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Confessions of a Cloud Skeptic

Posted by Rick Kilcoyne

2/2/16 11:22 AM

TL;DR Like many others, I used to believe Cloud was just a computer somewhere else. I've since come to the realization that Cloud is an application that abstracts and virtualizes the operational details of the servers, software, networks and storage required to deploy modern Internet-based applications. If Enterprise IT is to survive the onslaught of Cloud, they must adopt the same operational efficiencies as AWS and other public cloud providers.  This includes exposing IT as a Self-Service Application or Portal. Only then will they be able to stave off Shadow IT and offer their customers the ability to develop, deploy, and manage applications without the day-to-day involvement of IT Operations.

I freely admit it took me a while to come to terms with the term "Cloud". For years I used the infamous Visio cloud shape in my network diagrams.  Still, it was difficult to buy into "cloud" as a revolutionary new place where data could be stored centrally and transferred locally over high-speed Internet. "Cloud" became a term that I viewed as spin on the old: mainframe, client/server, web hosting, ASP, MSP, CSP.  In short, "cloud" was a new term for the same thing – my "stuff" is stored and running elsewhere. And yes, I admit to getting a kick out of watching Larry Ellison poke fun at Cloud Computing back in 2008. With his usual flair, Ellison pointed out that "Cloud Computing" covers everything we were already doing. In the late 2000’s, everything and anything in the computing industry was described as Cloud, Cloud-ready, or Cloud-enabled.

NoCloud.pngFor years I wholeheartedly agreed with anyone that claimed that “cloud” was just a marketing buzzword. With time, though, my attitude slowly shifted.  Cloud isn't necessarily a set of servers that live on a faraway network. A true cloud is a software application, complete with its own UI, API, user management, and a suite of opaque services. Virtualization at the server, network, and storage levels allow users to interact with abstractions that look and feel like physical systems. Cloud architecture is yet another example of Marc Andreessen's declaration that "Software is eating the World", only this time it's enterprise IT being served up for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

With the right amount of vision and execution, enterprise IT stands to benefit from cloud computing.  But it will require them to provide users the ability to utilize resources on their own terms. This is a delicate balancing act:

  • Too many restrictions from IT will drive users into the arms of public cloud providers while fueling shadow IT.
  • Running a wide-open environment will come at the expense of security, reliability, and maintainability.

If enterprise IT is going to survive and thrive in the face of public cloud, they need to balance corporate governance needs against user self-service and operational agility that encompasses what the leading public cloud providers are already doing – certainly no easy task.

First this requires embracing the fact that service desks and request tickets are relics of IT past. Users (specifically developers) want fast, easy, and reliable access to IT resources and the freedom to experiment and innovate without the overhead of passing everything through IT operations (ITOps). With the new enterprise Cloud, developers and product teams become responsible for the deployment and management their own applications.  ITOps provides the platform for enterprise cloud applications (web-based or otherwise) which manages all the backing networks, systems, and storage. Unless a problem percolates up to the application level, users have little-to-no visibility into what's happening behind the scenes.

As a test of this model, think of AWS. Do you frequently file trouble tickets with AWS? Do you constantly hear about day-to-day operational difficulties at AWS? Do you find yourself waiting until some AWS team returns from lunch to get the servers or services you requested? If your enterprise IT team is embracing what I feel is the true meaning of "Cloud", then asking these same answers of your enterprise cloud should yield the same resounding "NO!"

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Topics: Public Cloud, Shadow IT, Self Service IT, Hybrid Cloud

CloudBolt Now Available in Azure Marketplace

Posted by Ephraim Baron

1/13/16 5:00 AM

CloudBolt’s simply powerful cloud management platform has always been available as a virtual appliance.  We enable you to manage your virtualization, private cloud, and public cloud environments all in one place.  Because our customers work in multi-cloud environments, though, we’ve received multiple requests to run CloudBolt on-demand in the public cloud.  We listened, and we’re pleased to announce CloudBolt availability in the Microsoft Azure Marketplace as a pay-as-you-go application.

Microsoft Azure Cloud

To get started, go to https://azure.microsoft.com/marketplace and search for CloudBolt.  Click on the CloudBolt logo and you’ll be presented with two options:

CloudBolt Free 25 VM Pack is a Bring Your Own License version that’s free for non-production use for up to 25 virtual machines.  You pay only for your Azure instance time.  Otherwise, it’s free to use, forever.  Whether you’re just beginning with multi-cloud management or you’re testing a variety of CMP products, this is a great way to get started with CloudBolt.  All you have to do is pick your Azure instance, request a license by return email, and follow the quick installation guide.  You’ll be up and running in minutes.

