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Barton George joined Dell
in 2009 as the company's cloud computing evangelist. He acts as Dell's
ambassador to the cloud computing community and works with analysts and the press.
He is responsible for messaging as well as blogging
and tweeting on cloud topics. Prior
to joining Dell, Barton spent 13 years at Sun Microsystems in a variety of
roles that ranged from manufacturing to product and corporate marketing. He
spent his last three years with Sun as an open source evangelist, blogger, and
driver of Sun's GNU/Linux strategy and relationships.
In this interview, we discuss:
Could you take a minute to introduce yourself and tell us a little bit about
your experience with cloud computing?
Barton George: I
joined Dell a little over a year ago as cloud evangelist, and I work with the
press, analysts, and customers talking about what Dell is doing in the cloud. I
also act as an ambassador for Dell to the cloud computing community. So I go
out to different events, and I do a lot of blogging and tweeting.
I got involved with the cloud when I was at a small company
right before Dell called Lombardi, which has since been purchased by IBM. Lombardi
was a business process management company that had a cloud-based software
service called Blueprint.
Before that, I was with Sun for 13 years, doing a whole
range of things from operations management to hardware and software product
management. Eventually, I became Sun's open source evangelist and Linux
Robert: You once
observed that if you asked 10 people to define cloud, you'd get 15 answers.
[laughs] How would you define it?
Barton: We talk
about it as a style of computing where dynamically scalable and often
virtualized resources are provided as a service. To simplify that even further,
we talk about it as IT provided as a service. We define it that broadly to
avoid long-winded discussions akin to how many angels can dance on the head of
a pin. [laughs]
You can really spend an unlimited amount of time arguing
over what the true definition of cloud is, what the actual characteristics are,
and the difference between a private and a public cloud. I think you do need a
certain amount of language agreement so that you can move forward, but at a
certain point there are diminishing returns. You need to just move forward and
start working on it, and worry less about how you're defining it.
Robert: There are
a lot of granular definitions you can put into it, but I think you're right.
And that's how we look at it here at Microsoft, as well. It's fundamentally
about delivering IT as a service. You predict that traditional, dedicated
physical servers and virtual servers will give
way to private clouds. What's led you to that opinion?
Barton: I'd say
that there's going to be a transition, but I wouldn't say that those old models
are going to go away. We actually talk about a portfolio of compute models that
will exist side by side. So you'll have traditional compute, you'll have
virtualized compute, you'll have private cloud, and you'll have public cloud.
What's going to shift over time is the distribution between
those four big buckets. Right now, for most large enterprises, there is a more
or less equal distribution between traditional and virtualized compute models. There
really isn't much private cloud right now, and there's a little bit of flirting
with the public cloud. The public cloud stuff comes in the form of two main
buckets: sanctioned and unsanctioned.
"Sanctioned" includes things like Salesforce, payroll, HR, and
those types of applications. The "unsanctioned" bucket consists of people in
the business units who have decided to go around their IT departments to get
things done faster or with less red tape.
Looking ahead, you're going to have some traditional usage
models for quite a while, because some of that stuff is cemented to the floor,
and it just doesn't make sense to try and rewrite it or adapt it for
virtualized servers or the cloud.
But what you're going to see is that a lot of these
virtualized offerings are going to be evolved into the private cloud. Starting
with a virtualized base, people are going to layer on capabilities such as dynamic
resource allocation, metering, monitoring, and billing.
And slowly but surely, you'll see that there's an evolution
from virtualization to private cloud. And it's less important to make sure you
can tick off all the boxes to satisfy some definition of the private cloud than
it is to make continual progress at each step along the way, in terms of greater
efficiency, agility, and responsiveness to the business.
In three to five years, the majority of folks will be in the
private cloud space, with still pretty healthy amounts in the public and
virtualized spaces, as well.
Robert: As you
know, Dell's Data Center Solutions Group provides
hardware to cloud providers like Microsoft and helps organizations building
their own private clouds. How do you see organizations deciding today between
using an existing cloud or building their own?
again, there is a portfolio approach, rather than an either-or proposition. One
consideration is the size of the organization. For example, it's not unusual
for a startup to use entirely cloud-based services. More generally, decisions
about what parts a business keeps inside are often driven by keeping sensitive
data and functionality that is core to the business in the private cloud. Public
cloud is more often used for things that are more public facing and less core
to the business.
