My thoughts on the Inktank acquisition

Following the news today regarding the acquisition of Inktank by Red Hat, lots of people – me included – started to wonder how would this potentially conflict with the Gluster acquisition completed by Red Hat itself nearly two years ago. Twitter has been hot all through the day on this topic and, as one would imagine, the two companies tried to give specific explanations on how Ceph and GlusterFS are actually complementary. I’m not a GlusterFS expert but I did attend recently an exciting Ceph training course and I have some doubts on what has been said. As I see lots of overlaps between the two, the truth could simply be the failure of GlusterFS to gain traction in cloud infrastructures implementations.

First off, I’d like to congratulate all the folks at Inktank for this awesome result. And not only because they’re partnering with Flexiant, the company I work for, or because some of them are former colleagues of mine, but because they’ve successfully managed to demonstrate how innovation can be still delivered in areas like IT infrastructures, that are typically considered as heavily commoditised.

A blog by Jeff Darcy (@Obdurodon) published today went just through the comparison of the architectures, the approaches and how that the two projects could actually borrow stuff from each other. But what was stated more clearly on Twitter on their positioning is the following:

Ok then Red Hat is gonna promote GlusterFS for POSIX-compliant distributed file systems and Ceph for distributed object and block store? Really? What if a company wants a combination of the three? Are they going to roll out two separate physical infrastructures with incompatible architectures? How about the famous TCO optimisation?

If you think about it, a file system, a block store or an object store are simply three different interfaces to consume the same type of resource: data storage. For this reason, I believe that Ceph’s approach of a unified layer underneath (RADOS) and the different interface gateways (FS, block and S3-compatible object store) is the exact right approach to providing a truly scalable, resilient storage system that can be consumed through different APIs. Now it’s also true that CephFS is not a mature technology at all but if I had to pick one to concentrate my storage development investments in the future, I’d pick Ceph.

When Red Hat acquired Gluster two years ago, the company was still betting its entire cloud orchestration strategy on CloudForms (based on Deltacloud) but then OpenStack became so popular that Red Hat, leader in anything open-source, had to commit to that. Today OpenStack counts quite a few installations with Ceph as storage backend, probably more than those with GlusterFS, and I believe this is the real reason behind the acquisition.

That said, I find this an extremely smart move, given that Red Hat now has to compete against all those hundreds of companies providing OpenStack support and consulting services. Owning the technology behind one of the most popular storage implementations could be a real way to differentiate from the competition. However, I still wonder if this is enough in order to stand out from the OpenStack consulting crowd. Of course Red Hat is a rock solid company with a brand, a history and reputation that scares off most competitors, but that’s nothing if not coupled with a high pace in delivering technology innovation.

Why I picked Flexiant as my next challenge

Dear all, I am really happy and proud to announce that I am joining the Flexiant team starting this week. In the last few years, Flexiant has been building a stunning Cloud Management Platform with the goal of enabling service providers to join cloud space in few easy steps, and with the possibility to still highly differentiate their service.

The cloud infrastructure market landscape is but in its final configuration and I have the ambition to actively contribute to how it will look like in the next few years. I am joining Flexiant in a moment when the cloud industry is facing a terrific growth, with just a bunch of players out there, still immature technologies, vendors struggling to adapt their business model and a general misperception around cloud services. There is plenty of work to do!

But let me give you a little bit more of insights about why I have picked Flexiant and what great things I think we can do together.

A differentiated cloud service

I enjoyed observing the recent signs of a required differentiation in the cloud infrastructure market. After a large consensus around certain technologies, with such a big (and growing) market to conquer, competition is getting tougher, as more players try to come onboard everyday. Although price initially appears as the main competition driver, considering the impressive cloud services portfolio of Amazon Web Services, highly differentiated service offerings will be required for those who seriously aim at competing against the giant.

Why would I want to compete with that giant? Can it be enough for me to offer some complementary service in order to exploit the market reach of Amazon, instead of going against it? Well, we all know the consequences of a unique-player dominated market, we’ve seen it before (Microsoft, Oracle, etc.) and we all can concur that during those times innovation has been slower than ever, with the abuse of dominant positions that negatively affected the customer experience. The opportunity out there is big and I don’t think we want to leave the entire market to one player again, do we? And if the goals of the cloud is to commoditize technology by offering it as-a-service, it’s right there, on the service side, that there is need and opportunity to innovate.

Recently we have had a concrete proof of this need for differentiation. The acquisition of Enstratius by Dell was driven by the need for a highly differentiated cloud service that fills the gap between commodity infrastructures and enterprise requirements. I was lucky enough to have the opportunity to work with the Enstratius team and I can tell they were winning deals whenever it was about governance and compliance, all typical enterprise requirements. But the real news there was Dell dropping its previously announced OpenStack-powered cloud service, something that will never come to life instead. All those players betting on OpenStack wanted to make it the industry standard for building cloud infrastructure and now what? They suddenly remembered they have to compete with each other. And the imperative is: differentiate!

On this matter, our own Tony Lucas (@tonylucas), European pioneer of cloud services and SVP product at Flexiant (if you don’t believe check out this video of Tony talking about cloud with Jeff Barr of AWS back in 2007), has written an extensive White Paper where he scientifically goes through why cloud federation is not the optimal model for competing in the IaaS market, with differentiation as the winning alternative. Beside suggesting everyone in this industry to read it carefully, it reminded me of the biggest failure of cloud federation we have just recently witnessed: vCloud providers. The launch of VMware hybrid cloud service is the clear demonstration that federating providers with the same technology but different cultures, goals and SLAs, does not work. It can be a short term opportunity for the “federatable” cloud software vendor, but a secure failure on the mid-long term. Read Tony’s to understand exactly why.