CloudBolt 125 VM Pack is an on-demand version for managing up to 125 virtual machines.  You pay only while the instance is running, and usage is billed through your Azure account.  The license is built in.  You pay a low hourly rate along with your Azure usage.  Simply pick your Azure instance and follow the quick installation guide.  Before you know it, you’ll have powerful cloud management, IT automation, user self-service, and usage/chargeback reporting at your fingertips.

CloudBolt listing in Azure Marketplace

If you have more than 125 VMs – as most of our customers do – contact us at info@cloudbolt.io.  We can easily manage thousands of VMs across a wide range of virtualization and cloud environments from a single CloudBolt instance.  And we work with legacy, brownfield environments as well as new, greenfield deployments.  All of which makes CloudBolt the central console for management, security, reporting, and control of your entire IT infrastructure.

Cloud computing is all about ease of consumption.  By offering CloudBolt in Azure, we’re making it that much simpler to manage multiple clouds from the cloud.

CloudBolt = Flexibility + Control

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Topics: Partner, CMP, azure, CloudBolt

Alternate Realities for 2016

Posted by Ephraim Baron

12/18/15 5:10 PM

Predict-the-future1.jpgThis is the time of year when technical publications solicit prognostications.  We received multiple queries here at CloudBolt.  In reply, CloudBolt CEO Jon Mittelhauser and Marketing Director Ephraim Baron took turns gazing into the Mirror of Galadriel and reporting what they saw.  They offer their technology predictions for the coming year in two separate articles.

Ephraim’s forecasts were published by Virtual Strategy Magazine.

Jon’s prophecies can be found on VMblog.com.

So who’s cousin to Cassandra, and who’s a false prophet?  You decide.

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Topics: New Technology, Business Challenges

Connect ALL the things!  Webhooks for the win.

Posted by Jon Mittelhauser

11/13/15 8:59 AM

Want to get a text message when your VM is provisioned?  Want to have a Google doc updated anytime somebody provisions a new VM?  Want to be silly and have your stereo play “Die, Die My Darling” every time one of your VMs is deleted?  It’s easy with the power of WebHooks and CloudBolt!     

CloudBolt has always been able to be extended via our orchestration hooks and custom code.  This gives an almost unlimited ability to integrate with external systems.  This is (obviously) very powerful but that power comes with inherent complexity and requires some basic programming ability.  

One of the relatively new features in CloudBolt is the ability to tie CloudBolt Actions into arbitrary webhooks.  This can be used to do all of the above examples and pretty much anything else you could think of…  all so easily that even the pointy haired boss (otherwise known as me) can do it!  

To prove this, I made a quick video.  Here you'll see that in 10 minutes(!), I was able to setup CloudBolt to call my cel phone whenever a VM in my AWS account was deleted - and even tell me what VM was deleted...   

To do this, I took advantage of Zapier and its ability to tie various Web apps together.  You could use this same capability to tie CLoudBolt into pretty much anything...  Twitter, Facebook, HipChat, Slack, Asana, etc.......   

So...  if even the pointy haired boss can do it, you have no excuse not to!

Please tell us about all the cool systems you've integrated into your CloudBolt ecosystem.  We'd love to hear about it!

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Topics: Webhooks

Create a CloudBolt Plug-in: Check EC2 Instance Reachability

Posted by Rick Kilcoyne

11/2/15 8:30 AM

UPDATE: As of Verison 5.3.1, it will no  longer be necessary to check EC2 instance reachability. This functionality has been rolled into the product. This article is still a great example of what it takes to write a CloudBolt plug-in and will be useful in many other scenarios. ~Rick

 

A common use-case I see frequently is the need to make sure new EC2 instances are up and ready to accept SSH connections before CloudBolt marks the provisioning job as complete. In this article, we’re going to work together to write a CloudBolt plug-in that will add this functionality to our CloudBolt environments. In doing so, I hope you'll not only gain an appreciation for the power of CloudBolt as a cloud automation platform, but you'll also see how easy it is to extend our base feature set using upgrade-safe scripts.

