A Quick Look at Structure 2011

This is a summary of Structure 2011, held recently by GigaOM in San Francisco. In this blog I report what I observed but without going into details. I plan to cover some of the subjects in more detail as time permits in future blogs.

Similar conferences have sessions that run 50 to 90 minutes. Sessions at Structure 2011 were very short—20 to 40 minutes—so there were a lot of sessions on many subjects. At first I was not sure if that would work out OK. It turned out that shorter sessions on different subjects worked very well, especially for cloud computing, which is moving very rapidly. The fully packed (sessions and participants) two days were great for helping me grasp what’s happening with cloud computing and where it is going.

First, the interest in and popularity of cloud computing has not died down at all but has accelerated further. There were probably twice as many attendants as at GigaOM’s smart grid conference held at the same venue. There were lines everywhere, and it was hard to move around because of the crowd.

Who’s Who in Cloud

GigaOM collected a who’s who of established cloud players like Amazon, VMware, Microsoft, Salesforce.com, and Rackspace, as well as famous startups like Eucalyptus, Heroku (now part of Salesforece.com), and Nasuni.

The keynote was delivered by Simon Crosby, who provided the concept of cloud in the pocket. He and Ian Pratt recently resigned from Citrix to cofound Bromium to attack the issue of cloud security. One of his points is that in addition to private cloud, enterprises need to consider mobile devices that are in the pockets of their employees.

Lew Tucker of Cisco delivered a talk on the future of cloud computing, then Werner Vogels of Amazon gave us some new information about how things are with AWS. It seems that Amazon is moving very quickly as a trendsetter for cloud computing. See Werner’s session here.

Om Malik interviewed Paul Maritz, CEO of VMware. Paul talked about what VMware is up to in the cloud segment.

Future Trends

There were a few panel sessions on the future of cloud. One of the first sessions was hosted by Michael Skok of North Bridge Venture Partners. NBVP, in conjunction with The 451 Group and GigaOM, conducted a survey on cloud computing. See what Derrick Harris of GigaOM says about the survey result here.


Virtualization: Optimized Power and Cooling to Maximize Benefits

Mike talked about some of the results and solicited comments from the panel. This style of panel was very interesting and worked very well. Lew Moorman, CTO of Rackspace, and Marten Mickos, CEO of Eucalyptus, were panelists.

Open Source

One noteworthy subject was open system and open source, including the two most famous open-source-based parts of cloud: Openstack (started by Rackspace) and Cloud Foundry (VMware). As Derrick Harris points out in his research report, open source could be the catalyst to unite both public and private cloud in hybrid cloud. One thing I found out is that Canonical (the company behind Ubuntu Linux) is moving away from Eucalyptus to Openstack, although Canonical will continue support for Eucalyptus users under Ubuntu for a few more years. A lot of support is forming behind Openstack, and it includes Citrix Systems, Dell, Intel, and Cisco.

Practitioners in Cloud Computing

Another popular panel was by the gurus of cloud computing from Facebook, Netflix, Salesforce.com, Comcast, and LinkedIn. You may want to see the video of this very popular session.

Investments

Most VC panelists indicated that the cloud market is still early but has good potential for growth. See the session here.

Cloud Storage

Cloud storage has been used mostly for backup, but progress and lower costs in SSD and technologies like virtualization may change this. Representatives of NetApp, Nutanix, Nasuni, and SolidFire discussed the future of cloud storage. The three categories of IT equipment are server, storage, and network. Before cloud, improvements to each were tackled separately. But with the advent of cloud computing, these three elements need to be considered as one cohesive system. Also, see my blog on SSD here.

PaaS

I was skeptical about PaaS before because of its specificity (i.e., support for only one platform, one stack, and one language). It would certainly lock you in with the vendor you choose first. But some vendors are providing remedies, and this field is heating up. (Also see Derrick Harris’s report.) There were two sessions on this. One was attended by VMware, Rightscale, Red Hat, and Scalr. Another was an interview of Byron Sebastian (former CEO of PaaS-player Heroku and now GM/SVP at Salesforce.com).

DevOps

Before cloud, coders and IT operators were clearly separated. A coder writes a program and passes it on to an operator, who installs and operates it. As cloud gets into the mainstream of program development, the separation between the two is fading away. Puppet Labs and Opscode were panelists.

Network Virtualization

Servers are virtualized and storage is being virtualized. That leaves networking. OpenFlow from Stanford University plays a big role in that. Big Switch and Nicira talked about using OpenFlow.

Hardware and Cloud

Three new server companies (Calxeda, SeaMicro, and Tilera) and AMD panelists discussed what is required for hardware to run in the cloud environment.

Most cloud providers run volume servers that are based on PCs like CPUs and manufactured to run conventional software. Cloud computing may have special requirements, such as low power consumption, because many of these boxes lack energy efficiency and will consume an excessive amount of power. The power shortage at data centers is a well-known problem among data center operators. The three new server companies provide solutions for scalability and power conservation.

M&A and Cloud

People from CA, IBM, VMware, and SAP talked about how they decide whom to acquire and how they carry out integration of the acquired company. There was also a panelist who had sold three of his own companies. Some M&A were successful, but others did not work out well. Many people pointed out that a merger is usually very difficult and seldom successful. Jonathan Becher of SAP was an exception; he stayed after the acquisition of his former company, Pilot Software.

Overall, this conference gave me a really good glimpse of what’s happening in cloud. GigaOM put together a good program covering many of cloud’s main subjects. They also got movers and shakers of cloud computing to present. The long two days of packed sessions (there were even optional sessions during breaks and lunch) wore me out, but I learned a lot about technologies and the market.

Zen Kishimoto

About Zen Kishimoto

Seasoned research and technology executive with various functional expertise, including roles in analyst, writer, CTO, VP Engineering, general management, sales, and marketing in diverse high-tech and cleantech industry segments, including software, mobile embedded systems, Web technologies, and networking. Current focus and expertise are in the area of the IT application to energy, such as smart grid, green IT, building/data center energy efficiency, and cloud computing.

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