Category Archives: Open source

Big Data in the Cloud at Google I/O

Last week was a great party for the entire Google developer family, including Google Cloud Platform. And within the Cloud Platform, Big Data processing services. Which is where my focus has been in the almost two years I’ve been at Google.

It started with a bang, when our fearless leader Urs unveiled Cloud Dataflow in the keynote. Supported by a very timely demo (streaming analytics for a World Cup game) by my colleague Eric.

After the keynote, we had three live sessions:

In “Big Data, the Cloud Way“, I gave an overview of the main large-scale data processing services on Google Cloud:

  • Cloud Pub/Sub, a newly-announced service which provides reliable, many-to-many, asynchronous messaging,
  • the aforementioned Cloud Dataflow, to implement data processing pipelines which can run either in streaming or batch mode,
  • BigQuery, an existing service for large-scale SQL-based data processing at interactive speed, and
  • support for Hadoop and Spark, making it very easy to deploy and use them “the Cloud Way”, well integrated with other storage and processing services of Google Cloud Platform.

The next day, in “The Dawn of Fast Data“, Marwa and Reuven described Cloud Dataflow in a lot more details, including code samples. They showed how to easily construct a streaming pipeline which keeps a constantly-updated lookup table of most popular Twitter hashtags for a given prefix. They also explained how Cloud Dataflow builds on over a decade of data processing innovation at Google to optimize processing pipelines and free users from the burden of deploying, configuring, tuning and managing the needed infrastructure. Just like Cloud Pub/Sub and BigQuery do for event handling and SQL analytics, respectively.

Later that afternoon, Felipe and Jordan showed how to build predictive models in “Predicting the future with the Google Cloud Platform“.

We had also prepared some recorded short presentations. To learn more about how easy and efficient it is to use Hadoop and Spark on Google Cloud Platform, you should listen to Dennis in “Open Source Data Analytics“. To learn more about block storage options (including SSD, both local and remote), listen to Jay in “Optimizing disk I/O in the cloud“.

It was gratifying to see well-informed people recognize the importance of these announcement and partners understand how this will benefit their customers. As well as some good press coverage.

It’s liberating to now be able to talk freely about recent progress on our quest to equip Google Cloud users with easy to use data processing tools. Everyone can benefit from Google’s experience making developers productive while efficiently processing data at large scale. With great power comes great productivity.

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Filed under Big Data, BigQuery, Cloud Computing, Cloud Dataflow, Everything, Google Cloud Platform, Implementation, Open source, Query, Spark, Tech, Utility computing

Perspectives on Cloud.com acquisition

Interesting analysis (by Gartner’s Lydia Leong) on the acquisition of Cloud.com by Citrix (apparently for 100x revenues) and its position as a cheaper alternative for vCloud (at least until OpenStack Nova becomes stable).

Great read, even though that part:

“[Zygna] uses Cloud.com to provide Amazon-compatible (and thus Rightscale-compatible) infrastructure internally, letting it easily move workloads across their own infrastructure and Amazon’s.”

is a bit of a simplification.

While I’m at it, here’s another take on Cloud.com, this time from an OSS license perspective. Namely, the difference between building your business on GPL (like Eucalyptus) or Apache 2 (like the more community-driven open source projects such as OpenStack).

Towards the end, there’s also a nice nod to the Oracle Cloud API:

“DMTF has been receiving other submissions for an API standard. Oracle has made its submission public.  It is based on an earlier Sun proposal, and it is the best API we have yet seen. Furthermore, Oracle has identified a core subset to allow initial early adoption, as well as areas where vendors (including themselves and crucially VMware) may continue to extend to allow differentiation.”

Here’s more on the Oracle Cloud API, including an explanation of the “core/extension” split mentioned above.

 

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Filed under Cloud Computing, DMTF, Everything, Governance, Mgmt integration, Open source, OpenStack, Oracle, Specs, Standards, Utility computing, Virtualization, VMware

Exalogic, EC2-on-OVM, Oracle Linux: The Oracle Open World early recap

Among all the announcements at Oracle Open World so far, here is a summary of those I was the most impatient to blog about.

Oracle Exalogic Elastic Cloud

This was the largest part of Larry’s keynote, he called it “one big honkin’ cloud”. An impressive piece of hardware (360 2.93GHz cores, 2.8TB of RAM, 960GB SSD, 40TB disk for one full rack) with excellent InfiniBand connectivity between the nodes. And you can extend the InfiniBand connectivity to other Exalogic and/or Exadata racks. The whole packaged is optimized for the Oracle Fusion Middleware stack (WebLogic, Coherence…) and managed by Oracle Enterprise Manager.

This is really just the start of a long linage of optimized, pre-packaged, simplified (for application administrators and infrastructure administrators) application platforms. Management will play a central role and I am very excited about everything Enterprise Manager can and will bring to it.

If “Exalogic Elastic Cloud” is too taxing to say, you can shorten it to “Exalogic” or even just “EL”. Please, just don’t call it “E2C”. We don’t want to get into a trademark fight with our good friends at Amazon, especially since the next important announcement is…

Run certified Oracle software on OVM at Amazon

Oracle and Amazon have announced that AWS will offer virtual machines that run on top of OVM (Oracle’s hypervisor). Many Oracle products have been certified in this configuration; AMIs will soon be available. There is a joint support process in place between Amazon and Oracle. The virtual machines use hard partitioning and the licensing rules are the same as those that apply if you use OVM and hard partitioning in your own datacenter. You can transfer licenses between AWS and your data center.

One interesting aspect is that there is no extra fee on Amazon’s part for this. Which means that you can run an EC2 VM with Oracle Linux on OVM (an Oracle-tested combination) for the same price (without Oracle Linux support) as some other Linux distribution (also without support) on Amazon’s flavor of Xen. And install any software, including non-Oracle, on this VM. This is not the primary intent of this partnership, but I am curious to see if some people will take advantage of it.

Speaking of Oracle Linux, the next announcement is…

The Unbreakable Enterprise Kernel for Oracle Linux

In addition to the RedHat-compatible kernel that Oracle has been providing for a while (and will keep supporting), Oracle will also offer its own Linux kernel. I am not enough of a Linux geek to get teary-eyed about the birth announcement of a new kernel, but here is why I think this is an important milestone. The stratification of the application runtime stack is largely a relic of the past, when each layer had enough innovation to justify combining them as you see fit. Nowadays, the innovation is not in the hypervisor, in the OS or in the JVM as much as it is in how effectively they all combine. JRockit Virtual Edition is a clear indicator of things to come. Application runtimes will eventually be highly integrated and optimized. No more scheduler on top of a scheduler on top of a scheduler. If you squint, you’ll be able to recognize aspects of a hypervisor here, aspects of an OS there and aspects of a JVM somewhere else. But it will be mostly of interest to historians.

Oracle has by far the most expertise in JVMs and over the years has built a considerable amount of expertise in hypervisors. With the addition of Solaris and this new milestone in Linux access and expertise, what we are seeing is the emergence of a company for which there will be no technical barrier to innovation on making all these pieces work efficiently together. And, unlike many competitors who derive most of their revenues from parts of this infrastructure, no revenue-protection handcuffs hampering innovation either.

Fusion Apps

Larry also talked about Fusion Apps, but I believe he plans to spend more time on this during his Wednesday keynote, so I’ll leave this topic aside for now. Just remember that Enterprise Manager loves Fusion Apps.

And what about Enterprise Manager?

