Some thoughts on Avnet’s new Cloud in a Box

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Content Copyright © 2012 Bloor. All Rights Reserved.
Also posted on: The Norfolk Punt

Everyone’s talking about it – but Avnet is actually delivering a Cloud in a Box, based on HP technology – and HP has the reliable servers and quality management tools that are needed. So, for that matter, does IBM, with the latest z series “Enterprise Server 3.0” boxes (as do others), but a little competition is good. Interestingly, Avnet is concentrating on private cloud for development and testing, which is where IBM reports the greatest immediate successes with its internal cloud initiatives. This makes sense – cloud development and testing has less perceived risk, addresses an area which is important to (fashionable) Agile, and delivers an immediate benefit – it may be a good way to get some cloud into an organisation and gain experience with cloud.

Avnet’s Cloud-in-a-box is an appliance supplied with the third-party software packages needed to provide a useful development and testing environment out-of-the-box. It’s sold by Avnet on a subscription basis and should deliver significant cost savings and speed-of-delivery benefits from the get-go. However, the finance agreement is a lease that the customer pays for on a monthly basis over 3 years – so they can’t just return it if they don’t like it once they have signed up. I can’t help feeling that this is not really in the spirit of cloud engagements – easy deprovisioning is a major part of the story IMO – although it’s better than having to buy and install lots of hardware and buy lots of licences. From the customer point-of-view it would be better if you could just stop paying the subscription and send it back if the appliance isn’t delivering the promised benefits. Cloud appliance delivery should really give more power to the customer in the (currently, often rather one-sided and vendor-oriented) vendor-customer relationship – in other words, enable a more balanced relationshop.

Avnet’s appliance is built on HP high availability servers and uses components of HP Cloud Service Automation (CSA) for Matrix for server provisioning. Parts of HP Quality Center provides application management and testing tools and it has a modern-looking visual GUI for managing development and test. Third-party components include Microsoft Windows 2008 Enterprise R2 (X64), VMware vSphere, Oracle Database Server (required for HP Quality Center), RedHat Enterprise Linux, SQL Server 2008 Express, Tomcat, Apache HTTP Server, Oracle XE, MySQL, Subversion, Apache Ant, PHP, Java JDK, Java JRE, Python, Ruby, CVS, Cruise Control, JBoss, MediaWiki5. Avnet ensures that these all work together and handles any necessary licensing – an important benefit of the appliance approach.

However, talking to Avnet and some HP engineers, we all agreed that, although cloud development and testing avoids many (not all) of the usual barriers to adopting cloud, the biggest barriers to cloud adoption generally are cultural and political. Cloud threatens provisioning empires and lets departments work around centralised organisation-level controls (and, just because it is easy and cheap, cloud provisioning may let people think that controls aren’t needed – they are).

The benefits from cloud initially are usually seen as a lowering of costs (especially, cheaper provisioning) but I really believe that the real and most lasting benefits from cloud are increased business agility, with cost reduction as an incidental benefit. And, if you’re not doing adequate testing (say) today, doing a lot more testing using cheap cloud provisioning is unlikely to be cheaper in the short term than not doing it at all! It will, of course, be a lot more cost effective in the longer term, considering the holistic lifecycle costs to the business, but a business perhaps needs a degree of maturity, a culture of measuring the impact of decisions over the application or service lifecycle, in business terms, for it to appreciate this.