First virtualization, then the public cloud, followed by the private cloud, the hybrid cloud, and finally one giant, integrated data environment capable of supporting any load, any application, any service, on-demand and at a fraction of the cost of today’s data infrastructure.
It sure sounds good, and it is most certainly possible given the technology development arcs currently under way. But it is by no means a done deal and, as with all grand visions of the future, this one tends to gloss over the enormous challenges that lie ahead.
According to a recent survey conducted by Palmer Research and QuinStreet Enterprises, publisher of ITBusinessEdge.com and other sites, nearly two thirds of enterprise executives are gearing up for private cloud deployment, either for internal functions like test/dev and employee management or various value-chain applications. At the same time, the public cloud is increasingly giving way to customer-facing applications, such as online payments and product promotions and marketing. The blending of these two architectures is widely seen as the natural progression from a strictly internal infrastructure to a dynamic, scalable enterprise environment, albeit one that still provides adequate security and management for critical apps and data.
Wanting is not the same as having, however. And the fact is that a fully functioning hybrid environment is still largely unproven in the field, with issues like integration, orchestration and overall functionality looming very large. A key concern is the fact that applications written and optimized for internal infrastructure behave very differently, and not nearly as well, when ported to the cloud, where issues like multitenancy and resource allocation tend to hamper performance.
That’s where companies like VMware and Microsoft say they have an edge. They argue that by leveraging their already strong presences within the data center, they are in a much better position to foster a smooth transition to the cloud. Microsoft, for example, has been touting its Azure platform as the natural extension of Windows Server environments already in place, and is working toward changing its licensing programs and other facets of its business model to enable hybrid functionality.
At the same time, VMware says it has been pushing so hard on network virtualization and software defined networking (SDN) precisely because they speed up the transition to a fully functioning hybrid infrastructure. By placing all three pillars of the physical data center – servers, storage and networking – on the virtual plane, VMware says it can foster an environment in which resources can be provisioned and removed entirely in logic, ultimately allowing the enterprise to build data and application environments on the fly with little thought to where they reside or how they relate to the physical world.
Hybrid infrastructure, then, could very well become a common means to support standard enterprise applications. But will it emerge as the dominant infrastructure for all applications? Not if your business requires high-speed transactional processing, says Morgan Stanley’s Michael O’Toole. For the moment, at least, the cloud is simply too slow for core financial applications, considering that a few milliseconds can turn a million-dollar profit into a million-dollar loss. The company is, in fact, pursuing a hybrid strategy, but it is intended for back-office applications like workflow processing and service request fulfillment. In addition to latency, the cloud also suffers from a lack of standards and proper benchmarks to gauge the efficacy of various solutions, O’Toole said.
As I mentioned above, however, there is nothing to prevent the hybrid cloud from becoming the standard enterprise infrastructure for the new millennium. It’s just that, at the moment, we’re not there yet.
Hybrid technology is still a work in progress, however, and at least there is a discernible goal on the horizon.