We don’t have many attention-grabbing Enterprise Manager product announcements at Oracle Open World 2010, because we had a big launch of Enterprise Manager 11g earlier this year, in which a lot of new features were released. Technically these are not Oracle Open World news anymore, but many attendees have not seen them yet so we are busy giving demos, hands-on labs and presentations. From an application and middleware perspective, we focus on end-to-end management (e.g. from user experience to BTM to SOA management to Java diagnostic to SQL) for faster resolution, application lifecycle integration (provisioning, configuration management, testing) for lower TCO and unified coverage of all the key parts of the Oracle portfolio for productivity and reliability. We are also sharing some plans and our vision on topics such as application management, Cloud, support integration etc. But in this post, I have chosen to only focus on new product announcements. Things that were not publicly known 48 hours ago. I am also not covering JavaOne (see Alexis). There is just too much going on this week…

Just kidding, we like it this way. And so do the customers I’ve been talking to.

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Filed under Amazon, Application Mgmt, Cloud Computing, Conference, Everything, Linux, Manageability, Middleware, Open source, Oracle, Oracle Open World, OVM, Tech, Trade show, Utility computing, Virtualization, Xen

Cloud + proprietary software = ♥

When I left HP for Oracle, in the summer of 2007, a friend made the argument that Cloud Computing (I think we were still saying “Utility Computing” at the time) would be the death of proprietary software.

There was a lot to support this view. EC2 was one year old and its usage was overwhelmingly based on open source software (OSS). For proprietary software, there was no clear understanding of how licensing terms applied to Cloud deployments. Not only would most sales reps not know the answer, back then they probably wouldn’t have comprehended the question.

Two and a half years later… well it doesn’t look all that different at first blush. EC2 seems to still be a largely OSS-dominated playground. Especially since the most obvious (though not necessarily the most accurate) measure is to peruse the description/content of public AMIs. They are (predictably since you can’t generally redistribute proprietary software) almost entirely OSS-based, with the exception of the public AMIs provided by software vendors themselves (Oracle, IBM…).

And yet the situation has improved for usage of proprietary software in the Cloud. Most software vendors have embraced Cloud deployments and clarified licensing issues (taking the example of Oracle, here is its Cloud Computing Center page, an overview of the licensing policy for Cloud deployments and the AWS/Oracle partnership page to encourage the use of Oracle software on EC2; none of this existed in 2007).

But these can be called reactive adaptations. At best (depending on the variability of your load and whether you use an Unlimited License Agreement), these moves have brought the “proprietary vs. OSS” debate in the Cloud back to the same parameters as for on-premise deployments. They have simply corrected the initial challenge of not even knowing how to license proprietary software for Cloud deployments.

But it’s not stopping here. What we are seeing is some of the parameters for the “proprietary vs. OSS” debate become more friendly towards proprietary software in the Cloud than on-premise. I am referring to the emergence of EC2 instances for which the software licenses are included in the per-hour rate for server instances. This pretty much removes license management as a concern altogether. The main example is Windows EC2 instances. As a user, you don’t have to deal with any Windows license consideration. You just request a machine and use it. Which of course doesn’t mean you are not paying for Windows. These Windows instances are more expensive than comparable Linux instances (e.g. $0.34 versus $0.48 per hour in the case of a “standard/large” instance) and Amazon takes care of paying Microsoft.

The removal of license management as a concern may not make a big difference to large corporations that have an Unlimited License Agreement, but for smaller companies it may take a chunk out of the reasons to use open source software. Not only do you not have to track license usage (and renewal), you never have to spend time with a sales rep. You don’t have to ask yourself at what point in your beta program you’ve moved from a legitimate use of the (often free) development license to a situation in which you need a production license. Including the software license directly in the cost of the base Cloud resource (e.g. the virtual machine instance) makes planning (and auto-scaling) easier: you use the same algorithm as in the “free license” situation, just with a different per hour cost. The trade-off becomes quantitative rather than qualitative. You can trade a given software stack against a faster CPU or more memory or more storage, depending on which combination serves your needs better. It doesn’t matter if the value you get from the instance comes from the software in the image or the hardware. This moves IaaS closer to PaaS (force.com doesn’t itemize your bill between hardware cost and software cost). Anything that makes IaaS more like PaaS is good for IaaS.

From an earlier post, about virtual appliances:

As with all things computer-related, the issue is going to get blurrier and then irrelevant . The great thing about software is that there is no solid line. In this case, we will eventually get more customized appliances (via appliance builders or model-driven appliance generation) blurring the line between installed software and appliance-based software.

I was referring to a blurring line in terms of how software is managed, but it’s also true in terms of how it is licensed.

There are of course many other reasons (than license management) why people use open source software rather than proprietary. The most obvious being the cost of the license (which, as we have seen, doesn’t go away but just gets incorporated in the base Cloud instance rate). Or they may simply prefer a given open source product independently of any licensing aspect. Some need access to the underlying code, to customize/improve it for their purpose. Or they may be leery of depending on one entity for the long-term viability of their platform. There may even be some who suspect any software that they don’t examine/compile themselves to contain backdoors (though these people are presumably not candidates for Cloud deployments in he first place). Etc. These reasons remain pretty much unchanged in the Cloud. But, anecdotally at least, removing license management concerns from both manual and automated tasks is a big improvement.

If Cloud providers get it right (which would require being smarter than wireless service providers, a low bar) and software vendors play ball, the “proprietary vs. OSS” debate may become more favorable to proprietary software in the Cloud than it is on-premise. For the benefit of customers, software vendors and Cloud providers. Hopefully Amazon will succeed where telcos mostly failed, in providing a convenient application metering/billing service for 3rd-party software offered on top of their infrastructural services (without otherwise getting in the way). Anybody remembers the Minitel? Today we’d call that a “Terminal as a Service” offering and if it did one thing well (beyond displaying green characters) it was billing. Which reminds me, I probably still have one in my parent’s basement.

[Note: every page of this blog mentions, at the bottom, that "the statements and opinions expressed here are my own and do not necessarily represent those of Oracle Corporation" but in this case I will repeat it here, in the body of the post.]

[UPDATED 2009/12/29: The Register seems to agree. In fact, they come close to paraphrasing this blog entry:

"It's proprietary applications offered by enterprise mainstays such as Oracle, IBM, and other big vendors that may turn out to be the big winners. The big vendors simply manipulated and corrected their licensing strategies to offer their applications in an on-demand or subscription manner.

Amazonian middlemen

AWS, for example, now offers EC2 instances for which the software licenses are included in the per-hour rate for server instances. This means that users who want to run Windows applications don't have to deal with dreaded Windows licensing - instead, they simply request a machine and use it while Amazon deals with paying Microsoft."]

[UPDATED 2010/1/25: I think this "Cloud as Monetization Strategy for Open Source" post by Geva Perry (based on an earlier post by Savio Rodrigues ) confirms that in the Cloud the line between open source and proprietary software is thinning.]

[UPDATED 2010/11/12: Related and interesting post on the AWS blog: Cloud Licensing Models That Exist Today]

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Filed under Amazon, Application Mgmt, Automation, Business, Cloud Computing, Everything, Open source, Oracle, Utility computing, Virtual appliance

Thoughts on the “Simple Cloud API”

PHP developers with Cloud aspirations rejoice! Zend has announced a PHP toolkit (called the Simple Cloud API project) to abstract and access application-level Cloud services. This is not just YACA (yet another Cloud API), as there are interesting differences between this and all the other Cloud toolkits out there.

First it’s PHP, which was not covered by the existing toolkits. Considering how many web applications are written in PHP (including the one that serves this very blog) this may seem strange, until you realize that most Cloud toolkits out there are focused on provisioning/managing low-level compute resources of the IaaS kind. Something that is far out of PHP’s sweetspot and much more practically handled with Java, Python, Ruby or some .NET language accessible via PowerShell.

Which takes us to the second, and arguably most interesting, characteristic of this toolkit: it is focused on application-level Cloud services (files, documents and queues for now) rather than infrastructure-level. In other word, it’s the first (to my knowledge) PaaS toolkit.

