Load Balancing In An Ever More Demanding Virtualized & Cloudy World

We’ve been using the Kemp Loadmasters for many years now and they have served us very well. You might know that Microsoft Azure has a partnership with Kemp technologies to provide full featured load balancing in your public & hybrid cloud solutions. I pretty happy with that as when talk about load balancing with Microsoft we always end up discussing the need for more features and layer 7 support. I sometimes jokingly tease them that this is due to their Windows NLB legacy. While I have done some magic with that, it is way too limited for today’s (and yesterdays) demands and needs. Also the hacks they use to get it to work can’t be used in network virtualization. In the cloud Microsoft has the Azure Load Balancer. Whilst nice when combined with availability sets many of the current workloads need more. That’s exactly what the KEMP Virtual LoadMaster for Azure delivers in their partnership with Microsoft:

  • Layer 4, Layer 7 Load Balancing
  • Layer 7 (or Cookie) Persistence
  • SSL Offload/SSL Acceleration
  • Application Health Checking
  • Adaptive (Server Resource) Load Balancing
  • Layer 7 Content Switching
  • Application Acceleration: HTTP Caching, Compression & IPS

To me (and many other IT Pros) Kemp is the company that opened load balancing up to everyone on this planet with budget friendly but high value solutions. They took away the barrier to better & more capable load balancing for the masses. Furthermore they keep improving and I have seen many existing customers, including me get ever more benefits with the newer firmware releases, even on their entry level, older models like the LM2200 that are not for sale anymore. So you can keep using them or move them to the lab. They have great support and respond very quickly to vulnerabilities like Heartbleed, Shellshock and Poodle.

image 

Another benefit of this partnership is that we can use the load balancing solution we know and trust in all our environments: on premises (physical or virtual appliance), in the cloud & at our hosting companies. Partner ships with OEMs ensure that you can use the hardware you prefer (the DELL R320 is a nice example) and their Virtual Load Master now even extends into the cloud. So our options are to …

… deploy an appliance …

image

…  virtualize the LoadMasters …

image

… leverage Kemp in the cloud

image

…. or select your own preferred OEM …

image

They cover all our bases with that line up and it helps with operational ease & efficiencies.

As I’m investigating some scenarios with KEMP LoadMasters in a Hyper-V environment (on premises, multi sites, Azure IAAS & Multifactor Authentication you can expect to see some blog posts on this. Some of these will leverage technologies available in Windows Server vNext (Technical Preview). Lot’s of very interesting ideas to support high availability & flexibility that are affordable and not just point solutions.

Ah the joy of being in virtualization is that one gets great exposure to storage, networking, cloud solutions and on premises. The experience & knowledge of the entire stack isn’t just fun (yes working can be fun) but it is also what allows to build great solutions.

Is there longevity in Private & Hybrid Clouds?

This blog is just thinking out loud. Don’t get upset Smile

Private & hybrid clouds demand economies of scale or high value business

Let’s play devils advocate for a moment a look with a very critical eye at private & hybrid clouds. Many People are marketing, selling and buying private & hybrid clouds today. Some of us are building them ourselves, with or without help. Some of us even have good reasons to do so as it makes economical sense to do so. But for many that do it or consider doing it that might not be the case. It depends.

Why are so many marching to the beat of those drums? It’s being marketed as great, it’s being sold as what you need and that’s what makes money for many people. But one can say the same of Porsches, but chances are you’re not buying those as company cars. Well it’s perhaps a bit like VDI. If you have a use case that’s economically sound, design and implement it well, it will serve your needs. But it’s not for everyone as it can be expensive, complex & restrictive.

You want your cloud to be this:

AZurenice

Not this:

cloudnasty

To get great results you’ll need to do more than throw your money at vendors. So what’s the real motivation to do private/hybrid clouds for companies? If the answer is “well so many people are doing it, we can’t ignore it”. Well not doing something is not ignoring it, it’s a valid choice as well. And what others do isn’t relevant per definition. You need to know what you do where and why to make plans & choose technologies to achieve your goals. Think about what you do. When does a private/hybrid cloud make sense? How big do you need to be? What kind of delta should you have to make this worth while, i.e. how many VMs do you deploy per week? How many do you destroy each week?  What economies of scale must you have to make it wise? What kind of business? What are your pain points you’re trying to solve? What are you trying to achieve? Private clouds today are not void of complexity and there a are few abstraction layers that are at the quality/functionality level they need to be at.

