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Chuck Hollis
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Today is the day Dell officially acquires EMC. Having spent 18 years at EMC (and two at VMware), my attention keeps wandering to the topic -- and its meaning -- even though I've moved on to bigger and better things. Maybe it's time for a little writing therapy? We all have had plenty of time to process the single largest tech acquisition in history. Today, the combined DellEMC marketing machine is fully cranked up, blasting Happy Rays into the interwebs. All as expected. As most big events are a mixture of positives and negatives, this one is no exception. Congrats To Joe Tucci I'm not shy to say, I've always been a big fan of Joe's. His plan to build EMC from a pure play storage company into something more meaningful (e.g. EMC Federation) was well-intended. He also gets credit for the smartest IT acquisition evah -- VMware. Many of us knew for many years that EMC as a standalone entity wasn't going to be critical mass in the new world order. Joe did the right thing, he sold the company to the right guy for the right price. Way to go, Joe. It was a privilege to be on... Continue reading
Posted Sep 7, 2016 at Chuck's Blog
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Sometimes, you see a phrase that makes you pause and think. I tripped over this one, courtesy of Justin Warren, who was commenting on the recent VMworld announcements. The phrase made me think. Thinking is good. Thank you, Justin. New ideas in the IT world are bright, shiny objects that initially capture our attention. They then become utterly familiar, and the world progresses to newer, brighter and shinier things. VMware was founded in 1998. It was acquired by EMC over 12 years ago. Next week, EMC disappears and becomes part of Dell. Life moves on. VMware has been very successful in helping to define what "private cloud" means inside a data center. Amazon Web Services was publicly launched in 2006, a decade ago. It too has been wildly successful, and has helped to define what "public cloud" means outside of data centers. Both can reasonably be described as "legacy", if nothing else than through age and maturity alone. Both could be described as providing infrastructure as a service, or IaaS. They also can be described as two competing industry forces attempting to capture each other's territory. When it comes to enterprise IT, I can't make the argument that either is... Continue reading
Posted Sep 6, 2016 at Chuck's Blog
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I must be getting old. I can't remember whether I mentioned it here or not. I've been writing pieces for Forbes for a while now, and just realized that I've built up a decent number of articles there. You'll note that the tone and target audience is a bit different than what I do here. I think some of the pieces came out pretty well, if I do say so myself :) Chuck's articles on Forbes Continue reading
Posted Sep 1, 2016 at Chuck's Blog
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Last week, I wrote a blog post "Why I've Lost Interest In Hyperconverged". My argument, in a nutshell, was that the central value proposition for hyperconverged was taking cost out of infrastructure by consolidating less-important applications. That creates two strategic problems for its vendors. First, as it's all about saving money and not providing any relevant application-specific differentiation, all players will soon be in a race to the bottom: who can do the job for the least money? Second, if the primary customer motivation is cost reduction, the next logical step would be to ship those virtualized clusters off to some sort of public cloud. Especially if it was super-easy to do so. Basically, game over for on-premises vendors at that point. Once a workload has gone to the public cloud, there is precisely zero economic opportunity left for any of the familiar hyperconverged players because -- well -- none of them have a public cloud. This move to the public cloud is not simple hand-waving on my part. It's way easier than you think, and is being widely used today. I'm going to use Oracle Ravello as just one example as to why I am resolute in my prediction... Continue reading
Posted Aug 31, 2016 at Chuck's Blog
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Watching the current raft of hyperconverged players go at it in the blogosphere has turned into a movie where I've lost all interest in the plot and characters. Here's just one recent example of yet another intense piece from my colleague Chad Sakac. The problem is that I'm just not interested anymore. I know how the movie predictably ends. That wasn't always the case. Long-term readers will remember me going on and on about hyperconverged, etc. etc. Things change. I move on. Maybe you should too? Here's the pitch: for medium-to-larger IT shops, hyperconverged isn't strategic, it's just a tactical cost-reduction tool. And if something isn't strategic to the people who buy large amounts of IT stuff, it's not strategic to me either. Everything else gets quickly commodotized. Since I've historically done a decent job predicting shifts in the IT world, you might want to invest a few moments and understand my thinking. Agree or disagree -- it's up to you. What's This All About? Look beyond the buzzword, and you'll find some very simple ideas. A hyperconverged architecture generally involves implementing storage functionality in software and using server-resident storage devices vs. a traditional external storage array. The resulting environment... Continue reading