I also notice that Zend has gotten endorsements from IBM, Microsoft, Nirvanix, Rackspace and GoGrid. The first two especially seem to have impressed InfoWorld. Let’s keep in mind that at this point all we are talking about are canned quotes in a press release. Which rank only above politician campaign promises as predictor of behavior. In any case that can’t be the full extent of IBM and Microsoft’s response to the VMWare/Cisco push on IaaS standards. But it may suggest that their response will move the battlefield to include PaaS, which would be a smart move.

Now for a few more acerbic comments:

  • It has “simple” in its name, like SOAP (as Pete Lacey famously lampooned). In the long term this tends to negatively correlate with simplicity, just like the presence of “democratic” in the official name of a country does not bode well for actual democracy.
  • Please, don’t shorten “Simple Cloud API” to SCA which is already claimed in a (potentially) closely related field.
  • Reuven Cohen is technically correct to see it as “a way to create other higher level programmatic API interfaces such as REST or SOAP using an easy, yet portable PHP programming environment”. But pay attention to how many turtles are on this pile: the native provider API, the adapter to the “simple cloud API”, the SOAP or REST remote API and the consuming application’s native API. How much real isolation are you getting when you build your house on such a wobbly foundation

[UPDATE: Comments from someone in the know:  a programmer working on adding Azure support for this Simple Cloud API project.]

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Filed under Application Mgmt, Cloud Computing, Everything, IBM, Manageability, Mgmt integration, Microsoft, Middleware, Open source, Portability, Utility computing

Monitoringforge.org vs. the ghost of openmanagement.org

There is a new site to promote open source “IT monitoring and network management” solutions. It appears to be an initiative from GroundWork. There are many very interesting open source projects in this area and anything that helps lower the cost of finding and filtering them is good. But when the GroundWork VP of marketing says, in an interview, that “this is the first attempt to really create a neighborhood for all these projects to be represented in that is truly neutral” it brings back to mind the Open Management Consortium, announced in May 2006 and apparently defunct (the WayBack Machine has not been able to snapshot the site since February 2008). Back in the days it billed itself as a way “to help advance the promotion, adoption, development and integration of open source systems /network management software”, which sounds pretty similar.

What happened to it and what will keep monitoringforge.org from meeting a similar fate?

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Filed under Everything, IT Systems Mgmt, Open source

Toolkits to wrap and bridge Cloud management protocols

Cloud development toolkits like Libcloud (for Python) and jcloud (for Java) have been around for some time, but over the last two months they have been joined by several other open source contenders. They all claim to abstract the on-the-wire Cloud management protocols sufficiently to let you access different Clouds via the same code; while at the same time providing objects in your programming language of choice and saving you the trouble of dealing with on-the-wire messages. By focusing on interoperability, they slot themselves below the larger role of a “Cloud broker” (which also deals with tasks like transfer and choice). Here is the list, starting with the more recent contenders:

DeltaCloud shares the same goal of translating between different Cloud management protocols but they present their own interface as yet another Cloud REST API/protocol rather than a language-specific toolkit. More along the lines of what UCI is trying to do (not sure what’s up with that project, I recorded my skepticism earlier and am still waiting to be pleasantly surprised).

Of course there are also programming toolkits that are specific to one Cloud provider. They are language-specific wrappers around one Cloud management protocol. AWS protocols (EC2, S3, etc…) represent the most common case, for example amazon-ec2 (a Ruby Gem), Power-EC2Dream (in C# which gives it the tantalizing advantage of being invokable via PowerShell) and typica (for Java). For Clouds beyond AWS, check out the various RightScale Ruby Gems.

The main point of this entry was to list the cross-Cloud development toolkits in the bullet list above. But if you’re in the mood for some pontification you can keep reading.

For some reason, what used to be called “protocols” is often called “APIs” in Cloud settings. Witness the Sun Cloud “API” or the vCloud “API” which only define XML formats for on-the-wire messages. I have never heard of CIM/XML over HTTP, WSDM or WS-Management being referred as APIs though they occupy a very similar place. They are usually considered “protocols”.

It’s a just question of definition whether an on-the-wire protocol (rather than a language-specific set of objects/methods) qualifies as an “Application Programming Interface”. It’s not an “interface” in the Java sense of the term. But I can “program” against it so it could go either way. On this blog I have gone along with the “API” term because that seemed widely used, though in verbal conversations I have tended to stick to “protocol”. One problem with “API” is that it pushes you towards mixing the “what” and the “how” and not respecting the protocol/model dichotomy.

Where is becomes relevant is when you start to see language-specific APIs for Cloud control pop-up as listed above. You now have two classes of things called “API” and it gets a bit confusing. Is it time to bring back the “protocol” term for on-the-wire definitions?

As a developer, whether you’re better off eating your Cloud noodles using chopsticks (on-the-wire protocol definitions) or a fork (language-specific APIs) is an important decision that will stay with you and may come back to bit you (e.g. when the interfaces are versioned). There is a place for both of course, but if we are to learn anything from WS-* it’s that we went way too far in the “give me a java stub” direction. Which doesn’t mean there is no room for them, but be careful how far from the wire semantics you get. It become even trickier when your stub tries not jsut to bridge between XML and Java but also to smooth out the differences between several on-the-wire protocols, as the toolkits above do. The hope, of course, is that there will eventually be enough standardization of on-the-wire protocols to make this a moot point.

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Filed under Amazon, API, Automation, Cloud Computing, Everything, Google App Engine, Implementation, IT Systems Mgmt, Manageability, Mgmt integration, Open source, Protocols, Utility computing

Hyperic joins SpringSource

SpringSource’s Rod Johnson tells us today that his company just bought Hyperic. The press release is a bit more specific, announcing that SpringSource acquired “substantially all of the assets of Hyperic”, which sounds different from acquiring the company itself. Maybe not for SpringSource customers, but possibly for current Hyperic customers (and investors). Acquiring the assets of an open source company may sound like a bit of an oxymoron (though I understand it’s not just about the source code), but Hyperic is what’s called an “open core” company, which means not all the code is open source (see Tarus’ take on it). But the main difference between this and forking might be that you are getting the key employees; who are nice enough with their investors do to it in an orderly way.

Anyway, this is not a business or HR blog, it’s about the technology. And on that front, this looks like an interesting way for SpringSource to expand their monitoring from just the application down into some parts of the infrastructure, at least to some extent. SpringSource’s AMS (Application Management Suite) was already based on Hyperic, so the integration headaches should be minimal. And Hyperic has been doing some Cloud monitoring work too (see this podcast if you want to learn more about it), which if nothing else is PR gold these days (I am not saying it’s just that, but it is that for sure).

As a side note, it is ironic that Hyperic (which started inside Covalent until Javier Soltero spun it off and became its CEO) is now reunited with its mothership (SpringSource acquired Covalent last year).

I am a big proponent of management capabilities in application infrastructure. I applauded Rod Johnson for writing something along the same line last year and I am pleased to see him really push this approach with this acquisition.

Here are the questions that come to my mind when I read about this deal (keep in mind that this is competition from my perspective, so feel free to “question my questions” as you read):

I was going to ask whether this acquisition means that Hyperic users who don’t care for Spring are going to see diminishing value as the product becomes more tied to Spring. But if you look at what Hyperic gives you on the resources it manages, it’s mainly a list of metrics and a few control operations. These will still be there because they’ll be needed for the Spring-centric view anyway. It would be more of a question if Hyperic had advanced discovery features (e.g. examine all the config files of the managed resources and extract infrastructure topology from them). I would wonder if these would still be maintained/improved for non-Spring middleware. But again, not an issue here since I don’t think there is much of this in Hyperic today. And since presumably SpringSource made the acquisition in part to cover more resources types in their management offering (Rod talks about DB and VM management in his post), the list of supported infrastructure elements (OS, DB, VM, network…) will presumably grow rather than shrink. What may be trimmed down eventually is the list of application runtimes currently supported. If you’re a Hyperic/Coldfusion user you should probably attend the upcoming webcast to hear about the plans.