We believe that the IT department needs to remake itself
into a service provider. And as a service provider, they're going to be looking
at this portfolio of options, and they're going to be doing "make or buy"
decisions. In some cases, the decision will be to make it internally, say, in
the case of private cloud. Other times, it will be a buy decision, which will
imply outsourcing it to the public cloud.
The other thing I'd say is that we believe there are two
approaches to getting to the cloud: one is evolutionary and the other one is
revolutionary. The evolutionary model is what I was just talking about, where
you've made a big investment in infrastructure and enterprise apps, so it makes
sense to evolve toward the private cloud.
There are also going to be people who have opportunities to
start from ground zero. They are more likely to take a revolutionary approach,
since they're not burdened with legacy infrastructure or software architecture.
Microsoft Azure is a good example. We consider you guys a revolutionary
customer, because you're starting from the ground up. You're building
applications that are designed for the cloud, designed to scale right from the
Some organizations will primarily follow one model, and some
will follow the other. I would say that right now, 95% of large enterprises are
taking the evolutionary approach, and only 5% are taking a revolutionary
People like Microsoft Azure and Facebook that are focused on
large scale-out solutions with a revolutionary approach are in a small minority.
Over time, though, we're going to see more and more of the revolutionary
approach, as older infrastructure is retired.
Robert: Let me
switch gears here a little bit. You guys just announced
the acquisition of Boomi. Is there anything you can share about that?
Barton: I don't
know any more than what I've read in the press, although I do know that the
Boomi acquisition is targeted to small and medium-sized businesses. We target
that other 95% on the evolutionary side with what we call Virtual Integrated
System. That's the idea of starting with the already existing virtualized
infrastructure and building capabilities on top of it.
Robert: The White
House recently rolled out Cloud
Security Guidelines. At Microsoft and Dell, we've certainly spent a lot of
time dealing with technology barriers. How much of the resistance has to do
with regulation, policy, and just plain fear? And how much do things like cloud
security guidelines and accreditation do to alleviate these types of concerns?
address those issues, I think you have to look at specific customer segments. For
example, HIPAA regulations preclude the use of public cloud in the medical
field. Government also has certain rules and regulations that won't let them
use public clouds for certain things. But as they put security guidelines in
place, that's going to, hopefully, make it possible for the government to expand
its use of public cloud.
I know that Homeland
Security uses the public cloud for their public-facing things, although obviously,
a lot of the top secret stuff that they're doing is not shared out on the
public cloud. If you compare cloud computing to a baseball game, I think we're
maybe in the bottom of the second inning. There's still quite a bit that's
going to happen.
One of the key areas where we will make a lot of progress on
in the next several years is with security, and I think people are going to
start feeling more and more comfortable.
I liken it to when the Internet first entered broad use, and
people said, "I would never put my credit card out on the Internet. Anyone
could take it and start charging up a big bill." Now, the majority of us don't
think twice about buying something off of the web with our credit cards, and I
think we're going to see analogous change in the use of the cloud.
of whether you have a public or private cloud, what are your thoughts on
infrastructure as a service and platform as a service? What do you see as key
scenarios for each of those kinds of clouds?
Barton: I think
infrastructure as a service is a great way to get power, particularly for
certain things that you don't need all the time. For example, I was meeting
with a customer just the other day. They have a web site that lets you upload a
picture of your room and try all kinds of paint colors on it. The site renders it
all for you.
They just need capacity for a short period of time, so it's
a good example of something that's well suited to the public cloud. They use
those resources briefly and then release them, so it makes excellent sense for
There's also a game company we've heard about that does initial
testing of some of their games on Amazon. They don't know if it's going to be
hit or not, but rather than using their own resources, they can test on the
public cloud, and if it seems to take off, they then can pull it back in and do
it on their own.
I think the same thing happens with platform as a service. Whether
you have the platform internal or external, it allows developers to get access
to resources and develop quickly. It allows them to use resources and then
release them when they're not needed, and only pay for what they use.
Robert: In an
article titled, "Cloud
Computing: the Way Forward for Business?," Gartner was quoted as predicting
that cloud computing will become mainstream in two to five years, due mainly to
cost pressures. When organizations look pass the cost, though, what are some of
the opportunities you think cloud providers should really be focusing on?
Barton: I think
it's more about agility than cost, and that ability to succeed or fail quickly.