Posted Aug 24, 2016 at Chuck's Blog
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With every industry trend, there frequently emerges a tipping point that signifies "yes, this is real, this is happening". I offer for your consideration "cloud quotas". The idea is simple: executive management, frustrated by progress, creates a timeline for the IT function to get to cloud, e.g. 80% of workloads by 2020 or similar. Yearly goals are established to get to the desired state. And to put some teeth into it, the IT budget is then forcibly partitioned into two segments: cloud and non-cloud, starting with 2016. The proportion of earmarked cloud spend is raised every budgeting year until the desired strategic target is achieved. The goals are structured in such a way that typical IT cloud-washing won't help much. Yes, IT will get credit for moving desktop and collaboration out, and perhaps that handful of pilot applications that have been moved, and of course any SaaS implemented -- but IT is not likely to get credit for, say, that IaaS-only private cloud sitting in the data center. This is not theoretical: I have seen many examples from around the globe. Where I've seen it implemented, it's non-negotiable. It's real, and it's happening for more than a few large IT... Continue reading
Posted Jun 30, 2016 at Chuck's Blog
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I play in two different bar bands these days. I love it. I've been in about a half-dozen other bands, and have auditioned for maybe several dozen over the years. When you invest the time and energy with the right people, it can be enormously fun and deeply satisfying. However, much of the time, not so much. Finding the right band situation isn't easy. One or more things won't click -- often out of your control -- and you have to make the tough choice to stick it out, or move on. Are work situations so different? Not from my perspective. When it all works and works well, teams in the workplace can be huge fun and deeply satisfying. Other times you have to decide whether to slog through it, and hope for the good stuff down the road apiece. And if the magic doesn't materialize, sometimes the wise decision is to politely move on and set up shop elsewhere. Being In A Band Lots of good musicians out there who do well as solo artists. They have my respect. However, playing in a band requires an additional set of musical, social and -- sometimes -- leadership skills. You're thrown... Continue reading
Posted Jun 7, 2016 at Chuck's Blog
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Perhaps there is no deeper disappointment in life than when a cherished concept fails to produce the desired results. Such is the case with the industry’s notion of private clouds. I’m throwing in the towel, walking away – and cursing under my breath. It’s a failed concept. Yes, I was seriously seduced early on. Check out this Jan 2009 post where I breathlessly made the case for this new private cloud model. If I wasn't the first person to do so, I was certainly close to being the first. I argued vigorously for the cause for many years. For me, it was the right answer at the right time. I hereby publicly admit the error of my ways. The world has changed, and so must I. Why is it that traditional private clouds have left most IT shops at a dead end? A Simple Concept The idea behind a private cloud was straightforward: use virtualization and a little automation to create an easy-to-consume data center infrastructure service that provides virtual machines and their associated storage. By keeping a little extra capacity around, IT could be much more responsive to that next provisioning request. At the time, private clouds were far... Continue reading
Posted May 24, 2016 at Chuck's Blog
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If you're a grizzled infrastructure guy like me, you're completely justified in your skepticism when any vendor claims to have announced something Truly NewTM. I mean, how many flash arrays, converged thingies, etc. does the world need? Because we tend to focus on the underlying technology, we tend to miss other equally important innovations. For example, Uber didn't really introduce new technology to the world; they just changed a familiar consumption model. A few weeks back, Oracle announced a new industry category -- cloud machines -- under the banner "Cloud At Customer". First up: the Oracle Cloud Machine -- on-prem PaaS/IaaS targeted at enterprise application developers. Simply put, it's a public cloud model delivered in the data center. It fundamentally changes the familiar consumption model. In the short time since, I've been seriously stunned by the level of customer and partner interest. People immediately grasp the concept, realize that it's fundamentally different alternative, and are immediately curious. We must be on to something here :) Sure, I personally thought the notion of a cloud machine was going to be successful. But at the end of the day, what I think doesn't matter that much; the opinion of thousands of IT... Continue reading
