Saturday, October 16, 2021

Hybrid Cloud and Hyperconverged Infrastructure (HCI)

Early in the evolution of cloud computing – say, about 2012 – many pundits said the public cloud would make data centers obsolete. Yet here in 2021, data centers remain very much alive, with the hybrid cloud providing the crucial link from the legacy world of hulking data centers to the next-gen environment of hyperscale cloud.

Indeed, hybrid cloud has earned a place as a default enterprise technology. This is true despite the fact that Gartner predicts that by 2025, 80% of enterprises will shut down their traditional data centers.

A key technological linchpin in hybrid cloud is hyperconverged infrastructure, or HCI. Once mostly hardware, today HCI software is undergoing rapid adoption. Software-defined, benefitting from API technology, HCI allows sophisticated and flexible cloud management.

To explore the rapid growth of hybrid cloud and HCI, I will speak with Wendy M. Pfeiffer, CIO, Nutanix. Among the questions we’ll discuss:

  • What’s your sense of where companies are in the cloud journey, and is hybrid cloud merely a transition, or is it the new default?
  • What role does HCI software play in the hybrid cloud?
  • Where is the HCI market, looking out several years in the future? The market reached an impressive $2 billion in revenue in Q3 2020. What key trends and technologies do you see shaping the HCI market going forward?
  • The larger picture of enterprise IT: Why does enterprise tech seem to lag the functionality of consumer tech? Will IT ever catch up?

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Edited highlights from the interview:

If I look back at the prehistoric history of the cloud, way back in the year 2012, many pundits said, “the public cloud will make the data center obsolete.” But here we are in 2021, the data center’s very much alive, which means, of course, that hybrid cloud is very much alive because it connects the data center and the public cloud. Yet we’re in this period of rapid shifting. Gartner predicts that by 2025, 80% of data centers will be shutdown. Of course, Gartner’s not always right. What is your sense of where companies are in their cloud journey? Is hybrid cloud the default now? Is the war over and hybrid cloud has won, or is this just a transition?

Oh my gosh, I love this question. First of all, I love John Madden, and John Madden always says that pundits are guys who aren’t in the game. And I have a lot of respect for the pundits, but most of them sort of over-index on technology for technology’s sake.

So there was a great survey that was just completed by Vanson Bourne, it’s the third year in a row. It’s called the Enterprise Cloud Index. Every year, they ask more than 3,000 CIOs, CTOs, VPs and above in IT around the world what is their ideal operating model. This year, the 2020 survey, 86% of the 3,400 people polled said that, “Hybrid is the ideal operating model for me.” That’s current data. Now, this doesn’t mean, “I don’t want to be in public cloud.” It doesn’t mean, “I don’t… I only want to be on-premises.”

What this means is, “I want the optionality to run workloads in the place that makes the most sense at the time, and to change things up.” And in order to do that, we need some components.

One of the components is, “We need underlying infrastructure that makes flexible use of the associated resources,” and that’s the sort of the magic of hyperconverged. So hyperconverged infrastructure essentially says, “I can treat my on-premises infrastructure the same way the public cloud vendors do. I can dynamically, elastically assign resources to the workloads based on the needs of those workloads.”

And so if I’m operating in a mode where I can do that both on-premises and in public cloud, then I’m truly operating in a hybrid mode, and there’s all kinds of benefits and economies of scale to that. I can very easily spin up infrastructure, whether on-premises or in public cloud, and I can write the code once and re-use it everywhere, this thing that IT calls infrastructure-as-code.

The Value of Hybrid Technology

If we use technology and electricity in the way that we managed steam [in the steampunk era], then it won’t work, right? We need new modes of operating. But now, we can turn those new modes of operating back to our old technology and things like hybrid engines. The Prius is a wonderful example of gas and electrical.

And it’s been more successful than any purely electric car or purely gas vehicle because that mixed mode is the mode that allows us the flexibility, and the range, and the capacity, and so on. And so this is one of those moments where we’re in this transition, and we can take the best of all worlds.

Is HCI software almost a synonym for cloud management these days? In essence, how does HCI work with hybrid cloud?

One of the things that we want to be able to do with our cloud, which is just our place that we operate, is to get the best possible use out of our capacity. The best possible performance, the best possible capacity.

For example, it’s the difference between, let’s say that I have 100 barrels of oil to transport across the desert. I can get 100 Jeeps and 100 drivers, and I can drive those 100 barrels of oil individually across the desert, and I might lose a few along the way. Or I can put them all on a single train, and that train can make its way across the desert, it will expend, we now know the metrics on this, 100,000th of the fuel. The 100 barrels of oil will arrive more quickly, and so on.

It’s the same idea when we’re talking about hyperconverged infrastructure. Hyperconverged infrastructure is like the train and the train tracks versus the 100 Jeeps of all of these, “Hey, I’ve got storage, I’m doing it this way. I’ve got network, I’m doing it this way. I’ve got compute, I’m doing it this way across five different locations.”

When we look at hyperconverged, we say, “Look, I’m using all the power of the engine and all the structure of the tracks to do the heavy-lift. By the way, behind all that is multiple different cars with multiple different loads and multiple different storage methods and containment methods and uses at the other end, but I’m putting the infrastructure to work in a way that is most efficient.” And that’s all that hyperconverged is.

And so what we’re saying here is we can use the same theory for how we utilize and access resources in the hyperscalers data centers as we do on-premise.

If we use that same, the exact same code for how we access storage and compute. That is, an operating system running storage and compute on hardware in a public cloud vendor’s data center and/or on-premise, the minute we start doing that, then we get to behave the way that people do when they spin up a workload in public cloud. We get to write controlling code and operating code once, and use it the exact same code everywhere. We get to do software-defined things. We get to do DevOps in an IT way.

Enterprise Tech vs. Consumer Tech

My perspective is that the past was just wiped out. And so I’m not gonna opine on whether or not we’re old and slow, but today, a huge percentage of the global workforce is working remotely. And so what we’re doing is we have dropped enterprise technology into the milieu of consumer technology, and it’s swimming in that pool.

And what’s happening is our employees, in order to be productive, which is core to IT’s mission, our employees are having to blend those two, and they’re making choices based on how they work, what they’re comfortable with, etc. And so this has led to a proliferation of consumer tools being intermixed with enterprise tools and us having to figure out how to secure that, how to support that, how to make that performant.

In some cases, employees are choosing consumer tools over enterprise tools because they are more productive from their home environments. And even the enterprise tools are massively changing. For example, we’re speaking over Zoom, and you may have noticed that Zoom has added some new filters. Now, there are all kinds of things. You can put a funny hat on or glasses, all kinds of things, right?

It’s very consumer. That’s blended in an enterprise app now because the people using that enterprise app and paying for that enterprise app have come to rely on some of those features as part of how they communicate.

And so we’re seeing that blending happen and we’re seeing acceleration of that blending happen, but also, in short, IT needs to be less precious, less egotistical about the things that we’re offering.

And we need to securely and performantly and cost-effectively open up our environments, our ecosystem to all of the players in that ecosystem. We are richer, more productive, our employees are happier when they are interacting with the capabilities that we provide in ways that are personalized and ways that involve choice.

And ultimately, that’s the secret to consumer tech. The secret to consumer tech is that I can choose to use the things that are natural to me. I can choose to use the things that are delightful to me. And look, if we have employees using things that are natural and using things that are delightful, we have math that says those employees are more productive, and that is better for our companies and our societies and all of those things.

And so employee happiness ties to employee productivity, ties to the interaction design and the way that they are connecting with technology, especially accelerated right now during this time of mostly remote work.

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