Getting Started

Writing Python code is a relatively painless process that usually starts with a text editor. I use OSX, so I prefer TextMate. If you’re a Windows user, I suggest Sublime Text 2 (http://www.sublimetext.com/2) or Notepad++. Another great option is to use PyCharm for all your CloudBolt plug-in development projects. I plan to expand on this topic in a future article.

Planning Our Attack

Let’s talk briefly about what we want to accomplish with this plug-in: When we provision a VM to EC2 via CloudBolt, we want to wait until that server is finished initializing and ready for SSH access before marking the entire CloudBolt provisioning job as complete. By default CloudBolt marks the job complete once the VM state is set to “OK” by AWS. Unfortunately, this isn’t the full story on the VM's readiness. The “OK” state is set before the VM is initialized and before the user can login via SSH. Imagine your poor users – they just used the awesome CloudBolt platform to spin up a VM, and once their job is “complete”, they get a “Connection Refused” error when they try to connect via SSH – not cool.

To address this issue, we'll extend CloudBolt to wait until our new EC2 instance has passed all EC2 status checks before marking the job as successfully completed. To accomplish this, we’ll trigger an action at the post-provision stage of the “Provision Server” Orchestration Action that will poll EC2 every two seconds to see if our new instance is reachable according to the EC2 status checks. We‘ll implement this action as a CloudBolt plug-in script written in Python.

Starting our Plug-in

Let's start our plug-in with a file called “poll_for_init_complete.py” with the following contents:


def run(job, logger=None, **kwargs):
    return """"""

The CloudBolt platform knows to call this function when it‘s time to execute the plug-in, therefore it's essential that it exists in your plug-in script. Note that the first and required parameter to this function is called job. This implies that we should expect the CloudBolt platform to call this function with the originating provisioning job passed as a job.models.Job object.

Returning a tuple of ("", "", "") is the default way of communicating to the CloudBolt platform that the script was a success.

Let's Get Busy

Let's add a few more lines to our plug-in script to get the server (our new EC2 instance) from the Job object and wait until it's reachable:


import time
from jobs.models import Job
 
TIMEOUT = 600
 
def run(job, logger=None, **kwargs):
    server = job.server_set.first()
    timeout = time.time() + TIMEOUT
 
    while True:
        if is_reachable(server):
            job.set_progress("EC2 instance is reachable.")
            break
        elif time.time() > timeout:
            job.set_progress("Waited {} seconds. Continuing...".format(TIMEOUT))
            break
        else:
            time.sleep(2)
 
    return """"""

Let's walk through what what we have so far:

server = job.server_set.first() sets the variable called server to the Server object associated with this job. Since we're working with a server provisioning job, it's safe to assume we're only going to have one Server associated with this job, therefore we call first() on our job's server_set property.

We defined a constant called TIMEOUT in our plug-in module and set it to 600. We then use this TIMEOUT at timeout = time.time() + TIMEOUT to set the time at which we should no longer wait for our EC2 instance to initialize. This prevents CloudBolt from waiting indefinitely if for some reason EC2 cannot determine the reachability of our server. Since this is in seconds, we'll stop waiting after a maximum of 10 minutes has passed before marking the job as complete. This should be the exception – not the norm.

We then start an infinite loop that will only stop when either our timeout elapses or we determine that our EC2 instance is reachable with the function is_reachable(server) which we haven't yet defined.

Is it Reachable or Not?

The script above is still missing the implementation of our is_reachable function. Given the server object associated with this job, this function will use the AWS Boto API to determine the reachability status for our new EC2 instance.  Note: Boto is the name of the Python API used to access the AWS API.

Let's add our is_reachable function to our script above our run function:


import time
 
TIMEOUT = 600
 
def is_reachable(server):
    instance_id = server.ec2serverinfo.instance_id
    ec2_region = server.ec2serverinfo.ec2_region
 
    rh = server.resource_handler.cast()
    rh.connect_ec2(ec2_region)
    wc = rh.resource_technology.work_class
 
    instance = wc.get_instance(instance_id)
    conn = instance.connection
    status = conn.get_all_instance_status(instance_id)
    return True if status[0].instance_status.details[u'reachability'] == u'passed' else False
 
 
def run(job, logger=None, **kwargs):
    # SNIP... 

Let's step through this function step-by-step:

  1. instance_id = server.ec2serverinfo.instance_id
    Get the EC2 instance ID associated with our new server being provisioned through CloudBolt. This is a string that looks like i-2423c494 in the EC2 console.

