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Dell VP on DevOps, CloudOps, AI and multicloud by design

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Image: kras99/Adobe Stock

At Dell Technologies World in Las Vegas, I sat down with Caitlin Gordon, vice president, product management, software and solutions at Dell Technologies, to learn about her company’s push toward multicloud by design. We also discussed DevOps, AI workloads, the skills gap and much more. The following transcript of the interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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What is multicloud by design?

Multicloud by design is how Dell refers to multicloud workloads, applications or processes that are managed in total, not in silos. The idea is that everything in the cloud stack can be managed together and, as the name suggests, is designed from the beginning to be managed together. At its conference this week, Dell announced several additions to its Apex service portfolio that aim to make multicloud management more flexible.

Multicloud data storage services allow organizations to store data independently of any one cloud vendor; instead, the services can spread data across multiple clouds. This may involve coordinating with a partner – such as Dell’s Apex, IBM Cloud Satellite, Google Cloud Service or small vendors – to manage that data.

SEE: We offer a handy guide for companies considering switching to multicloud.

Megan Crouse: In your own words, what enables multicloud by design to work? Why adopt it now?

Caitlin Gordon: What we’ve found from customer conversations over the last few years is that customers have evolved from cloud-first strategies years ago to cloud optimization strategies. They now have a little bit more perspective and experience on what the public cloud can provide and what they want to have on-prem. They are really thinking about those two estates as two different parts of one strategy versus conflicting strategies.

SEE: Multicloud explained: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)

Ultimately, what we heard from customers a few years ago that drove this whole initiative is they felt like they got into multicloud by default, meaning it felt more like “multi-contract” to them. They knew who their partners were and who their primary and secondary was, maybe their public cloud. They had on-prem standardization to some extent. But there wasn’t any real way that they interoperated with each other and really simplified the world, or, from a CIO’s perspective, simplified everything across the board. And part of what we’ve seen is customers really taking a step back and thinking about: How do I make all of this work together? How do I pick not just the right partners in and of themselves, but the right partners that all are working with each other as well?

Customers ultimately can only solve so much by themselves. They have more skills gaps than they ever have before; they have developer productivity challenges; they have more security challenges than they’ve ever had; they have data sovereignty challenges. It’s about getting the cloud experience into any data center that you want and really giving you that control with that agility that you expect from the cloud.

Dell’s solution: Apex-as-a-service

Megan Crouse: Does Apex-as-a-service sit on top of the multicloud framework?

Caitlin Gordon: There are three or four dimensions to it. One is: How do you accelerate what you want to do in the public cloud? I think about what we refer to as our ground-to-cloud strategy. Being able to use best-in-class, enterprise-class storage in the public cloud so you can have more workload flexibility, that’s one side of it.

The other side is: How do I really optimize what I’m doing in my own data center by bringing those cloud operating models, the cloud operating systems and the cloud-to-ground side of things?

The third piece is the as-a-service portfolio. This is how you get a cloud consumption experience, not just across those multicloud initiatives but for anything that we offer in the Dell portfolio, whether it’s compute, storage, data protection or even PCs and peripherals. Those are the different dimensions: both a management and a consumption experience.

Megan Crouse: If a business doesn’t know where to start with multicloud by design, what should they consider first?

Caitlin Gordon: It comes down to: Every customer is different. What matters to that customer is what’s driving their own business. Are they a business driven heavily by data – something like life sciences where their business is data? Or a bank where they have heavy regulations they’re worrying about?

It depends on the different levels of security, velocity, culture and philosophy. You want to have balance between what’s going to be in your data centers, what’s going to be in which public clouds, how much risk are you willing to take on? How much control do you need? Who do you want to be partnering with? How important is simplicity? Within that, you can really tune that strategy. One of the backdrops to this concept of multicloud by design is choice, flexibility and not saying, “Well, I want cloud, so it means this.” It’s about saying, “I want cloud, but I want some flexibility in what that experience is going to be.”

Megan Crouse: Similarly, when making decisions about what cloud operating models to bring into the data center, what should organizations consider?

Caitlin Gordon: It comes back to workloads. Are you dealing with a current landscape of workloads that look like thousands of VMs you need to manage? How many of those are strategic? Where do they need to live? Are you relatively small and new and actually building most of your applications starting now, so really, truly cloud-native and application-centric? Is it a balance of the two? Where do you need to invest? Where do you need to maintain?

Then you get into the combination of whether it’s going to be more Red Hat leaning, or more VMware or Microsoft leaning. What role does AWS potentially play in that? And then you start figuring out who the ecosystem partners are. We believe our strategic value to our customers is whatever the answer is for them, we can support that and we’re working with all of those different partners.

What’s changing in the world of DevOps?

Megan Crouse: What is changing in cloud operations and DevOps today?

