Private vs. Public Cloud and the Shift to SDDC
A Q&A with David Hoff
David Hoff is the Chief Technology Officer and a co-founder of Cloud Sherpas, the three-time Google Enterprise Partner of the Year for Google Apps. Hoff has a deep knowledge of public cloud technologies, and has spoken at Google IO, ThinkStratgies Cloud Channel Summit and has an MBA focused on Technology Management. Previously, Hoff was at Optimus Solutions (acquired by SoftChoice), where he was the Managing Director of eBusiness services.
How are large companies trending these days when deciding between private, hybrid and public cloud infrastructure?
Hoff: We’re seeing more organizations skipping the on-premises and private cloud route because of the economies of scale in the public cloud. In some cases, a company may need to keep an application on premises, and that’s usually more efficient than creating a new private cloud to host it. We have found that most companies have greater ambitions than what they can build themselves in a private cloud setting. It’s about leveraging what’s already out here.
What’s the latest with enterprise adoption of cloud apps?
Hoff: One of the lessons we have learned, and one that our customers embrace, is to determine what apps deliver a strategic advantage. The others, such as email, collaboration and HR, make enormous sense to migrate to the public cloud. These are the applications where you have a very large user base, many of them working remotely and from mobile devices, and a requirement for speed and uptime. Move those apps out of the data center and focus your internal resources on apps that are more competitive. We have also seen a lot of interest in containerization for bringing virtualization to the application layer. There are two forces behind this: the first is centered around efficiency. For a given workload scaled over many virtual machines, each instance includes a full operating system. For the same workload in a container, there is only one OS instance. In practice, this can reduce the number of servers (or compute costs) by anywhere from 20 to 50%. Containerization also delivers speed; new containers can be spun up in seconds, whereas starting new virtual machines usually takes more than 10 minutes. Large companies are also beginning to re-architect legacy applications to work in the cloud.
Recently, you wrote about the 7 tech trends that will impact businesses in 2015, touching upon the software-defined data center. How’s that evolving and why?
Hoff: In IT, whether I depend on AWS or Google or Microsoft or my own software-defined data center (SDDC), I can free up a significant portion of IT resources to do more sophisticated things. I can deploy a dozen servers in a few hours instead of a few weeks. This benefit extends to networking, storage and databases, and I can deliver access to the entire infrastructure through a Web browser control panel. That alone is an enormous benefit to becoming more agile. There’s also better cost management. Because the billing is now visible at the granular resource level, we can align IT costs with business goals in a more streamlined fashion. It used to be hard if not impossible to associate specific infrastructure to specific applications in the on-premises world. Most application costs were lumped into the big bucket of data center spending. Now there’s more accountability, because I can map specific virtual workloads back to the business. I can see that I am spending $100 per user for the CRM application, and if I’m not getting any business value from that, then there’s a decision to make.
Naturally this isn’t always easy to do, making the shift to SDDC?
Hoff: No, it’s a pretty fundamental shift for IT. People are accustomed to touching and seeing the equipment in the data center. Yet no longer having to deal with hard drive failures is a nice trade-off. SDDC also gives you a lot of flexibility. You can optimize resources by distributing workloads across multiple servers with the click of a button. Through monitoring, you can ensure that the organization is getting value from the services. That’s all positive, but the tasks of many IT people are becoming quite different. It’s about dealing with vendors and immersing yourself in the business. You’ve also got to embrace DevOps because it will bring much tighter linkage between all the parties that are bringing applications into production. These are all good challenges, but it’s not for everyone. If someone still wants to tinker with hard drives, this new job will not be very interesting. IT organizations should be accustomed to change occurring every three to five years: this is just another cycle.
But the cycle of change occurring in IT right now seems more dramatic. How is it different than previous cycles?
Hoff: Twenty years ago you’d go to the office to get all the latest technology. The company would provide everything that you needed. That’s of course flipped on its head now. Many people at large companies feel stifled by the technology that their IT department can provide. Consumer technologies, on the other hand, are more liberated and sophisticated. There is a divide between what workers want, and what IT can deliver, and that creates tension.
How do the trends we discussed–cloud, software defined infrastructure– influence IT operations?
Hoff: IT employees are getting more involved in the business. Progressive CIOs are taking steps to embed IT people in the business units. I really think this is effective and there’s less of a fence between IT and the business. It’s about making decisions that are meaningful to the business, even down to the server level. Yet this integration with the business demands soft skills that IT people don’t always have.
How does one gain those soft skills?
Hoff: Lead by example. IT employees should see the CIO engaging regularly with the business, not really talking about technology but business results. And then, the CIO needs to use that language inside the department on a regular basis. That mindset and those concepts will begin to permeate across the organization. The context needs to change from thinking about work from a pure technology perspective to rethinking everything from the business perspective.