  2. ec2_region = server.ec2serverinfo.ec2_region
    Get the AWS region into which our new EC2 instance is being deployed.

  3. A few CloudBolt platform API gymnastics to get the backing Boto API objects without specifying any credentials. Always keep credentials out of your scripts!
    rh = server.resource_handler.cast()
    rh.connect_ec2(ec2_region)
    wc = rh.resource_technology.work_class

  4. instance = wc.get_instance(instance_id)
    Get the Boto Instance object associated with our new server's instance ID.

  5. status = instance.connection.get_all_instance_status(instance_id)
    Using the connection associated with our Boto Instance object, return the instance status for our server.

  6. return True if status[0].instance_status.details[u'reachability'] == u'passed' else False
    If the reachability status for our server is “passed”, return True because our new server is now reachable. If not, return False. We use status[0] because our get_all_instance_status function above returns an array. In this case we're only asking for the status of one instance, so we know the array only has one Status object and thus we use status[0].

Going back to our loop you can now see how the is_reachable function is used to keep the loop going if the answer is false:


while True:
    if is_reachable(server):
        job.set_progress("EC2 instance is reachable.")
        break
    elif time.time() > timeout:
        job.set_progress("Waited {} seconds. Continuing...".format(TIMEOUT))
        break
    else:
        time.sleep(2)

If our server is NOT reachable, and our timeout hasn't expired, we wait two seconds and try again.

Putting it All Together

The complete script can be downloaded from cloudbolt-forgeCloudBolt Forge is a source of user-contributed actions and plug-ins

Now that it's ready, let's add it to the appropriate trigger point in CloudBolt.

In your CloudBolt instance, navigate to Admin > Actions > Orchestration Actions and click “Provision Server” on the left tab bar. Find the “Post-Provision” trigger point at the bottom of the page and click the “Add an Action” button.

Select “CloudBolt Plug-in” and in the next dialog, click "Add new cloudbolt plug-in".

Specify a name for our new plug-in (Poll for EC2 Init Complete), select the "Amazon Web Services" resource technology, browse to your script, and click "Create".  Selecting the "Amazon Web Services" resource technology ensures this plug-in only runs against AWS resource handlers that you've defined and not others to which this plug-in is not applicable.

Give it a try

Provision a server to one of your AWS-backed CloudBolt environments. Watching the job progress, you'll see that the job is not marked as complete until the server is fully reachable and SSH access is available.

Questions? Comments? Concerns?

Don't hesitate to reach out to me (rkilcoyne@cloudbolt.io) or any of the CloudBolt Solutions team for help!

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Topics: Automation, AWS, CloudBolt

If It Isn’t Self-Service, It Isn’t a Cloud

Posted by Ephraim Baron

10/28/15 5:30 AM

A while back, I was working for a large storage company.  We had a marketing campaign called “Journey to the Cloud” where we advised enterprises about cloud computing – as we defined it.  For us, the cloud was all about storage.  Of course, for server vendors the cloud was all about servers.  Ditto for networks, services, or whatever else you were selling.  There was a lot of “cloud-washing” going on.  I knew we’d reached the Trough of Disillusionment when, as I got up to present to a prospect, they told me “if you have the word ‘cloud’ in your deck, you can leave now.”

Fast-forward five years, and cloud computing appears to have reached the Slope of Enlightenment.  By nearly all measures, cloud adoption has increased.  Ask any CIO about their cloud strategy, and they’ll give you a well-rehearsed answer about how they’re exploiting cloud to increase agility and drive partnership with the business.  Then ask, “How are you enabling user self-service?”  Typical responses start with blank stares or visible shudders, followed by “oh, we don’t do that!”  They may say “we’re only using private cloud”, or they may mention OpenStack or containers.  If so, you should point out “If it isn’t self-service, it isn’t really a cloud.”

Unless it provides self-service it is not a cloud

Defining Cloud Computing

When looking for a definition of cloud computing, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) version is widely cited as the authoritative source.  NIST lists five “essential characteristics” of cloud computing.  The operative word is ‘essential’; not suggested; not nice-to-have.  If a service doesn’t have all five, it’s not a cloud. These include:

  • Broad network access
  • Rapid elasticity
  • Measured service
  • Resource pooling
  • On-demand self-service

The NIST model of cloud computing

 For the last of these, on-demand self-service, the cloud test is simple.  If users can request systems or applications and get them right away – without directly involving IT – they are getting on-demand self-service.  If they have to submit a ticket and wait for an intermediary to review and fulfill their request, it’s not a cloud.

