With VMworld 2011 around the corner whose booth’s should you visit? Well if you are an enterprise who is contemplating or planning to put in a Private Cloud (also known as IT as a Service) then selecting the right management tool with which to build and manage your Private Cloud should be at or near the top of your mind.  VMware clearly agrees as they have announced and delivered vCloud Director specifically to meet this need, and have also made significant enhancements to the vSphere 5 product line in order to position vSphere 5 as a “Private Cloud Suite”. So after you go see vCloud Director, what else should you go see? 

VMware clearly has two dogs in this fight. The first is that VMware intends for the vSphere product line to be THE platform upon which private cloud and IT as a Service Initiatives are built. On this front, VMware is the clear market and technical leader. The second arena of interest is the management software that is needed on top of the virtualization platform on order for IT to be able to deliver a managed, secure, automated and well performing private cloud to its business constituents.

The relationship between the platform and management stack is depicted in the diagram below which VMware used to illustrate its upgraded Cloud Infrastructure Stack. Noticed the two distinct layers of the stack, the platform (vSphere) and the management stack above the platform (vCloud Director). Note that in the diagram below, Compute, Network and Storage is vSphere, and that Users, Policies, Virtual Datacenters, and Catalogs is vCloud Director.

Private Cloud and IT as a Service Management Stack Solutions Criteria

Now just because you have chosen vSphere as your virtualization, IT as a Service or Private Cloud Platform, does not mean that you  necessarily have to choose VMware as your vendor of the cloud management stack. For that matter the same applies to the vendors of all of the other virtualization platforms. If you are running Hyper-V, Xen, or KVM, there is nothing in the decision to run those virtualization platforms that dictates that you use their private cloud management stacks. The most important part of making this decision is in fact to get your criteria together, and then see which products stack up best against those criteria. Our suggested criteria are:

