Thursday, November 19, 2009

No More Cloud Servers - Think Racks and Containers

I just read a very nice post on the profile for a cloud server by Ernest de Leon, the Silicon Whisperer. Here is the opening paragraph:

"With the massive push toward cloud computing in the enterprise, there are some considerations that hardware vendors will have to come to terms with in the long run. Unlike the old infrastructure model with hardware bearing the brunt of fault tolerance, the new infrastructure model places all fault tolerance concerns within the software layer itself. I won’t say that this is a new concept as Google has been doing exactly this for a very long time (in IT time at least.) This accomplishes many things, but two particular benefits are that load balancing can now be more intelligent overall, and hardware can be reduced to the absolute most commodity parts available to cut cost."

I'm on board in a big way with this message until Ernest starts talking about the steps that are taken at failure:

"When there is a failure of a component or an entire cloud server, the Cloud Software Layer can notify system administrators. Replacement is as simple as unplugging the bad server and plugging in a new one. The server will auto provision itself into the resource pool and it’s ready to go. Management and maintenance are simplified greatly."

And I think to myself that there is no way we can operate at cloud scale if we continue to think about racking and plugging servers. If we really want to lower the cost of operational management, which is a big part of the appeal of cloud, we have to start thinking about the innovations that should happen throughout the supply chain.

Commodity parts are great, but I want commodity assembly, shipping, and handling costs as well. The innovations in cloud hardware will be packaging and supply chain innovations. I want to buy a rack of pre-networked systems with a simple interface for hooking up power and network and good mobility associated with the rack itself (i.e. roll it into place, lock it down, roll it out at end of life). Maybe I even want to buy a container with similar properties. And when a system fails, it is powered down remotely and no one even thinks about trying to find it in the rack to replace it. It is dead in the rack/container until the container is unplugged and removed from the datacenter and sent back to the supplier for refurb and salvage.

Let's use "cloud" as the excuse to get crazy for efficiency around datacenter operations. I agree with Ernest that the craziness for efficiency with netbooks has led to a great outcome, but let's think crazy at real operating scale. No more hands on servers. No more endless cardboard, tape, staples, and styrofoam packaging. No more lugging a server under each arm through the datacenter and tripping and dropping the servers and falling into a rack and disconnecting half the systems from the network. My cloud server is a rack or a container that eliminates all this junk.