Friday, February 5, 2010

The appliance form factor of WebSphere CloudBurst

As with most new technologies, the WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance inspires a healthy set of questions. As usual most of the questions are about features, capabilities, use cases, etc., yet there is one question that is quite frequent but a bit of an outlier from the preceding categories. Personally, I’m not sure I’ve talked to a group about WebSphere CloudBurst without getting this question. What's the question?

Why is WebSphere CloudBurst an appliance?

It is a very fair question and one whose frequency used to surprise me. I guess I should have seen it coming because save the WebSphere DataPower Appliance, the brand isn’t typically associated with hardware.

In this particular case though, I can confidently say the appliance was exactly the right form factor for the offering, and it comes down to three main reasons:

1) Consumability

2) Capability

3) Security

In general, appliances deliver a very high level of consumability or put another way, decreased time to value. WebSphere CloudBurst fits this mold. When you receive the appliance you hook it up to your network, do some one time initialization and you are up and ready to go. The appliance comes loaded with pre-built and ready to use virtual images and patterns. You simply define your cloud infrastructure to WebSphere CloudBurst and you can start deploying the shipped patterns or you can begin to build and deploy your own. Since the function provided by WebSphere CloudBurst is delivered on the appliance’s firmware, there is no need to install and subsequently maintain software on other machines. In addition, any updates to this function are delivered via firmware updates that can be applied directly from the appliance’s console.

From a capability perspective, appliances deliver right-sized, purpose-built compute resources. In particular, the WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance contains the right amount of processing power, memory, storage, etc. to meet its needs. In many ways, this points back to consumability in that you don’t have to hunt down the right set of hardware and storage because all of that is delivered on the appliance. In addition, the delivery of function (firmware) and hardware in one unit allows for optimization otherwise hard to achieve.

Lastly, and possibly most importantly, the appliance form factor of WebSphere CloudBurst provides for a very high level of security. To start, all of the contents stored on the appliance, whether they exist on the hard drive or flash drive, are encrypted by a private key. This private key is unique to each and every appliance and it cannot be modified. The appliance provides no way to upload and execute code. There is no shell with which you can interface, and the internals operate on “Just Enough Operating System” principles to decrease the attack surface even further. Finally, the appliance is physically secure. If someone were to remove the casing in an attempt to access the internals, the box is put into a dormant state and must be sent back to IBM before it can be used again. This is in no way an exhaustive list of security features, but hopefully it gives you some background on the high degree of security provided via the appliance form factor.

I hope this helps shed some light on the decision to deliver WebSphere CloudBurst as an appliance. If you have other questions about WebSphere CloudBurst check out my top ten FAQs, or leave a comment below.


Leon said...

Appliance form factor is indeed a nice way to deliver the functionality but as with anything it is not without its faults. Trying things out that are an appliance form factor becomes a bit more difficult as you need to get a loaner.
The question I often get is "why is it branded WebSphere if it can provision patterns that have multiple servers with multiple products like DB2?".