Working Our Way Toward the Federated Cloud

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    Some interesting research came out last month regarding the enterprise’s attitude toward the cloud and what it will take to push more of the data load, and mission-critical functions in particular, off of local infrastructure. It turns out that while security and availability are still prime concerns, flexibility and federation across multiple cloud architectures are equally important.

    In IDG’s most recent Enterprise Cloud Computing Study, more than a third of IT respondents say they are comfortable with the current state of cloud technology, with about two thirds saying the cloud increases agility and employee collaboration. The key data, however, comes in the attitude toward advanced networking technologies like software-defined networking (SDN) and network functions virtualization (NFV), with more than 60 percent saying they plan to increase their investment in these areas specifically to enhance their ability to access and manage disparate cloud environments.

    It seems that many organizations are not interested in deploying “the cloud” but are ultimately looking at many clouds, ideally forming a federated computing environment that spans both in-house and third-party infrastructure. Such a scheme will require more than just advanced connectivity, of course, but rather broad interoperability across the entire data/infrastructure stack. This is what drives companies like VMware to devise the vCloud Air Network, which seeks to fold third-party platforms and services under an integrated cloud architecture. In this way, the company hopes to not only increase the diversity of offerings under a cohesive cloud environment, but improve performance and manageability as well.

    Standards-setting bodies are moving in this direction as well, particularly when it comes to serving a wide-ranging customer like the federal government. The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) recently issued the U.S. Government Cloud Computing Technology Roadmap that calls for improved interoperability and data portability across platforms. The report includes a reference architecture and taxonomy designed to foster basic commonalities that allow both users and providers to establish federated cloud environments. These include key points to be established in service level agreements (SLAs), as well as advanced metrics and standardized units of measurement designed to place visibility and management on an equal footing across multiple platforms.

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    And as expected, the open source community places a high premium on widespread cloud federation. The recently formed Open Cloud Alliance, for instance, seeks to foster greater use of open source platforms among web hosting firms and system integrators in order to produce a federated cloud ecosystem capable of supporting Big Data and other heavy workloads. The alliance is the brainchild of IBM and German vendor Univention, with the idea that open clouds are a function of both technology and the skillsets needed to implement and manage advanced architectures, which is why the group seeks to address not only systems interoperability but salary and training issues as well.

    While a federated cloud is certainly desirable, it is by no means easy to accomplish. An open approach will no doubt produce a diversity of solutions and avoid single-vendor lock-in, but even the most open of architectures still presents integration challenges when it comes to implementing actual solutions. A vendor-specific approach like vCloud Air should, emphasis on should, produce a more cohesive environment, but features and capabilities are more apt to be dictated by the vendor, rather than the user.

    As in all things IT-related, however, the architectures of tomorrow will be dictated by the infrastructure being put in place today. So even though cloud federation is still something of a pipe dream, it helps to keep an eye on the ultimate prize while we busy ourselves to the more mundane task of building the foundations for the cloud to come.

    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, Carpathia and NetMagic.

    Arthur Cole
    Arthur Cole
    With more than 20 years of experience in technology journalism, Arthur has written on the rise of everything from the first digital video editing platforms to virtualization, advanced cloud architectures and the Internet of Things. He is a regular contributor to IT Business Edge and Enterprise Networking Planet and provides blog posts and other web content to numerous company web sites in the high-tech and data communications industries.

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