Posted Apr 18, 2016 at Chuck's Blog
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From time to time, I am preoccupied with a simple question: why are we all here? Perhaps the same thought nags at you as well. I prefer answers that are simple and direct, and don't require invoking a cosmological constant. It wasn't until later in life that I came up with an answer that works for me. Your results may be different, naturally. I believe it's very simple: we are here to be happy -- individually and collectively. Learning To Be Happy I think the first mission we have as human beings is to learn how to make ourselves happy. As young children, it seems to come quite easily, but it gets more complicated as we become adults. I think it has something to do with hormones. As an adult, I was eventually successful in teaching myself what made me happy. It wasn't obvious at first. I lost a lot of time chasing things that other people told me were supposed to make me happy, but didn't. My world changed significantly for the better when I finally dialed in the working formula. A key learning: listen to yourself, not others. I often meet adults of all ages and all walks... Continue reading
Posted Apr 11, 2016 at Chuck's Blog
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Our IT industry has always adored "strategic relationships", we seem to read about several every week. They can be convenient answers to painful gaps in individual strategies. Some work out, most don't. Hope springs eternal. But the announcement of IBM and VMware getting together to deliver cloud services certainly deserves closer inspection -- at least by me. On one level, it makes perfect sense. On another level, not so much. While we'll likely have to wait a year or more to see if this particular spawning bears any offspring, it's definitely worth discussing. What Was Announced From the press release: IBM and VMware have jointly designed an architecture and cloud offering that will enable customers to automatically provision pre-configured VMware SDDC environments, consisting of VMware vSphere, NSX and Virtual SAN on the IBM Cloud Another take from someone writing on Forbes is here. And I'm sure there will be many more opinion pieces to join mine over the next few days :) No real specifics were discussed about actual availability, as you'd expect. Why This Makes Sense On one level, you can see what each party gets from this arrangement. VMware, which has been telling a hybrid cloud story for... Continue reading
Posted Feb 22, 2016 at Chuck's Blog
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In the automotive world, a defective part from a supplier can result in expense and tragedy. Witness the massive Takata airbag recall, affecting dozens of manufacturers and tens of millions of vehicles on the road today, including potentially yours :( The IT world is no different, we are all dependent on components from others, especially Linux and open source code. Bugs are found, some are serious -- and they must be quickly patched at considerable effort and expense, otherwise tragedy may await. Last week, a particularly nasty bug was found in the widely used glibc code that enabled bad guys to essentially take over a DNS server. More details here, here and here. The severity of the bug resulted in a "PATCH NOW!" directive to the IT community at large. While not as nasty as the infamous Heartbleed or Venom bugs, this one merited a serious and immediate response. For many IT shops, this sort of all-too-common fire drill involves not only a lot of effort, but downtime as well. Except for Oracle shops, that is. The Magic Of Ksplice Typically, it's very hard to patch code when it's running -- sort of like swapping out an airline engine while... Continue reading
Posted Feb 22, 2016 at Chuck's Blog
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When "cloud" became A Big Thing several years ago, we were all greatly amused by vendors who simply added a "cloud" moniker to familiar offerings from a previous era. If cloud is the new shiny thing -- and, as a vendor, you're flat-footed in having new offerings -- why not simply rebrand the familiar as "cloud"? Hence the term cloudwashing - painting a thin cloud veneer over what is most certainly not cloud. Microsoft's infamous "To The Cloud!" campaign earned justifiable scorn, for example. Vendors weren't the only ones doing a bit of cloudwashing. Within many IT shops, the notion of a private cloud became quite popular -- a cool thing to do. An awful large number of ordinary virtualized server clusters got internally -- and aspirationally -- rebranded as "private cloud". Fast forward to 2016 -- and cloudwashing is still with us, but in a different form. Early versions of cloudwashing were responses to clear gaps between expectations and reality. Modern cloudwashing is no different. I would argue that, when it comes to enterprise IT cloud strategies, we're still cloudwashing ourselves: vendors and IT shops alike. Modern Cloud Motivations Early cloud motivations were mostly about saving money and not... Continue reading