Working With You or Around You

At this point, you may be told “we don’t offer self-service because our users don’t understand IT.  They need our help.”  There was a time when that reasoning may have worked.  The C-I-‘no’ of the recent past had the power to rule by fiat and ban anything that wasn’t explicitly on the IT approved list.  Users had no choice.  But times have changed.  Now, users can simply create an account with a public cloud service, swipe their credit card, and get what they want, when they want it.

As a result, companies are seeing a marked increase in so-called shadow IT – pockets of information technology that exist and are managed by users rather than by formal IT groups.  And while this may cause wailing and gnashing of teeth by everyone from security, to finance, to IT operations, it’s nearly impossible to stop.  The genie is out of the bottle.

Rather than trying to prevent or shut down rogue users, IT must take a different approach.  They need to ask their users “how can we help you?” rather than “how can we stop you?” 

“Be the cloud, Danny”

IT needs to become a cloud services provider to their users

If you work in IT and want to stay relevant, you need to be as easy to work with as a cloud service provider.  Do that, and users won’t look for alternatives.  After all, they have their own jobs to do.

So how do you get started?  That’s where CloudBolt comes in.  We’re a cloud management platform that was designed from the start with the end-user in mind.  We enable systems administrators to establish standard configurations and to publish them to their users via an online service catalog.  Users get rapid access to capacity; IT maintains control and compliance.  Best of all, CloudBolt isn’t restricted to a single cloud vendor’s services and APIs.  We work with more than a dozen cloud providers, from private to public, as well as with a wide variety of configuration management and orchestration tools.  We even integrate with legacy, brownfield environments giving you a single place for managing existing as well as new deployments.

The CloudBolt Service Catalog is where end users get what they need

If simple and powerful cloud management sounds appealing, try it for yourself.  Just download the CloudBolt virtual appliance.  It’s free to use for lab environments.  Deployment and setup are fast and easy.  Before you know it, you’ll be providing real cloud services to your users.

“Inconceivable!” you say?  Think again.

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Topics: Cloud Management, Automation, IT Self Service

CloudBolt is Now Free for Lab Use

Posted by Ephraim Baron

10/14/15 9:42 PM

If you’re like most IT shops, you have a place for testing out new products, technologies, and applications.  You may call it your lab, your skunkworks, or your Area 51.  (If you have a different name, share it in a reply to this post.)  Your lab is where you separate truth from hype.  It’s where you make sure things work in your environment, on your equipment, with your team.  CloudBolt’s powerful and intuitive cloud management platform makes a great addition to your lab.  Keep reading to find out why.  Or to get started right away, just

Download the OVA

Gathering Clouds

Using multiple cloud providers is easy with CloudBoltPerhaps you’re just getting started with cloud computing, or maybe you’re testing out multiple clouds, public and private.  Either way, CloudBolt’s powerful and intuitive cloud management platform can help.  CloudBolt serves as a manager-of-managers to provide single-pane-of-glass visibility and control.  We integrate a wide range of virtualization, cloud, automation, and orchestration tools and technologies.

Our cloud management platform lets you test a variety of configurations on the back-end while providing a consistent end-user front-end.  This can be very handy for vendor bakeoffs.  For example, you can spin up an Apache Tomcat environment in your own data center as well as in a public cloud provider based in, say, Singapore and compare provisioning time, system performance, and user experience.

Because CloudBolt coordinates each cloud integration, you don’t have to keep up with each vendor’s terminology, APIs, and quirks.  You just set up the initial integration for each provider and then lather, rinse, and repeat.  Instead of becoming locked into a particular vendor’s offerings, you can select the best environment for each workload.  We even discover and integrate with your existing deployments, and we stay in sync regardless of whether you make changes using CloudBolt or through vendor-specific tools.

Free, as in Beer

CloudBolt is now free for lab use


CloudBolt is pleased to announce that our award winning cloud platform is now available for free for up to 25 VMs in non-production lab environments.  Why?  Because we’re confident in the value of our product.  We use it every day, and it enables us to be highly productive and cost-effective.  We believe it will do the same for you.

