Category Archives: Cloud

Cloud computing and all its permutations.

DevOpsDays Austin 2018 Retrospective and 2019 Prospectus

logoAll right, DevOpsDays Austin 2018 went great and the organizers (thanks be unto them – James Wickett, Dan Zentgraf, Boyd Hemphill, Richard Boyd, Scott Baldwin, Lee Thompson, Karthik Gaekwad, Marisa Sawatphadungkij, Ian Richardson, Bill Hackett, Chris Casey, Carl Perry, and our ConferenceOps finance handler Laura Wickett) have had the time to do a retrospective and both share what we’ve learned and set a course for next year’s event! This is long and I assume mostly of interest to other DevOpsDays organizers, so buckle in.

DoD Austin this year was another experimental year. Austin was the third DevOpsDays city in the US and the eleventh globally, and has been going every year since 2012.  Because our community has such a long history with DevOpsDays, we experiment with our format to find what works the best for us.

This year, we tried a couple daring things (more details in DevOpsDays Summit Austin 2018 – “DevOps Unplugged”):

  1. Voting on talks onsite instead of ahead of time (saw this at ProductCamp Austin)
  2. No sponsor booths (like the early DevOpsDays, Silicon Valley was like this for several years)
  3. Boxed lunches (like the early DevOpsDays, Silicon Valley was like this for several years)
  4. Capped headcount low at 400 (despite having sold 650 tickets last year)
  5. No streaming the talks (video is coming though)

Read the linked article for why, but the TL;DR is that we’re a nonprofit conference that exists to drive community engagement, and the “DevOps Talk Circuit,” the increased sponsor lead-churn demands, the time we spent on fancy lunches and such, and just the sheer number of attendees and weight of extras we were adding on were choking out the actual goal of the conference.  Despite having a huge slate of great keynoters at 2017 and everything being the biggest and best DoDA ever – we the organizers didn’t have a good time. We didn’t learn anything or make new friends. And we heard from other experts in town that said the same thing. So a dramatic change was implemented to pare the event back down to basics.  But how’d it work out?

We did a bunch of retrospective activities to find the answer!

  1. SurveyMonkey survey of all attendees
  2. Survey of all sponsors
  3. Community retrospective at the Austin DevOps user group
  4. Organizer retrospective

Attendee Survey Feedback

Of 400 attendees, we got 51 respondents (12.5%). Our overall NPS was 25 (“pretty good”). We don’t have a last year NPS to compare to, we didn’t do a great job of post event surveying last year mostly due to burnout (once you’ve spent most of your time prepping a conference, it’s time to get back to your real work, family, etc.).

Food Quality Talk Quality Openspace Quality Venue Quality Happy Hour Quality
Very high – 9 (18%) Very high – 6 (12%) Very high – 7 (14%) Very high – 12 (24%) Very high – 12 (25%)
High – 20 (39%) High – 27 (53%) High – 12 (47%) High – 29 (57%) High – 12 (25%)
Neither – 17 (33%) Neither – 9 (18%) Neither – 12 (24%) Neither – 7 (14%) Neither – 22 (46%)
Low – 4 (8%) Low – 8 (16%) Low – 8 (4%) Low – 3 (6%) Low – 2 (4%)
Very low – 1 (2%) Very low – 1 (2%) Very low – 3 (6%) Very low – 0 (0%) Very low – 0 (0%)

So everything was 50% or better “very high or high,” which seems good. We asked about favorite sponsors – ones mentioned by multiple participants include Cisco, Red Hat, NS1, VictorOps, Sumo Logic, xMatters, and Praecipio.

The comments were enlightening.  This year’s format was pretty divisive – there were lots of comments about liking voting on the talks and lots of comments about not liking it; there were lots of comments about liking e.g. “The new format with less vendor bloat” and then also lots of comments wanting sponsor booths back. And frankly, that’s what we expected – the new format was expressly designed to be attractive to some kinds of attendees and sponsors and not to others.

Overall, the positive comments predominated on the openspaces, keynotes, and ignites, and negative predominated on the talks and lack of booths.  (Several of those respondents identified as sponsors.)

Sponsor Survey Feedback

Total sponsor NPS was 7 (“good”) from 14 respondents of our 17 sponsors.  Again, there wasn’t the usual bell curve distribution – some sponsors loved it and others hated it.  The venue and the conversations people had onsite were very highly rated. The limited swag table aspect was low rated. The 30 minute suite sessions and lead quality were sharply bimodal – for example:

How did your 30 minute suite demo go?

