Playing the part of an incubator in Cloud

"Anybody can build a Linux server - even my grandmother could deploy a Kickstart image".

How many times have you heard that from a sysadmin / Linux admin ? Personally over the last decade I've heard it echo around. In 2012 we take it for granted that the work the community and the likes of Red Hat, SuSE and Canonical have bankrolled to ensure that the user experience for those taking their first steps away from other Unix platforms and Windows don't have the baptism of fire we did back in the day (I sometimes do hark back to building a Linux desktop and Xfree86 config burnt into my retinas and being able to get through those questions faster each time etc).

So whats the beef with the comment around Linux being easier to adopt and use and to consume as a free technology ? Well it's not really a beef but right now you find me in Switzerland sitting in another airport lounge typing this article having given a keynote on Open Cloud and engagement at a very well organised conference. Last night I met up with a few people locally in the Linux community at a higher level than most who have built offerings around Cloud.

All differed. All had their own pro's and con's, all of them had significant time and money invested in getting it right to build platforms for consumption by customers looking to move those all important paying workloads to Cloud.

All three had built out environments using Linux technologies, freely available Linux technologies. All three had another thing in common, they all started out in the 90s and early 2000's as ISP/Managed hosting providers. That realm of folk who were vital to the growth of hosting and email provisioning but a lot of whom hid behind proprietary licenced tools such as cPanel or BSD licenced technologies such as ISPConfig, Webmin or provided scripted provisioned access to tools such as phpMyAdmin for customers to be able to avoid getting under the hood so to speak. Thats where I'd say 70% of the managed hosting community in the EU and probably other territories got growth - by making things easy to consume.

It wasn't rocket science. It was basic web hosting, uptime and keeping disks spinning was your major issue - not the enterprise needs of customers. Customers with virtual webserver provisioned tiers typically didn't consume much support they generally only needed minor irregular assistance and you spent more time reading logfiles and racking hardware than you did thinking about how you needed to dovetail into your customers business needs and governance processes. In a lot of ways you could say pricing became a commodity product and many hosting providers added other services such as domain name registration, custom DNS and storage to their portfolios.

We haven't really moved as far as you'd think as an industry. So lets paint an analogy which might help accentuate the point I want to make here.

In the early / mid 1990s the major car manufacturers decided to add in bespoke proprietary methods of connecting specific car tuning and diagnostic gear to models at point of manufacture. So VW, BMW, Ford, Jaguar, Mercedes all had their own proprietary "plug" for a very short period of time to allow their service agents to be able to reset error codes and to diagnose issues with customer vehicles. Skyes Pickavant the motor aftermarket specialist started selling a box (that I helped develop the firmware for) to "read" the codes of all these disparate vehicles and a range of connections and leads to fit a variety of vehicles all with their "own plug". It was extending to the small dealer the ability to compete with the official service agent. Now almost every car manufactured since 1997/8 has an ODBII compliant interface (although some still need an adaptor). They all share a common serial command infrastructure for event escalation and identification but what it means is anyone can rack up to EBay and get a diagnostic reader that they can talk to their car with. I have one, it saves a fortune in fact I've lost count how many times other people have borrowed it.

Now what has this got to do with Cloud ?

The motor manufacturers were not open. They all had their own expensive R&D to do the same thing just using different methodologies. They were all trying to solve the same problem and wasting time and investment by not talking to each other and not sharing standards. In the end ODB II became a standard and everyone had to conform. In the same way that most phone manufacturers realise now using a micro USB connector is the norm as most devices use them to connect / charge.

Now these providers all made good money in the hosting community and branched out eventually to thinking about Cloud. However after listening to all of them, all having built what they thought was Cloud. I asked one question "now how are you going to attract and retain customers and by inference make revenue".

Silence. It's at this point I'm hoping I'm lost in translation and my question is being digested. It's clear nothing is coming in immediate response.

It's becoming clear. If you don't understand what your customer wants and needs and you don't make yourself a valued trusted partner with consumable elastic services and end point enterprise service level consumable architecture that ties into a contractually useful SLA then you should not be looking at Cloud. Stay in your comfort zone. It's like me deciding that tomorrow I'm qualified to do manicures and waxing because I can go to a cosmetic counter armed with a VISA card and a shopping list.

Thats not a rebuke. It's a statement that if you are going to stand up any commercial offering in any marketplace you must think about your business plan, your opportunities and risks and the tools you use to go to work.

If you buy cheap spanners and you have a DIY car manual don't expect a customer with a fleet of cars to want to sign up to a contract with you. However theres nothing to stop you working with an upstream provider or franchise (which is normally the route in fields as diverse as mobile catering to car dent removal) to make your business feel larger even if you have a major up front investment.

This doesn't really exist in IT, I was one of the first Microsoft Solution Provider partners (yes you read that entirely correctly) and it allowed us overnight to play in a bigger pool. In Cloud you need to do the same and you need to think about skilling up and getting a grasp of fast moving technologies in the IaaS and PaaS marketplaces as well as really taking on board my comments about cheap spanners.

There is nothing wrong with using a Free Linux OS such as CentOS. Just humour me and show me a religiously correct business plan for your CentOS built cloud which demonstrates actual retention of customers and growth. Theres a dynamic and significant reason why Red Hat long since started adding major synergies in the acquisitions of technology companies to help add to our stack. It's also the reason that we're seen as a progressive leader in Cloud.

Yes you can build yourself a basic Cloud using freely available community resources and yes you can support them yourselves. You could also build yourself a kit car and maintain it yourself but would you then enter a Formula 1 race with the kit car and no backup or pit crew or a factory and testing environment ?

Just because I can go to Home Depot and buy paint and brushes does not make me a trusted decorator. If you want to be serious about retention and attraction of customers to Cloud and you want to be skilled in every aspect of using Open technologies to get there safely, securely and to keep hold and grow customers then you need to be talking to me.

Red Hat are seasoned professionals not just at the operating tier of Cloud but also at helping you drive your business forward in order to attract customers and to retain and build revenue opportunities. It's a very open and intelligent ecosystem that is here to help you as a partner but please take it on the chin if in this article I've described your company. It's meant to make you think not point fingers at your architecture.

Engaging, Enthusing and Empowering Cloud - thats my job as an evangelist and I'm here as your resource so use me.