Dan's Take

A New Spin on Private Clouds

ZeroStack uses segmentation to reduce complexity.

I recently had a discussion with Ajay Gulati, ZeroStack's CEO and co-founder, on his company and what it hopes to do for enterprises.  The conversation began with the trend of enterprises moving toward cloud computing services.

At first, he pointed out, these companies do experience some cost reduction and greater agility, including the ability to quickly spin up new workloads; scale the compute capacity as the workload demands more processing power, memory, storage or network capacity; and just as quickly to spin it all down when business requirements change.

Later, however, these same organizations often learn that they've lost quite a bit of control of the underlying systems, networks and storage. They can also discover that costs spiral much higher than first projected if the enterprise gets too enthusiastic about the use of cloud services.

Private Cloud Surprises
These organizations like the ability to see systems as a pool of computing resources that can be easily stood up to support a workload, provide high levels of scalability as the needs of the workload increase, and then torn down and used for some other purpose with little difficulty.

But when they decide to bring the cloud in-house, they soon learn that it requires a level of knowledge and experience in a number of different open source or vendor-supplied software products, and quickly discover that private cloud computing isn't as easy as many of the suppliers make it seem.

They want the flexibility, cost reduction and agility without also being forced to take on the burden of setting up and managing complex stacks of unfamiliar software. In short, they want a computing resource rather than a computer science project.

The ZeroStack Solution
Gulati then went on to discuss ZeroStack and how it segments user workloads, operations, management and applications/data in a different way. The company is offering a hyperconverged server appliance designed to be easy to install, which allows local management and execution of workloads. These appliance servers are programmed to reach out to ZeroStack's cloud service for workload automation, operations and cloud stack software updates as needed.

The ZeroStack Cloud appliance has the following specifications:

    • X86-based systems deployed in a 2U chassis with 4 server nodes
    • Support for 64 to 128 CPU cores
    • Support for 512GB - 1TB RAM
    • Support for a mix of storage devices, including 6.4 50 19.2 TB of solid-state flash drives and between 16TB - 92TB of rotating media.
    • 100 percent pure OpenStack APIs

The media is full of articles discussing the benefits of cloud computing. They cite lower costs, greater levels of agility and reduced levels of risk. These articles seldom point out that these benefits are offered at the expense of lower levels of control, potential security problems if the shared server on which workloads are running is breached, and possible regulatory issues for enterprises in controlled markets.

Looks Can Be Deceiving
Enterprises see the advantages of being able to have a pool of resources that can be pressed into service to support their applications, and some decide to bring the cloud computing home to their own datacenters. That's followed by the challenge of determining which cloud computing stack -- Microsoft, VMware, OpenStack or CloudStack -- is the best fit for their needs, their level of expertise and other factors. During this process they soon learn that there's more to know than they first thought.

Several hardware suppliers, such as Dell, HP, IBM and others, have offerings designed to package up different cloud computing stacks and deliver them as easy-to-install, easy-to-use packages. They also offer services to tune the environment to the customer's needs and training for their staff.

Several software suppliers, such as Red Hat, SUSE and Mirantis, have packaged up a cloud computing stack and integrated it with their favorite operating system, VM software selection and other things such as application frameworks and monitoring and automation tools.

Dan's Take: A Road Less Traveled
While I've become familiar with number of suppliers of cloud appliance servers, segmenting out the installation, monitoring, management and updating functions and making them a separate cloud service is a bit of a different approach. ZeroStack claims that this segmentation makes private cloud computing easier to set up and deploy, while also reducing overall levels of cost. In addition, it means that they don't have to acquire extensive levels of expertise in the cloud computing internals.

This is an interesting concept, one that may offer ZeroStack only a momentary advantage. If the company is successful with this approach, we can expect everyone else to offer something similar quickly.

About the Author

Daniel Kusnetzky, a reformed software engineer and product manager, founded Kusnetzky Group LLC in 2006. He's literally written the book on virtualization and often comments on cloud computing, mobility and systems software. He has been a business unit manager at a hardware company and head of corporate marketing and strategy at a software company.

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