Pets, Cattle, and Pandas

Earlier this month, with Bobby Patrick, HP Helion’s CMO and 5 of our enterprise customers, I kicked off our Cloud Track Keynote at HP Discover in Las Vegas (video link). Over 400 attendees joined us in a packed, standing room only venue, which reinforced the intense interest that customers and partners have around the Cloud.

(I need to acknowledge and thank the 5 enterprise customers joining us for a panel discussion. Our panelists — Mike Lambert from Alcatel-Lucent, Gonzalo Uguillas from Cenace Corporation, Nick Summers from GE, Mark Bronnimann from Weill Cornell Medical College, and Andrew Cox from Synchronoss — joined us to talk about their cloud journeys. They were the highlight of this event.)

One topic I discussed in my talk seemed to land well. It’s a spin on the “Pets and Cattle” aphorism that’s pretty well known in the Cloud business.

There are lots of stories about Pets and Cattle here and here, for example, but here’s the gist.

With many existing and traditional enterprise applications and workloads, enterprise IT manages specific servers. Those servers will be given names, like “Voldemort” or “Avignon.” You’ll track the health of that server closely. And if the server gets sick, you have to fix it and fast. It’s kind of like a pet — you give the server a name, you care and feed it carefully, and if anything goes wrong you call a veterinarian. That’s a Pet, and its where most enterprise apps and workloads are today.

Cloud offers a new ways of delivering applications. Cloud is about infrastructure on standardized, scaled out hardware, and application architectures that are generally stateless and inherently resilient. In these scaled out, standardized environments, you don’t care all that much if a server gets sick. If it gets sick and dies, that’s fine, as you have lots of other hardware that’s ready to pick up the load. And the application is built such that one individual server’s health doesn’t impact the app’s performance. Instead of precious pets, the Cloud is all about having a huge herd of cattle — all very similar and standardized, commodities. In contrast to Pets, Cloud is like Cattle. With this standardization, customers get the promise of greater scalability, HA and resiliency, and lower costs.

We use this aphorism frequently, because many enterprise customers find it a useful way to engage in a conversation around Cloud. Our customers understand the opportunity and the practical challenges of adopting the cloud. They engage with us at HP, because with HP Helion we’re able to give them an exciting view of the future, while still being able to help them leverage and manage their existing systems. This is an important nuance in the cloud world : while many focus on the new cloud workloads, and these are vital, for many enterprises, they must also continue to work with existing systems. HP is one of few vendors on the planet that can creidbly help customers with both.

Anyway, how does this lead to pandas? Back to Pets and Cattle. One of our product managers was speaking with an enterprise customer about a year ago. Our product manager, Matt, was talking to the customer about Pets and Cattle, the promise of the Cloud, New Style of IT, etc.

The customer stopped him and said, “Matt, hey this Pets and Cattle thing is all great, but I’ve got tell you something…”

“What’s that, sir?” said Matt.

“I’d just like to get to Pets. What I’ve got are Pandas! Lots and lots of Pandas!” said the customer.

“What do you mean Pandas?”

“When our server gets sick, we don’t just have to call a veterinarian to fix it. We have to call the Ambassador! Our sick server is on the 6 o’clock news. TV crews show footage of our sick service. We have extremely highly important and visible pets — we have Pandas.”

So Pandas entered our vernacular as an extension to the Pets v Cattle discussion, and it frames well where many enterprises are with their mission critical applications.

So at our HP Helion Cloud Track Keynote, I explained the Pets, Cattle, and Pandas paradigm. I showed this slide.

And to be honest, I wasn’t all that sure whether it had landed well or not. When I finished my speech, I headed off the stage, so that Bobby and our customer panel could take the stage. I nervously texted some people in the audience to figure out how the speech went.

As I fidgeted, and as the customer panel got started, a wild thing happened. One of our customers onstage said, “You know, we have a lot of pandas.” And then another said this too. In all, 3 of the 5 customers remarked on having pandas that they were managing, and I think we caught 7 mentions of pandas during their session.

In the world of marketing, messaging, and storytelling, one is always trying to find a way to frame a concept in a way that resonates, that’s easy to understand. The best concepts are ones that once heard ripple as dropping a stone in a pond, they radiate outwards as others take in the idea and can easily shaer it forward. Watching our customers take and run with the concept of pandas led us to realize we were on to something. In the world of Cattle and Cloud, you’ve got to keep in mind that you’ll have to continue to care for Pets. And your Pandas.

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