Still on the topic of Hyperic’s monitoring-only capabilities, it means that if Rod Johnson really wants to provide everything for Java developers to put “applications into production without the mediation of operations”, as he says, then he should keep his checkbook open (as a side note, if a developer puts “applications into production” then s/he doesn’t bypass operations but rather becomes operations; you may not think of yourself as one, but if you’re the one who gets called when the application crashes then you are in “operations”). SpringSource is still a long way from offering the complete picture. Here are my guesses for the management features on Rod’s grocery list:

  • configuration management -many potential acquisition candidates
  • in depth database management (going beyond the “you want metrics? we’ve got metrics!” approach to DB management) – fewer candidates

As far as in-house developement, I would expect this acquisition to first yield some auto-discovery of application (and infrastructure) topology in a Spring environment. Then they’ll have to decide if they want to double-down on Cloud support and build/buy more automation features or rather focus on application-centric management and join the fray of BTM / transaction tracing. Doing both at the same time would be very ambitious. This Register article seems to imply the former (Cloud) but my guess is that SpringSource will make the smart choice of focusing on the latter (application-centric management). I see in the Register that, “Peter Cooper-Ellis, SpringSource’s senior vice president of engineering and product management called management of the cloud and virtualized datacenters a strategic driver for the deal”. But this sounds more like telling a buzzword-hungry reporter what he wants to hear rather than actual strategy to me. We’ll see. I hope this acquisition and its follow-through will help move the industry in the right direction of application-centric management, something that will take more than one company.

[UPDATED 2009/5/7: A nice article on the acquisition by Charles Humble at InfoQ. Though I have to take issue with the assertion that "many aspects of monitoring that are essential in a data centre, such as OS and network monitoring, are irrelevant in the context of the cloud".]

[UPDATED 2009/6/23: Via Coté, an announcement that shows that the Cloud angle might have more post-aquisition juice than I expected. Unless this thing coasted on momentum alone.]

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Filed under Application Mgmt, Business, Cloud Computing, Everything, IT Systems Mgmt, Manageability, Middleware, Open source, Spring, Utility computing

Exploring “IT management in a changing IT world”

The tagline for this blog is “IT management in a changing IT world”. Of course nobody but their authors care about blog taglines. Still, in the unlikely event that I am asked to expand on the “changing IT world” part I would do it as follows.

The changes currently at work in the IT world can be organized along three axis:

  • IT infrastructure and management
  • Application development and delivery
  • Business and regulation

Each of these categories is ridiculously large. It’s only through the prism of the relationships between them that they provide any value. Think about three balls linked by coil springs.

If you give one of these balls a shake, you will start a hard-to-predict dance between them. This is similar to how the three domains above relate to one another. Changes in one (say a new focus on regulatory compliance in the “business” area, the emergence of virtualization technology in the “infrastructure” area or the appearance of Web 2.0 applications in the “application” area) start a complex movement involving all three. It takes a while to achieve a new equilibrium (and in practice it is never achieved since changes occur too often, adding stimulus to an already excited system). For a visual illustration, see this little YouTube video (but imagine that the three balls are arranged in a triangle rather than linearly and that every so often one of them gets pulled in a random direction).

This is not new of course. There have been changes in these three areas for as long as IT has existed (starting before it was called IT) and they have always driven changes in how IT is managed. To some extent they also have always influenced one another. The “new” part is that the connections are a lot tighter now, that the springs have a much higher force constant (the “k” in “F=-kx”). So here is my attempt at mapping today’s hot buzzwords on a map organized along these areas.

Before you ask: yes of course I have a very rigorous methodology, based on very precise quantitative data, to establish with certainty the exact x, y and z coordinates of each label. Buzzword topology is a precise science.

You may notice that the buzziest buzzword (at least currently), “Cloud”, does not appear on the map. It’s because it buzzes so much that it would be all over it, engulfing what currently appears as “virtualization”, “datacenter automation”, “Iaas”, “PaaS”, “SaaS” and “opex/capex”. There are two main parts in the “Cloud” buzzword: the “Technical Cloud” and the “Business Cloud”. The “Technical Cloud” is where we take virtualization and standardization (of machines, networks and application infrastructure) and turn that mind-boggling complexity into a manageable system that can be programmed to deliver applications (Cisco recently called it “Unified Computing”; HP, IBM and others have been trying to describe and brand it for a long time). Building on these technical capabilities comes the second part of “Cloud”, the “Business Cloud”. It is the ability to use infrastructure owned by a third party (presumably one able to leverage economies of scale) and all the possibilities this opens in the business realm. That’s what “Cloud” started as, back when it was known as “Utility Computing” and before it was applied to everything under the sun. A recent illustration of the relationship between the “Technical Cloud” and the “Business Cloud” is the introduction of vCloud by VMWare (their vision includes using VMotion technology, a piece of the “Technical Cloud”, not just to move machines between neighboring hypervisors but between organizations, enabling the “Business Cloud”). Anyway, that’s why “Cloud” it’s not on the map. It is actually all over it.

The system displayed on the map is vibrating very intensely right now, and I don’t see this changing anytime soon. Just for fun, here are candidates for future boxes on the map:

  • In the “IT infrastructure and management” category, maybe one day we’ll get to real metadata-driven management integration across the stack (as opposed to the more limited “application modeling” area listed above), whether through RDF or not.
  • In the “application development and delivery” category, maybe Doug Purdy’s vision “to make everyone a programmer (even if they don’t know it)” will be realized, whether through Oslo or not.
  • In the “business and regulation” category, maybe one day corporations will actually start caring about the customer data they are entrusted to (but only if mishandling it finally costs them more than “sorry about that, here is a one year credit monitoring subscription now go away”).

In summary, the evolution of IT management is driven not only by changes in IT technology but also by changes in two other fields (“application development and delivery” and “business and regulation”) with which it is tightly connected. Both of these fields are also in a very dynamic state. And they also influence one another, resulting in a complex three-way dance. You can’t understand the trajectory and moves of one dancer without seeing the others.

That’s what I mean by “IT management in a changing IT world”. Thanks for asking.

[UPDATED 2009/6/25: For more on the "technical cloud" versus "business cloud", go read Neil Ward-Dutton's nice explanation. He actually breaks down the "business cloud" in two (separating the economic aspect from the strategic aspect).]

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Filed under Application Mgmt, Automation, Big picture, BPM, BSM, Business, Cloud Computing, Everything, IT Systems Mgmt, ITIL, Mgmt integration, Open source, Utility computing, Virtualization

Announcing Xen Transcendent Memory project

If you have more than one child, you’ve probably heard yourself say things like “if you are not using your train, you should let your brother play with it” more often than you’d like. The same happens in a datacenter (minus the screams and tears, at least usually). In that context, the rivaling siblings take the form of guest virtual machines and the toys in contention are the physical resources of the host system: CPU, I/O, memory. While virtualization platforms do a pretty good job at efficiently sharing the first two, the situation is not nearly as good for memory. It is often, as a result, the limiting factor for virtualization-driven consolidation. A new project aims to fix this.

The Oracle engineers working on the Xen-based Oracle Virtual Machine have just announced a new open source (GPL-licensed) project to improve the sharing of physical memory between guest virtual machines on the same physical system. It’s called Transcendent Memory, or tmem for short.

Much more information, including a comparison with VMWare’s memory balloon, is available from the project home page.

Another reason to come to the upcoming Xen Summit (February 24 and 25), hosted by Oracle here at headquarters.

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Filed under Everything, Linux, Open source, Oracle, OVM, Tech, Virtualization, Xen

IT management and Cloud: now some products

Many of us have been thinking (a bit) and talking (a lot) about the relationship between Clouds and good old IT management.  John understands both sides and produced a few good posts (like this one).

Maybe it’s just a coincidence that both Hyperic and CA recently made such announcements. In any case, it gives the impression that time has come for some actual product capabilities in the area of managing Cloud-based systems.