  • Did not use 7.14%
  • Very well 7.14%
  • Well 28.57%
  • Neither poorly nor well 14.29%
  • Poorly 28.57%
  • Very poorly 14.29%

User Group Feedback

Read the board yourself!  Attendees, some organizers were in attendance.

image1

Analysis

Change is hard

People’s expectations were hard to alter. Especially in the sponsor realm where the person who books the sponsorship isn’t usually the person that comes on site.  One sponsor comment said “Without a booth, not worth our $5000!”  Well, yeah, that’s why we didn’t charge you $5k this year. People that go to multiple DevOpsDays, and especially sponsors, but even people who had just been to our event multiple years – we emailed and tweeted and blogged and put stuff on the signup forms, but the changes were still a surprise to many.  Voting on the talks was a concern not as much from speakers, but from people who “wanted their schedule set in advance!” and from people who were “afraid it makes speakers feel bad.”

Money isn’t hard

Even with the much lower sponsor cost this year ($3k), and lowering our headcount significantly (400), and providing the same great venue and lunches and breakfasts and drinks and not 1 but 2 shirts and blowing it out on the happy hour, plus being ripped off by our happy hour venue (not going back there!!!), we were still well in the black enough that we’re giving thousands of dollars to charity at the end of the event.

In fact, one of the advantages of this year’s format was that we weren’t giving 1/3 of our tickets away for free to a huge army of organizers, to speakers, etc.  Adding more sponsor stuff requires adding more volunteers that just eats back into the revenue stream again.

Specific Outcomes

Voting on talks

There was enough pushback that we won’t do that next year.  Submissions were lower this year, and a bunch of people dropped out before the event.  However, many of the people who dropped out are, to be blunt, the people we wanted to drop out. Talks “submitted on behalf of” someone. Vendor roadshow talks.

Here’s the thing – here in Austin, we’re pretty blessed.  We have a huge tech community with all the big players.  If you want to “have your secretary submit your talk, fly in, drive to the venue, give your talk, fly out” – whoever you are,  you really don’t have anything more interesting to say than the people who are already here. So if your goal being at DoDA isn’t to interact with the community, we have plenty of talk submissions already, thanks.  I get that if you’re starting up a DoD in the middle of nowhere the people on the “DevOps Talk Circuit” are key to bringing in new ideas and jumpstarting you, and I don’t devalue that.  But for us, we don’t need that and it doesn’t serve the needs of our current community.

This isn’t to say people from away aren’t welcome – John Willis is from Atlanta but he’s part of our community, because when he comes here that’s how he interacts with us.  (One of the “What did you like the most” survey comments simply said “John Willis.”)

People suggested various half-measures – “have us vote a week before!” But the additional logistics on that is very much not worth it, especially given what we think we’ve learned about our talk needs – read on for that!

Sponsor tables

OK, no sponsor tables was not universally beloved. Some sponsors – and not just the “here for the leadz” sponsors we were deliberately discouraging with the format – didn’t like it because it was harder to interact with folks about their product. But – here’s the rub – we had just as many complaints last year when we *did* have sponsor tables!  “My table was in the corner.” “There wasn’t enough foot traffic driven to me.”

The stadium format is pretty “noisy” and if we had sponsor tables back we’d have to do talks in some far-away rooms again, and removing those rooms this year saved us a lot of money and also people always hated it (like – FAR away).

Also, I’ll be honest, we had problems with sponsor misbehavior last year.  Silver sponsors claiming a table and standing behind it like a gold. Sponsors going out on the field (forbidden by UT). Sponsors trying to have food trucks park outside (also forbidden by UT police). Disruptive activity of a number of different sorts, requiring lots of work by organizers and volunteers and venue staff to deal with. I am sure many of them thought they were being “scrappy” etc. but in the end, we don’t get paid for this conference so we don’t need to put up with crap for it either. Discussion about “firing” certain sponsors was had.

We aren’t going back to the usual sponsor tables, but we are going to try something even more different – read on for that!

Boxed lunches

In early DoDA, we kept having super-deluxe Austin fare – BBQ, tex-mex – not from a caterer but from the real good places. This was for all the folks from away we were bringing in and wanted to show an Austin good time to!

Unfortunately, last year food lines for 650 people were a problem. Vendors weren’t adequately prepared with people or food.  We had to have many volunteers assigned. Food lines were super long and slow and a source of frustration.

This year we did have some comments about “I wanted the deluxe foods.” But they were far overwhelmed by those who appreciated being able to grab sustenance and get back to why they are here, learning and discussion. So with enough money we may try to get some kind of super-deluxe box lunch, but the box lunches will stay.