Posted Feb 16, 2016 at Chuck's Blog
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I was looking forward to joining Wikibon's #crowdchat on "True Private Clouds" last Thursday. I enjoy the topic, the participants and the platform. As is so often the case, it turned out that my travel plans didn't align, so I tried to catch up afterwards. It's probably good that I missed it, as I certainly would have been seen as a disruptive influence :) Make no mistake: I know and like the gang at Wikibon. We've all been around the industry for quite a while. But even a great bunch of guys can have a bad day once in a while. In Search Of The "True Private Cloud" Brian Gracely took a stab at elevating the industry discussion around private clouds at the end of last year. It's a quick read here. TL;DR version: a "true" private cloud is presumably sold and supported by a single vendor: hardware, operating system and hypervisor. I think the goal here is to differentiate against the familiar practice of rolling-your-own from different vendors. Not to quibble, but I think Brian is attempting to describe a better way of going about obtaining a private cloud: e.g. get it all from one vendor, and saving yourself... Continue reading
Posted Feb 15, 2016 at Chuck's Blog
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It's become an obligatory part of most enterprise IT conversations I have -- what's the latest org structure? I joke that most enterprise IT shops are always in one of three states: (1) in the middle of a reorg, (2) getting over the last reorg, and (3) preparing for the next big reorganization. I have been unable to find any useful industry data to confirm my impression that many larger IT shops appear to be in an almost-perpetual state of reorganization and realignment. Much more so it seems than other corporate functions: sales, marketing, finance, HR, etc. Which brings up the obvious question -- why is this? And what does it imply for enterprise IT strategy in general? It's Not Universal To be fair, there might be some sampling bias on my part. I tend to work with larger IT groups in fast-moving industries. If things are hunky-dory in your world, I'm unlikely to connect with you. Some IT groups I meet are comparatively stable: same leaders, same people -- maybe a bit of readjustment around the edges over the years -- but nothing too dynamic. Stable, predictable evolution. Others seem to be in a constant state of organizational upheaval:... Continue reading
Posted Jan 21, 2016 at Chuck's Blog
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I have been prattling on about cloud topics for over six years now, helping IT practitioners come to terms with the changing world around them. It has often become a soul-searching, emotion-laden discussion. Maybe I should get business cards that say "Cloud Therapist"? In the last few months, it seems that cloud angst has started to reach an entirely new highs. No such thing as a short meeting when someone needs to pour their heart out. I think that's because -- when it comes to cloud -- most enterprise IT thinkers are waking up to the realization that they've hit an architectural wall, and it's starting to hurt. It Didn't Start That Way Go back many years, and I was explaining to people what a "cloud" was, and how it was different than traditional forms of IT architecture. Intellectually interesting, but hardly relevant to the world of enterprise IT back then. As an abstract concept, it was at a comfortably safe distance from day-to-day reality. After AWS burst onto the scene, IT leaders were pressured to understand what cloud did, and potentially use it for some of their needs. Frequently, there was an emotional tone to the topic, as public... Continue reading
Posted Dec 17, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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The cloud discussion has been percolating through IT for about seven years now. It shows every sign of now going to a full boil. Most every IT leader I meet is now accountable for having an acceptable "cloud strategy" of some sort. Up to now, I think it's fair to say that most IT leaders have been playing what might be charitably described as an edge game, largely by keeping cloud at the periphery of the IT landscape, and far away from the core. Time is running out. Sooner or later, cloud is going to crash into the core of IT. Just like two planets colliding, the result will look very different for both. And the decisions you make today will greatly affect what the new world looks like when the inevitable happens. The Many Faces Of Cloud Fully appreciated, cloud has multiple aspects: a consumption model, an operational model, a service delivery model, even a business model for enterprise IT. Most importantly, the advent of cloud has fundamentally changed the way we think about things, arguably for the better. Sorry, there's no going back :) Just as most IT shops couldn't have made it through the last decade without... Continue reading