I haven’t investigated either, so keep your slideware shields up, but this is what I read:

From Javier Soltero’s “Announcing HQ 4.0″: “It also provides the first cloud-friendly management agent which allows users to manage cloud based virtual machines securely and reliably from either inside the cloud, or from HQ 4.0 installations inside your datacenter”. John approves.

And at CA World, according to InformationWeek, CA will announce a partnership with Amazon to provide management capabilities around Amazon’s EC2 utility computing platform, potentially including discovery of software running on EC2 instances, performance monitoring, configuration management, software deployment capabilities and provisioning”.

When someone looks into these two products (and others, soon to follow or alrady out and that I have missed), it will be interesting to see how these Cloud-friendly capabilities relate to the good old capabilities of management products: “software discovery”, “perf monitoring”, “config management”, “software deployment”, “provisioning”. That all sounds pretty familiar. Is it just a matter of pointing the old tools to an EC2 IP address? Is it all new capabilities, done in a new way? Or, more realistically, where does it land between these extrems? Where do you want them to land? It’s not so obvious.

Utility computing comes with an expectation of additional flexibility (now that is obvious). When tweaking IT management tools to address the domain, does one leave “in datacenter” capabilities the same and branch off to do cool things in the new land? Or do you raise the level of flexibility accross the board?

In other words, rather than snickering at them, maybe we should praise IT management vendors for whom the “look, I do Clouds” marketing spiel is just a repackaging of normal IT management features. Because it may mean that they’ve raised the bar on “in datacenter” automation capabilities. These Opsware and BladeLogic acquisitions have to come in somewhere, don’t they?

BTW, both of the announcements above also perpetuate the confusion between providing utility services (CA’s extended SaaS offering, Hyperic’s release of a pre-packaged Hyperic AMI) and the ability to manage Cloud-based systems. It’s all crammed in the same announcement/article because, hey, it’s all Cloud stuff.

Speaking of CA World, if I was there I would go to this session. At least for old time sake, and maybe to get some interesting ideas. Hopefully Don will blog about it after he is done presenting later today.

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Filed under Amazon, Application Mgmt, Articles, CA, Conference, Everything, IT Systems Mgmt, Open source, Standards, Utility computing

BPM origami

Tom Baeyens (leader of JBoss jBPM) recently wrote a DZone article titled “Seven Forms of Business Process Management With JBoss jBPM”. It’s an interesting article. It does a good job of illustrating the difference between using BPM tools to capture/communicate business intent versus using them to implement asynchronous interactions, especially with Web services.

While it is very much worth reading, the article is not a good reference document for defining/explaining BPM, because it is much to tied to the jBPM product. This happens in two ways, one harmless and one more consequential.

The harmless tie-in is that each flavor of BPM comes with a description of the corresponding jBPM features. Not something you want to see in a generic reference document but Tom is very upfront about the fact that the article is going to cover the jBPM product (it’s even in the title) and about his affiliation with jBPM. No problem there.

What bothers me more is a distinct feeling that the choice of these seven use cases is mainly driven by the availability of these supporting jBPM features. It’s not just that the use cases are illustrated through jBPM features. What we are seeing is the meaning of BPM being redefined to match exactly what jBPM offers.

The most egregious example is use case 6, “thread control language”. Yes, threads are hard. It sounds like Tom and team are planning to make this easier by adding some Erlang-like features in jBPM (at this point the tense changes to future “we’ll develop a thread control language…” so there isn’t much specifics). Great. Sounds interesting, I am looking forward to seeing it. But if this is BPM then are threads a BPM features of the various programming languages? Are OS processes a BPM feature? Are multicore CPUs part of BPM while we’re at it?

Use cases 5 (“visual programming”) and 7 (“easy creation of DSLs”) are treading in the same waters. I have the feeling that if jBPM was able to synchronize the podcasts on my MP3 player, we would have had an 8th use case for BPM.

Tom is right to write that “the term BPM is highly overloaded and used for many different things resulting in a lot of confusion”. By adding a few more use cases that nobody, as far as I know, had previously attached to the BPM bandwagon, he is creating more, not less, confusion.

This is especially glaring if you notice that one of the most important BPM use cases, monitoring, is not even mentioned. Maybe it’s just me and my “operations time” bias versus Tom’s “development time” bias. But it seems that he is pulling the BPM blanket a bit far towards his side of the bed (don’t read too much in the analogy, I have never met Tom).

Rather than saying that “these use cases give concrete descriptions for the different interpretations of the term BPM”, it would be more accurate to say “these use case give concrete descriptions for some of the different interpretations of the term BPM, ignore others and add a few new ones”.

I didn’t learn a lot about BPM, but the article did make me interested in learning more about jBPM, which is probably its primary objective. There seem to be some interesting design goals towards providing a flexible set of orchestration-related tools to application developers. Some of it reminds me of the workflow efforts at Microsoft (some already shipping and some to be revealed at PDC).

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Filed under Articles, BPEL, BPM, Business Process, Everything, JBoss, Middleware, Open source

Reviewing DMTF OVF as a “preliminary standard”

OVF 1.0.0d is out as a “preliminary standard” so I gave it a quick read over the weekend. Things have not changed much since the “work in progress” document published this summer, which itself wasn’t a big change from the original specification. As I wrote in the review of the “work in progress”, the DMTF tightened the language of the  specification more than it added features.

Since there aren’t too many technical changes (see the end of this post if you’re interested in a few), the interesting discussion is about the marketing of this specification. And boy does it have wings on that front. The level of visibility the specification has received is pretty amazing, especially considering that it doesn’t really do that much technically. But you wouldn’t know it by reading all the announcements about OVF:

  • VMWare supports OVF packaging (which version?) with its new VMWare Studio.
  • Citrix uses OVF in Kensho to create a platform-agnostic VM management.
  • An Open Source “implementation” of OVF has been created. I put “implementation” between quotes because since OVF per se doesn’t do much its implementation is mostly a specialized command line editor for its XML descriptor. It requires a a vendor-specific runtime for deployment/activation. This is not a criticism of the open source project BTW, just a statement of fact about the spec.
  • Enomaly lists “OVF format support” on its roadmap for Q1 2009.
  • Microsoft support for OVF in products is supposedly “on the board” which doesn’t mean very much but their overall marketing/PR response to OVF has been surprisingly positive for a standard that they don’t control.

I have criticized the DMTF marketing efforts in the past (“give away pens and key chains”) but I must admit that, to the extent that DMTF had a significant role in promoting OVF adoption (in addition to marketing efforts directly from the vendors), it is a very nice marketing success. Well done, and so much for my cynicism. OVF may also have benefited from all the interest in the general topic of virtualization/cloud standards (the “cloud” association is silly, of course, but as we’ve just seen I am not a marketing genius) and the fact that there isn’t much else to talk about on these topics. So by default OVF becomes the name to put on your “standards” banner. Right place at the right time for the vendors behind it.

Speaking of the vendors, I have no insight into the functioning of the OVF working group, but judging by the specification’s foreword VMware is throwing plenty of resources at DMTF: it employs the working group chair and both co-editors, which is pretty atypical in my experience in standards efforts. People are usually sensitive to appearances of one company having disproportionate influence and try to distribute responsibilities around, at least on paper. Add to this VMWare’s recent ramp-up at the DMTF board level. They seem to know what they want. And indeed I can see how the industry leader would want some basic level of standardization, but not too much, which is currently just what OVF offers. We’ll see what’s next in store, if anything.

The specification itself is not marketing-free. According to line 122, “it supports the full range of virtual hard disk formats used for hypervisors today, and it is extensible, which will allow it to accommodate formats that may arise in the future”. Sure, in the same way that my car fully supports passengers of all nationalities (and is extensible enough to transport citizens of yet-to-be created countries – and maybe even other planets, as long as they come with buttocks to sit on). Since OVF doesn’t really do anything with the virtual hard disk formats, it can “support” pretty much any such format.

