Deconstructing Virtualization and the Cloud

Arthur Cole
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Deploying Applications in the Cloud

While there's more talk than actual use of cloud computing in the enterprise, a Zeus Technology survey looks at the beginnings of a major shift under way. Clear expectations and planning can improve your experience and near-term success.

It's been nearly two years since the term "cloud computing" leaked into the IT lexicon and still many leading experts in the field are struggling to come up with a definition.

That has to be a testament to either the cloud's broad impact on all manner of enterprise functions or the fact that it is a nebulous term signifying everything, or nothing at all.

Either way, the hunt is still on for an exact, or at least a satisfactory, definition of what the cloud is and what it isn't.

If there is any consensus, though, it is that cloud computing and virtualization are not one and the same. This fact has to be restated every once in a while following repeated attempts to conflate the two -- either by ignorance or design. Tech consultant Rajan Chandras, for one, took on the subject following reports of Dell's recent purchase of 3PAR in which the two terms were used interchangeably. His take is that while virtualization is largely a simulation of traditional hardware functions within a software environment, cloud computing is a repositioning of standard applications as Internet-based services. The two are interconnected, for sure, but they are not the same.

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Virtualization has taken a firm hold at most enterprises these days, but the fact is we've only just begun to unleash the true potential of the technology.

The 451 Group's Dan Kusnetzky carried the ball even further, noting that virtualization is all about abstracting computing function into logical environments for the sake of increased flexibility, scalability and performance, but cloud computing is the delivery mechanism on which resources can be dispersed over a wide area and to numerous consumers. In this view, virtualization greatly simplifies cloud computing but is not an essential component.

Part of the problem, according to David Linthicum, CTO of services distribution firm Bick Group, is that the cloud is so widely defined already that it can mean almost anything you want it to be. So while the cloud does indeed encompass virtualization, it also incorporates a good deal of multitenancy, auto-provisioning and a host of other concepts. Unfortunately, as more and more virtual products and services are tailored to the cloud, expect to see more confusion regarding the two, not less.

At the risk of muddying the waters even further, I'd like to take my own stab as clarifying this argument, not by focusing on what the cloud and virtualization are, but what they aren't. True, virtualization lets you decouple operating systems, applications and other resources from rigid hardware constraints, but it doesn't let you deliver those resources to a wide audience much beyond your data center walls.

The cloud, on the other hand, does enable the kind of mass distribution of resources by repackaging them as services. But it can only do so on the kind of scale that makes it worthwhile by using an underlying virtual environment.

In that sense then, the confusion shouldn't be so much between virtualization and the cloud, but between the cloud and the various XaaS platforms out there. Specifically, I'd like to know where something like a Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) ends and where the cloud begins, and whether or not either service represents the most efficient and effective use of IT resources.

Any takers on that?

Add Comment      Leave a comment on this blog post
Aug 20, 2010 5:20 AM Wall Fly Wall Fly  says:

The whole point of Cloud is to deliver 'services'. What technology you attempt to explain depends on who you are explaining it to. If you're talking to IT who is trying to deliver services, you talk about Cloud, if you're talking to the rest of the world you're talking about what they want ... 'services'.

The 'Service' is what is important IMHO so the sooner Cloud becomes a commonplace commodity, the sooner we can all focus on what is important "Services" or delivering "Anything as a Service", XaaS.

XaaS is what is important and what is going to usher in a technical revolution of historic proportions.

Aug 20, 2010 7:23 AM Mike McCullough Mike McCullough  says: in response to Wall Fly

I would agree with this statement. Cloud computing is simple a more reliable, flexible, scalable and manageable way to provide computing, the entire point of which is to be able to reliably provide anything as a service ( XaaS ).

Aug 23, 2010 12:21 PM Bill Wagner Bill Wagner  says:

Responding to the original question, it's not a matter of where XaaS ends and where Clouds begin.  Clouds are a general model of delivery/consumption for computing resources, and XaaS are specific instances of that model.  Implemented properly, a low-friction, virtualized, multitenant service-based model should absolutely ensure the most efficient and effective use of IT resources.  Getting there is another matter.


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