Date: 07 December 2016

Author: Matt Bynum

It’s like Alexa, but with a little less HAL 9000

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Shocker, I’m a Nerd

I grew up LOVING Star Trek: The Next Generation.  One of the key elements of this show was the ship’s computer, LCARS, which could control and interact with various other systems and sensors of the ship on behalf of the crew.  If I had to pinpoint anything in my life that drove me to IT, I think it would have to be how much I enjoyed the idea of the helpful computer in ST:TNG that made people’s lives easier.

You can imagine the waves of childish joy that fell over me upon learning of Amazon’s Echo (or Alexa, since I don’t know a single person that calls it “Echo”).  Yes, I did pre-order it.  No, I did not wait for it patiently.  I read every review that TechCrunch or Engadget or any other tech news site wrote.  Lucky ducks, getting their hands-on units early.

When she (yes, the anthropomorphism started early with this one) arrived in June of 2015, I totally geeked out.  I ran through the verbal commands I could give, tested where in the room she would hear me from (literally everywhere), and poured over the web UI to see what else I could make her do.  With my previous research, I had run across a nifty little feature that the Amazon team had included: the ability to control Internet of Things (IoT) devices on a home network.

Oh yes, I have IoT devices for days scattered throughout my house.  This is not a post about security, and we’ve recently featured an article on the evils of bad IoT security, so buyer of IoT devices beware.  Despite the potential security risks, for me personally, IoT is a step in the direction of the ST:TNG experience.  Connected things.  Every THING.  And boy are there a lot of things.  Want connected lightbulbs? Well, there’s about a gajillion different options there.  Want connected power outlets? Yep, lots of those.  How about security cameras? Of course.  Connected door bells? What color would you like?

As an IoT customer, there’s one dirty little secret that nobody talks about when you’re starting to get into the device game: all of these little devices are managed by different apps, with different interfaces, and very few of them natively work together.  This can be extremely frustrating, especially for someone who likes to dabble with different brands of devices that all do the same thing.  I have three different vendor’s IoT lightbulbs in my house.  Yeah, having three different interfaces is obnoxious.

Enter Alexa.  Her ability to control a variety of IoT devices through a common verbal UI greatly simplified the experience of my day to day life in using these devices.  Instead of worrying about going into the Phillips Hue app vs. the Wink app for flipping a light bulb on or off, now I can just say “Alexa, turn on Garage” and two lights from two different manufacturers will simultaneously turn on.

IT is a lot like IoT

What else sounds like having a bunch of different interfaces for managing different ”things?” How about every product and solution within IT?  I’ve previously written about automation, and how the day-to-day tasks in IT should be more like the cloud.  Well, disparate interfaces and different ways to work with products and solutions within IT is a huge problem when trying to coalesce these things into a SYSTEM that works as one converged experience.  It’s even more harrowing if you are a hybrid shop that has some workloads in the cloud in addition to on-premesis.  Now you’ve got yet another interface and way of consuming compute/storage/networking resources.

“So uh, Amazon, could we make Alexa work with vCenter and my Nexus 9k?”  Wouldn’t that be sweet? An aggregator of all these different architectures and solutions? Man, somebody should get on that…oh snap, they did.

Earlier this year, Cisco completed the acquisition of CliQr Technologies Inc.  They’ve renamed it to Cisco CloudCenter (unfortunately not as cool a name as CliQr), and it is a key element to Cisco’s cloud strategy.  CloudCenter provides the same kind of IT systems aggregation that Alexa does for IoT devices.  It allows you to model an application and then deploy that application to either an on-premises private cloud or a variety of public clouds…all without changing the modeled application!  Build once, deploy anywhere.  IT brothers and sisters, we are at the gates of the promised land here.  Did I mention it’s all done through a web UI? So if you’re not comfortable scripting or programming, this is your ticket to automationville.  No, you can’t yet speak to it like you can Alexa…but that’s not a bad thing.

Here at Bedroc, we’re excited about this vision for the IT experience of the future.  CloudCenter is the type of product that will enable IT to stave off the mass migration to public cloud in favor of a more balanced approach between public and private clouds.  We’d love to help you get started!