  • Cross Platform, Physical and Virtual. The first question you should ask yourself is whether your private cloud initiative is a use case of the virtualization platform you have, or whether your private cloud initiative should span multiple virtualization platforms, and even the idea of being able to deliver services that are provisioned on physical hardware. If you want to maximize your choices, you should clearly pick a product that supports most of the major hypervisors, and that also has hooks into physical provisioning systems so that automated service delivery can extend to services that require physical resources.
  • Rapid Dynamic Scale Out and Tear Down. Also known as elasticity, this is a key attribute of a private cloud platform. For applications that are built to scale out when additional demand materializes it is critical that the platform be able to rapidly provision scaled out instances of one or more layers of the application system. The system should then be able to just as rapidly destroy the extra virtual machines as the demand drops off – freeing up resources for other uses.
  • Enterprise Ready. This is one of the key differences between the various private cloud and IT as a Service management solutions. This includes the ability to scale out to meet the needs of large enterprises, the ability to be manageable at scale, support for whatever virtual and physical environments that the customer has, and support integration with existing enterprise management tools.
  • Service Delivery Definition and Automation. Every private cloud solution has the ability to define services. The question is to what level can services be defined. Is a service just a VM in an IaaS scenario? Or is a service a full multi-tiered application, with certain tiers designed to auto-scale based upon demand. Can a library of reusable objects be created that eases the repetitive definition of similar services? What controls (see RBAC below) are available to determine who can do what, and what kind of a process or approval checklist does something that has been requested go through before it is actually deployed.
  • Configuration Management. Part of defining a service is obviously defining the configuration for that service, and then ensuring that when the service actually runs, it is running in an environment with the required configuration. This capability includes the ability to ensure that the proper configuration for a service remain present after the service is deployed, which requires continuous monitoring of configuration profiles and detection of configuration drift.
  • Role Based Access Controls. Full administrative control of a private cloud management system includes the ability to cause arbitrary numbers of workloads with arbitrary resource requirements to get deployed onto an infrastructure in a fully automated manner. Needless to say if the wrong people have the ability to  deploy any workload that they wish, then Service Assurance (see below) will be impossible, and owners of performance critical applications will resist their deployment on private clouds. Therefore RBAC must be combined with Policy Based Permissions (below) to ensure that all of the users and the administrators of the system have the ability to do their jobs in the most efficient manner possible, but also to limit the potential for harmful actions to the greatest extent possible.
  • Policy Based Permissions. While the goal of an private cloud is to be able to deploy customer initiated workloads in a fully automated manner, except in the cases of development, test, and training workloads, having fully automation without policies is simply not practical. Therefore you should carefully assess the types of workloads that you plan to deploy on your private cloud, and make sure that the policy engine and the RBAC controls match the Service Assurance requirements of your applications.
  • Robust Service Catalog Functionality. The Service Catalog is the user interface of your private cloud. This is where you show how easy it is to do business with you to your business constituents, and hopefully where you convince them to use your automated service delivery system instead of one from a public cloud. Ease of use, flexibility and the ability to brand the catalog (make it yours) are all critical parts of a robust service catalog offering as is the ability to easily surface the actual service that your customer wants in the catalog.
  • Workload Prioritization and Service Assurance. This is an emerging area of importance for private clouds and IT as a Service initiatives. The bottom line is that applications owners want service and performance assurances for their applications. Meeting this need will first require that applications performance be measured (see the new Virtualization Practice White Paper – Applications Performance Management for Virtualized and Cloud Hosted Applications). Then there will need to be integration between the products that measure applications performance, and the underlying private cloud platform. Since this is a new area, the most important thing to look for here is API’s in the private cloud platform that allow the APM solutions to send control messages to the private cloud platform, which would in turn allow the private cloud platform to take the actions necessary to ensure adequate performance.
  • Public and Private Cloud Deployment Options. While the first reason to put in place a private cloud management solution might well be to deliver your IT resources as a service, the ultimately correct answer is to be able to intelligently deploy services on either or both internal clouds and external clouds depending upon performance requirements, security requirements, policies, and costs. The minimum feature to look for now is the ability to deploy not only to data center resident hypervisors, but also to one or more popular public clouds. In the future making these deployment decisions based upon both technical and economic factors will be the single most important feature of Private Cloud and IT as a Service solutions.
  • Integration with Security Tools and Policies. There is no sense in automating the deployment of a service into your private cloud if you cannot ensure that the correct security policies and controls are in place when the service gets deployed and remains in place for the duration of the services existence. This will be especially critical as services get moved between virtual data centers in the enterprise, and across private and public clouds.
Your VMworld 2011 Private Cloud and IT as a Service Solution Short List
So whose booth should you go visit. Here is our list:
  • VMware (vCloud Director). VMware is trying to meet two needs with vCloud Director. The first is that by combining vCloud Director, vCloud Request Manager, and vShield, and enterprise can put up a secure self-service IaaS cloud based upon the vSphere platform. The second is selling the same software to service providers so that they can host vSphere compatible clouds for enterprise customers who might want to move workloads from internal data centers to those public clouds. The value of vCloud Director is the tight integration and focus upon the vSphere platform. This is, however, also the basis of its biggest weakness as this is the only private cloud management stack that supports only one virtualization platform (vSphere) and one hypervisor (Esxi), and does not support provisioning on physical resources.