Lower headcount

The lower headcount was universally beloved except by lead generators and those who couldn’t get a ticket. More and better interaction, many positive comments noted the more intimate communication in openspaces and hallway track.  Keep.

No streaming

Worked out great.  No one complained, and the cost and org/volunteer time and schedule and stage compromises we have to make for live streaming are immensely negative.  Not going back.

2019 Planning

First of all, a disclaimer.  I am sharing this in the interests of transparency and helping other organizers learn from what we’ve done.  I don’t claim Austin is doing things the “one true way” and I know our community’s needs are different from many others. None of this is intended to denigrate any other events and their decisions. You don’t need to justify why you do things differently or why any of this isn’t right for your community.

Every year I start our planning with some basic questions.

  1. Do we want to have a DevOpsDays Austin next year?
  2. If so, why?  What is the goal of this year’s event?

“Inertia” is a bad reason to do anything.  We don’t have “money” as a reason because we have to spend what we get, we don’t pocket anything except some gifts. (My kid has already appropriated the bluetooth speaker I got this year…)

The group of organizers (over a tasty dinner at Chez Zee) decided “yes”, and after a good bit of discussion they decided that to us, this year, the goal of DevOpsDays Austin is to “Promote collaboration and sharing and networking specifically for the Austin technical community.” Now, that’s a pretty non-controversial statement on its face – but then as we plan stuff, we really test it against our goal and see if it supports it, is neutral, or takes away from it.  If it’s neutral or takes away, it goes.

This decision and clear statement (I think Marisa is who put it together for us) pricked my memory and I pulled out our attendee survey comments.  What did you like the most about DevOpsDays Austin 2018?  “Ability to collaborate with others.” “Enjoyed hearing what others were doing.” “Focus on the community.” “It’s a well-run, intimate conference.  I always see people I know.” “The community involvement.”  Her sentence crystallized what people were telling us was their favorite part of the event – super!

OK, so what does that mean for each area?

Content

People love the lightning talks more than anything.  Then the keynotes. Then the talks. It’s why we tried the attendee voting. The discussion covered how many of the talks seem too long and boring even at 35 minutes, and people trying to get too technical in them suffer from people not being able to follow along well due to screen size and large group.  People say they want themed tracks and stuff, but we rely on volunteers giving talks, we aren’t buying these off the shelf somewhere (“Give me 6 Kubernetes talks, 6 DevOps culture talks, 6 DevOps manager talks, and 6 intermediate level technical talks…”)  We are still committed to multiple technical tracks (DoDA was the first DoD to do this, many are still uni-track) because we’re 7 years in and we have a great diversity of experience in our community, and people don’t want to sit through the same messaging again.

Some talks are beloved and others aren’t.  As we sifted through the details, one comment from “What can we do better” on the attendee survey came to me.  “Talks focused on ‘I am a _____, here’s the problem we had and how we solved it.’ I say that because one of the coolest, most useful talks I saw was the Coinbase engineer who described how he used EBS volumes creatively to solve their scaling problem.”

So we decided to retire the voting but heavily curate the talks.  We don’t want “whatever talk you’re giving nowadays on the DevOps talk circuit” – we want talks in that format, the problem you had and how you solved it.

We’re working out the details, but we’re thinking about having these talks be more like 15 minutes long, with then linked openspaces that afternoon for the truly interested to get together and go ‘command line level’ with them.  This also allows for more breaks and collaboration time.

We also decided that idiosyncratic is better.  A couple of the organizers got excited about a sports/fitness theme to align with the stadium; one wants to set up a 5K, one has a wife that does yoga classes and we could have one, we can give fitbits as speaker gifts… While I and the other Agile Admins have been filming lynda.com courses and doing other creative things, the advice we keep getting from producers and directors and content managers is “Use *your* voice.  Do what *you* find interesting and other people will find it interesting.” Andrew Shafer loves running Werewolf games at openspaces at conferences, and people really respond to it! So we’re not going to hesitate to put stuff in we find interesting and we figure that enthusiasm will draw others. Trying to give attendees a “standard conference experience” is severely counterproductive because there’s plenty of regular conferences for people to go to, they get sick of it, and that doesn’t fit the devopsdays ethos in the first place.

Sponsors

I challenged the group.  “Tell me why we should have sponsors at all?  Half our revenue was ticket sales and half was from sponsors.  If we double ticket prices to $400 – still very low for any 2-day conference in the world – we can just not take sponsors at all, done and done. If we needed their money it’d be one thing, but we don’t. Let them spend their ‘limited marketing budget’ on the DoD events that do need it. How do the sponsors contribute to our goal other than with funding?”

