Much of the recent talk about cloud computing misses, or tends to gloss over, one central point: that the term is more of a concept than an actual, deployable IT technology.
That is part of the reason so many vendors are issuing new systems, perhaps sprinkled with a smattering of virtualization, and calling them "cloud-ready" or "cloud-enabled." By that definition, I guess my lawn mower is "cloud-ready" because it allows me to maintain the property in which I communicate to you, through the cloud.
A more accurate means of describing the changes taking place in the data center would be to focus specifically on the kinds of services being provided. And of all the service paradigms that have come along, none is more revolutionary than Infrastructure-as-a-Service. This is where the rubber meets the road in advanced virtual architectures because it seeks to fulfill the promise of a number of previous technologies, including grid computing and virtualization itself: the ability to outsource not just resources or applications, but entire data center infrastructure to a third party.
Recent research from The Yankee Group seems to indicate that IaaS is not just a passing fad. Already, nearly a quarter of "cloud-enabled" enterprises are implementing some form of IaaS, according to the group's most recent survey. That number could rise to more than 50 percent in the next two years. To be sure, the old bugaboos of security and reliability figure high on the list of concerns, but those tend to subside as experience with the new technology grows.
Implementation should also see a jump with the wide variety of IaaS platforms hitting the channel. Companies like Hexagrid Computing are devising all-in-one IaaS platforms, in the case the VxDatacenter 1.5, capable of delivering multi-tenant infrastructure by connecting users to virtual servers, storage and other resources through an intelligent fabric architecture. The Vx platform provides a range of tools, such as business channel management, tiered image and appliance management and network isolation, designed not just to manage virtual resources, but to streamline revenue channels and foster business processes.
IaaS is also turning into a lucrative new revenue stream for resellers and system integrators. Arrow Enterprise Computing Solutions recently kicked up its Arrow Fusion service with new IaaS capabilities that allow partners and customers to access and resell data center resources as services, rather than as hardware. The company recently brought in a new management stack from Terremark that provides tools like managed hosting and self-service application access.
Even top-tier manufacturers are getting into the act through initiatives like HP's AllianceOne Program. One of the latest entrants is Cloud.com, which delivers a range of IaaS products to HP's service provider and enterprise client base. The partnership is focused largely on migrating data from traditional siloed infrastructure to Cloud.com's CloudStack solution. Once in place, the system is designed to provide a scalable, multi-tiered infrastructure that is integrated with internal HP servers, storage and networking.
The biggest question surrounding IaaS is whether it will remain an adjunct to traditional enterprise environments or form the basis of a fully outsourced infrastructure. The potential for the latter is certainly there, particularly for small businesses, although larger firms seem unlikely to shed their hard-won architectures anytime soon.
In the long term, however, IaaS could very well provide equal reliability at a dramatically lower cost. If that comes to pass, we will stop talking about the enterprise as just another function of business and start talking about it as a completely separate industry.