Pets, Cattle, Insects and the Fabric of life

I’ve been thinking about this a lot recently, I have always associated the ‘Pets to Cattle’ analogy with the move from Physical to Virtual servers and the increasing number of these needed as the number of applications a business supports grows.

For those of you that haven’t heard the analogy, it goes something like this…

Before virtualisation we used to have physical servers that ran our App’s, we gave these servers names, I still remember my Oracle servers ‘Asterix and Obelisk’ well. I cared for these servers, making sure the environment was comfortable for them and if they got sick then I did my best to make them better, these were pets because of the way that I treated them.

As virtualisation started to take off, we began to create lots of virtual servers, we didn’t give these pet names often just calling them server1, 2, 3 etc they were still important to us and if one of them got sick then we’d try to make it better but if we couldn’t then we’d remove it and get another one, we treated these much more like a cattle herd.

If we look forward though, taking into account Micro-services and containers then I think that this new paradigm is different enough that it moves beyond the current analogy, is it time for Insects?

Containers are typically very small, often they serve a specific purpose, many times they come to life they serve this purpose and then they die again. When I think of these tiny containers with the app loads they can carry I think of ants, something very small but with the ability to carry something so much more than it’s own weight.

Then when we start to consider Lambda functions / serverless computing I think this idea of considering something in a much finer grain starts to make even more sense, potentially even going so far as to microbes that come to life serve a simple, yet important purpose, then die.

The challenge becomes how you manage this much broader ecosystem, something where we have pets, cattle, insects, microbes all living together interacting with each other. We have to consider how we treat them all as we won’t, and never will, consider the life of insects the way that we consider our pets.

This move from Physical to Virtual to Container also shows the increasing scope of just how much is now defined by Data and the relationship between the Physical Hardware, the OS and the Application. In the era of pets a physical server ran a specific operating system and maybe just one or two applications, it was all very tightly coupled and NetApp’s responsibility was to protect the data that the App or App’s created.

As data centres increasingly moved to virtualisation, this coupling became much looser and the scope grew, now we consider the App, the OS, the Virtual Machine and the data it creates all as Data, NetApp’s responsibility was now to manage, protect and mobilise entire virtual environments, extending this out across the Cloud as companies Hybrid adoption grows.

The current era further extends this premise, in very much the same way that virtual machines are defined by data so are containers but often significantly more of them with different lifespans due to the nature of the apps they support. And if we look out towards a ‘Software Defined’ world, well if it’s defined by Software, yes you guessed it, it’s defined by Data.

It takes a portfolio of technologies and a broad set of partners to succeed in this new world and NetApp has really embraced this change, our Data Fabric Strategy ensures that all of our products work together. From All Flash Arrays to Converged to Hyper-Converged Infrastructure and Object Storage. Our systems also integrate with the Cloud and many can run directly in the Cloud, with some even enabling you to connect Clouds together. Our Infrastructure Analytics platform OnCommand Insight enables you to see exactly what a service is costing to run regardless of where you are running it, any hardware or the Cloud, so you can make the best decisions as workloads change and grow.

Then we have our excellent team behind ‘The Pub‘ working on plugins for Container Storage Orchestration, Ansible, Puppet and many many more of the tools of choice in the DevOps world.

The scope of what NetApp can do today is incredible when I compare it to the Storage Company I joined 13 years ago.

Increasingly you will have Pets and Cattle and Insects all living together at the same time with different needs, a Data Fabric enables you to do this with security, with protection, with efficiency, with the ability to rapidly adopt new technologies, and to choose the Cloud providers you want to work with when you want to work with them.


  1. Way back when I had a quartet of servers called “Curly”, “Moe”, “Shemp”, and “Larry”.

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