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What Cisco and Dell's Cloupia and Gale acquisitions mean to the future of IT

Last week's acquisitions of Cloupia and Gale technologies were a brilliant counter to the increasing power of Microsoft and VMware and provides tremendous insight into the future of IT.

As cloud technologies continue to disrupt the enterprise computing landscape the norms of the old are being swept away to make room for new norms that will define the way organizations deploy and manage technology in the cloud era…at least until the next epochal shift. With automation and self-service rapidly becoming the norm and with the ‘cloudsourcing’ trend still growing, it is clear that enterprise IT organizational structures will shift tremendously in the coming years. And with SDN the networking industry finds itself at ground zero for some of the most significant shifts in all of IT.

While the industry will continue to face tremendous change, one positive thing about recent events is that they give us better insight as to how these changes will impact IT organizations and our individual roles as IT workers. If there was a single event this year that impacted the future of IT infrastructure, the standout has definitely been VMware’s purchase of Nicira as it cemented a very clear direction for the future of hypervisor networking and SDN while also giving tremendofus insight into how ‘the cloud’ will continue to evolve. Prior to the Nicira acquisition, it seemed many infrastructure vendors still held out hope that open workload portability would be discarded by Microsoft or VMware in favor of preferential treatment to a particular infrastructure vendor's proprietary solution or standards for networking based on the pre-SDN legacy paradigm. However, it is clear that the current revolution in IT is not being dictated simply by the desire to win the private cloud, but rather emerging norms are being shaped by each vendors desire to control the future of the public cloud and XaaS services.

For Microsoft and VMware, winning in private cloud is a nice lucrative prize; however their real goal is capturing the next phase of IT beyond on-premise gear as infrastructure increasingly moves to the cloud. So today while Microsoft and VMware are putting the full-court press on selling you their all-inclusive private cloud software offerings, at the same time they are preparing coalitions of Azure and vCloud partners preparing for their next important battle - advanced hybrid cloud. While these vendors’ sales teams are out selling you private cloud, their R&D departments are focusing on making it easy for IT to transfer virtual machines to either a vCloud or Azure IaaS service so they can take on Amazon and Google for leadership in XaaS. And this is a positive thing for enterprise IT as the push from Microsoft and VMware is essentially to tell business leaders that they can help IT deliver true cloud-class services with cloud-class economics. This is a powerful message as CXOs desperately want the agility of self-service and consumerization with the central monitoring, security and compliance benefits of a central IT organization…so this should result in IT transforming into a true ITaaS model and reclaiming control of cloud services.

While Microsoft and VMware are working to take on Amazon and Google in the cloud, they also need to deal with another predicament: their plans rely on Cisco, Dell and HP happily ceding control and playing a supporting role to help Microsoft and VMware become dominant in the cloud. But the infrastructure giants aren’t going to take this laying down, they would be happy to sell you all of the equipment and services to help you deploy your new private cloud. But they see the writing on the wall and realize that the hardware and services sales they get from selling private cloud today would leave them in a very difficult position tomorrow...once the amount of on-premise gear starts shrinking in favor of growing public clouds.

And with all this as the backdrop, we can see the brilliance of the Gale and Cloupia acquisitions. With VMware and Microsoft owning the private cloud software interface it left infrastructure vendors outside of the software loop… but the broader scope of solutions like Gale and Cloupia allow Dell and Cisco to provide an interface that essentially becomes a 'manager of managers' to provide an automation and orchestration for all infrastructure which could potentially include legacy environments, complex one-off type applications, new requirements such as simultaneously managing a new centralized private vCloud while also flirting with Microsoft’s new virtualization and cloud offerings, numerous pockets of existing VMware deployments and then maybe some new stuff like a new Hadoop solution bundle for BI that comes self-contained with its own cloud orchestration. Gale’s technology can provide one common interface to the entire gamut of the broad array of solutions many IT organizations need to support. And because of this fact, it gives the infrastructure suppliers a chance to provide a master interface for IT to manage its own internal operations and can give IT departments an important check to balance reliance on a single cloud software provider, as this gives IT more power to easily support multiple different vendors' cloud software or transition between different private and public cloud providers by providing a ‘manager of managers’ type interface.