Speaking of extensibility, OVF clearly tries to have a good story there. Section 7.3 tries to move away from the usual “hey, it’s XML, you can add elements/attributes anywhere” approach towards the definition of new “sections”. This seems a bit drastic. Time will tell if this is visionary or short-sighted. OVF also plans to move towards “an extension model based on the design of the open content model in XML Schema 1.1″. I am not following XSD 1.1 too closely, but it is wise for OVF to not build too much dependency on it at least for now. And it seems to me that an extension model is not something that you plan to “plan [...] to add” but rather something you need to define from the start (sounds like the good old “the next version will add versioning support”, or “no keyboard detected, press F8 to continue”).

But after all this comes what looks to me, from an extensibility perspective, like a big no-no: using (section 8.1) simple strings (e.g. “vmx-4″, “xen-3″) to represent types of virtual systems. You’d think that in 2008 people would have heard about URIs as a way to allow extensibility and prevent name clashes. On further reading, this doesn’t seem to be the fault of OVF as they get this property (vssd:VirtualSystemType) straight out of the politely named DMTF SVP (System Virtualization Profile) specification, itself a preliminary standard. But that’s not much of an excuse because I suspect large overlap of participation between the two groups and in any case you don’t have to take dependencies on something that’s not right (speaking as someone who authored several specs that took a dependency on WS-Addressing, I shouldn’t give lessons). In any case, I am not on top of all virtualization-related work in DMTF but it seems to me that if they are not going to use URIs then someone should step up and maintain a registry of these identifying “virtual system type” strings.

BTW, when left to its own device OVF does a better job. For example, it properly uses URIs to identify the virtual disk format (section 5.2).

One of the few new features is the addition of the ovf:bound attribute on virtual hardware element items (section 8.3) to specify whether the item description represents the normal, minimal or maximal allocation. My heads spins a bit when trying to apply this metadata to the rasd:Limit property (with ovf:bound=”min” the value of the rasd:Limit element would represent the minimal value of the maximum quantity or resources that will be granted, which takes some parsing effort), but I think it more or less squares out.

The final standard should not differ greatly from this version, so at this point we pretty much know what OVF will be technically. The real question is how it will be used and what, if anything, is going to come to complement it.

[UPDATED 2008/10/14: Good timing. OVF-loving Kensho just launched.]

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Filed under DMTF, Everything, IT Systems Mgmt, Manageability, Open source, OVF, Specs, Standards, Tech, Utility computing, Virtualization, VMware

Go Big Blue, go! Show them who’s the true friend of the little guy.

IBM’s well-publicized new policy for technology standards is an interesting development. The first image it conjured for cynical me is that of an aging Heavy Metal singer ranting against the rudeness of rap lyrics.

Like Charles, I don’t see IBM as an angel in this domain and yet I too think this is a commendable move on their part. Who better to stop a burglar than a (presumably) reformed burglar anyway? I hope this effort will succeed and I am glad to see that my colleague Jim Melton was involved in the discussion facilitated by IBM and that Trond supports it too.

My experience in standards (mostly from back in my HP days) only covers a small portion of IBM’s technology standards involvement of course. But in all instances, both IBM and Microsoft were key players (either through their participation or through their glaring refusal to participate). And within that sample (which does not include OOXML) my impression is that IBM did indeed play more cleanly than Microsoft.

They also mostly lost, while Microsoft mostly won. Whether there is a causality here is possible but not proven. IBM seems to have an ability to loose by winning: because they assign so many people to standards they wear out everybody else and at the end, they get the final document to be the way they want it (through the normal process, just by being relentless). But the specification is by then so over-engineered, so IBM-like in its approach and so late that it’s usually a Pyrrhic victory. Everybody else has moved on and IBM has on their hand something that’s a standard on paper but that only players in the IBM ecosystem implement. Pushing IBM’s CBE event format in WSDM, over-complicating aspects of WSRF like WS-ServiceGroup and butchering the use of SOAP headers in WS-ResourceTransfer to play nice with WebSphere are, in my mind, such examples. They can’t blame Microsoft for those.

Also, nobody forced them to tango with the devil in that whole WS-* saga. What they are saying now is similar in many ways to what Oracle was saying (about openness and fairness) throughout this decennia while Microsoft and IBM were privately defining machine to machine interoperability protocols for the enterprise. And they can’t blame standards for the way Microsoft eventually took advantage of them there, because they *chose* to do this outside of standards. I wish I had been a fly on the whole when this conversation took place:

IBM: We’re going to need a neutral DNS name for all these new XML namespaces. It wouldn’t be right to do it under ibm.com or microsoft.com.
Microsoft: You’re right. Hey, I just registered xmlsoap.org last week with the intent to launch a B2B forum for the detergent industry, but if you want we can use it for our Web services specs.
IBM: Man, that’s perfect. Let me give you twenty bucks to help pay the registration.
Microsoft: No, really, no big deal. It’s on me.
IBM: You’re too cool man.

But here I am, IBM-bashing again while the point of this post is to salute and support their attempt at reform. Bad, bad William.

OK, so now for some (hopefully) constructive remarks and suggestions.

I think commentaries and reports on the news have focused too much on the OOXML/ISO story. Sure it’s probably a big part of the motivation. But how much leverage does IBM really have on ISO? Technology standards is just a portion of what ISO does. And it’s not like ISO has much competition anyway, with its de jure international standing. Organizations like the JCP, DMTF and W3C have a lot more too lose if IBM really gets mad at them.

I think it’s clear that Microsoft is the target, but if ISO reform was the main prize, I don’t think IBM would go at it that way. ISO will only change in response to government pressure. If government influence is a necessary step, isn’t it cheaper and more direct for IBM to hire a couple more lobbyists than to try to rally the blogosphere? I think they really want to impact all standards setting organizations at the same time. If ISO happens to be one of those improved in the process, that’s gravy.

IBM calls its report “standards for standards” (at least that’s the file name). I think (and hope) the double entendre is voluntary. It’s not just a matter a raising the (moral and operational) standards of standards organizations. It should also be an occasion to standardize how they work, to make them more similar to one another.

Follow me for a second here. One of the main problems with many organizations is their opacity. They have boards, task forces, strategic committees, etc. Membership in the organization is stratified, based mostly on how much you are willing to pay. I would guess that most organizations couldn’t make ends meet if all member companies paid the “base membership” fee. They need a dozen companies to pay the “leadership” fee to fund their operations. For these companies to agree to the higher price of participation, they need something in return. They need to have more access than the others. Therefore, some level of access must be denied to the base members (and even more to the non-members, which is why many such organizations make almost no information publicly available).

They are not opaque by accident, they are opaque by design because they need to be in order to be funded. There are two ways to fix this. One is to have fewer organizations, such that the fixed costs of running an organization can be more widely spread. But technology is very specialized and there is value in having organizations that are focused and populated by domain experts. The other way is to drastically reduce the cost of running a standards organization. That’s where standardization of standards organizations comes in. If the development processes, IP policies, bylaws and tools were commonly shared among standards organizations, it would be a lot cheaper to run one.

Today, I can start a new open source project for free on Sourceforge. I can pick one of the clearly-identified open source licenses that have been pre-defined. I can use the usual source control, collaboration and bug reporting tools. Not only is it almost free, my users will know right away how to participate. Why isnt’ it the same for standards organizations? Or only so partially. I know that Kavi is used by many standards organizations. I’ve used their tool both as a DMTF participant and an OASIS participant. And it doesn’t really fit either perfectly because the processes are slightly different. Ballots are conducted differently, attendance rules are different, document visibility rules are different, roles are different, etc.

It sounds superficial, but I am convinced that a more standardized approach to IP policies, organization bylaws and specification development processes would result in big savings that would open the door to much more transparency.

Oh yeah, you’d also have to drop the boondoggle plenary sessions in resorts all over the world. Painful, I know.