A matching vision

For those who know me, I am a public cloud only believer. “Private cloud” was just a name given legacy vendors who didn’t want to give up on their on-premises business while having the opportunity to exploit the marketing hype and sell extra stuff to their rich customers. “Hybrid cloud” is how we are naming the period it takes to complete the journey to the public cloud.

Again, the most recent moves of the big guys confirm that public cloud is the way to go. Legacy software vendors are trying to convert themselves into service providers, mostly by acquiring companies rather than innovating from inside (e.g. yesterday’s news on IBM multi-billion acquisition of SoftLayer). So should we foresee a public cloud market dominated by AWS and challenged only by few other big whales? I don’t think so. If AWS really “gets” the cloud, the internal cultural conversion needed within traditional vendors will be painful and won’t really bring anything substantial at least for the next 3 to 5 years. Their current size and the internal resistance to give up on recurring revenue derived from on-premises business, will not let them be a real challenge to AWS in the near term. Instead, small, agile, highly innovative and differentiated niche players are those which will eventually contribute defining the next cloud infrastructure market landscape.

For more scientific evidence of why public clouds will take over the world, I can suggest another brilliant read by Alex Bligh (@alexbligh), the Internet rock star who has been behind Nominet (the UK domain registry) and currently CTO at Flexiant. His detailed methodical analysis led him to a conclusion:

And [so] will be for cloud computing: it’s not the technology that matters per se, it’s the consequent effect on economics. Private cloud is in essence an attempt to use cloud’s technology without gaining any of the efficiencies. It is for service providers to educate their customers and prospects, and the audience will often be financial or strategic as opposed to technical.

Alex Bligh, CTO at Flexiant

An enthusiastic choice

Visionaries like Tony and Alex, a mature product like Flexiant Cloud Orchestrator and the guidance and business savviness of our CEO George Knox (@GeorgeKnox) are all ingredients that will eventually lead to making some real difference in the coming months. Finding myself aligned to the company vision and culture, I am really enthusiastic to be on board and I foresee big things ahead of us. Stay tuned and ping me if you want to know more about Flexiant!

ABOUT FLEXIANT

Flexiant is a leading international provider of cloud orchestration software for on-demand, fully automated provisioning of cloud services. Headquartered in Europe, Flexiant’s cloud management software gives cloud service providers’ business agility, freedom and flexibility to scale, deploy and configure cloud servers, simply and cost-effectively. Vendor agnostic and supporting multiple hypervisors, Flexiant Cloud Orchestrator is a cloud management software suite that is service provider ready, enabling cloud service provisioning through to granular metering, billing and reseller whitelabel capabilities. Used by over one hundred organizations worldwide, from hosting providers, large MSPs and telcos, Flexiant Cloud Orchestrator is simple to understand, simple to deploy and simple to use. Flexiant was named a ‘Gartner Cool Vendor’ in Cloud Management, received the Info-Tech Research Group Trendsetter Award and called an industry double threat by 451 Group. Flexiant customers include ALVEA Services, FP7 Consortium, IS Group, ITEX, and NetGroup. Visit www.flexiant.com.

It’s already happening in Europe

Recently I’ve been reading an article about Europe being an unfriendly environment for entrepreneurship and specifically for startups. I liked the underlying optimism about getting a new beginning, but I think it is completely wrong to consider Europe as a whole when legislation and culture as so different country by country. And it is unfair not to see what Europe has already been doing so far.

Well then, where exactly the new beginning will start from? I’ve been trying to locate the hot spots for Internet startups in the Old Continent and I’ve actually seem much more than what is the common perception of this scenario.

New technologies are arising. Those that are specifically thought for the cloud, thought for scale. Internet and mobile applications frameworks and platforms (like Node.js, MongoDB) are getting more and more popular throughout the entire continent. Just look at the growing number of conferences such as Node Dublin, Node.js Conf in Italy, JSconf EU in Berlin or Railsberry in Krakow. And then notice they usually take place in weekends to let developers join out of their passion, leaving space to creativity and focusing on real innovation.

Moreover, it’s not only about startups. There are Internet companies in Europe that are already at the next stage. They developed a business model. They got profitable. And somebody believed in them, believed in the environment where they settled in and someone was eventually right doing that. Examples like SoundCloud (Germany), Spotify (Sweden), Wonga (UK), JustEat (Denmark) are just a few  that worth mentioning.

So is this just the new beginning? No, it is much more than that, it’s already happening and I really want to be there when that happens. I work for Joyent and we run a public cloud (IaaS) that hosts many of the successful Internet companies in the United States. Many of those have chosen Joyent because our technology is designed for those who make money through the Internet, for they who can’t afford loosing any click. Because one click means money.

But I live in Europe, and I want the next success story to be European.

This is what I work for everyday. I observe the evolving scenario of Internet companies in Europe, supporting conferences (I will be attending the Node Dublin, the most important European Node conference, next week) and helping companies driving their business in a better way by hosting their new generation applications in a new generation cloud. On top of an infrastructure that runs just fast as the bare-metal does, because it was built from the ground up, built with the cloud in mind.

It’s simply so exciting.