Hedgehog – The Network OS Distro?

You’ve probably seen by now that there’s a new entrant into the market for network operating systems. Hedgehog came out of stealth mode this week to fanfare from the networking community. If you read through the website you might question why I labeled them as a network operating system. While they aren’t technically the OS I think it’s more important to look at them as an OS distribution.

Cacophony of Choice

Hedgehog starts from a very simple premise. Cloud networking is where we’re all headed. Whether or not you’re running entirely on-premises, fully in the public cloud, or in some kind of super-multi-hybrid cloud offering you’re all chasing the same thing. You want a stable system that acts as a force multiplier for your operations teams to reduce deployment times for users to get their builds done. It’s been said before but the idea of cloud is to get IT out of the way of the business.

Streamlining processes means automating a lot of the things that were formerly done by people. That means building repeatable and consistent tools to make that happen. If anyone has ever worked on AWS or Google Cloud you have lots of access to that tooling. Perhaps it’s not as full-featured as rolling your own toolset but that’s the tradeoff for running in someone else’s cloud. Notice that I left Microsoft Azure off that list.

Azure’s networking stack has been built on SONiC, a LInux-based NOS that has been built to scale in the cloud and solve the challenges that Microsoft has faced in their hyperscale data centers. They’ve poured resources into making SONiC exactly what they needed. However, one of the challenges that is faced when that happens is some of those things don’t scale down to the enterprise. I’m not saying you shouldn’t use SONiC. I’m saying that it’s not easy to adapt SONiC to what you want to do if you’re not Microsoft.

Speedy Adoption

In a way, it’s the same problem that Linux faced 25 years ago. If you really wanted to run it on a system you could download the source code and compile it on your system to get the kernel running. However a kernel doesn’t do much without software running on top of it. How could I write blog posts or check the time or get on the Internet without other applications? That need for additional resources to make the process of using Linux easier and more complete is where we got the rise of the Linux distribution, often shortened to distro.

Distros made adopting Linux easier. You didn’t have to go out and find sources for programs to run them on your system after compiling the kernel. You could just install everything like a big package and get going. It also meant that you could swap out programs and tools much easier than other operating systems. Ever tried to get rid of Notepad on Windows? It’s practically a system tool. On the other hand I think most Linux users can tell me their five favorite text editors off the top of their head. The system is very extensible.

Hedgehog acts like the distro of yore for SONiC. It makes the process of obtaining the OS much easier than it would be otherwise and includes a toolset that amplifies your networking experience. The power of cloud networking comes from optimization and orchestration. Hedgehog gives you that capability. It allows you to run the same kinds of tooling that you would use in the cloud on your enterprise data center networking devices.

If you’re starting to standardize on Kubernetes to make your applications more portable to the cloud then Hedgehog and SONiC can help you. If you’re looking to build more edge computing functionality into the stack Hedgehog has you covered. The Hedgehog team is building the orchestration capabilities that are needed in the enterprise right now to help you leverage SONiC. Because that tooling doesn’t exist outside of Microsoft right now you can believe that the Hedgehog team is addressing the needs of enterprise operations teams. They are the drivers for SONiC adoption. Making sure they can take care of daily tasks is paramount.

The distro launched Linux into the enterprise. Clunky DIY tooling can only scale so far. If you want to be serious about adopting cloud-first mentality in your organization you need to make sure you’re using proven tools that scale and don’t fall apart every time you try to make a minor change. Your data center isn’t Facebook or Google or Azure. However the lessons learned there and the way that we apply them at the enterprise level will go a long way to providing the advantages of the cloud for every day use. Thanks to companies like Hedgehog that are concentrating on the way to bring that market we have a chance to see it sooner than we’d hoped.

To learn more about Hedgehog and how they make SONiC easier for the enterprise, make sure to check out their website at https://githedgehog.com/

Clear Skys for IBM and Red Hat

There was a lot of buzz this week when IBM announced they were acquiring Red Hat. A lot has been discussed about this in the past five days, including some coverage that I recorded with the Gestalt IT team on Monday. What I wanted to discuss quickly here is the aspirations that IBM now has for the cloud. Or, more appropriately, what they aren’t going to be doing.

Build You Own Cloud

It’s funny how many cloud providers started springing from the earth as soon as AWS started turning a profit. Microsoft and Google seem to be doing a good job of challenging for the crown. But the next tier down is littered with people trying to make a go of it. VMware with vCloud Air before they sold it. Oracle. Digital Ocean. IBM. And that doesn’t count the number of companies offering a specific function, like storage, and are calling themselves a cloud service provider.

