a reckoning for tech by the humans that work with it

Move serverless for great justice – TechReckoning Dispatch v3n10

The TechReckoning Dispatch, Vol. 3, No. 10. Boston, Minneapolis, and El Granada. Friday, June 3, 2016. 

VMworld Opening Acts & vBrownbag Tech Talks

VMworld Opening Acts are coming to VMworld again this year. This independent, community-organized event happens on the Sunday afternoon before VMworld kicks off. There’s still time to give your input on the topics covered in the panels. Go here to give your feedback asap!

Also if you are a VMworld exhibitor, the community groups (Opening Acts, vBrownbag Tech Talks, vRockstar, and Spousetivities) are still looking for sponsors. The VMworld-centric community of IT pros is remarkable. This is a great way to get to know the community and how they tick. A sponsorship also comes with a free consult with me on getting the most out of VMworld, so that’s worth at least a few bucks.  Become a Sponsor before they sell out!

What does it mean when we go Serverless?

Last week in NYC the first Serverless Conference was held. What is Serverless? Eh… I’m still not sure. I think it is kinda like PaaS, except more API-y. While I think we can all agree we’ll be running more of our code on other people’s infrastructure in the future, I didn’t buy magic Service-Oriented Architecture the first time it came around 10 years ago, and I’m not buying it now. But look to Amazon Lambda as an example, which is indeed super cool for that particular job-to-be-done. (Azure Functions and Google Cloud Functions have also been announced. At least they’ve got that enterprise naming style going for them!)  But in all this orgy of developer reach-arounds, where does that leave architecture and operations? Good news: these serverless developers still need help when things go boom.

I really liked the talk by Charity Majors (@mipsytipsy) at the conference. Now Charity has her own perspective on “Operations”, which is different than the enterprise IT administration, architecture, and operations I’m used to, but it’s close enough for our work here. Check out both parts of her article about her talk:

#WTF is operations? #serverless

So when I see kids saying “the future is serverless!” and “#NoOps!” I’m like okay, that’s cute.  I’ve lived the other side of this fairytale.  I’ve seen what happens when application developers think they don’t have to care about the skills associated with operations engineering.  When they forget that no matter how pretty the abstractions are, you’re still dealing with dusty old concepts like “persistent state” and “queries” and “unavailability” and so forth, or when they literally just think they can throw money at a service to make it go faster because that’s totally how services work.

Operational best practices #serverless

You need to think way more carefully and more deeply about visibility and introspection up front than you would if you were running your own services, because you have no ability to log in and use strace or gdb or tail a logfile or run any system profiling commands when things go dark.

In the best case, you’re giving up some control and quality in exchange for experts doing the work better than you could for cheaper (e.g. i’m never running a fucking physical data center again, jesus.  EC24lyfe).  In a common worse case, it’s less reliable than what you would build AND it’s also opaque AND you can’t tell if it’s down for you or for everyone because frankly it’s just massively harder to build a service that works for thousands/millions of use cases than for any one of them individually.

Storage is one of those places where Serverless developers will need help. Developers are like toddlers being toilet trained. They are just happy they made the poopy in the potty. They still need a grown-up to flush it somewhere persistent and make sure the plumbing functions as designed. Luckily, lots of work on this area from the EMC {code} crew, ClusterHQ, Portworx, as well as the platform makers (Docker, Mesosphere, and the Kubernetes gang). CoreOS just announced this week Torus, distributed block storage for K8S. The Hacker News thread on this is excellent if a bit bracingly honest, with war stories from Bryan Cantrell (Sun/Joyent/ZFS), Greg Farnum (Red Hat, Ceph), and Jeff Darcy (Red Hat, Gluster). (Although the typical HN developer quote: “Block, that means like EBS?” makes me shake my head. These sweet summer children.)

The future of tech purchasing is getting interesting

In the old days, when you bought some enterprise tech stuff, often the manifest had line items for hardware, software, and then various hardware and software add-ons, and then yearly maintenance. Repeat every 3-5 years. Like a trip to a car dealer, buying enterprise tech often came with the vague feeling you got ripped off, even though you got a 70% discount off list price. Things are changing in the hardware world:

  • Scale-out architectures in general lead to more incremental purchasing vs buy the biggest bucket and grow into it.
  • The Pure Storage “Evergreen” purchasing model includes the software and replaces modular hardware as it improves over time.
  • Nutanix VDI Assurance lets you price the whole solution out per desktop.
  • EMC VCE head honcho Chad Sakac has stated publicly that one of the motivators for going private with Dell is to transition to more on-demand purchasing out of the scrutiny of public markets. Making that revenue number each quarter grow smoothly is hard if customers are spreading out their payments over years!
  • I’m sure there are more – feel free to educate me.