To get started, just go to our download page and click the link to 

Download the OVA

Then fill out the license request and we’ll email you a free license that never expires.  System prerequisites and installation instructions are available on our documentation site. When you've finished installing CloudBolt, follow the Getting Started Guide and you’ll be up and running in minutes.  Contact us if you need any assistance.  To jumpstart your CloudBolt deployment, schedule a demo and we’ll walk you through the features that matter most to you.

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Topics: Cloud Management, Licensing, CloudBolt

Network Transformation: Thinking Outside the Middlebox

Posted by Ephraim Baron

9/16/15 9:00 AM

Stuck in the Past

The original computers were relatively dumb, single-purpose machines.  Logic was hard-wired into the circuitry, and the devices were designed for a single task – arithmetic, decryption, tabulation, etc.  Today the idea of having to use separate devices for every application or task would seem ludicrous, yet that’s essentially how networks still operate.

Current networks consist primarily of boxes.  There are routers, and switches, and signaling equipment along with other “middleboxes”, specialized devices with specific functions.  Examples of middleboxes include firewalls, load balancers, proxies, intrusion detection systems, and WAN optimization appliances.  Each of these devices requires configuration and administration.  The result is complexity and inefficiency. 

Middleboxes are highly specialized devices that add complexityImagine a data pipeline of that passes through all these devices.  How many times must a packet be opened, inspected, and acted upon?  How many device operating systems and interfaces do systems administrators need to know/learn?  How many opportunities are there for misconfiguration or device failure?  What happens when rules on different boxes conflict?  Who can troubleshoot traffic that passes through all these devices?

Rewriting the Rules

The goal of Software Defined Networking (SDN) is to abstract network functions from dependency on hardware.  This, in turn, enables high-level programmability of the network.  In technical jargon, SDN involves separating the data plane (the devices directly involved in moving packets) from the control plane (the logic of how traffic gets from source to destination).  Rather than focusing on boxes, SDN starts with data flows, which are the building blocks of higher-level network logic and functionality.

In a software defined networking world, physical middleboxes become software programs.  This is known as Network Functions Virtualization (NFV), and it allows for functional abstraction along with a common management framework.  By virtualizing network functions in the control plane, network design can be policy-based rather than device-based.  In many ways this is analogous to other types of software development.  The developer writes code that specifies the input, output, and transformations.  Compilers and optimizers determine the most efficient machine instructions and execution logic to implement the code.

As alluded to above, networks built from boxes are complex and difficult to troubleshoot.  I’ll illustrate with an anecdote.  I used to work for a large software company that ran many online services.  Over time, our core routers became cluttered from several generations of configurations and access control lists (ACLs).  It got to the point where our network team had almost no idea which rules were still active.  Their answer – which is probably familiar to anyone who has managed a legacy network – was to sequentially turn rules off to see which applications broke.

Interconnecting multiple network devices can be messyBy contrast, SDN promises a global network view.  Functional complexity is managed at the network edge, while the core primarily focuses on moving packets.  As Jennifer Rexford, one of the pioneers in the field of SDN, sees it, “SDN allows for network-wide visibility and control, which we've never had before.”

From Theory to Practice

Assuming the ideas discussed up to this point are of interest to you, how do you get started?  The answer is “it depends”.  As with many technologies, what is and what is not SDN can be confusing.  Some companies define SDN as a way to automate and configure their physical switches and routers.  This is the approach many network hardware vendors have taken, and it makes sense in terms of their core competencies and existing customer base.  Cisco, for example, continues to add SDN capabilities to its Nexus line of switches.

Many software vendors, on the other hand, define SDN in terms of network virtualization.  With this approach, the goal is to provide an abstraction layer that essentially commoditizes the hardware components.  This follows the same path that server virtualization has taken.  Virtualization leader VMware’s acquisition of SDN pioneer Nicira in 2012 made sense within the context of their strategy to deliver the Software Defined Data Center (SDDC).  Within a year of the acquisition, VMware had combined elements of Nicira technology with its well-established network virtual switching to form its NSX product family

The addition of NSX to VMware’s vSphere product line means that users and administrators can create, modify, and administer networks as easily as they can manage virtual machines (VMs) – without adding a lot of expensive network gear.  The combination of VMware server virtualization and NSX network virtualization enables IT organizations to deliver services with the same agility and flexibility as the large public cloud providers.

