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Why I left HP after 19 years to join ProfitBricks

On 02.12.13, In Cloud Computing, by

Pete Johnson, new Platform Evangelist

Woz once said, “I thought I’d be an HPer for life.” While I don’t usually claim to have a whole lot in common with the man who designed the first computer I ever saw (an Apple II, summer ’78), in this instance it’s true. As it turns out, we were both wrong.

Pete Johnson, new Platform Evangelist for ProfitBricks

I stayed at HP as long as I did for lots of reasons. Business model diversity is one:  over the last two decades, I was lucky enough to be a front line coder, a tech lead, a project manager, and an enterprise architect while working on web sites for enterprise support, consumer ecommerce sales, enterprise online sales, all forms of marketing, and even post-sales printing press supplies reordering.   Most recently I was employee #37 for HP’s new public cloud offering where I performed a lot of roles including project management of web development teams, customer facing demonstrations at trade shows, and sales pitches for Fortune 500 CIOs.  But I also remained at HP because of the culture and values that came straight from Bill Hewlett and Dave Packard, which my early mentors instilled in me. You can still find those values there today if you look hard enough, and if anybody gets that, Meg Whitman does.

Why leave HP for ProfitBricks then?

So if I still have such a rosy view of HP, despite recent bumpiness, why did I leave to become the Platform Evangelist for ProfitBricks?

Three reasons:

  1. InfiniBand
  2. InfiniBand
  3. InfiniBand

If you are anything like the sample of computer industry veterans I told about my move last week, you just said, “What the heck is InfiniBand?” Let me explain what it is and why it is poised to fundamentally change the cloud computing.

Ethernet is the dominant network technology used in data centers today. Originally created during the Carter administration, it uses a hierarchical structure of LAN segments, which ultimately means that packets have exactly one path to traverse when moving from point A to point B anywhere in the network. InfiniBand, which is a popular 21st century technology in the supercomputing and high-performance computing (HPC) communities, uses a grid or mesh system that gives packets multiple paths from point A to point B. This key difference, among other nuances, gives InfiniBand a top speed of 80 Gbits/sec, resulting in a speed that is 80x faster than Amazon’s AWS 1Gbit/sec standard Ethernet connections.

What’s the big deal about InfiniBand?

“So what?” you may be thinking. “A faster cloud network is nice, but it doesn’t seem like THAT big a deal.”

Actually, it is a VERY big deal when you stop and think about how a cloud computing provider can take advantage of a network like this.

As founder and CMO Andreas Gauger put it to me during the interview process, virtualization is a game of Tetris in which you are trying to fit various sizes of Virtual Machines on top of physical hardware to maximize utilization. This is particularly critical for a public cloud provider. With InfiniBand, Profit Bricks can rearrange the pieces, and at 80 Gbits/sec, our hyper-visor can move a VM from one physical machine to another without the VM ever knowing. This helps us maximize the physical hardware and keep prices competitive, but it also means two other things for our customers:

  • You can provision any combination of CPU cores and RAM you want, up to and including the size of the full physical hardware we use
  • You can change the number of CPU cores or amount of RAM on-the-fly, live, without rebooting the VM

In a world where other public cloud providers force you into cookie cutter VM sizes in an attempt to simplify the game of Tetris for themselves, the first feature is obviously differentiating. But when most people hear the second one, their reaction is that it can’t possibly be true — it must be a lie. You can’t change virtual hardware on a VM without rebooting it, can you?

No way you can change CPU or RAM without rebooting a VM!

Do you suppose I’d check that out before leaving the only employer I’ve ever known in my adult life?

I spun up a VM, installed Apache, launched a load test from my desktop against the web server I just created, changed both the CPU Cores and RAM on the server instance, confirmed the change at the VM command line, and allowed the load test to end.  You know what the load test log showed?

Number of errors: 0.

The Apache web server never went down, despite the virtual hardware change, and handled HTTP requests every 40 milliseconds. I never even lost my remote login session. Whoa.

But wait, there’s more (and more to come)

Throw in the fact that the ProfitBricks block storage platform takes advantage of InfiBand to not only provide RAID 10 redundancy, but RAID 10 mirrored across two availability zones, and I was completely sold.  I realized that ProfitBricks founder, CTO, and CEO Achim Weiss took the data center efficiency knowledge that gave 1&1 a tremendous price advantage and combined it with supercomputing technology to create a cloud computing game-changer that his engineering team is just beginning to tap into. I can’t wait to see what they do with object storage, databases, and everything else that you’d expect from a fully IaaS offering. I had to be a part of that.

Simply put: ProfitBricks uses InfiniBand to enable Cloud Computing 2.0.

And that’s why, after 19 years, I left HP.