This month's Network Innovation Award goes to ZeroStack and its Z-Block private cloud management software. The software gives enterprises all the tools they need to set up and oversee a private cloud, incorporating provisioning, resource management and monitoring.
SearchNetworking spoke with ZeroStack's Steve Garrison, vice president of marketing and business development, and Kamesh Pemmaraju, vice president of products, to learn about the challenges enterprises face when evaluating a private cloud and the steps companies can take to make that migration easier.
The interview has been edited for length and clarity.
Z-Block has been described by some as being a private cloud in a box. Is that an accurate representation?
Steve Garrison: It is, but with an important caveat. We are a software company, and part of what we're trying to promote is the idea of the box, although it doesn't have to be physical.
Z-Block isn't really a box; it's a construct. We've packaged our software in such a way it can sit on pretty much any new server or hyper-converged infrastructure platform. Z-Block establishes the allotment of those resources to create your private cloud framework.
What specifically does ZeroStack offer customers with its private cloud management approach?
Garrison: The cloud means a lot of different things to different people. The ones who we appeal to are trying to create an Amazon-like consumption experience, self-service, and with a GUI-driven environment with open APIs. But they also want it on premises, they want to use existing assets or they have a security or governance concern.
Once you go over the WAN, you don't have as much control as you do when you're on prem. That's why we took it upon ourselves to say, 'How can we make this easy for people?'
First, it's designing the right software that provides that kind of look and feel. But, more importantly, the software is intelligent enough to [abstract all the steps needed to manage a private cloud] and make it look like it was an appliance we actually built.
What are some of the prevailing obstacles that make it difficult for enterprises to set up their own private clouds?
Garrison: This stuff isn't easy. When you're building a private cloud, you're not doing virtualization. You need to stand up virtual machines; you need to stand up containers. People want a platform that does both.
You also need to have software-defined storage capability. You need to have software-defined networking capability so you can have your tenants on that cloud talk to each other or be isolated from each other, depending on your choice.
Garrison: There is east-west traffic to consider. It used to be all client-server, but now, different people need to share information in that cloud, and of course, you want to control that. You also need orchestration software to help move these things around, and you need automation software to boot up the sub-packages, or tear them down, or maintain them as a new software set comes up. Now you can absolutely do this with a single vendor, or you can cobble it together yourself.
Either way, you need a lot of different skill sets, and you need time and you need money. So big companies have deployed big private cloud initiatives. But, generally, you're looking at [companies of] 15 to 30 people. So a lot of companies can't make that commitment.
But isn't everyone moving to the public cloud? Where does the private cloud fit in?
Garrison: It's never one way or the other. To say it's all going to go in one direction may make great headlines, but we're finding more customers saying nothing is a panacea.
Public cloud is good for certain things, but when I scale up, I get a surprise. Private cloud is good for certain things, but it's not always the right place to put workloads in production. Hybrid cloud has now become multi-cloud. And multi-cloud just means the right hammer, the right set of tools and the right project. Most customers want at least two clouds, one off prem and one on prem, for different use cases.
Who's a typical customer for ZeroStack's private cloud management platform?
Garrison: We generally find people who are in transition from traditional three-tiered applications to more cloud-native or microservices-based applications. That's fine if you have a few developers, but lots of IT resources. But once you have developers issuing lots of tickets for resource requests, IT starts to say, 'I can't keep up with these people.'
That's when companies begin looking at public clouds -- something with more rapid provisioning capabilities. If the company wants everything on prem, you begin scratching your head. That's where OpenStack fell into the market as a choice, but it's still very complex with a lot of moving parts.
How does Z-Block help, and what are its fundamental components?
Garrison: What we did is packaged those parts [into a single product]. Using very sophisticated software tricks, we've got all those pieces built together, so it's a fully integrated software stack. You don't have to build it. You don't even have to maintain it because we have a software-as-a-service model to manage and maintain those pieces. It just automatically loads and configures. That's part of what our story is. That's what we talk about [as] a self-driving cloud.
Essentially, it's provisioning software, plus software-defined storage, plus SDN [software-defined networking], plus orchestration, automation and the GUI framework, all built in. But if you take it from the user side, what the customer sees is a platform that can provision assets. That was our first goal; that's why we have a SaaS model.
You see the portal, and you're controlling and configuring assets on prem. That button click orchestrates behind the scenes. The IT guys know what's going on because that's what they normally would do. The developers don't know, or don't want to, because they just want to build.
Let's talk about some of the capabilities you've built into Z-Block private cloud management software since its introduction last year.
Kamesh Pemmaraju: We've been doing a lot of stuff around simplifying operations. One area is more intelligent capacity planning and predictive analytics. There are several resources in these systems; things like CPU, memory, different types of storage pools.
So as the users use those resources, depending on how those used resources are being consumed, we can predict [if] they're going to run out of a particular resource in a particular amount of time. Another capability, along the same lines, is recommendations. This is about better utilization of the resources that have been allocated.
What else is on the horizon?
Pemmaraju: Containerization is a big trend, so we are planning to make containerization a first-class citizen within our product. People are still testing the waters, and some of them are putting stuff into production.
But the world is going to be a mix of virtual machines and containers for the foreseeable future -- at least the next five years. We already have a way of deploying Kubernetes through ZeroStack today, so we will continue to add and productize that over the next several months.
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