CloudBolt is pleased to announce extensive integration of VMware NSX technology in our 5.2 product release.  CloudBolt enables enterprise IT to operate as a cloud service provider.  Our powerfully simple cloud management platform integrates on-premises resources with public clouds, automation scripting tools, and domain-specific technologies.  By delivering a responsive and agile alternative to shadow IT, CloudBolt gives users what they want, when they want it.

To learn more, contact us to schedule a demo.
Or if you prefer to jump right in,
Download CloudBolt

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Topics: Network Virtualization, SDN, VMware NSX, CloudBolt

From Subservient to IT Self Service

Posted by Ephraim Baron

8/26/15 11:30 AM

The first business computer, the Lyons Electronic Office (LEO), went into service in November 1951.  Access to computing used to be highly restrictedIt ran applications for a British tea and catering company.  In the decades that have followed, information technology (IT) has become an integral part of nearly every aspect of business.  Try to imagine work without computers, without devices, without ready access to information anytime, anywhere.  Computing is a constant and necessary part of our lives.  

So why is it that in so many corporate environments, core IT services are still requested and delivered through restrictive processes managed by technologists?  One answer is that's simply the way it's always been.  Like the wizard behind the curtain, users were shielded from the great an powerful force of computing.  Precedent, however, does not imply perfection.  If, as Stewart Brand observed in 1984, "information wants to be free", shouldn't information systems be readily accessible?

Another argument is that computing is comprised of expensive and highly complex systems that only a dedicated, highly trained staff can manage.  Technological changes like cloud computing are changing that, though.  The National Institute of standards and Technology (NIST) defines cloud computing as

“a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.” 

Read that description a second time and compare it with traditional IT.  What a contrast!  Cloud is surely appealing to anyone frustrated with their central IT department.

The Specter of Shadow IT

Shadow IT strikes fear into corporate IT departmentsIT has long had a paternalistic attitude towards end users.  “They need us”, they say, or “we’re just keeping them safe.”  But unlike the child that’s eventually allowed to go off on their own, most IT departments won’t let go.  In response, many end users – developers, line of business owners, and the like – look for unsanctioned alternatives.  They create islands of “shadow IT” outside the visibility or control of their IT parents.  It can start innocently enough – perhaps they use an online file sharing service to get around size limits for email attachments.  But it doesn’t stop there.  They may start using personal email accounts for work-related activities.  Before you know it they’re in full rebellion.  They store source code in online repositories or download the company directory to Google docs. 

“I’ll have to be firmer with them”, reasons the CIO, or  “perhaps they’ll grow out of it.”

“You just don’t get it”, say the end users.  “I need to live my life, not yours!”

Handing Over the Keys

Self service IT enables users while maintaining control

The time has come for a different approach.  If IT aspires to be viewed as a business enabler rather than a cost center, they need to provide services in a cloud-like way.  While this may sound difficult or scary, it doesn’t have to be. 

Just as cloud computing is made up of services, an internal IT service catalog can present users with a variety of ready-to-order services.  On the back end, systems administrators need only to create initial templates and then set up mechanisms for instantiation.  From that point on, it’s lather-rinse-repeat. 

There are many benefits of user self-service.  Here are a few:

  • IT organizations have far greater visibility into the systems, software, and security for which they are ultimately responsible.
  • IT is able to establish and control systems standards.  This is far more appealing than having to either support or seek-out-and-destroy environments set up by others.
  • Overall IT costs, usage, and trends are clearer.
  • Self-service enables that most elusive of IT dreams, chargeback.
  • Companies have a far easier time passing compliance audits because they have greater control (and security teams can sleep at night).
  • Most importantly, users are more productive.  They spend their time doing what they were hired to do rather than setting up and managing unsanctioned services.

For companies ready to move to user self-service, there are many IT orchestration and management platforms to choose from.  They range from do-it-yourself tools to highly-structured professional services engagements from big consulting or enterprise software companies.  To decide what’s right for your organization, start by channeling your inner Stephen Covey and “begin with the end in mind”.  Identify your target users.  Define the services and user experience you want to offer.  List in clear, business-centric terms the benefits of self-service.  Establish tracking metrics to determine how well things are working, and measure the current baseline.

In the age of cloud computing, it’s increasingly difficult for IT departments to push back on user requests.  To stay relevant, IT needs to enable users to get what they need, when they need it.

