It’s been a great run.

So where am I off to now?  I’m headed to Inktank.  What does Inktank do?  Inktank delivers support and professional services for Ceph which is an opensource scale-out storage technology that provides object, file and block services.  Ceph is cloud platform agnostic as well.  Yes, I’m headed a bit back towards the storage world.  I’ll be working with customers and alliance partners to help them build and deploy solutions based around Ceph.  They’re based in LA and opening up an office in Sunnyvale so you’ll still see me around the Bay area a bit.

Agents of Same vs. Agents of Change.

I’ve been working closely with a large telco to deploy SmartDataCenter from Joyent and it hasn’t been much different from other journeys to evolve development, operations and IT in general.  What I notice most is the agents of change versus the agents of same.

There’s a constant fixation on the things an individual feels they control in their environment.  If I’m the network admin, I control everything around network connectivity, security and operations.  If I’m the storage admin, I control everything around information storage space the organization can consume.  When elements of change come into a person’s world there tends to be an immediate dismissal of the force of change.

Here’s the thing.  I’ve noticed that there are a handful of people who want to be agents of change and a handful of those who don’t.  The agents of change aren’t asking you to throw away all you know and give up the responsibility you’ve always had.  They’re asking you to be a part of a movement.

Why do I waste my breath on this?  Because people still need periodic reminders that we’re in one of the most exciting times in technology.  It’s important because being an “Agent of Same” has the potential to screw not only your organization over but your brothers and sisters in technology as well.

Dell Storage Forum 2011 – Storage and Social Media

I spent the a couple of days hanging out with Greg Knieriemen, Christina Weil and Gina Rosenthal at Dell Storage Forum 2011 last week.  The main driver was meeting people and doing Infosmack Live.

It was a lot of fun meeting many new faces and talking to Dell product and executive teams.  There were a number of things I was impressed with.  The first is that Dell is doing very well at is fostering a community.  The conference was small and Gina along with her team did awesome at pulling things together.  There was a lot of accessibility and comparatively more so than I had experienced with other vendors.

I got to do the Silicon Angle TV thing again and it was a blast.  John McArthur and Cali Lewis interviewed me about Cloud in general.  I spent a bit of time talking about Joyent and the things I’m seeing in both public and private cloud.  You can see the spot here.

Dell is doing well is not letting innovation with their acquisitions die.  That was evident in their FS7500 NAS release which integrates Exanet with their Equalogic arrays.  True to form, it’s easy to use just as Equalogic has been in the past.  I’m sure Dell will integrate this with their Compellent storage as well.  This will suit the markets Dell serves very well.  The other big theme was fluid data which continues the theme that data should be able to federate between storage platforms.  It will be interesting to see how this comes to market.

There are still some challenges in front of Dell though like selling all of their storage lines in a single sales motion instead of being fragmented.  They also need to ensure that Dell partners don’t cut out Compellent partners from their relationships with customers.

I spent 15 or so minutes talking to Michael Dell while we were at the Infosmack Live event.  The things that I tried to impress is that they need to keep innovating.  I also mentioned that they should offer a full stack play similar to Vblock, Flexpod or HP Matrix.  I know they’ve known about this for a long time but there still isn’t a Dell answer and there should be.

Overall it was great to be a part of the event and I felt like Dell wasn’t languishing even if you look at IDC numbers.  Now it’s up to them to execute.  Hats off to all the Dell people who pulled off a nice intimate conference!  It was wonderful to meet everyone.

Where have I been? Driving disruption.

I’ve been at Joyent for nearly four months now.  Time is flying.  It’s been busy.  What have I been doing?  I’ve been busy driving disruption and it’s a blast.  Everyone wants to talk to us.  Sometimes they understand immediately how we’re different and other times it takes time to sink in.

I’m meeting with a lot of the same customers I met with when I was at EMC.  Vblock’s and VMware solve challenges with existing legacy workloads and Joyent is there to help transition to the new way people are deploying applications.  The disruption in the enterprise has never been as evident as it has been now.  The innovation groups within enterprises want ITaaS and don’t care about the infrastructure sitting below because they’re designing high availability and scalability into their applications.  The IT groups struggle with this because they’ve spent years choosing standards, policies and procedures.  Joyent delivers a platform that delivers burstability, fast I/O and introspection.  That should be a requirement in any platform used to deliver applications, period.  Now add full-blown RESTful APIs that enable integration, orchestration and auto-scaling.  This means IT groups can integrate their processes while still giving true ITaaS.  It’s a powerful cocktail.