My biggest concern here is that too many companies will build expensive, complexes private & hybrid clouds without ever seeing the return on investment. Not just because of the cost, complexity but also because they might not be very long lived for the use cases they have today. Many see these as transition models and they are great for that. The question is how good are you at transitioning? You don’t want to get stuck in that phase due to costs of complexity. What if the transition lasts to long and you complete it when public cloud has evolved into services that wipe away what the reasons your TCO/ROI was based on?

Note: as cloud means everything to every one you could call doing on premise & Office 365 + backup to the cloud also hybrid. So in that case Hybrid is a better fit for many more organizations.

Things are moving fast

Cloud offers are increasing at the speed of light and prices are dropping in free fall. While some say that’s a race to the bottom, it’s not. This is an all out battle which is raging to grab as much market share as possible. When the dust of this settles who’ll be left? Google, Amazon and Microsoft. They’re not loss leaders, they have a purpose and only they know the financial picture behind their solutions.

image

From there they’ll defend a fixed and entrenched position.  Where will that lead us? Stalemate and rising costs? Or a long term tug of ware where mutual assured bankruptcy will make sure prices won’t rise too much … until some game changing event that breaks it all open. For many people IAAS is still (too) expensive and non of the cloud vendors seem to run a profit, all this at ever lower prices. Sounds like a price hike will be in order once the market shares have been grabbed. But have people really calculated the cost of on premise? Can one compete? Or is the benefit of on premise worth the cost? Oh and I take on premise as being anything that even resembles racks in local or regional data centers running a cloud stack on it for you. Now I have to admit that in my region of the world most cloud hosters are not on a level of professionalism & scale like they are in the Nordics for example.

SAAS, PAAS, IAAS

That’s my order of preference actually. I think SAAS & PAAS are the areas where cloud really shines. IAAS can be a great solution for many needs but I don’t see it as ready yet a a whole sale replacement of on premise.  While many offerings in IAAS are not perfect yet and there are many blocking issues to be solved there is a lot of value in the cloud when you do it right for your needs. If you have a very modern and optimized IT infrastructure IAAS can feel like a step back right now but that will change in the right direction over the next 2 to 3 years I think. And as during that time frame you start using SAAS & PAAS more en more I which means improved IAAS will be able to cover (all?) your remaining needs better. Again, you need to things that deliver fast or you run high (financial) risks.

Intersecting fields of fire

In this race at light speed,which cloud vendor is best? If you want and need to have all bases covered I think it’s reasonably safe to say Microsoft holds the most complete port folio from IAAS, PAAS, SAAS & Cloud storage. They’re now throwing in MPLS networks (http://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/services/expressroute/)  to tie it into hybrid scenarios which should take last century VPN technology out of the picture. Some more standardization in network virtualization, flexibility and capabilities would be welcome as well. But in the end will it matter? People might choose based on possible use cases or capabilities but if you don’t need them that’s a moot point. They become commodities you buy from a few players, I just hope we like our cloud dealers a bit better than we do our energy and telecom providers. Nobody seems really happy with those. But as a buyer I like the idea of having options, as the saying goes “I’d rather have it and not need it than need it and don’t have it”.

Now MPLS s coming what else is missing? A storage gateway / proxy in IAAS

One of the biggest issues in airlifting the entire on premise infrastructure into the cloud is the legacy nature of the applications in combination with the high cost of IAAS (VHD) storage and the limitations compared to what you can do with VHDX on premise. That’s probably an artificial licensing decision bit what can you do? What we need to alleviate this is a REST based cloud gateway to present storage to legacy apps in IAAS while storing the data in Azure blob storage. It’s a bit of a cludge as we’’ just love the fact we can get rid of pass through, vISCSI, vFC thanks to (shared) VHDX. Why do I think we need a solution? Apps have a very long (too long?) live time and it would speed up cloud adoption big time. Just dropping the price for virtual disk storage would be the easiest path to go but I don’t see any indication of that.