And now NetApp SolidFire comes up with a deal where you pay separately for the software and hardware. Although a bit more complicated, the nice thing is that the SW license transfers.  This Joe Kovar CRN article goes into detail. The volume pricing for SW still gives some incentive to over-buy, but at least you’re not in a use-it-or-lose it scenario.

A few thoughts:

  1. The old way was totally in the vendor’s favor. Get the cash up front, force you to pay yearly maintenance, and then sell you a whole new car in 5 years. This is more capital friendly for customers.
  2. If you’re an engineer and haven’t thought about how the math works, the present value of money in hand is much greater than the same amount spread out over 5 years. This doesn’t just affect public revenue reporting. The new way is tough on cash flow especially for startups. Look for the big guys to use this as a weapon against the smaller new players.
  3. All this is taking place against a backdrop of smaller margins for software (open source) and hardware (white boxes). Again, good for the customers, tougher for the vendors.
  4. Budgeting and purchasing cycles need to adjust as well, which could take longer on the customer side than the vendors take getting their houses in order.

Tales from the purchasing front? Email me and I’ll share next time.

Corrections to Random Podcasts

Things I wanted to say to random podcasts this week.

  • It’s pronounced “TEEL”
  • The judgement is expected to be overturned on appeal.
  • The other cases are borderline frivolous – that guy did not invent email.
  • Although originally the jury ruled that the Java APIs were not copyrightable, the Federal court overturned that, and this trial was about fair use of those APIs. For now, case law says APIs can be copyrighted, but it’s possible to use them in a transformative, fair use sort of way.
  • Fair use is unfortunately not a hard and fast rule, so you kind of have to be sued to get a ruling on it.
  • Don’t forget Dell is spinning off its consulting unit too (the former Perot Systems, for $3B to NTT), so it’s not about merging vs divesting.

Keeping Up — and a Giveaway!

ZertoCON was great. One of the highlights was keynote speaker Storey Musgrave, who started his career as a Marine aircraft mechanic. And then a pilot. And a trauma surgeon. And an astronaut. And he fixed the Hubble telescope. He’s quite a character as well, and a huge systems thinker. Very inspiring if a bit intimidating. I also interviewed Zerto’s CTO about the role of the modern IT department in a new podcast – check it out.

I also appeared on VMware’s new Virtually Speaking podcast along with Amy Lewis and we talked about the value of community for IT pros. After talking about career growth at ZertoCON, I’m grateful for how I’ve been able to help people, but I’m also realizing that many IT pros don’t know anything about the resources available to them – from free (and cheap) training to meetups and user groups. More thoughts to come on this topic.

If you’ve read this far, you deserve something special. Luckily, I’ve been cleaning up and have a bunch of special junk I want to get rid of. This week, I am giving away a genuine vExpert shoulder bag, circa 2011. The bag is the only official vExpert bag we ever made. And by “we,” I mean Alex Maier. If you are are now, or once were, a vExpert, send me an email and I’ll pick a random winner.  More giveaways to come!

Just Hit Reply

if you have tales of terror from enterprise purchasing house of horrors, we’d love to hear them for next week.

Also, I ask the questions nobody else has the courage to ask. Today’s burning query: For which kinds of electronic equipment do you save the original boxes? And how many boxes do you have in your attic, basement, or garage? I’ll admit to saving packaging for both iPhones and 20-year-old stereo equipment, but I’ve thrown away many other laptop and router boxes. Email jtroyer@techreckoning.com and I’ll include your comments next week. Also

The TechReckoning Dispatch. A periodic newsletter from John Mark Troyer with links and opinions about enterprise technology. Please subscribe if somebody was good enough to send this to you. We’ve got to start doing this more often – I have so many wonderful things to show you! Archive. Subscribe. Email. “How pleasant to sit on the beach, / On the beach, on the sand, in the sun, / With ocean galore within reach, / And nothing at all to be done! / No letters to answer, / No bills to be burned, / No work to be shirked, / No cash to be earned, / It is pleasant to sit on the beach / With nothing at all to be done! // How pleasant to look at the ocean, / Democratic and damp; indiscriminate; / It fills me with noble emotion / To think I am able to swim in it. / To lave in the wave, / Majestic and chilly, / Tomorrow I crave; / But today it is silly. / It is pleasant to look at the ocean; / Tomorrow, perhaps, I shall swim in it.”