Enough about the product for now.  So where have I been?  I’ve been traveling a lot aside from the last couple of weeks.  A lot of customer meetings and then Interop in May.  Where will I be over the coming months?

June 5th-9th: Dell Storage Forum w/ the Infosmack crew

June 22nd-23rd: GigaOM Structure

August: Defcon

September: Bitnorth (Awesome crowd)

Joyent – A platform

Before starting at Joyent, I followed them and the evolution of their platform for years.  How they tackled scalability and instrumentation has always appealed to me.  I’ve realized the platform covers a lot of use cases and is extremely compelling.  I’ve talked previously about new ways to solve legacy enterprise infrastructure issues but there other ways of handling the challenges of newer more distributed workloads.

Here’s how Jason Hoffman (friend and Founder/Chief Scientist at Joyent) puts it:

The Physical Machine business is a “machine” business. The Virtual Machine business is still a “machine” business. The virtual machine is not the abstraction that is equivalent to a packet in the network. Fundamentally, being tied to a machine matters to a person, it doesn’t matter to an application and in fact causes there to be hits in performance, scale and it’s all a black box (can’t comprehend everything).

We come from networking and ask ourselves, “How can we extend the days when the cloud we drew was just the network and enable the same abstractions, economics and models into servers? Into the rest of the datacenter? So that we may have the same type of multitenancy for compute that we have for networking.”

What is Joyent’s stack?  It’s a platform first and foremost.  What’s part of the platform?

This image from a slide deck lays it out.

A SmartOS kernel – It’s based on unix and all the unimportant fat has been cut from it.  It’s lean, scalable and provides QoS *and* introspection all throughout the stack.  Yes, we’re a software development company and we have kick ass kernel hackers that are brilliant.  We also have some unbelievable UI/UX folks on board who know how to make stuff *usable*.  Bryan Cantrill of Dtrace fame and formally of Sun/Oracle leads engineering.

A platform to build on – What do you want to run?  Do you want to run a Windows/Linux/WhateverVM?  Go ahead.  We can’t provide you deep introspection but into the application but we can tell you what your VM is doing.  Use SmartMachines (container-based single kernel “virtualization) and you get introspection at ALL levels.  Why would you use the native container-based SmartMachines?  Because, what you care about is applications, not what OS is running underneath.  You want to run Apache, Nginx with CouchDB, MongoDB, MySQL, Oracle or Riak go for it.  Oh and by the way, when your app blows up because you rushed the code, we have the diagnostics and visuals that can meaningfully tell you why your app is caving.  Can you run Java on us?  You can. It’s that simple.  You can build out templates and deploy them easily. This is cloud.  It’s ITaaS. Pull the trigger and it’s yours.

Now… for the really cool stuff. Ryan Dahl at Joyent developed something (open-sourced) called node.js. What is it?  It’s server-side javascript which is a 4gl language.  It’s essentially PaaS.  You use git to push your code and it’s up and running in the cloud.  Why did Joyent do that?Because at the end of the day when you need insane bandwidth and high transaction capabilities, you’re willing to sacrifice legacy capabilities to get the performance you need.  Not only that but node.js is tiny, lightweight and can run on the server or something as small as a cell phone.

Let’s boil it down.  Is Joyent SmartDataCenter a replacement for VMware?  Yes and no.  At service providers like Verizon, Terremark and many others, it can be a compliment to an existing IaaS offering. The main target isn’t legacy enterprise use cases that need HA at the IaaS level.  But it’s a very good fit for workloads that need a lot of elasticity and dynamic scalability.  Instead of constraining resources, a user can use as much of the box that is free while still preserving QoS to the other instances.

Has anyone used this stuff? Yes, Joyent has run its own cloud for 6 years and we figured out that having other SPs deploy Joyent as a cloud solution is something we’re willing to tackle.  It’s what LinkedIn, Gilt group, Disney, Facebook developers and many others have been using for awhile now.

If you’re more curious about Joyent’s approach, you can read more here.