To go back to that example of the game company, it gives them an inexpensive testing
environment they can get up and going easily. They can test it without having
to set up something in their own environment that might take a lot more time. A
lot of the opportunity is about agility when companies develop and launch new
The amount of time that it takes to provision an app going
forward should, hopefully, decrease with the cloud, providing faster time to
revenue and the ability to experiment with less of a downside.
also recently said that many companies
are confused about the benefits, pitfalls, and demands of cloud computing.
What are some of the biggest misconceptions that you still run into?
themselves put cloud at the very top of the hype cycle for emerging
technologies last year, and then six weeks later, they turned around and named
it the number one technology for 2010. There are a lot of misconceptions
because people have seen the buzz and want to sprinkle the cloud pixie dust on
what they offer.
This is true both for vendors, who want to rename things as cloud,
and for internal IT, who when asked about cloud by their CIO, they say, "Oh,
yes. We've been doing that for years."
I do think people should be wary of security, and there are
examples where regulations will prohibit you from using the cloud. At the same
time, you also have to look at how secure your existing environment is. You may
not be starting from a perfectly secure environment, and the cloud may be more
secure than what you have in your own environment.
Robert: Those are
the prepared questions I have. Is there anything interesting that you'd like to
computing is a very exciting place to be right now, whether you're a customer, an
IT organization, or a vendor. As I mentioned before, we are in the very days of
this technology, and we're going to see a lot happening going forward.
In much the same way that we really focused on distinctions
between Internet, intranet, and extranet in the early days of those
technologies, there is perhaps an artificial level of distinction between virtualization,
private cloud, and public cloud. As we move forward, these differences are
going to melt away, to a large extent.
That doesn't mean that we're not going to still have private
cloud or public cloud, but we will think of them as less distinct from one
another. It's similar to the way that today, we keep certain things inside our
firewalls on the Internet, but we don't make a huge deal of it or regard those
resources inside or outside as being all that distinct from each other.
I think that in general, as the principles of cloud grab
hold, the whole concept of cloud computing as a separate and distinct entity is
going to go away, and it will just become computing as we know it.
I see cloud computing as giving IT a shot in the arm and allowing
it to increase in a stair-step fashion, driving what IT's always been trying to
drive, which is greater responsiveness to the business while at the same time
driving greater efficiencies.
Robert: One big
trend that we believe is going to fuel the advance of cloud computing is the
innovation happening at the data center level. It's one thing to go and either
build a cloud operating system or try to deploy one internally, but it's
another thing to really take advantage of all the innovations that come with
being able to manage the hardware, network connections, load balancers, and all
the components that make up a data center. Can you comment a little bit about
how you see Dell playing into this new future?
really an area where we excel, and that's actually why our Data Center
Solutions Group was formed. We started four or five years ago when we noticed that
some of our customers, rather than buying our PowerEdge servers, were all of a
sudden looking at these second-tier, specialized players like Verari or
Rackable. Those providers had popped up and identified the needs of these new
hyperscale providers that were really taking the whole idea of scale-out and
putting it on steroids.
Dell had focused on scale starting back in 2004, but this
was at a whole other level, and it required us to rethink the way we approach
the problem. We took a step back and realized that if we want to compete in
this space of revolutionary cloud building, we needed to take a custom
That's where we started working with people like Microsoft
Azure, Facebook, and others, sitting down with customers and focusing on the
applications they are trying to run and the problems they are trying to solve,
rather than starting with talking about what box they need to buy. And then we work
together with that customer to design a system.
We learned early on that customers saw the system as distinct
from the data center environment. Their orientation was to say, "Don't worry
about the data center environment. That's where we have our expertise. You just
deliver great systems and the two will work together." But what we found is if
you really want to gain maximum efficiencies, you need to look at the whole
data center as one giant ecosystem.
For example, with one customer, we have decided to remove
all the fans from the systems and the rack itself and put gigantic fans in the
data center, so that the data center becomes the computer in and of itself. We
have made some great strides thinking of it in that kind of a holistic way.
Innovation when developing data centers is very crucial to the overall
excellence in this area.
We've been working with key partners to deliver this modular
data center idea to a greater number of people, so this revolutionary view of
the data center can take shape more quickly. And then, because they're modular,
like giant Lego blocks, you can expand these sites quickly. But once again, the
whole thing has to be looked at as an ecosystem.
Robert: Thanks a
lot for your time. This has been a great conversation.