To Cloud or not to Cloud, Better Yet, What is a Cloud?

While doing a quick Google search to find what a Cloud is, I have found several different definitions which depend on which vendor site you pull up.  One thing is for sure despite the frequent use of the term, it still means different things to different people and or companies. For my reference point I am going to use the National Institute of Standards and Technology definition referenced by Texiwill’s NIST Cloud Computing Definitions Final article.

If you look at some of the different cloud providers like Google, Amazon, Microsoft and VMware they are each building their own version of the cloud. Some methods will utilize virtualization and others will not.  One thing I know for sure is that the cloud will need to be dynamically scalable and will need to be delivered on demand over the internet.  A believe most, if not all of these cloud providers will be running hybrid clouds that will be made up of public, private and quite possibly community clouds as well.I have spent some time in my career working for different companies providing managed services for their clients.  The idea of managed services is like outsourcing your IT team to a third party to administer and maintain your infrastructure. In this type of setting a blanket security policy and deployment procedures are in place for all managed clients with the ability for the client to create exceptions in that policy based on the needs of that company.  In the current form every client is kept separate and isolated from all the other clients. These client computers maybe on or off site and all racked up together and caged off in the datacenter.

Is the cloud going to redefine how managed services are handled for the different clients moving forward?  I have not seen any company’s services combined in any way yet and in fact even different businesses areas or companies within a parent company are still being completely segregated. In some cases different business units of a parent company have segregated services that they all use.  Email and virtualization are two prime examples of services that could be combined managed, maintained and shared in a cloud but yet the political landscape and the politics involved have forced these and any other services to be segregated and running on separately maintained and owned hardware.

Services, like Google’s Gmail, would not be segregated and all the clients would be run in parallel on the same cloud infrastructure separated by security procedures and policies put into place.  Will the larger Fortune 500 companies be more willing to share services with others or will they prefer to not play with others?  I think this will really depend on if the cloud would be for all infrastructures and services for the company or if the company is just going to have a specific service, like email, managed by the third party.

From what I see today, where I work, there is not much interest in combining segregated business areas. In fact, so far from what I have seen personally the only true interest has been to consolidate support services in places like India and Argentina. In the time that I have been working in managed services I do not see the direction of consolidating services into a shared cloud. In the future I see things ending up that way, with the Cloud Security Alliance working on defining the policy and procedures of the segregation of the services or application within the cloud to offer more opportunity for consolidation as well as a better return on investment from not having multiple servers all doing the same thing. In that same thought wasn’t this one of the big selling points of virtualization to begin with?  In some ways the cloud is an extension of the thought processes and methodology of virtualization; As stated at the latest Boston VMware vForum keynote “the Cloud is virtualization with automation.”

With technology moving at the speed of light and the big push for the cloud happening all around us it will be interesting to see what the future entails.  What do you see happening in your environments?

Steve Beaver (148 Posts)

Stephen Beaver is the co-author of VMware ESX Essentials in the Virtual Data Center and Scripting VMware Power Tools: Automating Virtual Infrastructure Administration as well as being contributing author of Mastering VMware vSphere 4 and How to Cheat at Configuring VMware ESX Server. Stephen is an IT Veteran with over 15 years experience in the industry. Stephen is a moderator on the VMware Communities Forum and was elected vExpert for 2009 and 2010. Stephen can also be seen regularly presenting on different topics at national and international virtualization conferences.

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4 Responses to To Cloud or not to Cloud, Better Yet, What is a Cloud?

  1. June 9, 2010 at 9:34 PM

    You pose interesting questions there.

    Is “the cloud” going to redefine how managed services are handled for the different clients moving forward? I think “The Cloud” is simply a marketing term imo wrapping up a number of different services in one bite size sales gimmic to CIOs.

    “Managed services” is effectively ‘The Cloud’. Will managed services providers have to work smarter and harder and offer better value? Yes, because what they currently provide, as a service, is being offered by other parties in sum or parts.

    There was a very interesting presenation from Jim Moyle of VisionApp in Frankfurt last week – that (he’s also presenting at Briforum next week fact fans). In this presentation he talked through utilising IaaS vendor’s environments to accomodate additional load using a variety of technologies including Citrix XenApp 6. His findings were that IaaS may not necessarily be a solution for everyone: and that the service providers at the moment have a number of obstacles to overcome for this ‘desktop/application provision’ environment

    Today I was speaking with a VP at a major pharamcutical company who have recently adopted Microsoft’s BPOS (Business Productivity Online Service) – effectively, they were using it as a managed Exchange Mail service. Why MS when other services are ‘free’? Because MS were better placed to offer that business a service and could meet certain legal data requirements for where information was stored. But, I was also speaking to a university and they’d moved to GMail – a free solution that met their needs in providing email services to their students while removing the cost of hosting such services from a sector that is struggling for funds. In these instances the cloud is a service (email) hosted on infrastructure that you may, or may not, need to know about.

    I speak to a lot of UK government departments – who are being actively encouraged to adopt “The Cloud”. The Cloud here is a method of combining buying power and sharing services – and those services range from applications through to infrastructure. If this was 2-3 years ago this wouldn’t be ‘the cloud’ it’d be ‘shared services’. Thats a great goal for government to drive down their service costs – but, in the UK, the organisational structure for government means that it is difficult for different parts of government – national or local – to cross charge and bill services and no method of guaranteeing service levels: indeed – is government sharing services anti-competitive and should that service ve offered to the private sector?

    You pose “what is the cloud”. Ultimately I think you make a good point – is it really ‘managed services’ in a comedy moustache and glasses? No I don’t think so either – but Managed Services as a concept needs to morph I think. There is a mass of IT ‘stuff’ in the interconnected network that is The Internet. Your company is able to buy CPU and storage from that “stuff” – it used to be monthly – now its hourly; your company can choose to build their own services that use that CPU and storage – or *rent* services from a service provider – per user or per transaction.

    Its a little like a car. You can make you own car *from scratch*: very expensive and time consuming – it may not be a very good car. You can buy the parts and build your own car. You can buy the car from a variety of dealers. You can have a custom made car. YOu can dispense with your own car and join a car pool scheme. You can order a taxi. YOu can hire a car. Each “service” has its own advantages and disdvantages. Fundamentally, you make use of a car.

    Likewise – The Cloud is a wrap name for “IT resource” which sounds far less cool. You can manage your own IT resource..well you get the rest. I don’t think “the cloud” is a thing “to embrace” – its a wrap for a number of different – sometimes complimentary, sometimes exclusive, IT resources

    IMO “The Cloud” in its purest form is buying IT resource as you need it, when you need for what it is that you need at that time – “the Taxi” of IT services. Sometimes its convenient and cheaper than an alternative, sometimes its unncessarily expensive, if you book and negotiate in advance in advance it can be cheaper. There is a reliance on the operative to do a good job – sometimes if not properly managed you can be overcharged. It can be complex to buy into if you’ve brought your own food, sometimes you have to share and sometimes you wait for ages and the service is awful…. obviously I can go on…

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