The Riverbed Blog (testing)

A blog in search of a tagline

Distributed recentralization: Networks to eleven!

Posted by riverbedtest on April 8, 2011

Sun-needle It's a sunny Friday morning here in Seattle. (No, really.) On these rare times when prodigious quantities of warmth and light stream through the large south and east windows of my house, it's easy to let the daily fray subside for a bit and reflect on larger trends. Lately, I've noticed some interesting connections between cloud computing and user-centric IT.

A colleague recently spotted a couple articles that piqued my curiosity. In The virtual desktop: Everything old is new again, CRN's Edward Corriea describes how virtualization's initial appearance on mainframes faded away like an old pair of jeans, only to come back in fashion later: first on commodity x86 hardware and then as one of the core components of cloud computing. Next up is desktop virtualization, or VDI. Edward cites VDI's intense I/O requirements as one of the main shortfalls of large-scale VDI deployments. So many virtual clients, each performing profligate I/O itself, create a "VM I/O blender" on the physical hardware: constant random I/O kills disk performance.

Pc-toss In InformationWeek's 2011 End-user Device Survey, Jonathan Feldman chronicles the ongoing consumerization of corporate IT. Provocatively, he wonders whether it makes sense to hang on to the traditional corporate desktop. Android tablets and VDI are both making gains, he writes; yet fat desktops trapped in three-year replacement cycles and tied to expensive PC leases remain prevalent. Not everything is so gloomy, though. SaaS subscriptions are way up and for some organizations speed now trumps features: he's seeing tradeoff of screen size for portability. Jonathan's data show that organizations are now readying for true VDI, too. He goes on to describe how to free up IT funds to support comprehensive mobile device management, including the burgeoning BYOD ("bring your own device") movement. Jonathan concludes with sage advice: "The end user device paradigm shift offers significant opportunities for business technology innovation, but you'll miss out if you're purely focusing on span of control and defensive IT."

Reading these articles reminded me about a presentation on virtualization security I delivered at Microsoft TechEd a few years ago. I began that talk, as I frequently do, with a short retrospective. The "operating system" running on that hulking PC you bought in the late 1980s didn't have a whole lot to worry about: how much damage can one user running one application really cause? Eventually the operating system had to mature: first to enforce application boundaries so that multitasking would work, then to enforce user boundaries so that multiple people could share a computer. When hardware became powerful enough, software technology shifted: a hypervisor along with a finely-tuned host OS enforced guest OS boundaries so that multiple environments could share a server. A simple visual progression of these trust boundaries might look like this:


At this point, you might be wondering: "What's this got to do with user-centric IT and, wait, doesn't Riverbed sell network stuff?" Let me link these seemingly disparate elements together.

Unicorn Virtualization is, of course, one of the fundamental technologies that underlie cloud — providers can crank resource utilization to 11.  But a funny thing happened along the way to the user-centric IT concert: while the cloud offers seemingly infinite compute and storage, people learned the bandwidth to get there isn't all unicorns and rainbows. That phone or tablet of yours is a full-fledged computer, roomy and always connected. It's likely to be your primary means of accessing (and secondary means of storing) work-related stuff. The trends Edward and Jon highlight — more VDI, more BYOD, more SaaS, more mobility — all require network capacities that are expensive to build out and bump into inconvenient laws of physics.

We're entering an era I call distributed recentralization. As I ponder the simultaneous emergence of cloud computing and the move toward IT consumerization, it occurs to me that each one contributes to the sudden and continual growth of the other. We humans are creating and consuming massive amounts of data every day, a lot of it with consumer-type devices. Much of that information gets sent to and redistributed from the cloud. All this activity puts enormous pressures on network links — pressures that often can't be overcome just by buying a bigger pipe.

To-eleven We're passionate about WANs at Riverbed. WANs allow people to create, access, store, and compute information wherever it's convenient to do so — frequently at distance. Our expanding product line enables you to be as creative as you can be without worrying about network or storage constraints. Cloud and consumerization certainly don't imply that IT will become a commodity; indeed, the information an organization possess, and how it manipulates and shares that information, truly are competitive differentiators. Let us help you crank your differentiation to 11.

3 Responses to “Distributed recentralization: Networks to eleven!”

  1. A. Van Cleave said

    You make the comment “Virtualization is, of course, one of the fundamental technologies that underlie cloud”. I think I disagree, but I’m not sure.
    If I’m the customer, I’m buying capability (storage, processor, bandwidth, etc…). I probably don’t care if you deiver it on one Physical, one Virtual, many Physical or Virtual, whatever.
    If I’m the provider, I use Virtualization to “Go to 11”, but I may also have a large Compute Cluster selling CPU cycles. It wouldn’t be virtual.
    In either case, Virtualization is a capability the provider might use to get better utilization from the hardware, but it’s not a “fundamental technology” of the cloud, is it?

  2. I think it’s safe to say that without virtualization, the economies of scale that cloud offers would be difficult to achieve. Public clouds are inexpensive because the providers constantly strive to maximize utilization on their hardware. Furthermore, virtualization allows providers to standardize on a set of instance types that offer predicable performance regardless of the underlying hardware. If today a provider can run four instances of size X on a box, tomorrow they might run six. Customers benefit as prices continue to go down.
    So, in a way, I’d imagine that you would care. And as the technology matures even more, it’s possible to envision a simpler way of migrating virtualized on-premise workloads directly to a cloud without modification.

  3. A. Van Cleave said

    You’re right Steve. I do care as prices come down. But the real savings, I think, is when virtualization takes the next step and only runs my app and not a “Box” or even on a “Box”.
    My app should be loaded on a “cluster” of 10, 100, 1000 or more “boxes” and I simply buy/lease the CPU cycles, storage and bandwidth I need, static or dynamic.
    So while I don’t think that today virtualization is a core technology in the “Cloud” (I hate that term), I see it becoming very important as we begin virtualizing applications instead of Servers.

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