Tobias Flitsch, head of product management at Nebulon

Nebulon‘s Tobias Flitsch looks at the digital reformation

Nebulon, Inc. was founded by a group of ex-3PAR executives to pioneer Nebulon smartInfrastructure, server-embedded, infrastructure software delivered as-a-service which delivers the benefits of the public cloud experience, on-premises from core to edge for any application—containerised, virtualised, or bare metal. Here Tobias Flitsch, head of product management at Nebulon discusses how the company is working towards enabling the digital transformation.

 Please could you explain a bit more about the company?
Nebulon has pioneered smartInfrastructure, a server-embedded, infrastructure software delivered as-a-service which delivers the benefits of the public cloud experience, on-prem from core to edge for any application — containerised, virtualised, or bare metal. Nebulon smartInfrastructure provides self-service infrastructure provisioning, infrastructure management-as-a-service and enterprise-class shared and local data services. Two solutions make up the Nebulon smartInfrastructure portfolio: smartEdge and smartCore, which deliver easily accessible AIOps, self-managed updates and powerful programmability at any scale.

Smart infrastructure is all around us. Rather than having several different and complicated systems to manage one device, what Google Nest, Ring, etc. all have in common is an intelligent cloud-based control plane, which manages IoT endpoints to deliver benefits such as remote fleet management, automatic software updates and simple automation for everyday life. Nebulon applies smartInfrastructure technology to enterprise application infrastructure, effectively bringing public cloud benefits on-prem. This technology enables organisations to get the best of both worlds: the public cloud experience for their on-prem enterprise application infrastructure.

Why was it set up?
Nebulon, Inc. was founded in 2018 by a group of ex-3PAR executives, including David Scott (Nebulon co-founder), Siamak Nazari (co-founder and CEO), Craig Nunes (COO) and Sean Etaati (CTO). 3PAR was acquired by HP, now HPE, for $2.4bn in 2010.

The idea behind Nebulon was triggered by several similar conversations with CIOs. All had wanted to employ a cloud-first strategy, but had on-prem data that could not be moved to the cloud for either cost, security or compliance reasons. So the Nebulon founders came together to solve the problem: how to bring a public cloud experience to on-prem enterprise application data. They wanted to build a solution for enterprises to deploy, manage and maintain their on-prem enterprise application data at-scale, as simply and rapidly as they could in the public cloud. The Nebulon team identified three challenges in this question and set out to find a solution: reduce costs and simplify infrastructure footprint, reduce operational overhead and accelerate deployment of new services, and give application owners a self-service on-prem experience similar to that of a public cloud.

Nebulon introduced a new approach at the enterprise level, by enabling cloud-managed, physical “devices”, such as a Tesla car and the NEST thermostat, with the intelligent ability to service, process, manage and support on-prem data from anywhere.

What products or services does the company offer?
Nebulon smartInfrastructure is server-embedded, infrastructure software delivered as-a-service, offering self-service provisioning, infrastructure management and enterprise shared and local data services across an enterprises’ entire on-prem deployment, from core to edge, anywhere, for any application. The Nebulon smartCore solution enables rapid time-to-value plus simplified operations and maintenance versus traditional approaches to infrastructure for core and hosted data centres. The Nebulon smartEdge solution addresses the density, cost and remote management challenges experienced with traditional solutions for highly distributed infrastructure at the enterprise edge.

Similar to consumer-tech smart solutions, Nebulon smartInfrastructure is comprised of an AI-assisted, cloud-control plane called Nebulon ON, which powers an IoT endpoint called an SPU (Services Processing Unit). The SPUs are embedded in the application servers and form a data plane. Nebulon smartInfrastructure delivers a full suite of infrastructure provisioning and management and enterprise data services, and is available from a number of server vendors.

Nebulon smartInfrastructure is typically deployed to replace 3-tier architectures and hyperconverged infrastructure (HCI). Provisioning is slow in 3-tier architectures because external storage is complex to manage and automate, and involves multiple teams. HCI is based on software-defined storage which consumes 25% of the server’s resources to run the enterprise data services; this means that with this approach, customers buy 33% more servers than they would with Nebulon smartInfrastructure. In addition, HCI requires a hypervisor and does not support bare metal applications and native container solutions.

How is smartInfrastructure advancing the business world?
Managing a physical device via a cloud-based control plane is a success story we have seen numerous times in the consumer space. Take the NEST thermostat for example, which requires users to install a physical thermostat in their homes, but is wholly managed in the cloud.

In the case of smart home technology, homeowners can quickly orchestrate temperature, lighting, and security through simple remote management and easy automation – it’s self-service infrastructure. And at the same time, smart home devices get software fixes, security updates and even new features behind-the-scenes, remotely, without affecting the people living in the home. It is infrastructure management-as-a-service. Smart home technology also does not require consumers to worry about the individual management and lifecycles of thermostats, lighting control, or alarm security, it just happens in a coordinated manner.

These features are highly beneficial in the business world. For example, DCI, a UK-based service provider, builds 5G-enabled edge data centres in shipping crates using liquid immersion cooling. It chose Nebulon to remotely manage multiple sites, reconfigure workloads, and maintain service levels without requiring onsite resources.

A leading auto manufacturer that is deploying an on-prem hyperscale cloud chose Nebulon to gain significant cost savings and at-scale automation, which were not possible with traditional infrastructure approaches.

Another UK-based service provider focused on a carbon-neutral approach to IT services, adopted Nebulon smartInfrastructure for data that it is repatriating back on-prem to lower costs. With Nebulon it can retain the public cloud experience for its on-prem application infrastructure. Many organisations have a cloud-first strategy, yet have workloads that remain on-prem for cost, service level or compliance reasons. A recent IDC study indicated that four out of five companies have recently repatriated workloads from the cloud back on-prem. For organisations that require the benefits of the public cloud for applications that must stay on-prem, Nebulon smartInfrastructure is an ideal alternative.

