It seems like everywhere you turn for advice on the cloud these days, someone has an agenda. Service providers want you to adopt the public cloud in a big way while hardware vendors say the best thing is the private cloud.
And even those who advocate hybrid infrastructure tend to specialize in that area, or at best are trying to maintain some presence in the enterprise by linking new hardware platforms with scalable public resources.
But as we’ve mentioned in the past, no solution is fool-proof. Fools are simply too ingenious. So while all three options have their strong and weak points, the smart IT executive will start thinking in terms of workloads rather than infrastructure when it comes to fulfilling business objectives, says Business Spectator’s David Hanrahan (registration required). The trick is to not corner yourself into any one architecture but to build a flexible environment in which workloads can be easily ported to the ideal solution, preferably in a fully automated fashion. In this way, the enterprise gains not just a measurable improvement in productivity but a dramatic cost reduction in the IT budget and an improved competitive position in an increasingly data-driven economy.
As IT Business Edge pointed out last month, however, the devil is in the details, which in this case will reside primarily on the management and interconnect layers. If the goal is to produce top-to-bottom federation across multiple local and third-party clouds, then it will take a much higher degree of coordination between disparate platforms than the industry has demonstrated thus far. To be sure, myriad solutions are under development at the moment, but until the enterprise starts to push real production workloads across wide-ranging cloud infrastructure, there is really no way to tell if any of them have the chops to perform as required.
One thing is clear, though: The cloud is emerging as the next battleground for both old guard IT vendors and newer service providers looking to instigate a little market disruption. This puts the enterprise in somewhat of an awkward position because those with the most cloud expertise, such as Rackspace and Google, often lack the knowledge of existing enterprise infrastructure, which companies like HP and EMC have in spades.
Software companies like Microsoft and VMware are more attuned to distributed architectures, says Datacenter Knowledge’s Yevgeniy Sverdlik, although it will still take some fairly sophisticated coordination between the VMware layer that resides in nearly all data centers and platforms like Windows Server and the Azure cloud, and that’s before you throw containers into the mix.
One of the most overlooked aspects about distributed cloud architectures, however, is that it isn’t always how workloads are supported, but where, says Windows IT Pro’s Orin Thomas. A number of factors can dictate the location of apps and data, such as regulatory and compliance issues, proximity to customers and other users and the relative value of the data itself.
This is why migration, data governance and policy management will become more important to the enterprise as cloud architectures take hold, and why visibility into those architectures will emerge as a primary challenge. When sensitive user data is on the line, ultimate responsibility falls to the enterprises that manage it, not the cloud provider they rely on.
This is certainly a more complex environment than the initial point-and-click provisioning that drew the interest of business users at the outset of the cloud era. A fully functional enterprise-class cloud requires careful coordination up and down the data stack and across virtually all organizational layers in the enterprise – basically a soup-to-nuts reboot of the modern working environment.
The result is still a little unclear, but the transition is firmly underway. And the enterprise could risk all by not keeping up with the times.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata and Carpathia. Follow Art on Twitter @acole602.