The immediate response was that there are a bunch of sponsors who *are* part of the community and interacting with them is important; we have loads of Amazon/Google/Atlassian/Oracle/etc hiring going on here for example, and folks who work for Chef and Salt and Puppet and so on in town… We want those folks to be part of the conversation.  Just not disrupt that conversation.  And, some people pay for those tickets out of pocket so having some money to defray attendee costs is good.

We decided to try something different – we are using the luxury boxes at the stadium more and more; they’re relatively inexpensive and we used them for all the openspaces and such this year.   What if, we said, we intersperse sponsor suites with openspace suites, maybe even have them host some of the openspaces, do their own presentations in there too for whoever’s interested?  This means a limited number of sponsor slots (no more than 10, possibly fewer), but a more premium experience right there where the action is happening. And target Austin-presence companies to let them know about it. They can also then get food/drink catered into their suites to bring people in even more.

Attendees

Keep the headcount low – at least our limit of 400 from this year, if not lower. Consider a ‘two-tier’ ticket price with one price if your company is paying and another if you are; Data Day Austin has used this format to good effect.  Lets the non-backed solo folks in without breaking their bank but lets companies that do send attendees pay a reasonable amount.

Venue

UT Stadium is great, we don’t really see a reason to do all the work to change if we’re not doing booths and we’re going with a suite strategy for sponsors. Plus we have developed great relationships with the venue staff.

Keep refining the AV experience but doing it ourselves – we bought equipment and have a large set of “A/V geeks” so we don’t need to have outside people do it.

Food

Keep with boxed lunches. Austinites have had enough BBQ and tex-mex and this event is primarily for them per our goal. The benefit of fast lunch and snacks was tremendous this year. Could spend more on boxes from premium vendors but keep it boxed.  Maybe do drink service ourselves because we got truly rooked by the UT caterers on it this year.  Though Rich said he found the place the athletes eat and we might be able to get in on that… Keeping it fast, though, one way or the other.

Happy hour

We put a lot of work into this and spend double what the happy hour sponsor gives us each year, and then only half the people come and only half of those say they like it.  This year we had unlimited food and booze at a venue with video games in it for Pete’s sake, I think we’re done chasing the idea of the ultimate happy your. Probably we’ll do more of an onsite short sponsor room crawl at the venue, and then an “after party” we don’t put as much money/work into. “A couple free rounds at Scholtz’, get your own ass there.”

Conclusion

All right, that’s all the plan one dinner could get us.  But in the end, we’re happy with how the event went this year.  We’ll change a couple of the things that didn’t work out – talk voting, no booths – but not back to the old way because we already know that was suboptimal, instead we’ll try more options!  If you don’t have experiments not work out, you’re not being experimental enough, so we embrace that with DevOpsDays Austin.

Let us know your thoughts too!  Who are you, and what do you get or want to get out of DevOpsDays Austin?

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CNCF and K8s 101’s

I never make New Year’s resolutions, but I want to do something different for 2018!

One thing I’m learning a lot about is Kubernetes and the CNCF ecosystem around it over the past couple of years and often find myself having a hard time keeping up with ecosystem sometimes. There are almost weekly releases on the many projects, and getting started content for all the new tools and technology is hard to find.

So! I plan to do quick 101 blogs on different topics under the Container/Kubernetes/CNCF umbrella. My first blog article will be on Prometheus- The monitoring tool that integrates GREAT with k8s! It’ll be based on my GitHub code here: https://github.com/karthequian/prometheus-demo (shhh sneak peak).

But, I need your help! Give me a list of things you are confused about in the container space, or want more info on, and I’ll be happy to do the legwork on it!

So, give me input here, or on twitter!

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CloudAustin Talks – April 2016

The CloudAustin user group that Karthik, James, and I run is in its fifth year and still going strong.  Our venue hosts at Rackspace now have the equipment to record the talks!  So I thought I’d share the videos and slides with our readers. Thanks to Derrick Wippler and Mike Schwartz, our speakers, and Rackspace and CenturyLink, our sponsors.

What Are Containers And Why Are They So Important, by Derrick Wippler

Struggling to understand all the hype around Docker? Don’t understand the difference between a VM and a container? Why are immutable operating systems cool? Why is everyone going crazy over Kubernetes/Swarm/Apache Mesos?

This talk will attempt to inform by pulling back the curtain on the container hype. We will dissect what a container is, why clustering containers and orchestration matters, immutable operating systems and finally where this is all going and how it will effect your future interaction with the cloud.

