duquesne
Research Duquesne Advisory delivers in-depth analyses of Information and Communications Technologies, their implementations and their markets. Research is based on critical observation of the market by the analysts and their on-going contacts with the vendor community, together with hands-on, practical experience in consulting engagements.

War for the Cloud: Verizon "reinvents the enterprise cloud"… or maybe the wheel?



Source: The Daily Enlightenment
Source: The Daily Enlightenment
As expected, 2013 has been a big year in the war for the public cloud.

Amazon Web Services (AWS) – the 30O pound gorilla of the public cloud – led the rush for mind and market share, aggressively adding features and expanding its already formidable ecosystem. True to form, it also made some seemingly impressive but highly calculated price cuts, generating - if nothing else - a lot of industry buzz.

After several months of swirling industry rumors, IBM made its move and bought Softlayer, a “commodity like” player with an innovative platform based on Citrix XenServer and CloudStack. The company is now apparently positioning SoftLayer as the core of its public cloud offering, reducing its VMware based IaaS portfolio to the services-intensive and highly-customized SmartCloud Enterprise+.

Another bold move came from software editor VMware, with the launch of its own public cloud, the “vCloud Hybrid Service”. The initial skepticism of many industry observers turned to “wait and see” at VMworld 2013, where the company laid out a convincing hybrid architecture strategy.

Throughout the year, announcements from numerous players, big and small, came fast and furious. Among the most interesting was the announcement in early October, by the US based telco giant Verizon, of Verizon Cloud

The Facts

On October 3, 2013, Verizon announced the launch of Verizon Cloud – its new cloud Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) platform and cloud-based object storage service.

According to John Stratton, president of Verizon Enterprise Solutions, “Verizon created the enterprise cloud, now we’re recreating it.” The company claims that Verizon Cloud was “built from the ground up” to combine “the agility and economic benefit of a generic public cloud along with the reliability and scale of an enterprise-level service with unprecedented control of performance.”

Verizon Cloud Compute is Verizon’s new “hypervisor neutral” IaaS platform, designed according to the company for speed and performance. Verizon Cloud Storage is an object-addressable, multitenant storage platform, intended to be robust and cost-effective but also optimized for low-latency transfers of data.

The public beta for Verizon Cloud will launch in the fourth quarter of this year.

Analysis

Verizon is no newcomer to the public cloud. The carrier got into the game in 2009 with the launch of Computing as a Service (CaaS), a VMware based platform (now called Enterprise Cloud Managed Edition), intended to meet the stringent security and performance requirements of enterprise customers. It also launched a more lightweight vCloud Express offering

In early 2011, Verizon made an aggressive strategic move and paid $1.4 billion for Terremark, a well respected provider of data center co-location and managed services, including a cloud computing platform called Terremark Enterprise Cloud. As we wrote at the time, the US telco was straightforward about the rationale for the acquisition. It was mostly about data centers. Verizon had big ambitions in cloud computing and expected to need a lot of new and modern data center capacity, which Terremark brought to the table. The deal was done and Verizon got both the data centers and the Terremark public cloud platform, now called simply Enterprise Cloud.

Shortly thereafter, Verizon also acquired CloudSwitch, a startup specialized in workload migration tools. The CloudSwitch team appears to have become central to Verizon’s cloud offerings evolution since the acquisition, and notably in the creation of the new Verizon Cloud platform.
.
After the Terremark acquisition, Verizon has continued to operate all the existing platforms, and it still appears to be willing to do so for the foreseeable future. Fortunately Verizon has deep pockets.

A well designed, state-of-the-art infrastructure

Verizon Cloud is nothing if not state of the art and appears to be very well designed. In particular, it clearly delineates the role of the cloud infrastructure management stack, unbundling it from the hypervisor layer, which is a pre-requisite for multiple-hypervisor support (or so-called hypervisor neutrality), In addition, this control stack / hypervisor unbundling offers greater flexibility for large organisations seeking to implement hybrid, heterogeneous and often multi-hypervisor infrastructures.

In terms of costs and pricing, this “unbundling” also allows the cloud infrastructure provider to leave it to the customer to pay for the hypervisor when using a merchant solution, first and foremost VMware. Indeed, cloud IaaS providers wanting to compete with AWS with an offering based on the VCloud Director / VMware solution have found themselves at a substantial cost disadvantage and other suppliers may well follow Verizon’s example in the future, but perhaps relying on some kind of open-source (or open source derived) technology.

The announcement also includes Verizon’s new, state-of-the-art object-based storage service. While Verizon Cloud Storage clearly addresses the growing demand for massively scalable and, cheap cloud storage, Verizon has not yet provided any substantial pricing information, just laying out a simple pricing model where no price is actually quantified. In addition, some “services” are announced as free… during the beta period! Verizon will have no shortage of competitors. Object storage as a service is shaping up to be to be one of the most fiercely disputed cloud markets, with many players (e;g. IBM/SoftLayer, Microsoft, Google) aggressively competing on prices with AWS.

Overall, Verizon Cloud appears as a synthesis of all current trends and emerging best practices in cloud infrastructure as well as data centers. It implements a fabric-based infrastructure and makes use of “software-defined everything” concepts. Despite (acknowledged) large borrowings from the open-source CloudStack platform, Verizon appears to have recreated its very own implementation of the entire “stack” with an emphasis on performance and enterprise-required features, including rethinking of VM to VM communications in a multi-hypervisor environment

For customers, in addition to understanding the technology vision that Verizon has adopted, it will be important to understand what specific functionalities will be available and when. The announcement leaves some important questions unanswered, for example, the set of API and protocols actually available. The company also fails to explain how it will implement block and file access on its object infrastructure. No file system implementation on object storage (e.g. NFS, CIFS) is clearly announced.

