Archive for the ‘Cloud’ Category

Corporate SaaS app stores ready to go? VMware Horizon App Manager

May 24, 2011

Does your company consume any SaaS apps, yet? We do. Due to the success of Softcat and the speed with which we have grown, we recently invested in a new HR system – somewhere to track holidays, expenses, training and development etc. It’s great – I now have zero need to use a pen in a work context at last (still have to use them to sign birthday cards, but that’s it!). Unfortunately, the usernames and passwords are not (yet!) aligned with our AD – so there is no single sign-on. Being the awkward ‘user’ that I am, I of course forgot my username…

So I was thinking about this in readiness for this post, and you know what? We already consume a load of SaaS apps that I hadn’t really thought about in those terms. In fact, this is one of my ‘pet hates’ for this industry. Every vendor we deal with – Microsoft, VMware, HP, EMC etc – has a portal, full of really useful information, tech specs, knowledge bases etc. Really handy – but each one requires a different login – and usually a different password policy. Needless to say, there is no identity integration for any of these, so it is a management nightmare.

Over time, I think we will see more and more of this stuff – portals masquerading as SaaS apps (hell, the VMware one is driven by Salesforce.com) and pure SaaS apps, as organisations pursue a hybrid strategy – a mixture of maintaining infrastructure and applications for core services, and bringing in services from outside where that makes more sense.

VMware have for some time been talking about ‘Project Horizon‘, which was planned to address these issues. Well, the first stage of this is now live, with the launch of VMware Horizon App Manager. HAM, as I’m sure it won’t be abbreviated to, extends your corporate identity into cloud services, enabling single-sign on to services such as salesforce.com, Webex etc.

The end goal here, I think, is a ‘corporate app store’, a self-service portal whereby users can gain access to apps hosted both on internal infrastructure and delivered from ‘the cloud’. IT will be responsible for a service catalogue from which the business can select the relevant applications for their needs. Wouldn’t this be better than running around with a CD installing stuff?

There are a few future developments planned already, listed in the press release. There are a few extra I would like to see:

Workflow for requesting applications including line-of-business sign-off.

Metering – who is using what apps? This is an element of Software Asset Management, really – making sure that the software (or Software as a Service!) you have paid for is being used.

Automated de-provisioning of accounts triggered by an HR process – this strikes me as really important in the world of ‘cloud’. If someone leaves your organisation, how do you make sure they don’t still have access to your SaaS apps?

I’m sure we’ll see a profusion of identity services in this space, and I look forward to the day of any app on any device: secured, managed and catalogued by IT…

More from the always-insightful Brian Madden here.

VM as a transport layer

May 4, 2011

At Softcat, we love server virtualisation – it’s been great for our customers in terms of cost savings, agility, increased availability. It’s been great for our services and storage business as well. I do think sometimes that virtualisation is considered a panacea- if we virtualise, everything will be OK and the infrastructure will just take care of itself. That’s not strictly true, however, out of the box.

The virtualisation vendors do a cracking job of protecting workloads from an outage of the immediate hardware on which those workloads is running. No longer is your application tied to a particular server; instead the virtualisation layer will ensure that the VM running that app restarts somewhere else with the minimum of disruption. Don’t get me wrong, this is fantastic, and loads better than what we had before. It’s just that the virtualisation layer is by default blissfully unaware of what is going on outside of the areas it controls.

I blogged about this before in connection with Neverfail’s vApp HA product, and I’m pleased to note that Symantec have released their version, ApplicationHA, which I think validates my view that the infrastructure needs to know what is happening at the application level and react accordingly.

Yesterday, I spent a couple of hours with APC looking at their InfraStruxure Central software. Rather than looking up into the application, this software looks down into the facilities element of your datacentre. This enables it to inform your choice of virtualisation vendor of what is going on so that decisions can be made on the placement of virtual machines.

Take for example a rack where a UPS has died, or a power feed is unavailable. That might not immediately affect the workloads running there, but it might breach SLA in terms of redundancy, or increase risk to an unacceptable level. At a more simple level, it would mean that the VM layer could spread workloads out to less power-constrained racks, or those running cooler- something you would have to do by guesswork really today. Think about initiating DR arrangements before power fails entirely, or automatically when the UPS has to kick in? To take it a stage further, this could automate the movement of workloads around the globe according to power availability and of course power costs. ‘Follow the moon computing’ anyone?

For me this could elevate the status of System Center or vCenter to the controller for the whole of your infrastructure – taking a feed from apps, infrastructure and facilities and making intelligent decisions about the placement and movement of workloads, without any human involvement other than setting the parameters when it is set up.

Sounds ominously like a cloud, doesn’t it?

VMware SlideRockets into the productivity app space…

April 27, 2011

I woke up this morning to the news that VMware have acquired SlideRocket, a SaaS provider delivering an online presentation experience. I guess this is similar to Prezi, of which Robert Scoble is a big fan. Exciting times! VMware seem to be amassing a serious stack- infrastructure, app virtualisation (ThinApp), app delivery and PaaS (Springsource), database (Gemfire), messaging and collaboration (Zimbra), file-based backup (Mozy) and now productivity software.

