• United States
IDG Enterprise Consulting Director

Happy Chinese New Year

Jan 22, 20048 mins
Data Center

I’ve been the beneficiary of a great deal of insight from my fellow Vorticians on the New Data Center and the future of the IT industry – topics we’ve been discussing for several issues now. I want to share some of this thinking and encourage others to offer up the fruits of their cerebral labors.

May those that love us, love us.

And those that don’t love us

May God turn their hearts.

And if He can’t turn their hearts

May He turn their ankles,

so we know them by their limp.

– Old Irish prayer

Dear Vorticians,

Happy New Year! As I write this, the Chinese New Year celebration is getting under way. This is the year of the monkey, and those born during a year of the monkey (1920, 32, 44, 56, 68, 80, 92) are said to be “the erratic geniuses of the (zodiac) cycle.

Clever, skillful, and flexible, they are remarkably inventive and original and can solve the most difficult problems with ease. There are few fields in which monkey people wouldn’t be successful but they have a disconcerting habit of being too agreeable. They want to do things now, and if they cannot get started immediately, they become discouraged and sometimes leave their projects. Although good at making decisions, they tend to look down on others. Having common sense, monkey people have a deep desire for knowledge and have excellent memories. Monkey people are strong willed but their anger cools quickly. They are most compatible with the dragon and rat.”

If you’re a monkey person and were considering a joint venture with me, you might want to think again. I’m a rooster. We rooster folks are “deep thinkers, capable and talented” – I won’t share any of the less-desirable qualities in this note.

Speaking of deep thinking, I’ve been the beneficiary of a great deal of insight from my fellow Vorticians on the New Data Center and the future of the IT industry – topics we’ve been discussing for several issues now. I want to share some of this thinking and encourage others to offer up the fruits of their cerebral labors to me at

Last week, I shared a message from Vortician Bill Baker, who pines for the next generation of IT to focus on empowering individuals (an era one VORTEX speaker called Virtual Me). That sparked this response from Vortician Amos Satterlee.

“John, I agree with Mr. Baker that the year of the end user is long overdue. However, I do not share the enthusiasm for the vision. His vision requires a significant rethinking of the design model of the infrastructure. Rather than pushing functions as close to the edge as is functionally possible, his vision mandates a central-switch model of infrastructure delivery. (Here I’m trying to make a distinction between a design model and an engineered implementation.)

“For the infrastructure to ‘feel’ what I need means that there is strong, centralized intelligence in the system. I don’t like this at all. Through rose-colored glasses, this looks like an appealing future. Through the dark Ray-Bans of counterintelligence, this looks a whole lot like Big Brother command and control.

“I don’t want an infrastructure that knows who I am, etc. I want an infrastructure that allows me to identify myself and my choices when I want to, and allows me to hide when I want while still using the infrastructure. I want an infrastructure that allows me to choose, not one that chooses for me.

“Mr. Baker’s vision reminds me of the story of the TiVo user who keeps getting his hard drive filled with suggested viewing based on the selections he has already made. Unfortunately, none of the suggested stuff appeals to him, and he hasn’t figured out a way to let the infrastructure understand this. This type of interaction is much worse than the current state of affairs.

“I think that the place of ‘Virtual Me’ is not in the data center nor is it at the end device. The place of VM is at the junction of both, where I can have a modicum of control over both spheres. Yes, I want access to everything. Yes, I want a simple interface to interact with. But I want the control. I want to decide when to self-heal and auto-discover. I’m willing to accept personalization, but I want to override it when I choose.

“An example of where I think things should go is the way Michael Robertson is going with Lindows. The installation is pretty simple, yet the guts of the system are transparent. Click’n’Run both centralizes and simplifies application delivery, but leaves me in control of what I install and when.

“‘Just Do It’ is a great slogan when you know what to do. I propose that the slogan should be: ‘Give Me the Choice.'”

Thanks, Amos – most especially for the delightful phrase “the dark Ray-Bans of counterintelligence.” I loved it.

Vortician Pete Manca, with blade server vendor Egenera, also chimed in. I’m allowing Pete a bit of corporate self-promotion here because I think Egenera is an interesting company on an interesting mission – interesting enough that I invited its CEO up on stage with me at Vortex ’03.

Vortician Pete wrote: “John, I’ve read with great interest your recent messages on the New Data Center. Yes, it’s true that there is a data center revolution going on. Quiet as it might seem, it’s actually quite exciting and already in its second generation.

“The first generation was built around low-end blade servers that targeted fast deployment and denser, smaller packaging. It’s clear now that this was more evolution than revolution. The second generation, and the one that will dominate going forward, is that of data center virtualization which enables true utility computing.

“Virtualization is critical because it abstracts business applications from underlying resources, allowing any application to run on any resource at any time. A true utility. Just plug in and go!

“Today, most approaches to utility computing — including the solutions commercially available from IBM, HP and Sun — offer incremental steps that try to simulate a virtual environment by layering management software on top of legacy hardware architectures. This serves to make the data center more, not less, complex. The only way to truly feed the revolution is to convert inflexible, physical data center resources — which restrict a customer’s ability to accommodate change — into software. Accomplishing this means that a vendor must fundamentally change the way it thinks about computing resources. Old architectures simply won’t work in this new world.

“This new way of thinking — and delivering solutions that truly virtualize data center resources — is being led by new entrants like Egenera. Other trailblazers include Opsware, VMWare and Terraspring, among others. A number of these second-generation suppliers have been acquired, proving that true data center virtualization is difficult to deliver as an independent software vendor and that the large incumbents are behind, thereby needing to purchase these visionary companies to catch up.

“Egenera and Opsware are thriving as sustainable, independent entities, proving that the virtualization market is robust enough to support a number of players including brand-new companies built solely to deliver this second-generation technology. In Egenera’s case, the architecture we’ve introduced provides a unifying fabric that connects virtualized data center resources in such a way that a standard server view is presented to applications.

“At the same time, this new approach — which we call a Processing Area Network or PAN — removes the physical dependencies that make infrastructure deployment, failover and management so costly. At the end of the day, the solutions being offered by this new breed of vendors are exactly what customers have long been looking for. We’d agree with both Bill Baker and Peter Bernstein that giving the user top billing is what it’s all about for any supplier that hopes to succeed in the next wave of data center computing.”

Thanks Pete. Now, I wonder if some of the incumbents from such companies as, say, IBM, HP or Sun wouldn’t mind letting us know what they think about Pete’s view here.

I was going to share the views of Vortician Alan Cohen, of wireless LAN switch maker Airespace, who took the Wi-Fi angle on my New Data Center white paper, but I see we’re running pretty long. I’ll get to that and some other viewpoints next week.

Have a banana and drop me a line at

Bye for now.