The word gets bandied about a lot these days, but how well do we really know the cloud?
I'm not talking about defining the cloud anymore, as the industry seems to have finally settled on the broad outlines of the cloud. Instead, I'm referring to the numerous ways in which cloud architectures are taking root in the enterprise, both inside and outside the data center. In other words, are we sure we'll know a cloud when we see one?
According to EMC, we are only at the beginning stages of the cloud transition. Fully realized clouds won't be in place for another seven years or so, which means that despite the wonders we have seen already, more are yet to come. Then again, there will be pitfalls, too. Like someone trying to lose weight, we'll need to rejoice in our triumphs but resist the urge to give in to despair at every setback.
In fact, there is every likelihood that "the" cloud won't exist at all as enterprises select from a wide range of options to suit their business needs. As RightScale found out in a recent survey, many organizations are adopting a multi-cloud strategy in which various architectures are employed simultaneously. Usually, this involves a mix of public, private and hybrid clouds in a quest to build as much diversity into data environments to accommodate increasingly complex and continually shifting user demands.
And if predictions from HP and SAP are to be believed, this is probably the next phase of cloud development. At the recent Cloud Computing World Forum, representatives from both companies were talking about cloud mash-ups, where everything needed for business or personal use, from the desktop image to the Internet to stored information, is accessed from any number of clouds from a single user interface. This dovetails nicely with the increasing variety of access devices hitting the market, and the fact that agility and flexibility will soon come to define winners and losers in a more closely intertwined global economy.
This strategy of multiple clouds will only work if there is a single management system overseeing it all. That's why companies like Red Hat are investing heavily in new management platforms that transcend individual architectures. The company's CloudForms seeks to unify public and private clouds regardless of whose technology they are built on. The system relies on a set of predefined application blueprints to allow for movement across platforms without manual reconfiguration or other tasks. It also provides a self-service portal for users, as well as control and governance tools for admins.
The cloud, then, will exhibit all the diversity, interoperability and, yes, aggravation that traditional data center infrastructure has given us over the years, albeit scaled to extreme levels. And that may be the final clue that the cloud era has truly arrived - when we stop referring to it as "the" cloud and consider it just the normal state of IT infrastructure.