Sure there are other costs, such as marketing costs. But fully transparent organizations, by making their products more easily accessible to users, have a much lower need to use traditional marketing to get the word out. In the same way that open source software companies get most of their marketing via their user community. Consistency among standards organizations would also make it a lot easier for small companies to participate since anyone who’s learned the rules once can be effective right away in a new organization.

I want to end with a note of caution directed at IBM. You have responsibilities. I hope you realize that at this point, approximately 20% of all airplane seats are occupied by IBM employees going to or coming back from some standards-related meeting. The airlines are hurting already, you can’t pull out at once. And who will drive all these rental Chevys? Who will eat all the bad sushi in airport food courts and Benihana restaurants?

[UPDATED 2008/10/20: From Tim Bray, another example of IBM loosing by winning in standards: "Unfortunately, that spec [XML 1.1] came with excess baggage, namely changed rules on what constitutes white-space, rammed through by IBM for the convenience of their mainframe customers. In any case, XML 1.1 has been widely ignored”.]

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Filed under Conference, Everything, Governance, IBM, ISO, Microsoft, OOXML, Open source, Standards

Last call for SML and SML-IF

The SML working group at W3C has published the “last call” working draft of version 1.1 of the SML and SML-IF (“IF” stands for “interchange format”) specifications. You have until October 3rd to tell them what you think.

With all the Oslo fun, the OMG embrace and the silence from System Center there are more questions than answers about the use of SML at Microsoft. But the Eclipse COSMOS project (IBM and friends) is, as far as I know, valiantly going forward with the store/validator implementation. Which may or may not be the same codebase as what was used for the recent CMDBf interop demo (I am not sure how the SML and CDMBf implementations in COSMOS are articulated).

The COSMOS group also recently published an overview of SML. It doesn’t try to tell you why you’d want to use SML but it’s a good and succint description of what SML is technically (from an XML developer’s perspective).

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Filed under CMDB Federation, CMDBf, Desired State, Everything, IBM, Implementation, IT Systems Mgmt, Mgmt integration, Microsoft, Modeling, Open source, Oslo, SML, Specs, Standards, Tech, W3C

Recent IT management announcements

There were a few announcements relevant to the evolution of IT management over the last week. The most interesting is VMware’s release of the open-source (BSD license) VI SDK, a Java API to manage a host system and the virtual machines that run on it. Interesting that they went the way of a language-specific API. The alternatives, to complement/improve their existing web services SDK, would have been: define CIM classes and implement a WBEM provider (using CIM-HTTP and/or WS-Management), use WS-Management but without the CIM part (define the model as native XML, not XML-from-CIM), use a RESTful HTTP-driven interface to that same native XML model or, on the more sci-fi side, go the MDA way with a controller from which you retrieve the observed state and to which you specify the desired state. The Java API approach is the easiest one for developers to use, as long as they can access the Java ecosystem and they are mainly concerned with controlling the VMWare entities. If the management application also deals with many other resources (like the OS that runs in the guest machines or the hardware under the host, both of which are likely to have CIM models), a more model-centric approach could be more handy. The Java API of course has an underlying model (described here), but the interface itself is not model-centric. So what with all the DMTF-love that VMWare has been displaying lately (OVF submission, board membership, hiring of the DMTF president…). Should we expect a more model-friendly version of this API in the future? How does this relate to the DMTF SVPC working group that recently released some preliminary profiles? The choice to focus on beefing-up the Java-centric management story (which includes Jython, as VMWare was quick to point out) rather than the platform-agnostic, on-the-wire-interop side might be seen by the more twisted minds as a way to not facilitate Microsoft’s “manage VMWare today to replace it tomorrow” plan any more than necessary.

Speaking of Microsoft, in unrelated news we also got a heartbeat from them on the Oslo project: a tech preview of some of the components is scheduled for October. When Oslo was announced, there was a mix of “next gen BizTalk” aspects and “developer-driven DSI” aspects. From this report, the BizTalk part seems to be dominating. No word on use of SML.

And finally, SOA Software (who was previously called Digital Evolution and who acquired Blue Titan, Flamenco and LogicLibrary, in case you’re trying to keep track) has released a “SOA Development Governance Product”. Nothing too exciting from what I can see on InfoQ about it, but that’s a pretty superficial evaluation so don’t let me stop you. Am I the only one who twitches whenever “federation” is used to mean at worst “import” or at best “synchronization”? Did CMDBf start that trend? BTW, is it just an impression or did SOA Software give InfoQ a list of the questions they wanted to be asked?

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Filed under DMTF, Everything, IT Systems Mgmt, Manageability, Mgmt integration, Open source, Oslo, OVF, SML, Standards, Tech, Virtualization, VMware, WS-Management

RESTful JMX access from someone who knows both sides

Anyone interested in application manageability and/or management integration should read about Jean-Francois Denise’s prototype for RESTful Access to JMX Instrumentation. Not (at least for now) as something to make use of, but to force us to think pragmatically about the pros and cons of the WS-* stack when used for management integration.

The interesting question is: which of these two interfaces (the WS-Management-based interface being standardized or the HTTP-centric interface that Jean-Francois prototyped) makes it easier to write a cross-platform management application such as the poker-cheating demo at JavaOne 2008?

Some may say that he cheated in that demo by using the Microsoft-provided WinRM implementation of WS-Management on the VBScript side. Without it, it would have clearly been a lot harder to implement the WS-Management based protocol in VBScript than the REST approach. True, but that’s the exact point of standards, that they allow such libraries to be made available to assist implementers. The question is whether such a library is available for your platform/language, how good and interoperable that library is (it could actually hinder rather than help) and what is the cost to the project of depending on it. Which is why the question is hard to answer in absolute. I suspect that, even with WinRM, the simple use case demonstrated at JavaOne would have been easier to implement using straight HTTP but that things change quickly when you run into more demanding use cases (e.g. event notification with filters, sequencing of large responses into an enumeration…). Which is why I still think that the sweetspot would be a simplified WS-Management specification (freed of the WS-Addressing crud for example) that makes it easy (almost as easy as the HTTP-based interface) to implement simple use cases (like a GET) by hand but is still SOAP-based, which lets it seamlessly enter library-driven territory when more advanced features are added (e.g. WS-Security, WS-Enumeration…). Rather than the current situation in which there is a protocol-level disconnect between the HTTP interface (easy to implement by hand) and the WS-Management interface (for which manually implementation is a cruel – and hopefully unusual – punishment).

So, Jean-Francois, where is this JMX-REST work going now?

While you’re on Jean-Francois’ blog, another must-read is his account of the use of Wiseman and Metro in the WS Connector for JMX Agent RI.

As a side note (that runs all the way to the end of this post), Jean-Francois’ blog is a perfect illustration of the kind of blogs I like to subscribe to. He doesn’t feel the need to post all the time. But when he does (only four entries so far this year, three of them “must read”), he provides a lot of insight on a topic he really understands. That’s the magic of RSS/Atom. There is zero cost to me in keeping his feed in my reader (it doesn’t even appear until he posts something). The opposite of what used to be conventional knowledge (that you need to post often to “keep your readers engaged” as the HP guidelines for bloggers used to say). Leaving the technology aside (there is nothing to RSS/Atom technologically other than the fact that they happen to be agreed upon formats), my biggest hope for these specifications is that they promote that more thoughtful (and occasional) style of web publishing. In my grumpy days (are there others?), a “I can’t believe United lost my luggage again” or “look at the nice flowers in my backyard” post is an almost-automatic cause for unsubscribing (the “no country for old IT guys” series gets a free pass though).

And Jean-Francois even manages to repress his Frenchness enough to not take snipes at people just for the fun of it. Another thing I need to learn from him. For example, look at this paragraph from the post that describes his use of Wiseman and Metro:

“The JAX-WS Endpoint we developed is a Provider<SOAPMessage>. Simply annotating with @WebService was not possible. WS-Addressing makes intensive use of SOAP headers to convey part of the protocol information. To access to such headers, we need full access to the SOAP Message. After some redesigning of the existing code we extracted a WSManAgent Class that is accessible from a JAX-WS Endpoint or a Servlet.”

