Rethinking IT for the Cloud Era

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Private Versus Public Cloud Computing

A plethora of applications are being considered for the cloud, but it may take at least another year before cloud computing goes mainstream in the enterprise.

It seems that the private vs. public cloud debate has gone the way of PC vs. Mac or Ginger vs. Mary Ann. Recognition is growing that most organizations will utilize a mix of public, private and hybrid infrastructure in the quest toward maximum efficiency and flexibility.

But now that the question of what to do has been largely settled, focus has shifted toward how to do it. And, unfortunately, the paths toward cloud nirvana are legion, as are the pitfalls.

Converting legacy systems into private cloud architectures is proving to be an extremely nettlesome endeavor, as it forces enterprises to answer some very fundamental questions about who they are and what they hope to achieve. According to Network Instruments, the desire to convert applications and other software tools into services is one of the key drivers of cloud computing, with the bulk of enterprises deploying them on private cloud infrastructure. Of course, the definition of a private cloud is still very much up in the air. Nearly everyone says they run theirs on virtualized server infrastructure, although less than a third say they have internal SLAs or self-service provisioning.

Many observers insist you cannot have a true private cloud without the right management system, and it's here that much of the development work is taking place. Microsoft, for example, recently revamped its System Center platform with new private cloud operations tools and cross-hypervisor management functions in an effort to make standard data center infrastructure seem more cloud-like. A key addition is App Controller, which allows users to manage applications across private infrastructure of the Azure public cloud. This is a crucial change in perspective for most enterprises as it takes the focus away from underlying infrastructure and places it on the application layer.

Indeed, as cloud resources become more ubiquitous, their management will become less important to overall data performance, according to Network Computing's Mary Shackett. This means enterprises will have to adopt a more service-oriented approach to management, in which applications that are found to be lacking will simply be reprovisioned in some other way until expectations are met. This is a dramatically different mindset for today's IT departments and will likely require new skill sets that focus more on people (gasp!) rather than technology.

To some, however, trying to fit new paradigms like the cloud into aging legacy infrastructure is like trying to cram your evil step-sister's big feet into the glass slippers. New architectures require new infrastructure, the argument goes, and the easiest way to do that is to go modular. Companies like MicroTech are aggressively promoting platforms like the Advanced Virtual Environment that bundles CA's AppLogic turnkey cloud platform with MicroPodd portable data center. The system enables ready-made SaaS, PaaS and IaaS architectures on footprints ranging from Desktop and Modular versions to 40-foot containers. The package also provides preconfigured templates for Windows, Linux and Solaris operating systems, as well as provisioning and management automation for virtual servers, OSes and applications.

The best thing about the cloud - whether public, private or hybrid - is that it solves a whole raft of management and deployment issues that have bedeviled IT for decades. At the same time, however, it introduces a whole new set of issues that will very likely take decades to sort out.

So the old saw about change being the only constant is proving its validity again, but that's not necessarily a bad thing. IT and the technicians needed to keep it running smoothly will still be needed in the brave new world.