The lure of being in the cloud is big but bandwidth & latency in combination with storage costs is keeping people from going there when it comes to so many “legacy” on premise applications. There is a fix. Put everything in the cloud where is is close together and where bandwidth and latency can become a none issue. We need affordable storage and a way for legacy apps to handle object based storage. The fact that the new StorSimple offering has an azure appliance doesn’t really help here as it’s tied to on premise and it’s iSCSI to the guest in IAAS. Not that great is it? For now it looks too much like on boarding to Azure for non MSFT shops and people who are way behind the herd in modern technologies. At least for the environment I work in. Physical server are there to host VMs, so no StorSimple. Other physical servers are point solutions (AD, Exchange or specialized software that needs more hardware access than virtualization can supply). Again, no StorSimple target.

I cloud, you cloud, we cloud

Building and maintaining a data center is loosing it’s economic edge fast. At least for now. I’m not saying all data center or even server rooms will disappear but they’ll reduce significantly. The economics of public cloud are to attractive to ignore. Private and hybrid clouds cost money on top of the cost of running a data center. So why would you? Sure, the cost of cloud isn’t cheap but there are other reasons to move:

  • Get rid of facility management of data centers and server rooms. It’s a big issue & cost.
  • Power/cooling needs. The big cloud players are rapidly becoming the only ones with a plan when it comes to developing an energy plan. Way more innovative & action driven then most governments. They’ll have way better deals than you’ll ever get.
  • Infrastructure costs. Storage, networking, compute, backup, DR, licensing … the entire life cycle of these cost a lot of money and require talent.
  • Personnel costs. Let’s face it. Talented people might be a companies most valuable resource in HRM speak, but in reality they’d love to get rid of a much of that talent as possible to maximize profits. The only reason they employ talent is because they have to.
  • The growth in compute & storage in the cloud is humongous. You’ll never keep up and compete at that level. It was said recently Moore’s law has been replaced by “Bezo’s law’’ http://gigaom.com/2014/04/19/moores-law-gives-way-to-bezoss-law/

I’m going to make a bold statement. If you want/need to do cloud, you should really seriously consider spending your money in public cloud and minimize your investment in private/hybrid clouds. Go as directly to the future and try to keep your private/hybrid stack as simple and cheap possible as a transition to the public cloud.  Leverage PowerShell, SMA and for example Azure automation to manage what you leave on premise. I have my doubts about the longevity of private/hybrid clouds for many organizations and a such investments should be “optimized” => cheap & easy to replace. So unless you have a real big business case for wanting to keep on premise and can make that economically feasible, it’s not your goal, it’s a transition tool. If you’re a huge enterprise, an agency involved in national security a hosting company or Switzerland you can ignore this advice Winking smile. But I see no one rushing to buy RackSpace?

Security, Privacy, Concentrated Power?

What about security, privacy, vendor lock in? You have to worry about that now as well, and you’re probably not that good at avoiding it on premise either. Switching from Oracle to SQL is not an easy feat.  Cloud companies will have a lot of power due to the information they distill form big (meta) data. On top of that they’re set to be the biggest providers of compute, energy & if they buy some telecoms companies  even of data communications. More and more power concentrated in ever less players. That’s not desirable, but it seems that’s how it will play out. The alternatives cost more and that determines most of all what happens. The economies are too good to ignore.

Government clouds to mitigate risk?

