Structure 2013 recap: Clouds and devops are hot, while the SDN jury is out

It was clear during our Structure conference in San Francisco this week that the public cloud war is nothing if not feisty.

Leaders of VMware, (s vmw) and (s amzn) Microsoft (s msft) all touted their own public clouds and responded to criticism, prompting a plenitude of tweets.

Although no Googler took the stage specifically to promote its burgeoning Cloud PlatformJeff Dean had plenty of other Google projects to discuss — it became clear that at least one company thinks Google’s compute-on-demand service is worth keeping an eye on.

The public cloud as a whole received an abundance of attention throughout the conference, not only as a way to run pretty much your entire business, but also (at least in theory) to meet bursting needs when demand for service exceeds the capacity available on premise , and, of course, for test and development.

Despite all the public-cloud hullabaloo at the conference, however, many speakers pledged allegiance to their private clouds. OpenStack got a decent share of love or just fascination from Box, Fidelity Investments, HubSpot and PayPal.

Then again, OpenStack might have some way to go before getting still wider adoption. Clorox CIO Ralph Loura said he’d like to see “more consistency between API and platform” in OpenStack.

Other things we learned at Structure: disk is not the new tape, and, anyway, tape isn’t dead, especially if you’re a national laboratory with a supercomputer on hand.

Also, the jury really is still out on that whole software-defined networking (SDN) thing. It was described as a way to make the network dynamic. And it was identified as an enabler of higher-grade service-level agreements.

However, the future of SDN looks bright. Facebook (s fb) is planning to advance its networking by leaps and bounds with the fabric it announced on Wednesday. That project could open up whole new areas in network possibilities for others to try, just as the Open Compute Project is already spreading the wealth of hardware hacking that originated at Facebook.

But SDN was also deemed not relevant for a variety of use cases, and it was also roundly declared a loser, and something that hasn’t really changed in the years since it has hit the network scene.

By comparison, the group had good things to say about, among other things, Software as a Service (SaaS), solid-state drives, enterprise clouds and the devops configuration-management tools Puppet and Chef.

As it turns out, perhaps the key lesson from the conference was the importance of agility over, say, lowering capital and operating expenditures, when it comes to turning out new products and managing infrastructure. Agility can be hard to attain if development and operations aren’t tightly knit. New programs are constantly rolling out nowadays, and they need to be able to scale out without issue on the infrastructure side. That’s where Puppet and Chef can be of use, but investors think there’s room for at least one other company in the market: VCs chose Python-based SaltStack as the winner of the Structure LaunchPad competition.

And the development process on its own has room for more agility., which automates time-intensive processes devs have to toil through each time they begin work on projects, won the LaunchPad’s People’s Choice award.

Even network people see value in thinking less about CLI configuration and more about a twist on devops called netops.

For all the talk about devops and cloud computing more generally, these practices are still not accepted in every IT shop around the globe, leaving plenty of progress to be made in the future. We’ll take the temperature on these concepts and others come September, at our Structure:Europe conference in London.