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The Tao of Cloud

Balance, harmony, and flow

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step

In this initial posting on this particular blog, it is fitting to wax a bit philosophical. Indeed, it is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. OK, that’s historical, not philosophical. But to the point. A number of years back, there were a host of books on business, and other aspects of life, influenced by Eastern thought and philosophy, with many inspired by the Tao Te Ching, a classic treatise ascribed to the Chinese sage Lao Tzu. Examples of such works include The Tao Jones Averages, The Tao of Leadership, The Tao of Pooh, The Tao of Jeet Kune Do, and truly one of my favorites, the Tao of Physics. Not to mention numerous other books applying principles of warriorship and strategy to life and business, leveraging the writings of Miyamoto Musashi, Sun Tzu, the Shambhala warrior tradition, and others.And for good reason. These original sources contain valid and timeless principles that apply today just as well as when they were originally crafted.

I especially appreciate the principles of Taoism, with its teachings of balance, harmony, and flow. Ignoring for the moment that the Tao is essentially and inherently indescribable, its essence is about wholeness, balance, harmony, and flowing with the moment.

How is this all possibly related to technology, and to cloud computing?

For some years now, I have been working in a field I would broadly define as automation - lab automation, test automation, infrastructure automation, many forms or names for automation. It has all been about enabling the dynamic allocation and automated provisioning of resources from shared pools of equipment. It began by provisioning physical resources - loading boot images and configurations on servers, switches, and routers - and dynamically connecting them to other equipment to dynamically build entire topologies on demand. And then tearing them down to release the resources back into the pool when they were no longer needed for the immediate task. As virtualization technology emerged and became mainstream, the same practices were extended to include the dynamic provisioning of virtual, and hybrid, infrastructures. With the same notions of shared infrastructure; on-demand scheduling, allocation, and capacity management; connectivity and relationship management; automated provisioning and configuration; user self-service enablement; optimized resource utilization; and extreme efficiencies in time, CAPEX, and OPEX.

It is what we now call cloud.

So back to the Taoism idea. Several key aspects of the Tao can be conveniently used to discuss some of the issues that frequently arise in cloud debates today, and therefore provide a useful and interesting framework for discussion.

Tao is about wholeness.
Many cloud management frameworks and public cloud offerings, and indeed many virtualization management products, are essentially about instances. VMs. Machine instances. Individual units of things. Sure, some frameworks now allow one to instantiate or manage groups of things, and in some cases and to some degree to specify limited networking relationships among the things. But applications and architectures are not just about units and instances. They are multi-faceted and multi-tiered. They have networking relationships, sometimes complex relationships, between them.

What is needed in cloud management and orchestration frameworks, whether for private or public, is a more complete, holistic approach. Architects and administrators must be able to design and specify complete end to end topologies and scenarios that support rich and complex - and realistic - workloads and deployments in the cloud. That is wholeness.

Tao is about harmony and balance.
Forget the whole private vs. public cloud debate. Public is better. Private is dead. Public wins on CAPEX. Private has better ROI. No, Hybrid is where it's at. Stop it - you are a fool, Grasshopper. There really should be no debate at all.

Where it's at is about fit. Fit and balance. There are valid and appropriate use cases for both private and public cloud, as one size and shape does not fit all. The decision to design and deploy a private cloud infrastructure, or to leverage the easily accessible and on-demand resources available in the public cloud offerings should be determined solely by the conditions, circumstances, and requirements in the organization. Without that, there is no way to argue for public vs. private.

Conferences chairs and panelists that pit private vs. public seem to do so for the sake of controversy. And folks who blindly retweet controversial and unsubstantiated statements such as "private cloud is discredited" or "cannot trust the public cloud" are no better. Stop, think, and balance the requirements to the available solutions.

Now we might say that hybrid is harmony. If private cloud is appropriate for your business and IT circumstances, build it out, but you can design your capacity for the base case or normal load. In telecom traffic engineering we used to call it average day busy hour, which would be a reasonably high average load. But for the peaks, design into your cloud management framework the ability to seamlessly add capacity or shift exceptional or excessive workloads to a public cloud, when and as needed. Or as I heard mention by James Staten, "Own the base, rent the peak." So that is balance. That is harmony.

Tao is about being in the moment.
And now we must take the user's point of view, for the end user is what IT resources are all about, why they exist. The users need to be able to request and obtain new infrastructure and services when they need them - on-demand and without warning or planning, as changing business needs dictate. To support agility and responsiveness in the business requires agility and responsiveness in the IT department. A self-service portal, through which the users can select and request resources, and have them dynamically, automatically, and reliably provisioned, is just the thing. That is being here now, being in the moment.

Tao is not about scheduling.
I would like to be able to say that one big thing missing from cloud management frameworks today is scheduling - the ability to leverage the time dimension, so to speak. To be able to not just provision resources now, but to reserve them at predesignated times or even regular recurring times in the future. To be able to obtain a commitment that the resources and capacity will be available at the scheduled times. And to be able to have the resources automatically set up, provisioned as requested, and validated and working at the designated time.

But it just doesn't fit my theme. Damn. But life is not neat and tidy and does not fit themes or models just because you would like them to. It flows and occurs as it will, regardless of our preconceived notions or what we try to call it. It follows the watercourse way. But that, my friends, is the Tao. So we are still good.

And so we go with the flow. I hope I have not massacred in this discussion the pure concepts of the Tao. But it really doesn’t matter anyway, as words are ultimately pointless.

The Tao that can be described is not the eternal Tao.
The name that can be spoken is not the eternal name.

In closing, a favorite from the Witter Byner translation entitled The Way of Life, According to Lao Tzu:

There is no need to run outside
For better seeing,
Nor to peer from a window. Rather abide
At the center of your being;
For the more you leave it, the less you learn.
Search your heart and see
If he is wise who takes each turn:
The way to do is to be.

More Stories By Scott Powers

Scott Powers is a director of technical and product marketing with over 20 years of experience in product and system design, product management and marketing, and business development. With extensive background in automation, optimization, and computer and communication systems architectures, his current focus is on the automation and orchestration of cloud computing environments. Scott is currently director of product marketing at Gale Technologies, an automation software vendor that enables composite provisioning of physical and virtual resources in heterogeneous environments. Previously, Scott has held senior business and technical positions at QuikCycle, ShoreTel, Bay Networks, Nortel, and Bell Northern Research. He has spoken or authored papers for STAR, VON, and VMworld conferences.

Scott holds an MS in Engineering Management from Stanford and a BSEE from USC. In addition to the abovementioned technical areas, Scott is active in environmental science and green technology fields. Follow him on Twitter at @cloudsarego.

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