In one paragraph he describes how to do something that IBM has been claiming for years can’t be done (implement WS-Management on top of JAX-WS). And he doesn’t even rub it in. Is he a saint? Good think I am here to do the dirty work for him.

BTW, did anyone notice the irony that this diatribe (which, by now, is taking as much space as the original topic of the post) is an example of the kind of text that I am glad Jean-Francois doesn’t post? You can take the man out of standards, but you can’t take the double standard out of the man.

[UPDATED 2008/6/3: Jean-Francois now has a second post to continue his exploration of marrying the Zen philosophy with the JMX technology.]

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Filed under Application Mgmt, CMDB Federation, Everything, Implementation, IT Systems Mgmt, JMX, Manageability, Mgmt integration, Open source, SOAP, SOAP header, Specs, Standards, WS-Management

Various IT management stories

Apparently Coté’s upstairs neighbors were having a party last night and he could not sleep. That’s good for us because as a result he bookmarked a long list IT systems management stories. Several of those picked my interest:

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Filed under Application Mgmt, Articles, Everything, HP, IT Systems Mgmt, Manageability, Microsoft, Open source, Oracle

System Center “Cross Platform Extension”: too many distractions

I was hoping that by the time MMS was over there would be more clarity about the “Cross Platform Extension” to System Center that Microsoft announced there. But most of the comments I have seen have focused on two non-technical aspects: Microsoft is interested in heterogeneous management and Microsoft makes use of open source. That’s also the focus of Coté’s coverage.

So what? Is it still that exciting, in 2008, to learn that Microsoft recognizes that Linux and OSS are major players in enterprise computing? If Steve Ballmer eventually gets hold of Yahoo, do you think his first priority will be to move all the servers to Windows or to build up its search and advertising audience? It’s been now 10 years since the Halloween documents came out. They can be seen as the start of Microsoft’s realization that Linux/OSS are here for good. It is not surprising to see that one of their main authors is now the driving force behind WS-Management, an effort that illustrates the acceptance of heterogeneity and the need to deal with it (on Microsoft’s terms if possible, of course). The WS-Management effort started years ago and it was a clear sign that Microsoft knew it had to tackle heterogeneous management (despite the reassuring talk that “it’s all about making Windows the most manageable platform” to HP and others). Basically, Microsoft is using WS-Management to support heterogeneity without having to do too much work: by creating an industry standard that everyone writes to and that Microsoft uses internally. Heterogeneous management is intrinsic to DSI if DSI is to be anything more than a demo.

But all of this was known before MMS 2008 to anyone who was paying attention. Instead of all this Microsoft/OSS/heterogeneous talk, I am a lot more interested in the technical aspects of the “Cross Platform Extension”.

OpenPegasus has been around for a long time, as a C++ CIMOM with a bunch of associated providers and CIM-XML interoperability over HTTP with CIM clients. I don’t know where WS-Management support was on the OpenPegasus development timeline, but even without Microsoft getting involved it would have eventually happened. And this should have been sufficient for System Center to access the CIMOM (BTW, does System Center not support CIM-XML when WS-Management is not present and if it does then what is different in practice with WS-Management?).

I can see how Microsoft would bring some extra (and much welcome) development resources for the WS-Management implementation (BTW the guys at Intel already have an open-source C implementation of WS-Management) as well as some extra marketing/visibility/distribution. Nice, but not earth-shattering. Do they bring anything else to OpenPegasus?

And what else is in the “Cross Platform Extension” in addition to an OpenPegasus WS-Management-capable CIMOM? Is there any extra modeling capability beyond CIM? Any Microsoft-specific classes? Any discovery/reconciliation capability? How much actual configuration management versus just monitoring? Security? Health models? Desired state management? Or is it just a WS-Management CIMOM? Any pointer to specific information is welcome.

Of course the underlying question is whether others than Microsoft can manage resources that have an OpenPegasus-based System Center management pack on them. The Open Management Consortium guys have talked about an open management agent. Could, against all expectations, Microsoft be the one delivering it?

In the IT management world, there are the big 4 (HP, BMC, CA and IBM), the little 4 (Zenoss, Hyperic, GroundWorks and openQRM) and the mighty 3 (Oracle, Microsoft and EMC). Sorry John, I am reclaiming the use of the “mighty” term: your “mighty 2″ (or 2.5) are really still the “little 2″ (or 2.5). At least for now.

The interesting thing is that in that industry configuration there are topics on which the little ones and the mighty ones share common interests. For example, the big 4 have a lot more management packs for all kinds of resources, built up over the years. Some standard-based mechanism that partially resets the stage helps the little ones and the mighty ones better compete against the big 4. Even better if it has an attractive (and extensible) implementation ready in the form of an agent. But let’s be clear that it takes more than a CIMOM to make a management pack. You need domains-specific expertise in the form of health models, deployment/configuration scripts and/or descriptors, configuration validation, role management etc. Thus my questions about what else (beyond CIM over WS-Management) Microsoft is bringing to the table. SML and CML are supposed to address this space, but I didn’t hear them mentioned once in the MMS coverage.

[UPDATED on 2008/5/7: Another perspective on Microsoft and open source: Microsoft Ex-Pats Developing Open Source Software Outside of Redmond]

[UPDATED 2008/5/7: I got an answer to the question about System Center support for CIM-XML: it doesn't have it. So indeed it's either WS-Management of WMI. If you're a Linux box, that means it's WS-Management.]

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Filed under CA, Everything, HP, IBM, IT Systems Mgmt, Manageability, Mgmt integration, Microsoft, Open source, Oracle, SML, Standards, WS-Management, Yahoo

If we are not at the table we are on the menu

Earlier this evening I was listening to a podcast from the Commonwealth Club of California. The guest was Frances Beinecke, President of the Natural Resources Defense Council. It wasn’t captivating and my mind had wandered on another topic (a question related to open source) when I caught a sentence that made me think that the podcast had followed me on that topic:

“If we are not at the table we are on the menu”

In fact, she was quoting an energy industry executive explaining why he welcomes upfront discussions w/ NRDC about global warming. But isn’t this also very applicable to what open source means for many companies?

Everything below is off-topic for this blog.

To be fair, I should clarify that not all Commonwealth Club podcasts (here is the RSS feed) fail to keep my attention. While I am at it, here is a quick listener’s guide to recent recordings (with links to the MP3 files) in case some of you also have a nasty commute and want to give the CCC (no, not that one) a try. Contrary to what I expected, I have found panels discussions generally less interesting than talks by individuals. The panel on reconstructing health care was good though. The one on reconciling science and religion was not (in the absence of a more specifically framed question everyone on the panel agreed on everything). They invite speakers from both sides of the aisle: recently Ben Stein (can’t be introduced in a few words) and Tom Campbell (Dean of Haas business school at Berkeley) on the conservative side and Madeleine Albright (no introduction needed) on the progressive side. All three of these were quite good. As I mentioned, the one with Frances Beinecke (NRDC president) wasn’t (it quickly morphed into self-praises for her organization’s work, including taking a surprising amount of credit for Intel’s work towards lower power consumption). Deborah Rodriguez, (director of the “Kabul Beauty School”) was the worst (at least for the first 20 minutes, I wasn’t paid enough to keep listening). Thomas Fingar (Chairman of the National Intelligence Council) was ok but could have been much better (he shared all the truth that couldn’t embarrass or anger anyone, which isn’t much when the topic is the Iraq and Iran intelligence reports on WMD). In the process he explained what the intelligence community calls “open source intelligence” and he wasn’t referring to the RedMonk model. Enjoy…

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Filed under Everything, Off-topic, Open source