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Wednesday, September 01, 2010

VMworld: Private Cloud & Random Musings

I went to catch up with my friends coming to VMworld 2010 at San Francisco from around the world and ended up meeting some upcoming technology players as well. In the course of my discussions, I recognized the existence of a lot more energy in the cloud ecosystem – big and small, private and public cloud service providers and enterprises seriously exploring adoption opportunities.

First on VMware : The most important message that is coming across clearly is the ambition of VMware in becoming a key player across the stack - covering server and desktop virtualization and application platforms. This comes at a time when the number of virtualized servers set up this year exceeded the number of actual physical servers set up and this is expected to grow further – we have seen projections that show that the installed base of virtual machines will grow 5Xin three years. One can see in VMware’s strategy a broadly outlined roadmap for internal clouds built on the server virtualization hypervisor layer with an integrated management (including security) backplane directly as part of the platform. Clearly, it is time for more established infrastructure players like BMC, CA, HP to be concerned about. I liked their announcement to provide more robust support and agility to port between internal and external Clouds – this move makes VMware a more strong player in the cloud ecosystem. VMware’s ambition does not end with being just the operating system for the data center, but wants to be a big player with the means of assuring the flow of enterprise bits between data centers —a synonym for cloud to many. VMware knows the cloud is nebulous in terms of where information can travel, but it also knows that enterprises are uncomfortable with the nebulous and uncontrolled flow of bits, so it’s acquiring companies and offering products that will help it create the logical boundaries in an IT atmosphere veering toward abstraction. VMware is building a new application platform for next generation cloud applications leveraging SpringSource and partnering with Salesforce.com through vmforce.

Since it is VMworld, it always begs the question what next for their customers. After all, the percentage of new servers running virtualization as the primary boot option will approach 90 percent by 2012, according to analysts. For many moving apps into cloud becomes a next logical step. Afterall, the movement toward private clouds started, with the virtualized data center and virtualized desktops. The movement toward broader cloud computing began for the enterprise with data center virtualization and consolidation of server, storage, and network resources to reduce redundancy and wasted space and equipment with measured planning of both architecture (including facilities allocation and design) and process. Depending on the maturity of their adoption cycle, enterprises end up adopting different flavors of the cloud.I always maintain that business would embrace the right cloud at the right time – be it private, hybrid or public but the eventual goal would be to move everything into the public cloud to leverage true cloud benefits. While this may look logical, the path was not always a direct one for all embracing such a journey. Many approaches are being tried – the most ambitious one the introduction of publicly shared core services—much like domain name system (DNS) and peering services—into carrier and service provider networks will enable a more loosely coupled relationship between the customer and the cloud provider. With such infrastructure and services enables, enterprises will be able to choose among service providers, and federated service providers will be able to share service loads. Implication: Such a looser relationship will increase the elasticity of the cloud market and create a single, public, open cloud internetwork: the intercloud. Now, with federation and application portability as the cornerstones of the intercloud, businesses will be able to achieve business process freedom and innovate, and users will experience choice and faster, better services. Obviously a journey like this involves careful planning, co-ordination and provides leverageable opportunities across the board. Consulting majors have defined approaches to help business move along this path as painlessly as could be possible.It is actually a good thing that VMware has realized that virtualisation is a commodity now and management of virtual solutions is the key
Lets begin at the beginning to re-emphasize the perspective on cloud computing. Cloud computing model ought to provide resources and services , abstracted from the underlying infrastructure and provided on demand and at scale in a multi-tenant environment. In addition to its on-demand quality and its scalability, cloud computing can provide the enterprise with some key advantages like :

- Global deployment & support capabilities, with policy-based control by geography and other factors
- Operational efficiency from consistent infrastructure, policy-based automation, and trusted multi-tenant operations
- Integrated service management interfaces ( catalog management, provisioning etc.)native to the cloud
- Regulatory compliance ( both global and local) through automated data policies
- Better TCO and increased ease of operations

If we examine cloud computing particularly private clouds through this prism , it throws up some interesting insights. Different enterprises are getting ready to embrace the cloud but have different starting points and not without much trade-off analysis as to the best direction or computing model. To add to the confusion, I saw in the VMWorld meet, a number of players (some promising, I should say), talk about helping in setting private clouds in a manner suggesting a simplistic switch to the clouds. I also know that there are some cloud service players offering to provide readymade solutions to make business embrace private clouds faster and easier to adopt. This is startling so to say – a readymade solution may be farfetched ( clear analogy : a decade back some were promising to make enterprises web ready easily – we all know how different it is to enable business to be web enabled – certainly no readymade solutions nor shortcuts could have worked there). Migration, workload balancing, and integration – all are overbearing issues to be resolved and certainly not minor things to be glossed over. The problem is that transitioning to a cloud-enabled environment can involve large degrees of technical, cultural and budgetary evolution, and it is of utmost importance that organizations deploy the right solution. Private clouds should be differentiated with hybrid clouds. (Note :A hybrid cloud uses both external (under the control of a vendor) and internal (under the control of the enterprise) cloud capabilities to meet the needs of an application system. A private cloud lets the enterprise choose, and control the use of, both types of resources).

Evidently, cloud shift is not an easy journey. The greatest barrier to cloud adoption would be for enterprises to make that switch – that would mean crossing so many issues centered on excitement to fear and uncertainty. This is a paradigm shift and not just an incremental change and as such would require planning, co-ordination and leadership to traverse the path. Initially, the administrative change would be far more pronounced as the shift happens and if this is entrusted to an external vendor – it would call for serious planning and training as the new environment would be dramatically different from what existed in the past.

Business need to be wary of so called cloud solutions that are made to look like off-the-shelf cloud solutions given that there is a frenzied interest in business circles to adopt cloud in some form. Genuinely some would go for the most ell thought out, most rigorous approach and at the other end there would be some wanting to embrace cloud in a tentative, easy to slip-in manner. The level of confusion in how to adopt from business side seems to be in lock with the high decibel, cloud - easy to embrace target marketing. This state of affairs may tempt business to look for solutions that stretches their infrastructure a bit but leverages more of what they have – a combination clearly far from ideal.

New partnership and alliances between cloud service providers and consulting firms are providing a good onramp towards private, hybrid and public clouds. This should reassure business for a variety of reasons – choice, balance in terms of solution and broad body of expertise that comes together. Initiatives like this could slowly begin to bring an orderly discipline towards cloudswitch by enterprises. This should also facilitate adding flexibility to selectively opt –out part of services in their portfolio be it towards migrating to other clouds, or integrating with other clouds etc. With a robust ecosystem like this, solidified solutions specific to each and every business needs (emphasis is on distinct customized solutions) with multitenant architectures measurable on multiple factors like scalability, agility, access, flexibility etc should begin to provide a reasonably firm cloud foundation for business. The message is watch not only for the right cloud but also look for the right ecosystem and right consulting methodology to get enduring benefits.

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