And, ironically, as a result of these trends today we can observe the comedy of "co-opetition," as each hardware vendor cozies up with Microsoft and VMware on one hand trying to get preferential treatment while with their other hands Cisco, Dell and HP are investing heavily in OpenStack and trying to figure out the right strategy to win in hybrid and public cloud. I should reiterate that I am a Dell employee, though this blog is my personal opinion and is not reviewed or endorsed by my employer.

Both Gale and Cloupia were good fits for their suitors. With Cisco’s recent challenges with VMware and fairly rapid investments into OpenStack, which now go far beyond their initial foray into quantum, Cloupia’s self-service capabilities are a good marriage with Cisco’s needs. However, out of the two deals, I have to give the edge to Gale for the vast experience they have had from years leading the lab automation industry which in many ways has even more complex and demanding needs than the somewhat more static automation demands of enterprise IT. Dell’s previous investments in Scalent, their very early investments in OpenStack and in developing a hosted OpenStack IaaS cloud along with other organic IP, such as their Crowbar software, meant Dell already had much more maturity in their software and converged infrastructure interfaces, enabling them to pick up Gale, who has more experience and maturity in automating infrastructure. Another key point strengthening Dell’s position is VMware’s recent acquisition of Dynamic Ops. Prior to this acquisition, Dell had already spent months integrating the Dynamic Ops self-service portal and was ready to launch a Dell-branded version of the platform. So while some saw the acquisition as potentially threatening to Dell, what it really means is that Dell is already completely integrated into Dynamic Ops giving them a significant differentiator in their ability to support VMware deployments. And because Dell already had much of the Cloupia features from their previous acquisitions enabling them to pursue Gale. This enables Dell to tackle much more than simply providing a cloud interface that can orchestrate software and select hardware. Gale's ability to dynamically spin up virtually any topology that can be imagined using a tremendous variety of different underlying technologies really shines as the one platform that can solve the headaches of managing legacy and one-off environments while also being able to do things like dynamically support Microsoft, VMware, Openstack/Hadoop and other complex software platforms all through a common automation platform.

While it is a crazy world in the IT landscape today, the beauty of it all is that, at the end of the day, the consumer is winning. Most of the legacy enterprise vendors have been fighting with all of their might to keep closed and proprietary solutions, and one-by-one they are being shot down in favor of the more open world inching us closer to a truly competitive industry where the best man wins and the role of politics and pure greed takes a small step backward. Don’t get me wrong, utopia it ain’t, but these trends result in less margin and less control for vendors and better technology, better prices and less lock-in for consumers … all brought to you by the power of open innovation as cross-industry and cross-community collaboration is making the entire industry move in a much more efficient direction. Despite the growth of public cloud, enterprise IT now has the opportunity to get back in control of the cloud and finally solve the "IT Doesn’t matter" conundrum as now the solutions and practices are becoming available to elegantly marry the desires of the business and the technologists that support it.

Since it is that time of year, I will end this on an off-topic note … as we all prepare to take off for the holiday and share in giving thanks with our families, one thing I will be grateful for is the wild success that OPEN has had this year. While we could look back and talk about the cloud and SDN or at the broader economic battles our civilization has faced … what has stood out to me about 2012 is the fact that the largest corporate behemoths in the world all were forced to embrace open technologies and industry landscapes were toppled by the power of open. MITx and Coursera launched massively available online courses, giving away the best education in the world freely. We see massive open-source-powered clusters driving the economics that today are making it possible to do things like devoting the resources of an entire supercomputer to pediatric cancer patients individually. And while all the change we face can give us a lot of heartburn and stress, I can't imagine anything greater than getting to witness and even take a small part in the amazing possibilities that technology is creating to solve the challenges that humanity faces in this world, and just to be able to live in this amazing time for the growth and evolution of humanity, for this I am truly thankful.

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