Posted Dec 4, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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It's sometimes depressing to realize that I have been in and around IT infrastructure types for at least 30 years. Sigh. I certainly appreciate how they look at the world, but I despair when I see their own interests diverge from that of the businesses they serve. Even though I suppose that's human nature, it's certainly not ideal. Case in point: building for the averages vs. building for the extremes. Here's the synopsis: in an effort to "standardize" the infrastructure stack, huge opportunities for portfolio optimization aren't fully considered. But what might work for IT doesn't always work for the business. Inside The IT Infrastructure Mind Not everyone thinks the same way, but there's certainly a cohort that thinks alike. They view IT infrastructure architecture as a layered stack, with clear preferred choices at each layer: server, storage, hypervisor and so on. The idea is to ostensibly pick the "best" for each component, and standardize its usage as much as possible. While everyone appreciates a modicum of integration between stack layers (e.g. the hypervisor and storage), the bigger goal is to reduce dependencies between layers, and ideally produce an architecturally agnostic stack. The stated goal of being architecturally agnostic is... Continue reading
Posted Dec 1, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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And while we're at it, where does the whole category of converged and hyperconverged vendors go from here? Right now, this is the #1 question I get from colleagues, IT pros and industry-watchers. Make no mistake: I was a passionate advocate of VCE -- at the time. Many of my colleagues have worked for VCE, or -- in some cases -- still work for VCE. By the way, a big shout-out to my colleague Nina Hargus, just promoted from being VCE's CMO to EMC's. I tend to want to wish people the best, but unfortunately the future looks quite dark through my lens. The products may not have yet changed, but the context certainly has. The Big Idea VCE was born Nov 3 2009 (yes, six years ago) as a response to a problem we all saw in the industry -- customers were getting killed trying to self-assemble infrastructure. To this day, many still are. Folks would take storage from one vendor, compute from a second, fabric from a third and a hypervisor from a fourth-- and that's when the fun started. Some assembly required. Infrastructure projects became lengthy and complex, with uncertain schedules and outcomes. Worse, keeping everything patched,... Continue reading
Posted Nov 12, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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Coming off of Oracle Open World, the message was clear: cloud, cloud and more cloud. Larry Ellison called it the biggest industry transition since the desktop PC. In my words: cloud in all its sundry forms fundamentally re-invents how IT services are produced and consumed. It's the new design pattern for enterprise IT architectures. Turmoil and controversy abound as a result. On the vendor side, not all of the current industry players will cross the chasm. Many have tried, and are flailing. On the enterprise IT side, hard choices and big bets need to be made, and soon. I've seen some of the industry press express skepticism around Oracle's cloud ambitions. While we're all entitled to our opinions, not all of us have the same insight into what really seems to be happening. I've looked at cloud from my previous employers: EMC and VMware. I've worked with service providers on architectures and business models. And I've spent way too much time in the bowels of enterprise IT. I, too, am entitled to my opinions. Here I present my personal, biased case for Oracle's cloud strategy in all its forms -- evaluated as a mature paradigm through the lens of enterprise... Continue reading
Posted Nov 4, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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There was a time decades ago when I was intensely interested in CPU technology. RISC, CISC, all that. Endless debates about which one was "better", which one was going to win in the long term, etc. Well, we know how the story ended up for most of the datacenter market: it’s mostly an Intel world. Like most people, I thought "well, that's that": most everything was going to run on x86 unless there was a good reason not to. Sort of like regular-grade unleaded gas, or basic cable TV. Fast forward a bunch of years, and I land at Oracle. I find that the Sun-derived technologies are alive and well, and carving out a fascinating market segment where everyday x86 doesn't do so well: demanding workloads where using a fewer number of smarter processors can do more work than a boatload of familiar x86. As part of this week's Oracle Open World and the launch of the new M7 processor, I enjoyed getting my CPU geek back on, and found a lot to really like. I think you will too. Generic Vs. Co-Engineered In my opinion, the familiar x86 has become generic -- the basic architecture is expected to support... Continue reading