Derrick Wippler is: Tech Geek, Container evangelist, Software Developer, Entrepreneur and Rackspace Cloud Block Storage Imagineer. Creator of a SuperNES emulator (http://www.superretro16.com). And you can read my musings on technology on my blog (http://thrawn01.org)

Who Are You?  From Meat To Electrons And Back Again, by Mike Schwartz

Conventional wisdom tells us to use two-factor authentication—and it does help to improve security. But the best way to reduce user-friction is to never require a person to authenticate. This talk will provide a modern solution to reconcile these two divergent imperatives by leveraging standard profiles of OAuth2 for trust elevation. Its not just the front door that needs protection!

Mike Schwartz is the Founder of Gluu, a security software company serving companies, governments and universities around the world. Schwartz is a domain expert in application security, authentication and API access management. The Gluu Server is one of the leading implementations of OpenID Connect. Schwartz has participated in the development of standards like the User Managed Access (UMA) profile of OAuth2, a new standard for API access management. He is also Co-chair of the Open Trust Taxonomy for OAuth2 (OTTO) working group at Kantara to create new standards for multiparty federation. Before starting Gluu, Schwartz was a security integrator for many large enterprises. He also was the Founder of an ISP in the ’90s. He now resides with his family (and pigeons) in Austin, TX.

Does this make you want to speak at CloudAustin, or sponsor it?  Well please do!  Come email us at austin-cug-admin at googlegroups dot com and sign up.  And of course come attend, we meet the third Tuesday night of every month at Rackspace’s Austin facility on I-35 at 183.

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CloudAustin June Meeting – Best Practices for Scalability

The Agile Admins also organize the CloudAustin user group, and we wanted to let everyone know about our upcoming June meeting. It’s 6-8 PM on Tuesday June 16 at Rackspace. RSVP on the meetup page!

Talk: Best Practices for Scalability (Scale to more than a Billion hits/day)

In this talk Chander Dhall will share his real-world experiences in scaling web apps, and some key insights and best practices. You’ll learn how to architect and develop applications on any Web stack so that they are easy to scale. If time permits Chander will go deep into performance too.

Chander is a Microsoft MVP, ASP.NET Insider, Web API Advisor, INETA speaker and open source contributor, with years of experience in enterprise software development. He started coding when he was 6, and created his first successful software product at the age of 14. He is the dev chair of DevConnections, and he works in a goal-oriented, technologically-driven, fast-paced Agile (SCRUM) environment. He has a master’s degree in computer science with speciacialization in algorithms, principles and patterns, and is focused on building high-performing modular software. Chander leads the HTML5/Node.js group in Los Angeles and the .NET user group at UTDallas, co-organizes Angularjs meetup in Austin and has spoken at numerous conferences and code camps all over the world. http://chanderdhall.com/, Twitter @csdhall

Sponsor: Box.com

Come on out!  And if you want to speak or sponsor in the future, just email austin-cug-admin@googlegroups.com.

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AWS re:Invent Keynote Day 2 Takeaways

TL;DR – performance improvements and two huge announcements, Docker-based EC2 Container Service and cloud-CEP-like AWS Lambda.

I was in a meeting for the first 45 minutes but I hear I didn’t miss much. Happy customer use cases.

The first big theme of this morning’s keynote is “Containers” – often just shorthand for “docker.”  I went to a previous event here in town with even large enterprises and government – State of Texas, Microsoft, Dell, Red Hat – all freaking out about Docker. Docker is similar to VMWare or cloud in that it is a new technology that requires new monitoring and management just for it. (Heck, Eric, the CopperEgg founder, is now running a startup around docker container management, StackEngine.)

  1. Keynote from pristine.io about how they implemented. Docker, the new low overhead containerization technology, is a heavily cited part of the power (they actually used Flux7 as the expert consultants, they’re based here in Austin!).
  2. Keynote from Werner Vogels on the new “Amazon EC2 Container Service,” announced to cheers and applause. It allows launching and terminating containers to sets of instances on EC2. Their PM did a demo where they had a big farm of r3 servers and then they deploy a redis cluster and rabbitmq across them, and then front end components on a farm of c3s, and then audio processing across all of them. If you’re new to this it’s basically VMs within VMs but without noticeable overhead.
EC2 Container Service

EC2 Container Service

  1. Next they had the actual docker cofounder and CEO Ben Golub. He mentioned that docker is only 18 months old and its huge success and ecosystem this early in is “surreal.”

Next… Leapfrogging PaaS?