Verizon has clearly made an enormous development effort to build a well designed and state of the art infrastructure Its new solution has a great many strong points, but it basically represents a good implementation of state-of-the-art thinking and technologies for enterprise class public cloud computing. It does not introduce any major service or functionality that could not be sourced from other vendors. In short, Verizon has more or less “reinvented the wheel”.

One could wonder how much difference Verizon Cloud will make versus a well-implemented combination of off-the-self, solutions, including open-source components. In addition, evolving the solution to keep pace in this fast changing industry may prove costly and maybe cumbersome. It is an open question as to whether Verizon’s objectives might have been attained more quickly and at a lower cost by relying more on partnerships.

A “wheel of fire” for Systems Operations

To be fair, while Verizon seems to have reinvented the “wheel”, it could well turn out to be a “wheel of fire”.

Verizon is targeting top performance for very heavy mission critical workloads as well as for the efficient execution of multiple customer environments (including hypervisors) on top of the base infrastructure. When it comes to supporting demanding transactional workloads, Verizon provides, for example, very big VMs (among other enterprise class features) and promises to deliver a very broad range of potential IOPS (100 to 5000) “per (virtual?) disk”, presumably through their extensive use of SSD.

Verizon has paid a lot of attention to resources allocation control to enable predictable performance, allowing IT Operations managers to implement “Quality of Service” (QoS) management on almost every resource. The company claims that users can totally avoid the “noisy neighbor syndrome” that emerges when different user “compete” for the same resources.

This is an approach that resembles (despite substantial differences) that of IBM with SoftLayer, which offers up to “bare-metal”, single tenant hardware resources. Diverging from the “pure”, mutualised cloud approach (à la AWS), these suppliers hope to attract IT Operations managers who wish to obtain production conditions closer to what they can get in their on-premises infrastructures.

To that end, Verizon gives “fine-grain control” to IT Operations managers of their cloud resources, which will be a strong selling point for this public. However, the inevitable downside is that ensuring proper elasticity and scalability may be more complex when resource allocation has been heavily “tweaked”.

On balance, the value proposition of Verizon Cloud for System Operations – top performance with fine grained control – is clear and compelling. Naturally, all the usual caveats apply, in particular the as yet undemonstrated capacity of Verizon’s new infrastructure to actually deliver on its promises, notably in terms of functionalities and actual performance under load.

What’s in it for the developers?

The answer is… not much. This looks like the biggest problem. It’s the developers who will build the car running on Verizon’s new wheels (or on somebody else’s). Surveys of enterprise developers show consistently that AWS and Microsoft Azure are their top two choices while Verizon is barely on the radar.

In its current format, the Verizon Cloud is likely to appeal more to system operations than to developers – a traditional bias of telco operators when entering the IaaS space. The bad news is that developers are the main demand driving force for IaaS services.

Some of the Operations type benefits, such as precise customer control of resources and performance, may also appeal to innovative DevOps teams anxious to develop in a production-like environment and to optimize resources utilization….but the current shortcomings of Verizon towards the developers are likely to limit the impact also on DevOps teams.

More broadly, the developer ecosystem includes enterprise developers as well as software editors, but also integrator and software house development teams. Hence the “developer issue” is only one of the “ecosystem issues” facing Verizon Cloud.

To grow the customer base, it needs a network of partners and the support of dynamic communities. Services must also be provided including PaaS enablement and Verizon will probably need to convince partners to “port” their PaaS environments (e.g. Pivotal, Microsoft, and IBM)

Of course, all these potential “partners” are also more or less competitors. Verizon has decided to play a very independent hand in infrastructure and so one might ask to what extent does Verizon know how to play the cloud coopetition game … and does it even want to?

Conclusion

Verizon Cloud is on the whole a remarkable technological achievement, assuming of course that it delivers what is promised. One might, however, wonder whether Verizon has really focused on the right subject by reinventing the lower layers of cloud IaaS software, rather than allocating more efforts to the development of higher layer, more value-loaded services, notably towards developers and DevOps professionals.

For customers using Verizon’s existing solutions, the company will probably support them for a good while. Nevertheless, most innovation and also cost effectiveness gains are likely to occur on the new infrastructure, pushing users over time towards adoption of the new platform. It’s Verizon’s job to make it not just attractive but easy.

Sunday, November 3rd 2013
Duquesne Advisory
Newsletter To subscribe to the Duquesne Advisory Newsletter, please enter your e-mail address.

Duquesne Advisory

Duquesne Advisory is a European firm, dedicated to researching, understanding and advising clients worldwide on opportunities and trends in Information and Communications technology.

Research

Duquesne Advisory delivers in-depth analyses of Information and Communications Technologies, their implementations and their markets. Research is based on critical observation of the market by the analysts and their on-going contacts with the vendor community, together with hands-on, practical experience in consulting engagements.

Consulting

The analysts of Duquesne Advisory leverage the Firm’s ongoing market and technology research to undertake high added value consulting engagements for both ICT users and ICT providers. Focused on client service, their approach is rigorous and methodical, and at the same time pragmatic and operational.