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The Forgotten Operator

The Forgotten Operator

Talk given at the Southern California Linux Expo in March, 2023. Video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=H3YbsOCb4lc

Bryan Cantrill

March 17, 2023
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Transcript

  1. The Forgotten Operator
    Bryan Cantrill
    Oxide Computer Company
    @[email protected]

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  2. OXIDE
    In the beginning…
    • In the beginning, computers were so expensive that they were shared by
    necessity – leading to the rise of a (brief) utility computing movement
    • But with Moore’s Law, computing became denser, faster – and cheaper
    • With each successive turn – minicomputers, servers, workstations,
    personal computers – computing became cheaper and easier to own
    • By the 1990s computing was only on-premises

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  3. OXIDE
    The pain of on-premises compute
    • With the rise of the internet, compute needs exploded
    • All infrastructure was on-premises – it can’t just be spun up!
    • Physical infrastructure is capital and labor intensive
    • Adding insult to injury, it was all proprietary – hardware and software
    • Physical buildout was exceedingly painful
    • A confluence of trends began to give rise to an alternative…

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  4. OXIDE
    The rise of cloud computing
    • Several factors in the 2000s came into confluence:
    ○ Internet ubiquity + protocol maturity
    ○ Rise of open source software at all layers of the stack
    ○ Dominance of x86 + “commodity” hardware
    ○ Strartup ice age + financial crisis (emphasis on opex over capex)
    • Added up to cloud computing: shared, elastic, API-driven
    infrastructure

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  5. OXIDE
    Myths of cloud computing
    • Cloud computing’s ubiquity in the 2010s gave rise to several myths…
    • Myth: Cloud computing is a low margin business
    • Reality: Cloud computing is a high margin business!
    • Myth: The economies of scale from operating a public cloud primarily
    accrue to purchasing power
    • Reality: Purchasing power is not unimportant – but the much greater
    dividend was the ability to invest in innovation!

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  6. OXIDE
    Cloud computing divide
    • Cloud computing operators – hyperscalers – investied relentlessly in
    innovation, yielding an increasing divide
    • This innovation drove down their own costs, allowing them to bolster
    their own positions and continue to innovate
    • On-premises infrastructure providers didn’t understand the cloud, and
    increasingly focussed on those customers that shared their confusion
    • All of this served to accelerate the demise of on-premises compute
    • So… is anyone left on-prem?

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  7. OXIDE
    The forgotten operator
    • There (emphatically!) remain good reasons to run on-prem!
    • If you are on-prem in 2023, the reasons are likely good
    • These include: risk management, regulatory compliance, latency, and
    (increasingly!) economics
    • This on-premises operator has been forgotten by everyone
    ○ Vendors don’t understand their use case
    ○ Fellow technologists act like they have never heard of the cloud!

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  8. OXIDE
    The pain of the forgotten operator
    • The forgotten operator is an extraordinary amount of pain: the
    abstractions for on-premises compute remain vestigial
    • Power, cooling, BMC, BIOS, ToR switch, all date from the PC era!
    • And this is to say nothing of the software!
    • These systems operate at cross-purposes: they were never designed
    together – and to the contrary
    • But do we care?

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  9. OXIDE
    Why we might care

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  10. OXIDE
    The mandate for rack-scale machines
    • Those repatriating onto on-premises infrastructure will (rightfully) expect
    API-driven elastic infrastructure
    • However, that’s not what they’re going to find
    • What they will find is, in fact, worse than they might remember
    • We believe that we must do better
    • We must design rack-scale machines that integrate hardware and
    software into a single, software-driven system!

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  11. OXIDE
    Reasons for optimism
    • There are a couple of interesting trends that give optimism…
    ○ Hardware is easier than ever before – and increasingly open
    ○ There have been tremendous software advances, e.g. Rust and P4
    ○ Remote teams make it easier to ramp than ever before
    • Still, rack-scale design presents new challenges – and is a big build!

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  12. OXIDE
    Oxide Computer Company
    • We have built a true rack-scale machine,
    with integrated hardware and software,
    allowing one to easily deploy cloud
    computing on-premises
    • After a three year build (!), we are on the
    cusp of shipping our first product
    • We can now say it unequivocally: the
    future demands rack-scale design!

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  13. OXIDE
    Rescuing the forgotten operator
    • The public cloud will always play an important role – it’s not going away
    • But more and more operators will need to manage both on-prem and
    public cloud buildout
    • Those operators have the right to modernity, wherever they deploy!
    • To the forgotten operator: help is on the way!
    • Join us and learn more at https://oxide.computer – and check out our
    weekly Discord, “Oxide and Friends” (now also a podcast!)

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