IBM was well positioned to be a contender in the cloud service provider (CSP) market. Except they started the race with a huge disadvantage. IBM was a company that was focused on selling solutions to their customers. Just like Oracle, IBM’s primary customer was external. The people they cared most about wrote them checks and they shipped out eServers and OS/2 Warp boxes.

Compare and contrast that with Amazon. Who is Amazon’s customer? Well, anyone that wants to buy something. But who consumes the products that Amazon builds for IT? Amazon people. Their infrastructure is built to provide a better experience for the people using their site. Amazon is very good at building systems that can handle a high amount of users and load and not buckle.

Now, contrary to the myth, Amazon did not start AWS with spare capacity. While that makes for a good folk tale, Amazon probably didn’t have a lot of spare capacity lying around. Instead, they had a lot of great expertise in building large-scale reliable systems and they parlayed that into a solution that could be used to bring even more people into the Amazon ecosystem. They built AWS with an eye toward selling services, not hardware.

Likewise, Microsoft’s biggest customers are their developers. They are focused on making the best applications and operating systems they can. They don’t sell hardware, aside from the rare occasional foray into phones or laptops. But they wanted their customers to benefit from the years of work they had put in to developing robust systems. That’s where Azure came from.

IBM is focused on customers buying their hardware and their expertise for installing it. AWS and Microsoft want to rent their expertise and software for building platforms. That difference in perspective is why IBM’s cloud aspirations were never going to take off to new heights. They couldn’t challenge for the top three places unless Google suddenly decided to shut down Google Cloud Engine. And no matter how hard they tried, Larry Ellison was always going to be nipping at their heels by pouring money into his cloud offerings to be on top. He may never get there but he is determined to make the best showing he can.

Putting On The Red Hat

Where does that leave IBM after buying Red Hat. Well, Red Hat sells software and services for it. But those services are all focused on integration. Red Hat has never built their own cloud platform. Instead, they work on everyone else’s platform effectively. They can deploy an OS or a container system on Amazon or Azure with no hiccups.

IBM has to realize now that they will never unseat Amazon. The momentum behind this 850-lb gorilla is just too much to challenge. The remaining players are fighting for a small piece of third or fourth place at this point. And yes, while Google has a comfortable hold on third place right now, they do have a tendency to kill projects that aren’t AdWords or the search engine homepage. Anything else lives in a world of uncertainty.

So, how does IBM compete? They need to leverage their expertise. They’ve sold off anything that has blinking lights, save for the mainframe division. They need to embrace their Global Services heritage and shepherd the SMEs that are afraid of the cloud. They need to help enterprises in the mid-range build into AWS and Azure instead of trying to make a huge profit off them and leave them high and dry. The days of making a fortune from Fortune 100 companies with no cloud aspirations are over. Just like the fight for cloud dominance, the battle lines are drawn and the prize isn’t one or two big companies. It’s a bunch of smaller ones.

The irony isn’t lost on me that IBM’s future lies in smaller companies. The days of “No one ever got fired for buying IBM” are long past in the rearview mirror. Instead, companies need the help of smart people to move into the cloud. But they also need to do it natively. They don’t need to keep running their old hybrid infrastructure. They need a trusted advisor that can help them build something that will last. IBM could be that company with the help of Red Hat. They could reinvent themselves all over again and beat the coming collapse of providers of infrastructure. As more companies start to look toward the cloud, IBM can help them along the path. But it’s going to take some realistic looks at what IBM can provide. And the end of IBM’s hope of running their own CSP.

Tom’s Take

I’m an old IBMer. At least, I interned there in 2001. I was around for all the changes that Lou Gerstner was trying to implement. I worked in IBM Global Services where they made the AS/400. As I’m fond of saying over and over again, IBM today is not Tom Watson’s IBM. It’s a different animal that changed with the times at just the right time. IBM is still changing today, but they aren’t as nimble as they were before. Their expertise lies all over the landscape of hot new tech, but people don’t want blockchain-enabled AI for IoT edge computing. They want a trusted partner than can help them with the projects they can’t get done today. That’s how you keep your foot in the door. Red Hat gives IBM that advantage. They key is whether or not IBM can see that the way forward for them isn’t as cloudy as they had first imagined.