  1. Werner is back to announce AWS Lambda available now in preview – event-driven computing service for dynamic applications. No instance running/management required, events go in and “cloud functions” run on them.  Holy shit, this replaces a large number of servers running semi-trivial apps. 20 cents per million requests, plus some complex stuff for seconds of execution – free for 3.2M seconds/1M requests.

    Amazon Lambda

    Amazon Lambda

  2. Netflix chief product guy came on to show how they’re using lambda as a higher level abstraction and have eliminated a bunch of servers – no system monitoring/management, no inefficient polling, no gaps/opacity. They’re using it to encode video, run backups, run security and compliance checks against instances, and for operational monitoring and dashboards. Replacing procedural control systems with event-driven services.
  3. AWS core innovations… New c4 instance, Haswell based (crazy fast processor, 36 vCPUs). Diane Bryant, SVP/GM Data Center Group from Intel, came on to go into the CPU specifically. Larger and faster EBS volumes, up to 20,000 IOPS. Enhanced and consistent networking speeds.

And this has been your cloud update! Also see Ben Kepes in Forbes for a similar summary.

The container engine is cool – it’ll certainly remove a lot of instance gerrymandering and instance reservation pain if nothing else. But Lambda is the potential disruptor here.  It’s taking the idea of “bring your own algorithm” from MapReduce and saying “hmmm you can probably replace your trivial web app just with this” – it’s halfway between a PaaS and a SaaS, none of the Beanstalk complexity, just “here take this function and run it on stuff when it comes in.” If a library of common lambas becomes available, so much computing work done for trivial purposes becomes obsoleted.  Who hasn’t seen a Web service to “upload a file here, then zip it or something, then store it…” OK, no servers needed any more. Very interesting.

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AWS re:Invent Keynote Day 1 Takeaways

Sadly I couldn’t attend this year, but heck that’s what the Internet is for.  Here’s the interesting bits from the AWS re:Invent Day 1 keynote (livestreamed here). Loads of interesting stuff.

  1. AWS is growing revenue >40% YOY, far outstripping other large IT companies – EC2 use grew 99% YOY and S3 usage 137%, they have 1M active customers now. (Microsoft cloud services report 128% YOY growth as well.)
  2. New product announcement for Aurora – new commercial-grade database engine – fully MySQL compatible but 5x the performance, available through Amazon RDS, 1/10 the cost of the commercial DB engines (starts at 29 cents an hour, ~$210/mo). Can do 6M inserts/second and 30M selects/second. Highly durable (11 9’s), crash recovery in seconds with no data loss. Nice!
  3. SLDC stuff!
    1. CodeDeploy (was internal tool called Apollo), a new code-deployment system that lets you do rolling updates, rollbacks, and tracks deployment health. This works for all languages and is free. They use it internally for 95 deploys/hour on their own stuff.
    2. In early 2015 will come some more software lifecycle management services – first is CodePipeline for continuous integration and deployment (also used internally)
    3. Second is CodeCommit as a managed code repository that can colocate with where you’re going to deploy and has no size limits of repos or files. These “integrate with” github, jenkins, chef, etc. though it’s not clear how they don’t cannibalize them.
  4. Security stuff! Big push to be able to say “we easily surpass the security you can do on premise.”
    1. FISMA, ITAR, FIPS, FedRAMP, HIPAA, ISO 9001
    2. Current encryption approach is either “let Amazon manage keys” or use their CloudHSM hosted key thing, both of which are still a pain. As a result they’re launching AWS Key Management Service as a HA service that manages keys, provides one-click encryption and transparent key rotation.
    3. AWS Config is a new-gen agile CMDB with full visibility into all your AWS resources. You can query it and see relationships and show scope of a config change. Streams all config changes out to you.
    4. A new-gen service catalog called AWS Service Catalog available early 2015. Create and share product portfolios, let internal people launch them, tracking and compliance.
  5. Enterprise Cloud Adoption Patterns
    1. Often the first wave of moving into the cloud for enterprises is moving dev and test environments to run in AWS for flexibility and spin up/down for cost savings and  brand new apps, custom written for the cloud
    2. Second wave is web sites and digital transformation (media, corp sites, ecomm) and analytics, since mass processing and sharing is cheap in the cloud – data warehouses (like pfizer’s). And mobile app back ends – phone, tablet, gps, more.
    3. Third wave is business critical applications.  Macmillan and Hoya run their SAP in AWS. Conde Nast runs HR and Legal there.
    4. New wave – you’re starting to see entire datacenter migration and consolidation as DCs come up for lease (Hess, Conde Nast, NewsCorp). SunCorp. Time Inc., GPT, Nippon Express moving “all in” to AWS – many ISVs as well. The CIA moved to AWS and now Intuit is doing so now as well.
    5. Intuit moved their “TurboTax AnswerXchange” app there to deal with tax time peaks last year and the scales fell from their eyes when they did so – 6x cost cut, setup 1/5 of the time, faster development. They started doing more and realized the global datacenters, ease of integration with acquisitions, and dev recruiting benefits. They have 33 services on AWS now, and have moved mint.com there. They have decided to move everything else there now. Funny how once companies start looking at how much they accomplish instead of just the monthly cost the “cloud is more expensive at scale” argument gets dropped like a flaming bag of poo.
  6. Hybrid cloud
    1. Various stuff like directory service (AD in the cloud) and identity federation and storage gateway and SystemCenter and vCenter integration already exist to power mixed shops
    2. Johnson & Johnson went on for a while about their use of AWS.  They are planning a 25,000 seat deployment of Workspaces (virtual desktop offering, like Citrix).

