On August 20, 2012, Nathan Smith, Senior Citrix Engineer at Centered Networks, and Joachim Heppner, a Senior Manager at Sanofi, joined the Wikibon community to discuss their early experiences working with a cloud-based, big-data repository of performance and configuration data from VMware virtualized environments. Also on the call were John Blumenthal, CEO of CloudPhysics, as well as Noemi Greyzdorf, VP of strategy and Alliances at Cambridge Computer Services and well-known VMware employees, Duncan Epping and Frank Denneman, who are advisors to CloudPhysics.
CloudPhysics is a startup, which emerged from stealth mode on August 19th. The company developed and maintains the repository that Nathan and Joachim are evaluating. By the August 19 launch, the repository already included 10s of terabytes of configuration settings, performance statistics, and inventory data, and is growing with continuous data streams from hundreds of environments. CloudPhysics plans to dramatically increase the size of the repository and the number of contributing organizations over the coming weeks.
CloudPhysics uses the data in the repository to provide insight into the performance and availability of virtualized environments under a wide variety of deployment scenarios. Out of this, the company hopes to deliver best practices, which can be used by IT professionals, consultants, and suppliers to improve the efficiency of operations and improve the quality of management and decision making in complex, dynamic environments.
To understand the enormity of the management challenge in virtualized environments, one needs only to look at the set of possible combinations of server, network, and storage technologies, together with the full complement of options for configuration settings, workloads, and applications. No IT professional, no supplier, and no consultant can possibly analyze all of the available options to maximize efficiency, performance, and availability. And yet, every organization is responsible for meeting service levels, and every vendor is at risk of being blamed, when service levels aren’t met.
If IT professionals had unlimited budgets and time, they could replicate production environments and evaluate new technologies or experiment with configuration settings in the current environment to determine the impact on performance and availability. That, however, is not reasonable, given the substantial limitations under which organizations operate. Instead, they are better served by learning from the experience of their peers in environments that approximate their own. While the insight and recommendations may not be perfect, it will certainly improve the quality of decision making.
The applicability of the insight and the quality of best-practice recommendations will be directly correlated with the amount and variety of data in the repository. Therefore, it is important for CloudPhysics to garner the support of the supplier community in embracing this approach. Emerging suppliers or established suppliers entering new market segments should benefit a great deal by having data regarding their installations in the repository. According to CloudPhysics, Fusion-io is already working with the company to validate the benefits of Fusion-io in virtualized environments.
Participation by IT professionals ultimately will determine the success of the CloudPhysics approach, since they are the ones who will supply the bulk of the data. CloudPhysics has no current plans to compensate users for contributing their data, relying instead on a belief that users will see sufficient benefit from gaining access to the learnings from other contributors’ data. Of note, CloudPhysics does provide safeguards against the release of proprietary information regarding any specific organization’s environment, but Chief Information Security Officers and Compliance Officers will certainly want to take a close look at policies and procedures before allowing their IT department to contribute data to a shared cluster.
CloudPhysics is currently in the process of building out a set of applications, called Cards. these are focused tools to solve specific problems, such as ensuring the health of an HA cluster, evaluating data store contention, or determining data store utilization. As Nathan and Joachim agreed, CloudPhysics’ Cards give a quick, high-level assessment of their environment and actionable recommendations to improve performance and availability.
Action Item: Given the range of options and the dynamic nature of virtualized environments, it is enormously challenging for suppliers, consultants, or IT practitioners to reliably predict the impact and benefit of new technology or to optimally tune existing environments. There is great promise in a massive repository of configuration and performance data from a wide range of environments that can be analyzed to determine best practices, evaluate scenarios, and assess risk. IT professionals, consultants, and the supplier community can all benefit from such an approach, but in order to do so, they will need to be willing to share.
Footnotes: In an August 25 press release, CloudPhysics announced the company had received a $2.5 million investment from the Mayfield Fund and well-known angel investors, including VMware co-founders Diane Greene and Mendel Rosenblum and former Veritas CEO, Mark Leslie.