Very interesting times afoot. Some have suggested that VMware might create or acquire an operating system (there was a fair bit of speculation about SuSE before Attachmate’s acquisition of Novell), but it seems to be that the strategy is more about designing an environment in which apps run directly on cloud infrastructure, and are delivered to any device. I think this is less about replacing the existing OS, and more about rendering it less and less relevant.

I wonder what’s next?

Office 365 and the hybrid cloud

April 20, 2011

We’re quite excited at Softcat about Office 365. Our managed services guys have been on the courses, we’re playing with the beta, and gearing up for it as it feels like Microsoft might have got it close to right this time. I gather there are still a few bits in terms of customisation still missing, but it’s certainly getting there. All we need now is a go-live date…

However, I read this article the other day, and whilst I agree with the overall positive sentiment, I don’t think Office 365 is a panacea. It might get rid of a lot of IT woes around running Exchange, SharePoint, OCS/Lync etc – but how many businesses run exclusively off those platforms? What about that ERP application, that HR programme, that finance system…..

I think that the implication that moving to Office 365 means that customers no longer need to run any IT is a fallacy. I’m sure we will get there, but it’s probably a few years off, yet! My strong view is that for the time being, most organisations will operate a hybrid model. Some services will be outsourced, and some will continue to run on premise (or in a datacenter).

Office 365 will work in this mode – which is great. But moving to ‘the cloud’ is not a single step – it is a journey!

Microsoft updates cloud licensing

March 30, 2011

The ‘cloud’ industry had some great news today – Microsoft are making their licensing rules significantly more cloud-service friendly.

Up until now, organisations taking cloud services using Microsoft software had to have their licensing covered through something called the SPLA model – the Service Provider Licensing Agreement. This specifically permits, in the EULA, delivery of services to a third party – something which is precluded under ‘traditional’ licensing. There were two issues with this – firstly that customers had frequently already invested in ‘on-premise’ licensing and were therefore having to double-purchase, and secondly the complexities around managing two models of licensing.

As of the 1st of July, Microsoft will issue updated Product Use Rights, which will grant customers with active Software Assurance (SA) the right to deploy certain server workloads (including Exchange, Lync, SQL, SharePoint and CRM) either on their own infrastructure or in ‘the cloud’. This means that the choice of how a customer consumes Microsoft technology is no longer constrained by a customer’s existing licensing investment (assuming they have SA, of course!).

An increase in customer choice can only be seen as an advantage – both for those customers, and for cloud providers who can now novate customers’ existing investments to their platform. Well done Microsoft!

The only downsides I can see are that desktop appears not to be included – so no hosted full desktop as a service (such services are available, but typically based on session-based desktops) and of course that access to these ‘license mobility enhancements’ is restricted to Software Assurance customers. But despite those two small downsides I applaud Microsoft for a forward-thinking move (and it is more of an incentive to include SA).

I can see our Software Asset Management Team will have to introduce a Cloud Licensing Mobility Readiness Assessment in fairly short order!

Gosh what a lot of cores: Intel E7000 boxes coming

March 29, 2011

Today, the Softcat team are out in force at the HP Gold Partner event in Gaydon. There’s an Intel stand here, and I had to share what they were showing off:

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So what is it? It’s the processor graphic for the latest Intel server processor – E7xxx – which comes out next week. 10 cores, and it will go in the four-socket boxes (DL580 and 980 in HP parlance). This means that it delivers 40 cores in a box- plus hyperthreading. So 80 threads in a single box.
Not only that, but it will support 2 Tb of memory – importantly with no speed drop. There’s also be built-in encryption with next to no overhead.
Think about it- VDI, OLTP, gaming, heavy virtualisation, finance where the database needs encrypting… Impressive stuff.

New lab box anyone?

To Cloud or not to Cloud, Part 2 (Cloud and the Channel)

February 17, 2011

Great article here from ESG on how service providers should work with and recognise the worth of the channel when it comes to positioning their services. I’m absolutely convinced that this is the case. I’m certain that there is a ‘service’ play here and a space for the trusted advisor to act as a ‘cloud broker’. I’m fairly certain that this cloud thing is a long-term play and a lot of organisations will have on- and off-premises infrastructure for a considerable amount of time. We as resellers can and should act as a bridge between these two worlds and offer some guidance through what is a complicated marketplace at present!

Chopping the spaghetti

February 1, 2011

My friend, and Microsoft technology evangelist John Westworth posted this blog recently about cloud silos and the new spaghetti infrastructure. I guess the implication is that organisations should, where possible, take the full cloud stack from a large vendor (such as Microsoft).

It feels to me as if this suggestion slightly sidelines the role of the channel. Let’s face it, we (resellers, SIs etc) have always integrated software (frequently and to a large degree from Microsoft), hardware and components of stacks from different vendors in order to (and this is the important bit) meet our customers’ business requirements. I don’t see this being significantly different in the cloudy world. We will have to evolve of course, but I am certain that there is a role for the channel partner as cloud broker, cloud service delivery manager, cloud integrator, cloud migrator… Not every organisation wants to deal with the vendors directly – there will be a service play around Cloud, of that I am certain.