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Five things Cassatt taught us about cloud computing

With the acquisition of utility computing infrastructure vendor Cassatt by CA this week, it is worth taking a moment to reflect on the lessons learned from a company that was well ahead of its time.

The widely reported sale of key technology and talent assets from utility computing infrastructure vendor Cassatt to CA on Tuesday serves as a lesson to us all about the challenges that lay before enterprises transitioning to virtualization, automation and cloud computing.

I had reported that the end was near a few weeks ago, and former Cassatt Director of Product Marketing Ken Oestreich (now at Egenera) posted a beautiful overview of what CA is getting from Cassatt, and the opportunities that now lay the new owners.

I wanted to take a moment myself to reflect on what I learned during my two years with Bill Coleman's second company (the first being BEA, the legendary middleware acquired by Oracle). I have huge respect for Bill's technical vision, as well as that of former and current Cassatt technologists, such as Dave McAllister, Brian Berliner, and Rob Gingell.

Below are five key lessons I think Cassatt learned the hard way about selling cloud infrastructure to the enterprise, and the core insights I think both vendors and customers should walk away with.

  1. Cloud computing is an operations model, not a technology. I spoke about this concept in length in my last post, but I should note that the core concept behind this came from my time at Cassatt. Coleman actually understood this better than most, even five or six years ago.

    Cassatt was formed because Coleman believed that, if the network is the computer, it needed an operating system (which he saw as middleware, i.e. BEA WebLogic) and an operations system (i.e. Cassatt). Operations automation was the core of what Cassatt was pursuing, with a focus on optimizing infrastructure usage.

  2. Yes, Virginia, there is a private cloud. As cloud computing models exploded into the collective IT consciousness about a year ago--yes, it was conceived of earlier, but the massive explosion of interest came about June of 2008--Cassatt argued that the utility computing model was at the heart of both internal and commercial cloud infrastructures. Add self-service provisioning, along with metering capabilities, and much of the agility and cost savings benefit of the cloud model could be applied to wholly owned corporate infrastructure.

    One of the really interesting lab experiments attempted at Cassatt was utilizing ActiveResponse as a control system for delivering images to both internal and external cloud environments (notably Amazon EC2). Had this been commercialized--the experiment was nowhere near production ready, the last I heard--it would have made Cassatt the first private cloud computing environment as I currently define the term; a wholly-owned enterprise cloud control environment that can manage both internal and external resources.

  3. You cannot forklift a revolution. As much as we'd like to believe it's all about return on investment (ROI), it just isn't. I think Coleman himself said it best in a recent article:

    "What frustrates me is my own naivete," he says. "I thought I could give companies something radical that had a proven return on investment, and they would be willing to change all their companies' computer policies and procedures to get that. Right now it's hard to get people to get beyond proof of concept tests or a data center energy analysis."

    You can't force a company to change every element of its policies, procedures and investment on a dime, no matter what the short or long term savings will be. There has to be a transition plan; has to be a way to allow the IT department to adapt to a new paradigm, hopefully under committed leadership that sticks around for a while.

    This is what those that deny the value of an internal-external cloud transition miss entirely. No matter how much savings you offer, no matter how many new paradigms you introduce, the transition for enterprise has to be as gradual as the corporate culture and IT portfolio require. Baby steps will beat giant leaps in enterprise clouds hands down.

    (The story is different for start ups and many small and medium sized businesses. Both culture and investment are easier to deal with at that scale, and the public cloud is much easier to embrace.)

  4. It's easier to swap out a server than an attitude. Where does the resistence to change in the data center come from? It is certainly not the CIO or CTO. In the two years I was a sales engineer at Cassatt, I can't remember one company where the IT leadership wasn't sold on the ROI story.

    However, when we turned our attention to getting buy-in from the "rank and file", the fun began. I wrote about this some time ago, but essentially the "big three" organizational siloes of the data center: network, server and storage administration, saw a threat to both their procedures and their jobs, and dug their heels in deep.

    Lest you think this is a "virtualization problem", I'm hearing some of the same things from developers who have bypassed their IT organizations to utilize Amazon or some other public cloud service: the mantra, "we'll never move our production applications or data to the cloud", rings loud and clear throughout the IT world these days.

  5. Bye-bye siloes. Unfortunately for die-hard data center "traditionalists", the end is certainly in sight for those "big three" siloes. For example, my employer, Cisco, announced today new certifications for "Data Center Management", targeted at the converging skill sets required to run virtualized workloads on converged computing environments. I hear the title "Virtualization Administrator" is increasingly popular amongst enterprise IT practitioners.

    Perhaps this is the real window of opportunity that Cassatt missed; the reason it was well before its time. As IT organizations take baby steps to address the changing cultural and operational conditions brought on by virtualization and cloud computing, the environment will become more conducive to cloud models. That is perhaps the biggest reason that late-comers to the enterprise cloud party should all give Cassatt a tip of the hat this week.

Oh, and I can't wait to see what Bill Coleman gets up to next.