First virtualization, then the cloud. That pretty much sums up the game plan for most enterprises these days.
The reality is quite a bit different. Aside from networking issues like 10 GbE and unified fabrics, there is the not-insignificant issue of automation. And as many of you are finding out, automation in the virtual world is a completely different animal than in the physical world.
But while most virtual automation conversations tend to drift toward virtual sprawl and other management issues, the real key, according to Mark Townsend, director of solutions management for Enterasys Networks, is transparency. To transfer virtual infrastructure into the kind of dynamic environment needed to support advanced services like the cloud, there needs to be a "cross-functional" transparency between VMs and network provisioning applications. And that means greater integration between the two environments, offering a single view that can easily translate the changes made by various operating groups.
The transition from virtual to the cloud can be distilled down to a five-step process, according to CA's Andi Mann. First, virtual environments need tailored management stacks that accommodate particular needs like configuration, capacity planning and real-time automation. Second, avoid the trap of thinking you can just repurpose your physical toolset for your virtual systems. New architectures require new management approaches. Third, lifecycle management needs to shift from point solutions to an integrated package covering all aspects of the process. Fourth, you need to integrate systems management across all domains of the enterprise, including the human ones. And finally, recognize that virtual management and automation play just as important a role in cloud computing as managing and maintaining services.
In the end, according to F5's Don MacVittie, you should strive for a data center in which new instances can be called up, perform successfully without user intervention and then be automatically disposed of upon completion of the project. As little as five years ago, this seemed like a pipe dream, but over the past two years, advances in this kind of adaptable infrastructure is quickly turning it into a necessity.
Anyone looking to capitalize on the need for cloud platforms had better realize the need for advanced automation. Quest Software certainly caught on quickly with the acquisition of the Surgient Automation Platform. The buy gave it instant access to VM self-provisioning tools for Microsoft virtual environments, which should help the company simplify the process of launching and then maintaining cloud platforms.
In the past, automation was seen as a means to improve performance and lower costs. In the virtual/cloud universe, automation will be an integral component of the environment. As resources become decoupled from underlying infrastructure and more control over the operating environment is transferred from IT professionals to users, organizations without solid automation capabilities simply won't be able to keep up.