Whew, that’s the quick notes version.  Aurora is obviously of interest – a lot of the fretting over whether to use mySQL or RDS I’ve seen will get settled by this – it was just ‘well, run the same thing yourself or have them do it…” and now it’s “have them run something insanely better”. But the SDLC tools are also interesting – they made noise about how these “work with!” ansible, jenkins, git, etc. but that seems mildly disingenuous, without any more looking into it yet they sound more like direct competition for them. But the config and service catalog could be great extensions – yay for simple composable services, not huge painful “BSM/ITMOM suites”.

Feel free and share your thoughts on the announcements in the comments section!

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The Cloud Procurement Pecking Order

I was planning to go to this meeting here in town about “Preparing for the post-IaaS phase of cloud adoption” and it brought home to me how backwards many organizations are when they start thinking about cloud options. So now you get Ernest’s Cloud Procurement Pecking Order.

What many people are doing is moving in order of comfort, basically, as they start moving from old school on prem into the cloud.  “I’ll start with private cloud… Then maybe public IaaS… Eventually we’ll look at that other whizbang stuff.” But here’s what your decision path should be instead. It’s the logical extension of the basic buy vs build strategy decision you’re used to doing.

Cloud Procurement Flowchart

Look at the functionality you are trying to fulfull.  Now ask in order:

  1. Is it available as a SaaS solution?  If so, use that. You shouldn’t need to host servers or write code for many of your needs – everything from email to ERP is commoditized nowadays. This is the modern equivalent of “buy, don’t build.” You don’t get 100% control over the functionality if you buy it, but unless the function is super core to your business you should simply get over that.
  2. [Optional] Does it fit the functional profile to do it serverless? Serverless is basically “second gen PaaS with less fiddly IaaS in it” so this would be your second step. Amazon has Lambda and Azure and Google have shipped competitors already. Right this moment serverless tech is still pretty bleeding edge, so you’d be forgiven for skipping this step if you don’t have pretty high caliber techies on staff.
  3. Can I do it in a public PaaS?  Then use a public PaaS (Heroku/Beanstalk/Google App Engine/Azure), unless you have some real (not FUD) requirements to do it in house.
  4. Can I do it in a private PaaS? Then use Cloudfoundry or similar. Or do you really (for non-FUD reasons) need access to the hardware?
  5. Can I do it in public IaaS?  Then use Amazon, or Azure. Or do you really (for non-FUD reasons) need it “on premise” (probably not really on premise, but in some datacenter you’re leasing – which is different from being outsourced in the cloud why)?  Even hardcore hardware render is done in the cloud nowadays (you can get GPU driven instances, SSDs, etc.)
  6. Can I do it in a private cloud? Use VMWare Cloud or Openstack. This is your final recourse before doing it the old fashioned way – unless you have extremely unique hardware requirements, you probably can. Also, you can do hybrid cloud – basically private cloud plus public cloud (IaaS only really). This gets you some of the IaaS benefits while complicating your architecture.

What About Compliance?

Very few compliance requirements exist that cannot be satisfied in the cloud.  There are large financials operating in the cloud, people with SOX and PCI and FISMA and NIST and ISO compliance needs… If your reason for running on prem is “but compliance” there’s a 90% chance you are just plain wrong, and coasting on decade-old received wisdom instead of being well informed about the modern state of cloud technology and security and compliance. I’ve personally helped pure-cloud solutions hit ISO and TUV and various other compliance goals.

What About The Cost?

