The Fundamentals of Cloud Computing

Michael Vizard

There's a lot of talk about cloud computing these days. In fact, there's more talk than action. Nevertheless, cloud computing is set to forever change the way we think about managing enterprise IT.

During a recent online Efficient Data Center summit that can be viewed here, IT leaders such as Anil Karmel, solutions architect for Los Alamos National Labs, Harkeeret Singh, global head of energy optimization for Thomson Reuters, and Jeff Tobolski, director of infrastructure research and development for Accenture Technology Labs, discussed how cloud computing will change the way we think about managing data centers.

*Classes of Cloud Computing

As noted during a cloud computing session led by Zen Kishimoto, a principal analyst with AltaTerra Research Network, there are multiple classes of cloud computing. The most commonly known form is the public cloud, which essentially means running applications on shared IT infrastructure that is managed by some other organization. There are already hundreds of public cloud service providers, and the purchasing pendulum has definitely swung in favor of the buyer.

A second class of cloud computing is known as private cloud computing. At its core, a private cloud refers to an internal IT organization using virtualization technologies to share IT infrastructure across multiple applications. Private cloud computing will generally require new tools to manage the IT environment and in some instances may even push some IT organizations to embrace next-generation integrated servers.

The core argument for investing in a private cloud is that an internal IT organization can deliver all the benefits of 'cloud computing' in a more secure way and that it gives a company more control over its IT environment.

*The Subtleties of Cloud Computing

If these were the only two cloud computing options, the cloud computing debate would essentially be little more than an extension of the arguments over outsourcing. Things get complicated when the concept of virtual data centers is added the discussion.

A virtual data center is a logical set of IT assets that are deployed on top of virtual machines. Because these assets leverage virtual machines, they can run on either public or private cloud infrastructure. On a public cloud, a virtual data center provides the security benefits of a private cloud. In essence, a virtual data center can render a lot of the debate over public versus private cloud computing moot.


Still others will argue that virtual data centers will prove to be the foundation for a hybrid cloud computing model under which application workloads will dynamically move across public and private cloud computing infrastructure. Some are skeptical of this model. They argue there is no need for dedicated private cloud infrastructure on a customer's premise at all because the applications will perform better and will be more secure if the application workloads all run in one central location. The mere act of incurring network bandwidth costs just to transfer data back and forth between a public and private cloud adds unnecessary expense, they argue.

Others argue that the extended transition to cloud computing is going to require some form of a hybrid approach in the interim. Conversely, some proponents of private cloud computing argue that public cloud infrastructure is going to be little more than an extension of the internal enterprise IT that will only be called upon to handle peak application workloads. As such, public and private cloud computing platforms need to be holistically managed using a common systems management framework.

*New Management Models

Regardless of how cloud computing evolves, the way we think about managing IT is changing. It used to be that each server, network and storage element of the data center required separate management tools.

But in the last year we've seen the rise of comprehensive management frameworks, such as Oracle Enterprise Manager. These frameworks not only automate routine IT management tasks, they also allow fewer IT people to manage larger sets of servers, networks and storage resources as one logical entity.

This translates into a reduction in the number of tools and IT personnel required to manage the data center environment, as well as an overall IT environment that is simpler to manage. This trend, known as 'data center convergence' is altering the IT landscape as vendors vie for dominance over the data center, versus simply concentrating on a particular IT infrastructure specialty.

*The Need for IT Agility

By investing in cloud computing and data center convergence, IT organizations are trying to reduce the total cost of IT, while making IT more flexible.

But it will take years to reach this new agile IT nirvana. The companies that effectively master the various forms of cloud computing first will have a competitive IT edge over business rivals for years to come.



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