I now also see the call to build government clouds. Often at various levels. Well for decades now, bar some projects, a lot of their IT efforts have been slow, mediocre and expensive. 400$ to lift & place back some floor tiles. Having to buy a spool of 2km fibre channel if you need 80 meter. 5000$ to answer a question with yes or no, a VM that costs 750$ per month … (1000$ if you want a backup of the VM). 14 days to restore a VM from backup … abuse & money grabbing are rampant. Are these people going to do private cloud and compete? Are they any better at securing their infrastructure than Amazon? Is on premise encryption any better than in the cloud? And even if it is, it’s only until someone pulls a “Snowden”. And who’ll build ‘m? Where are the highly skilled, expert civil servants after decades of outsourcing leaving them at the mercy of 3rd parties? Are they going to buy them away in an era of cost cutting? And if they could, can they use them, do they have the organizational prowess to do so? So they’ll be build by the same pundits as before? Outsourcing to India would at least have been “the same mess for less”, while now it’s the same mess for more.

Sheep, lemmings, wolves & a smart CIO

I see way to little strategy building on this subject and to much “comfort” decisions being made that cost a lot of money and efforts delivering not enough competitive advantages. The smart CIO can avoid this an really deliver on “Your Cloud, Your Terms”. The others, well they’ll all play their role …

Just some food for thought. But I leave you with another musing. 100% cloud might be a great idea but it’s like leasing or renting. There are scenarios where ownership still makes since depending on the situation and business.

DELL Enterprise Forum EMEA 2014 in Frankfurt

As you might have noticed on Twitter I was in Frankfurt last week to attend DELL Enterprise Forum EMEA 2014. It was a great conference and very worthwhile going to. It was a week of multi way communication between vendor, marketing, engineering, partners and customers. I learned a lot. And I gave a lot of feedback. As a Dell TechCenter Rockstar and a Microsoft MVP in Hyper-V I can build bridges to make sure both worlds understand each other better and we, the customers get their needs served better.

Dell Enterprise Forum EMEA 2014 - Frankfurt

I’m happy I managed to go and I have some people to thank for me being able to grab this opportunity:

  • I cleared the time with my employer. This is great, this is a win win situation and I invested weekend time & extra hours for both my employer and myself.
  • I got an invite for the customer storage council where we learned a lot and got ample of opportunity to give honest and constructive feedback directly to the people that need to hear it! Awesome.
  • The DELL TechCenter Rockstar program invited me very generously to come over at zero cost for the Enterprise Forum. Which is great and helped my employer  and myself out. So, thank you so much for helping me attend. Does this color my judgment? 100%  pure objectivity does not exist but the ones who know me also know I communicate openly and directly. Look, I’ve never written positive reviews for money or kickbacks. I do not have sponsoring on my blog, even if that could help pay for conferences, travel expenses or lab equipment. Some say I should but for now I don’t. I speak my mind and I have been a long term DELL customer for some very good reasons. They deliver the best value for money with great support in a better way and model than others out there. I was sharing this info way before I became a Rockstar and they know that I tell the good, the bad and the ugly. They can handle it and know how to leverage feedback better than many out there.
  • Stijn Depril ( @sdepril, http://www.stijnsthoughts.be/), Technical Datacenter Sales at RealDolmen gave me a ride to Frankfurt and back home. Very nice of him and a big thank you for doing so.  He didn’t have to and I’m not a customer of them. Thank buddy, I appreciate it and it was interesting ton learn the partners view on things during the drive there and back. Techies will always be checking out gear …

Dell Enterprise Forum EMEA 2014 - Frankfurt

What did all this result in? Loads of discussion, learning and sharing about storage, networking, compute, cloud, futures and community in IT. It was an 18 hour per day technology fest in a very nice and well arranged fashion.

I was able to meet up with community members, twitter buddies, DELL Employees and peers from all over EMEA and share experiences, learn together, talk shop, provide feedback and left with a better understanding of the complexities and realities they deal with on their side.

Dell Enterprise Forum EMEA 2014 - Frankfurt

It has been time very well spent. I applaud DELL to make their engineers and product managers available for this event. I thank them for allowing us this amount of access to their brains from breakfast till the moment we say goodnight after a night cap. Well done, thank you for listening and I hope to continue the discussion. It’s great to be a DELL TechCenter Rockstar and work in this industry during this interesting times. To all the people I met again or for the first time, it was a great week of many interesting conversations!