  • Quest (Cloud Automation Platform). Quest acquired Surgient which was at the time a market leading private cloud management platform used primarily by enterprises to manage transient workload based services like Development, Test, QA and Training. These use cases remain the focus of Quest with the now renamed Cloud Automation Platform, and the product retains its considerable advantages in maturity and installed based for these use cases. CAP includes support for multiple virtualization platforms and provisioning on physical resources.
  • Abiquo. Abiquo is one of the “new” cloud management platforms. Abiquo has focused from the start upon the multi-hypervisor case and upon delivering scale-out production environments front-ended by a robust service catalog. The solution already includes a guaranteed resource reservation system which puts it at the front of the line for putting performance critical applications into a private cloud.
  • DynamicOps. DynamicOps arguably started the category of enterprise competent private cloud and IT as a Service solutions. The company is a spin-out of Credit Suisse and the product was build first and foremost to meet the needs of a highly scaled out and highly complicated global enterprise with multiple virtual and physical environments. DynamicOps probably has more enterprise customers with private clouds in production than any other vendor, and definitely warrants a look.
  • Embotics. While the focus of this article is upon large enterprises with their massive scale and complexity, we should not forget the SMB and SME who can benefit from private clouds and IT as a Service just as much as a large company. Embotics has focused upon delivering an affordable, fully integrated (into one product), easy to implement solution that provides value to customers in just hours after initial installation.
  • Platform Computing. Platform Computing is the acknowledged market leader for high performance management resource allocation software. Platform has taken some of its resource management capabilities and combined them with new private cloud management functionality to create Platform ISF. Platform ISF supports multiple hypervisors, virtual and physical provisioning, as well as very robot resource management and reservations.
  • Gale Technologies. Gale Technologies is a private cloud platform that features a very extensible model for supporting additional virtual and physical provisioning scenarios.
  • Cisco (newScale). newScale was the market leader for a service catalog that ran on top of any virtualization platform and also supported delivering services on physical hardware. Cisco acquired newScale earlier this year. newScale is still a very rich private cloud offering, with the added benefit of deep Cicso UCS integration, offering the ability to deliver a UCS based private cloud with or without the presence of a virtualization platform.
  • Citrix (Cloud.com).  Prior to the acquisition by Citrix Cloud.com has amassed an impressive set of customers in the service provider realm, who used Cloud.com as the software stack to build and manage their public clouds.  Citrix with the Cloud.com stack and its involvement in OpenStack (promising to deliver an enterprise ready version of OpenStack for the Enterprise), is now VMware’s most formidable competitor in software stacks for public clouds. It remains to be seen what kind of traction these initiatives will get in the enterprise where Citrix’s focus is very much upon desktop virtualization largely delivered on top of VMware’s vSphere platform.
  • Eucalyptus. If you are using Amazon EC2 as your public cloud and would like your internal cloud to be as compatible with and similar to Amazon EC2 as possible,then Eucalyptus is your private cloud management stack.
  • Skytap.  Skytap is a full blown public cloud offering a full functional hosted environment for development, QA and test of applications. Since many private clouds are first targeted at these use cases, Skytap’s message is “why bother standing that up yourself, we already have the best one, just rent it from us”.
Who Fits Where
The diagram below plots the Private Cloud and IT as a Service vendors on two dimensions. The vertical dimension involves the use case of the cloud – for test/dev, as an internal production application platform, or as an offering by a service provider. The horizontal dimension involves the size of the cloud which is in some way related to the size of the organization – going from SMB/SME at the low end, through enterprise clouds, but to public cloud scale.
The diagram points out two dichotomies that enterprises should be very aware of when selecting a private cloud platform. The first is whether or not the solution is actually designed for production application enterprise use as its primary focus. The products in the middle circle in the diagram largely meet this requirement. The second is whether or not the product is built for enterprise scale. This is not just a question of more scale is better. Platforms that focus purely upon scale at the expense of the kind of backward compatibility and enterprise integration are not a better fit for enterprises than are platforms that provide the required scale, but do provide these features.
Conclusion
What this means at the end of the day is that the SMB/SME market has unique requirements for simplicity, cost, and time to value that are uniquely met by Embotics. If you are focused upon test and dev needs then Quest CAP or Skytap are certainly the places to start looking. The real tradeoff is for enterprises, who need to decide to what degree to choose something that was really designed for a public cloud (in order to become as much like a public cloud as possible), or whether to choose something that was designed to bring enterprise virtualization forward into a enterprise private cloud or IT as a Service scenario. It will likely be impossible to find ultimate public cloud and enterprise integration features in one solution.

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Bernd Harzog (336 Posts)

Bernd Harzog is the Analyst at The Virtualization Practice for Performance and Capacity Management and IT as a Service (Private Cloud).

Bernd is also the CEO and founder of APM Experts a company that provides strategic marketing services to vendors in the virtualization performance management, and application performance management markets.

Prior to these two companies, Bernd was the CEO of RTO Software, the VP Products at Netuitive, a General Manager at Xcellenet, and Research Director for Systems Software at Gartner Group. Bernd has an MBA in Marketing from the University of Chicago.

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