A strange dichotomy is forming around the emerging market for private clouds.
Despite, or perhaps because of, the relatively slow uptake of the technology so far, vendors continue to introduce ever-more-simplified cloud startup packages. At the same time, though, there seems to be a growing community of integrators, consultants and other experts who insist that the cloud is a lot more complicated than it's made out to be, and getting started is the least of the difficulties.
So which is it? Is the cloud merely the next step in virtual evolution, available with little more trouble than a standard software upgrade? Or is it a major restructuring of all things IT that will require years of architectural re-engineering. Or is it both?
For starters, let's look at some of the latest cloud-in-a-can offerings. The most recent is HP's CloudStart, a mix of hardware, software and services that the company says can get business up and running as cloud providers in less than a month. The package is open source, so it should accommodate a wide range of third-party solutions, such as portals, public cloud services, billing systems and management stacks.
The package relies heavily on HP's Cloud Service Automation toolkit, which covers such functions as provisioning and security, as well as the scaling of services and applications to meet demand. The hardware backbone consists of the HP BladeSystem Matrix augmented by the StorageWorks portfolio, all of which provides clients with tools like one-touch provisioning across various infrastructures, applications and services. The company claims an 80 percent reduction in the provisioning process.
Over at Citrix, the focus is on improving interoperability, scalability and, most importantly, self-service in its OpenCloud platform. To that end, the company has acquired VMLogix a virtualization-management company specializing in cloud environments. The company offers a VM lifecycle-management system that will add a self-service interface to the XenServer platform. This should give private cloud clients the same kind of access and management capabilities found on public cloud services. Citrix is also developing an open management system called OpenStack that should present a unified control point for public and private cloud architectures.
But according to some cloud experts, the thing to keep in mind about the technology is that launching the cloud is, literally, just the beginning. According to Dick Weisinger, chief technologist at Formtek, the real benefit of cloud computing can only be realized if the system is designed and architected from the ground up. And that requires a fair amount of specialized know-how in areas such as auto-provisioning, identity-based security, governance and multi-tenancy.
In truth, according to Computerworld's Bill Claybrook, the complexities involved in setting up the cloud pale in comparison to the challenges of integrating it with both legacy hardware and systems, and the public resources that will undoubtedly form part of the overall data center ecosystem. A transition of this magnitude can only be accomplished over time, most likely in fits and starts, which means the true benefits of the cloud will probably be delayed until the rest of the enterprise catches up.
So which version is real? Probably a little of both. On the one hand, there's enough in the new cloud platforms to simplify the initial deployment phase to at least increase your in-house experience. But we're still talking about a lengthy and complicated transition to a new data environment that ultimately should usher in a new era of portability and flexibility.
That kind of change won't come easily or cheaply.