Posted Oct 26, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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One of the red-meat topics in IT guaranteed to spark a debate is the topic of "lock in", e.g. the difficulty in moving away from a given technology should the desire present itself. Lock-in is frequently presented as an evil thing, to be avoided at all costs. The reality is a bit more nuanced: if you're working in enterprise IT, some degree of lock-in is inevitable -- there will always be switching costs involved. For experienced practitioners, it's just one more aspect of a complex equation to be managed and optimized. Like most aspects of enterprise IT, I've given the topic considerable thought, as I'm sure others have done. When I was at EMC, lock-in was a huge customer concern. At VMware, paradoxically it didn't come up all that much. And now that I'm in Oracle, I'm back in the middle of lock-in debates. So lets' get started, shall we? My Theory Of Enterprise IT At a high level, enterprise IT groups exist to deliver information services to the businesses that need them. To the people who pay the bills, enterprise IT is essentially a black box: money goes in, services come out. Success can be measured by reducing the... Continue reading
Posted Oct 20, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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So much has been written about the tech industry's largest buyout -- a mind-numbing $67 billion. It's been exactly one week since the announcement -- just enough time for me to get my thoughts in order. 19 years at EMC, two years at VMware -- yes, I'm entitled to an opinion or two. As you might expect with a transaction of this magnitude and complexity, it's going to take some time. I figure 9-12 months to close, another 6-9 months of getting organized, so we'll be well into 2017 before we all know how it ends up. That's two years from now -- assuming that there aren't any significant legal challenges. Here's the problem: a lot can happen in two years. Not good to be sitting on the sidelines, waiting for future clarity. As with everyone who's been involved with EMC, VMware and all the other players, there are mixed emotions all around. Some of the articles got a few key points right, a few I thought were way off base. And there was a whole lot of echo chamber. Bottom line: although I wish all my ex-colleagues well, this event does not bode well for those employed by horizontal... Continue reading
Posted Oct 19, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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Many IT infrastructure groups are intent on building their own landscapes, using horizontal technologies. Maybe they want to standardize on HP servers, vSphere for virtualization, RedHat for Linux, Cisco for the data center network, EMC for the storage, and so on. The specific choices aren't relevant in this argument; the underlying philosophy is what matters. The newer thinking in this arena is pre-integrated stacks: converged (e.g. VCE Vblocks, HP CI, etc.) or perhaps some of the newer hyperconverged offerings (e.g. VMware's EVO, Nutanix, etc.). Less effort all around thanks to a modicum of integration, but still a generic stack by any other name. So, let me ask a clarifying question: what are the most important and demanding workloads in your landscape? I'm guessing it's databases, and the applications that use them. Might it make sense to think in terms of *optimized* stacks for these crown jewels vs. generic ones? If your business is heavily invested in databases, maybe mainstream generic infrastructure thinking isn't doing you any favors. A Moment Of Somber Reflection? If you're like most enterprises, databases are at the very heart of your business. We almost take for granted that timely, accurate information is immediately available at our... Continue reading
Posted Oct 8, 2015 at Chuck's Blog
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One of the more popular buzzwords in our industry is consolidation: the idea of combining multiple individual workloads into a single platform or system. The stated goal is usually around saving money, although there are certainly other benefits. Newton's Third Law states that for every action in nature, there is an equal opposing reaction, and consolidation is no exception. I think IT vendors tend to push consolidation without a full appreciation for the very valid opposing forces. And I think IT organizations sometimes lack the will to overcome these resisting forces in pursuit of a better outcome. Case in point: now that I'm at Oracle, I see these amazing cost-saving proposals around database consolidation. We're talking eye-popping big savings numbers, buttressed with a rock-solid justification. But I don't see nearly enough leaders acting on these opportunities. Nobody's right, nobody's wrong -- but it shouldn't be that way. The Simple Ideas Take 100 medium-sized applications. You could run them on 100 individual servers -- don't forget, we all actually did that at one time. You could virtualize them on 20 individual servers, or run them all in a shared cluster of maybe 10 servers. Your cost-to-serve drops dramatically as you push... Continue reading
Posted Sep 25, 2015 at Chuck's Blog