This ordering seems to be inverted from how people are inching into the cloud. But the lower on this list you are, the less additional value you are getting from the solution (assuming the same price point). You should instead be reluctantly dragged into the lower levels on this list – which require more effort and often (though not always) more expense. A higher level needs to be a lot more expensive to justify the additional complexity and lag of doing more of the work yourself.

“But what about the cost,” you say, “the cloud gets more expensive than me running a couple servers?” It’s easy to be penny wise but pound foolish when making cloud cost decisions.

You need to keep in mind the real costs of your infrastructure when you do this – I see a lot of people spending a lot of work on private cloud that they really shouldn’t be. If you simply compare “buying servers” with “cost per month in Amazon” it can seem, using a naive analysis, like you need to go hybrid on prem after a couple hundred thousand dollars appear on your bill. But:

1. Make sure you are taking into account your fully loaded cost (includes data center, power cooling, etc.) of all assets (servers, storage, network…) you are using to do this private. Use the real numbers, not the “funny money” numbers – at a previous company we allocated network and other shared costs across the entire company, while “our IT budget” had to pay for servers, so that was the only number used in a comparison since it was our own department’s costs only that were considered – don’t be a goon (technical term for a local optimizer),  you should consider what it’s costing your entire company. Storage especially is way cheaper in the cloud versus enterprise SANs.

2. Make sure you are taking into account the cost of the manpower to run it.  And that’s not just the techies’ salary (fully loaded with benefits/bonuses), and the proportion of each layer of management going up that has to deal with their concerns (Even if the director only has to spend 30% of his time messing with the data center team, and the VP 10%, and the CTO 5%, and the CEO 1% – that’s a lot of freaking money you need to account for). It’s also the opportunity cost of having people (smart technical people) doing your plumbing instead of doing things to forward your company.  I would argue that instead of putting in the employee’s salary in this calculation, you’d do better to put in your revenue per employee!  Why? Because for that same money you could have someone improving product, making sales, etc. and making you additional revenue. If all you are looking at is “cost reduction” you are probably divorced enough from the business goals of your organization that you are not making good decisions. This isn’t to say you don’t need any of that manpower, but ideally with more plumbing being outsourced you can turn their technical skills to something of more productive use.

3. Make sure you are taking into account the additional lag time and the cost of that time to market delay from DIYing. Some people couch this as just for purposes of innovation – “well, if you’re a small, quick moving, innovative firm or startup, then this velocity matters to you – if you’re a larger enterprise, with yearly budget cycles, not so much.” That’s not true. Assuming you are implementing all this stuff with some end goal in mind, you are burning value along with time the longer it takes you to deliver it – we like to call that cost of delay. Heck, just plain cost of money over that period is significant – I’ve seen companies go through quite a set of gyrations to be able to bill 30 days earlier to get that additional benefit; if you can deliver projects a month earlier from leveraging reusable work (which is all that SaaS/PaaS/IaaS solutions are) then you accelerate your cashflow. If you have to wait 12 months for the IT group to get a private cloud working, you are effectively losing the benefit of your deliverable * 12 months. “We saved $10k/year on hosting costs!”  “Great, can we deliver our product that will make us $10k/month now, or do we get to continue to put ourselves out of business with cost cutting?”

4. Account for complexity.  The problem with “hybrid cloud,” in most implementations, is that it’s not seamless from on prem to public, and therefore your app architecture has to be doubly complicated.  In a previous position where I ran a large SaaS service, we were spread across AWS (virtual everything) and Rackspace (vserver, F5 LBs, etc.) and it was a total nightmare – we were trying to migrate all the way out to the cloud just so we could delete half of the cruft in all our code that touched the infrastructure – complexity that caused production issues (frequently) and slowed our rate of delivering new functionality. The KISS principle is wrathful when ignored.

I’m not saying hybrid cloud, private cloud, etc. are never the answer – but I would say that on average they are usually not the right answer, and if you are using them as your default approach then it’s better than even money you’re being inefficient. Furthermore, using SaaS and PaaS requires less expertise (and thus money) than IaaS which uses less than private cloud – people justify “starting with private” because you are “leveraging skill sets” or whatever – and then 6 months later you have a whole team still trying to bake off OpenStack vs Eucalyptus when you could have had your app (you know, the thing you actually need to fulfill a business goal) already running in a public PaaS. I’m not sure why I need to say out loud “delivering the most amount of value with the least amount of effort, time, and expenditure is good” – but apparently I do. Just because you *can* do something does not mean you *should* do it.  You need to carefully shepherd your time to delivery and your costs, and not just let things float in a morass of IT because “these things take time…”

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