Structure 2014 recap: enterprises take to the cloud, though challenges abound

Enterprise-technology decision makers are finally adopting the cloud, but now that it’s serious business, they are looking for cloud vendors who have the infrastructure to serve the many regions of the world as well as the resources to stay alive for several years to come.

This year’s Structure event, held in San Francisco at the Mission Bay Conference Center from June 18-19, gathered together some of the industry’s top movers and shakers when it comes to building the infrastructure to tackle cloud computing. This was Gigaom’s seventh Structure conference.

This emerging cloud-computing world is a competitive space, as Battery Ventures’s Adrian Cockcroft pointed out, with Amazon looking over its shoulder to see Microsoft Azure not too far behind. While Google can’t be counted out, Cockcroft believes the company is not quite there yet and needs to bulk up on data centers.

But, of course, migrating your infrastructure to the cloud brings a whole host of challenges, especially when it comes to the internet of things. Dan Kaufman, director of the Information Innovation Office at the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), explained how his agency is working on an operating system that can’t be hacked, something important for today’s world in which PCs come out of the box broken and in need of patching; with this situation, it’s no wonder we constantly hear about security breaches and compromises.

“If we don’t have a fundamentally new security model, then I don’t know how we’re going to enjoy the internet of things,” Kaufman said.

Matthew Prince, cofounder and CEO of CloudFlare, talks with Dan Kaufman, DARPA's director of the Information Innovation Office, at Structure 2014 on July 19 in San Francisco.
Matthew Prince, cofounder and CEO of CloudFlare, talks with Dan Kaufman, DARPA’s director of the Information Innovation Office, at Structure 2014 on July 19 in San Francisco.

For Bill Fathers, VMware’s SVP of hybrid cloud services, his cloud clients have been dwelling on Edward Snowden and the spying activities of the NSA, and he speculated that this will “massively accelerate the adoption of the public cloud.”

We probably can’t rely on the government to help us out when it comes to security. Microsoft general counsel Brad Smith talked about privacy and security laws in the US being roughly 30 years old, and with Washington taking its time on updating them, it’s going to be up to businesses to work out the kinks to ensure customers “can look at the code and satisfy themselves that there are no back doors.”

Attendees listen in at Structure 2014.
Attendees listen in at Structure 2014.

The theme of openness also emerged at Structure, with Microsoft’s Scott Guthrie saying that Microsoft’s Azure has tools for customers who want to use Linux.

“It’s a change from the historical Microsoft by embracing openness in a new way,” said Guthrie.

Facebook’s news of its new switch, dubbed Wedge, lit up the audience. The new networking box, which is packaged with the Open Compute FBOSS software, is currently being tried out in the company’s massive data centers.

Rackspace made some news at Structure as well with the company announcing its new fleet of cloud servers designed from Open Compute hardware. Its cloud servers are the company’s attempt to get back some market share from the cloud service offerings by Amazon and Google. When Rackspace’s president Taylor Rhodes talked about the bare-metal machines, he was quick to mention the fact that Docker containers fit in nicely with them and offer a substitute to virtual machines.

Speaking of containers, which seemed to be in the minds of attendees who attended the after-hour Structure cocktail events, Google’s Urs Hölzle opened up on stage about how Google uses containers to manage its many multitenant workloads and how the search giant hopes to show the world a thing or two about doing cloud computing right.

“It is clear that over the next decade or two, workloads are going to move to the cloud,” Hölzle said.

A standing room only crowd watches Google's Urs Hölzle onstage at Structure 2014.
A standing room only crowd watches Google’s Urs Hölzle onstage at Structure 2014.

Intel announced its new customizable chip that links together Xeon CPUs with a field-programmable gate array (FPGA). The new chip, to be used next year in production environments, was developed to accommodate the needs of large-scale service providers. Of course, Intel has been accused of being late to the game before, and the company now faces increasing competition from companies working on their own chips.

“I’m not naive to the fact to that people are looking at a second source,” said Bryant. “With a new tech option I would absolutely expect that customers will be evaluating that solution.”

And it wouldn’t be a cloud-centric conference without mentioning OpenStack. Bill Veghte, executive vice president and general manager of HP’s Enterprise Group, explained how he believes his company’s investment into OpenStack will allow it to gain some traction with enterprise companies. Regarding OpenStack, Veghte said it is “the fastest growing open source project in the history of open source.”

But, yes, the audience was well aware of the headaches that can come with trying to actually get OpenStack to work well, and Launchpad People’s Choice winner Nimboxx had some fun with pointing out the fact.

This year’s conference was the most-attended event in Structure’s history and goes to to show what this was the place to be for both buyers and sellers of enterprise technology. Be sure to attend Structure Connect in October for a look at building the Internet of Things.

Photos by Jakub Mosur