Virtualization is not absolutely necessary for cloud computing, but it does provide the kind of resource efficiencies and dynamic infrastructure that make the cloud worthwhile.
To date, though, most virtual platforms have been deployed to meet more immediate concerns, mainly server consolidation, rather than longer-term strategies involving the structural underpinnings of the IT industry.
But that may be changing as the tech community begins to filter just about everything it does through a cloudy lens. And it would seem that the most crucial area for fostering cloud environments is the virtual layer.
That is primarily driving vendors like Intel to nail down what exactly the cloud will bring to data center operations and how best to accommodate those changes. In its recent Cloud 2015 report, Intel identifies a number of key functions that virtual server environments will need to encompass, including widespread automation and "client-aware" capabilities, as well as a much greater capacity to integrate mobile business solutions into broader data environments. All of this should be aimed at supporting massive hosted environments that can deliver services to large numbers of users simultaneously.
Part of that equation centers around providing users the ability to mix and match applications and resources-to essentially allow them to create their own environments to carry out tasks efficiently and effectively. That will require a fair degree of openness, of course, something the IT industry has had limited success with so far. That's why Intel is spearheading a new consortium, the Open Data Center Alliance (ODCA), aimed at greater technology federation that would foster interoperability among platforms without compromising performance or security. The group is due out soon with a vendor-agnostic roadmap said to lay out 19 data center usage models consisting of specifications governing things like infrastructure, management, security and government.
Meanwhile, VMware has its own ideas over the future of the cloud. As the dominant virtualization provider, VMware has a lot of pull when it comes to tailoring non-physical environments for advanced services. The company has long touted a dynamic cloud in which applications and resources are available to anyone who needs them, and has recently made a number of key acquisitions toward that goal, says IDC's Gary Chen. Companies like SpringSource, a provider of cloud development tools, and systems analyst specialist Integrien indicate VMware is concerned about interoperability and compatibility on the cloud, while buys like TriCipher suggest that security aspects will remain front and center.
A large part of the virtual/cloud equation will also rely on integrated management structures. Companies like SAP are aggressively pursuing this avenue through partnerships aimed at maintaining control of data even as it breaks once-unbreachable barriers both in and out of the data center. SAP is working with Cisco, EMC, VMware and others on a new set of reference architectures aimed at extending its "landscape management solution" across virtual and cloud environments.
Designing the roadmap to digital Nirvana is a relatively simple task. Actually driving the route is another matter entirely. It's unlikely any of these plans will come to fruition without encountering some bumps along the way. And just like in combat, once the real action starts, the first thing to get tossed aside is the rulebook.
Achieving a fully functional, dynamic cloud will certainly require a clear-cut vision and a well-thought-out development strategy, but it will also require many on-the-fly decisions-some of which will be driven by short-term goals. In short, you'll need to stick to the plan as much as possible, innovate when necessary and keep your eyes and ears open to new developments that change the landscape.