For some more pictures and movies visit the Dell Enterprise Forum EMEA 2014 from Germany photo album on Flickr

Key Take Aways From MMS2013

Introduction

I’ve parked myself at McCarran International Airport in Las Vegas awaiting the start of my long haul home to Europe. The new terminal is inspiring me to share as I reflect on the past week and on what’s happening at work.

ICT in the 21st Century

A lot is going on and moving in ICT and even more is coming our way. In the Microsoft sphere we got the official heads up at MMS2013 that new features would be publicly discussed at TechEd 2013 (USA or Europe). So you might want to attend that one. I for one think that’s great. We need that information to verify we’re still are on the right track and fine tune our course. Especially in those areas where we can get quick wins with sometimes significant cost savings & benefits.  I could start telling you about all the great sessions and products at MMS2013 whilst quacking like a duck “cloud, cloud, …, cloud, cloud, cloud, … cloud”. But I will not. You can watch it all here.  I will reflect on the key take away.

Cheaper & Faster

Cheaper AND faster are the new mantra or’ “fast is the new cheap”. Cheaper makes everyone happy especially when quality remains high. Faster is sometimes a bit more of a challenge to sell. “New features, already?”  you say. Yes. The nature of our economies and industry is being transformed by the cloud and commoditization. It brings a lot of benefits, especially in a high speed, low drag world.

Fast is actually faster. For many years now any strategy & execution plan that took more than a couple of years was doomed. You get bypassed and your big investments will never live up to their potential. So, apart from the necessary larger and more long term investments, we evolve more and more towards a perpetual improvements & rapid adoption model. Innovation and the subsequent commoditization of it is pushing this. That’s not bad. By making constant smaller (easier to fund) investments that deliver fast results we get to a more adaptable, agile environment for lesser costs. It’s not that all long term, large scale projects are going away but the ratio is shifting. In smart countries this is already being done for building hospitals and other infrastructure that evolves fast. It’s not unique to ICT. Massive projects taking too long and too much funding lead to out of date solutions at the time of delivery at huge costs. Use this approach where needed but forget about it for the other projects. Cloud will be an important tool in all this, not the goal.

A Word of Warning

Fast and cheap shouldn’t translate into mediocre crap at dump pricing that will bite us. It should also keep in mind the ecosystem and don’t act like a shock & awe offensive leaving everything in it’s track in disarray. It needs to fit into a plan with clear goals an knowing where it fits in and helps.  It’s about balance. That’s the art. Knowing what, where, when and with/for who to do it. Not easy. Now let’s hope some of my managers read this blog. It might help them. As the question beckons an answer: who is it that will lead us in this new era? Well not one single person, far from it. It’s a team effort and to lead a team takes competence and some character.

It takes competence and personality

Competence and personality, combined with  applying both these (skills and  drive) diligently in a sustained fashion. That requires a lot of effort, even when no one is watching you, or perhaps better stated, especially then. Do what needs to be done where and when needed. Not because it could get you promoted or more money. That’s the character part. That’s what drives us to learn by participating in our ICT communities, presenting, attending conferences and networking. But also in those hours spend reading, studying and working in the lab alone or with a buddy. That’s what will make us able to handle the though and bad situations you’ll encounter and overcome them. It’s your resourcefulness that will make you seek and find opportunity in adverse conditions. People like the team members amongst whom I have the distinct pleasure of working. You can’t find such synergy if it’s only about personal gain and getting ahead. There is both a broad and deep skill set needed by all involved and doesn’t come easy nor can it be bought. It has to be acquired through work and experience. The transformation of the ICT landscape is uncharted domain for all but a few of us so it’s going to ask a lot of effort, often outside of our comfort zone.

Sure there are cynics who laugh at this and can’t imagine why someone would do all that without personal and immediate reward. Those are the ones we don’t need and who won’t be there at crunch time. Only after the facts they seek the spotlight to poach the glory if things went well or to condemn those that failed whilst trying. Well, the last so called leader who did that doesn’t work with us anymore. Enough said.