Caitlin Gordon: We see customers are on a broad continuum of DevOps maturity. Do they have more siloed traditional operations that are around the components of their infrastructure, or do they have the other end of the spectrum: platform engineering? And then there’s everything in between. When you get into things like CloudOps, DevOps, AIOps, SecOps and how they work together, that’s really getting into a more mature, truly infrastructure-as-code-driven IT approach. It’s probably the exception, not the norm, today. There are probably a lot of benefits to it, but customers have a lot of technical debt in what they own, but also just culturally and in terms of skills to be able to get to that model.

SEE: DevOps: A cheat sheet (TechRepublic)

Ultimately, a lot of this comes down to the public cloud bringing a lot of benefits to our customers: agility, scale, global reach. But also they are used to a lot of things in the data center they don’t get in that public cloud. How do we give them both? Part of the expectation now is the public cloud gives fast agility and a really simple experience for easy developer productivity. People are saying they want that, but they want it in their data center. And that’s where you start to see this CloudOps type of model try to come on-prem.

Megan Crouse: What do you think CloudOps will look like in one to three years?

Caitlin Gordon: More people will move in that direction. We may come up with a new term for it, because we like to do that around here. But the concept of having a more agile way to approach IT, the concept of being able to be more automation-driven, is going to continue to grow. The way that applications went from really being VM centric to now getting more container centric, the operating model of IT needs to evolve to support that. But we also know nothing ever completely goes away. Being able to bring yourself from where you start to where you’re going, and keeping or moving what you had to the new model, that’s really where the work begins. And that’s going to take a long time.

New ways to use known solutions

Megan Crouse: The Apex umbrella is a culmination of things Dell has historically done well, from PCs to Software-as-a-Service. Do you see it this way, or do you see it as totally novel or a mix of both?

Caitlin Gordon: I think it’s a mix of both. Ultimately, our Apex strategy is about bringing, pretty simply, consumption models and our cloud experience to our customers, and we’re doing that with an open ecosystem of partners. There’s novelty in that, because a lot of what we’re doing is informed by the expectation our customers have because of what the public cloud has provided. At the same time, the lineage of this company is partnering closer with partners, including Microsoft, on delivering that unified, simplified experience. When you ship one of our PCs out of the factory, it was always built with Windows built in and is built to make that really easy for customers to get up and running. Now, what we’re doing with Microsoft with the Apex Cloud Platform for Azure is the same idea, but for a data center and a full software infrastructure stack. That idea is where we come from.

Megan Crouse: You mentioned the skills gap. There is a big conversation now about making sure the people who are in these operations teams can use multicloud to manage vast amounts of data, as well as companies struggling to find skilled workers in general. Can you speak to how we got here with the skills gap, and what happens next?

Caitlin Gordon: How did we get here? I think a lot of how we got here, you mentioned it earlier, thinking of public cloud and on-prem as separate strategies is part of how we got here. We were going down a highway and a lot of companies went off a cloud-first exit ramp, but people still were on the other highway. And you still have people who are managing, building and supporting workloads, but you need to find the new skills to work in the new environment. I talked to customers today who are treating them (multicloud and on-prem) as separate.

How will that evolve? I think now we’re starting to see “I can’t keep going this way.” People used to want to do it themselves, but they don’t anymore because either they can’t or they don’t feel it’s worth the investment. So they’re asking for help from us to do things they used to be able to do themselves. And also more and more it’s, “I have more partners than I had before, because in the world where I only had data centers, I had at least dual-vendor strategies, but you standardized there.” Then they introduced cloud partners; once you started putting those together, you had two different ecosystems of multiple partners. Most customers are not going to standardize on a single public cloud. That means in the data center they need to standardize, they need commonality, they need to trust a very small set of partners. That’s the key part for us. They need consistency, commonality and as few stacks as possible, because there aren’t enough skills to go around.

AI workloads beyond “the cool kid”

Megan Crouse: Do you see generative AI in this space, either behind the scenes on your team or in terms of customer demand?

Caitlin Gordon: I would broaden it to all AI. Generative AI is the cool kid on the block. [AI is] one of the categories of workloads driving everything we’re doing in multicloud, whether that means I’m trying to use the different machine learning models in the public cloud and need storage that can scale with that.

Maybe [multicloud could scale] in a way the native file storage, for example, doesn’t. Now we have the Apex File Storage for AWS, which may support what you need to do with AI in the cloud better and be able to move that on-prem more seamlessly. At the same time, maybe I want to create an AI model in my own data centers, and I want to be able to do that with the right GPUs, with the right partners. That’s really what we can support on the cloud platforms. We have a variety of different GPUs we support on those platforms; it gives the customer the ability to control that data, control that environment and still take advantage of those models.

More news from Dell Technologies World

Disclaimer: Dell paid for my airfare, accommodations and some meals for the Dell Technologies World event held May 22-25 in Las Vegas.

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