Finally, many DevOps teams do not have the time to provision, manage and support on-prem infrastructure. A more cloud-like self-service infrastructure model is a perfect match for these fast-moving DevOps environments. Providing rapid composability, self-service provisioning of on-prem application infrastructure, similar to the cloud-native experience, radically simplifies application deployment so that DevOps teams can get what they need when they need it.

What are the biggest challenges companies face if they do not keep up with digital advances?
Organisations risk their services or technology fast becoming out-of-date and therefore uncompetitive. In this digital era, where there is a plethora of offerings for any service, customer experience, cost and security have become key criteria for an organisations’ success. Lack of software and continuous innovation updates can quickly detract customers, make services unprofitable, and allow for instances such as cyberattacks to occur, possibly with catastrophic consequences for a business. Digital advances do not only give organisations a competitive advantage over their competitors, but are a necessity for staying in business.

That said, a long-term view is important here. The IT infrastructure choices that were made yesterday, may no longer be the right choices today. It is wise to consult with industry experts to identify the right choice for the right application at the right time. For example, an early-stage organisation with few demands may opt to deploy an application in the public cloud to avoid managing a full-scale datacentre. Once the organisation grows and experiences more predictable demand, running the application on-prem actually becomes more profitable. Another example would be an organisation deciding to move applications closer to where processing is required to provide better customer experiences in retail stores, manufacturing plants and other edge locations where latency and unreliable cloud connectivity may be a concern. Both of these are examples of organisations who have adopted a ‘cloud-first’ policy, but ultimately chose to re-evaluate their infrastructure choices for public cloud, private cloud and edge to optimise their cost, compliance, or security needs in order to stay competitive, profitable and gain competitive advantages.

In what ways does Nebulon support partners with their digital transformation?
Many cloud and infrastructure partner companies today are facing challenges in the era of public cloud.

  1. Although usage of a public cloud is clearly growing quickly, there is a huge demand for on-prem infrastructure that needs to be addressed. The HCI and Software Defined Storage markets are congested, so finding differentiation in the eyes of the end user is always going to be critical.
  2. Cloud is an operating model rather than a destination. End users’ expectations are increasingly being conditioned by the cloud experience and want to bring those benefits to their on-prem resources. How partners respond to this challenge is key.
  3. A partner needs to bring value to their customers, so the ability to complement a technology value proposition with appropriate services is becoming ever more important.

Nebulon smartInfrastructure can help support partners with their digital transformation efforts by offering a solution which improves their margins and increases business revenue with the following benefits:

  • Channel partners now have the ability to offer a unique technology that allows end users to realise the benefits of the cloud operating model with their on-prem infrastructure. Channel partners no longer have to rely on over distributed HCI platforms offering limited margins and win rates
  • Channel partners are no longer limited to mainstream technology adoption through existing contracts/suppliers
  • Channel partners can move to an ARR business model
    Channel partners can easily wrap services around the Nebulon technology to enhance the value they bring to their customers as well as creating margin opportunities.

Please could you describe what industrial sectors that are most benefiting or are in need of digital transformation?
If done right, most, if not all, industrial sectors benefit from digital transformation. Many industrial sectors are already undergoing digital transformation by either modernising their existing digital infrastructure or are transforming their business to adapt for a digital world. The digital infrastructure needs and considerations within many different sectors are actually the same. Service providers, for example, are seeking to modernise their infrastructure with a solution which enables it to offer more services or lower their costs, both of which can increase the service providers’ margins. Other organisations migrating from the public cloud for cost reasons are seeking the same modernisation benefits.

Finance or Manufacturing organisations that operate large scale infrastructure in their datacentres, on the other hand, seek higher SLAs and reduced overhead through automation, standardisation and consolidation. These sectors also prefer predictable provisioning to eliminate human error that comes from managing large scale infrastructure manually.

Telco providers, healthcare providers, and retailers that operate distributed environments across the world, however, look for solutions with secure remote administration capabilities and better issue resolution when there is no expertise on-site.

Digital infrastructure that provides the operational ease of a public cloud and that works in the core datacentre or at the edge at a lower cost than traditional 3-tier architectures and HCI can accelerate digital transformation efforts across many industrial sectors.

What advice can you offer companies looking to digitise their infrastructure?
Infrastructure decision making is not easy as there are many vendors and deployment options, all of which are rapidly evolving. The simplest choice for many is adopting a public cloud infrastructure and going cloud native. It delivers easy infrastructure management and is quick to get started. However, at some point in time, organisations will need to re-evaluate their existing applications and their placement in the public cloud. These existing applications may become candidates for modernisation, much like an organisations’ existing processes and methods which are already undergoing digital transformation, and the reality is that having to divorce your applications from proprietary services in a public cloud is hard.

When digitising infrastructure, it is wise to consult with industry experts to make the right infrastructure and API choices to ensure applications can run where they are needed, in a public cloud, in a datacentre or at the edge. For many industries, only a combination of these infrastructure options is viable. As an example, security, compliance, and data privacy are a key concern in a digital world. With ransomware attacks on the rise and strict policies such as GDPR in place, security must be at the heart of any digitisation initiative. This is one reason why many organisations are keeping some, if not all, of their critical data on-prem, in their control.

Another piece of advice (as companies will have on-prem infrastructure), selecting a solution that features the operational simplicity of a public cloud and works with any application in datacentres and in edge locations is optimal. Organisations should not underestimate the importance of secure remote management and automation, especially when there are no experts on site, as human errors are likely and could be detrimental for a company. Lastly, don’t forget to think long-term when embarking on a digitisation journey to create an infrastructure that will expand alongside business growth.

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