CloudBolt enables user self-service to a wide variety of cloud and virtualization sources.  Our simple, intuitive user portal delivers business agility while maintaining control through approval workflow, usage quotas, and time-bound leases.  Costs are clearly indicated, making chargeback/showback/shameback simple.  Best of all, CloudBolt installs quickly.  You can be up and running in less than an hour, without the need for costly professional services.

To learn more, schedule a demo or download CloudBolt and try it for yourself.

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Topics: Self Service IT

You are not expected to understand this

Posted by Ephraim Baron

8/12/15 7:30 AM

I love the history of technology.  My favorite place in Silicon Valley is the Computer History Museum.  It’s a living timeline of computing technology, where each of us can find the point when we first joined the party.

It’s great to learn about technology pioneers – the geek elite.  Years ago I took a course on computer operating systems.  We were studying the evolution of UNIX, and we’d gotten to Lions’ Commentary on UNIX 6th Edition, circa 1977.  (As an aside, the entire UNIX operating system at that time was less than 10,000 lines of code.  By 2011 the Linux kernel alone required 15 million lines and 37,000 files.)  As we studied the process scheduler section, we came to one of the great “nerdifacts” of computer programming, line 2238, a comment which reads:

* You are not expected to understand this.

Daunting technology

That one line perfectly expresses my joys and frustrations with computing.  The joy comes from the confirmation that computers can do amazingly clever things.  The frustration is from the dismissive way I’m reminded of my inferiority.  And I think that sums up how most people feel about technology.

“Your call is important to us. Please continue to hold.”

In the corporate world, end users have a love-hate relationship with their IT departments.  It’s true that they help us to do our jobs.  But rather than giving us what we need, when we need it, our IT folks seem to always be telling us why our requests cannot be fulfilled.  Throughout my career I’ve been on both sides of this conversation.  Early on, I was the requester/supplicant who’d make my pleas to IT for services or support, only to be told to go away and come back on a day that didn’t end in ‘y’.  

notYes

Later, I was the IT administrator, then manager.  In those roles I was the person saying ‘no’ – far more often than I wanted.  It wasn’t because I got perverse pleasure out of disappointing people.  That was just the way my function was structured, measured, and delivered.

Almost without exception, the two metrics that drove my every action in IT operations were cost and uptime.  Responsiveness and customer satisfaction were not within my charter.  Simply put, I got no attaboys for doing things quickly.  While this certainly annoyed my customers, they knew and I knew that they had no alternatives.

The Age of Outsourcing

Things began to change in the late 1980’s and early 1990’s (yeah, I go back a ways) when large companies decided to try throwing money at their IT problems to make them go away.  So began the age of IT outsourcing, when companies tried desperately to disown in-house computer operations.  Such services were “outside of our core competency”, they reasoned, and so were better performed by seasoned professionals from large companies with three-letter names like IBM, EDS, and CSC.

Outsourcing question

Fast-forward 25 years and we find the IT outsourcing (ITO) market in decline.  There are many reasons for this.  The most common are:

  • Actual savings are often far less than projected
  • Long-term contracts limit flexibility, particularly in a field that changes as constantly as IT
  • There is an inherent asymmetry of goals between service provider and service consumer
  • Considerable effort is required to manage and monitor contracts and SLA compliance
  • New technologies like cloud computing offer viable alternatives

Just as video killed the radio star, cloud computing is a fresher, sexier alternative to ITO for enterprises searching for the all-important “competitive advantage”.

Power to the People!

Cloud computing isn’t just new wine in old bottles; it’s a fundamental change in the way computing resources are made available and consumed.  Cloud computing focuses on user needs (the ‘what’) rather than underlying technology (the ‘how’).

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) defines five essential characteristics of cloud computing.  One of these is ‘On-demand self-service’.  Think about what that means.  For the end user, it means getting what we need, when we need it.  For business, it means costs that align with usage, for services that make sense.  And for IT, it means being able to say ‘yes’ for a change.NIST cloud model

For too long, we have been held captive by technology.  Cloud computing promises to free us from technology middlemen.  It enables us to consume services that we value.

At its core, cloud computing is technology made understandable.

CloudBolt is a cloud management platform that enables self-service IT.  It allows IT organizations to define ready-to-use systems and environments, and to put them in the hands of their users.  Isn’t that a welcome change?

Learn more about self-service IT

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Topics: Customer, Cloud, Services, Agility, IT Self Service, Self Service IT

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