The Cloud at the Starting Gate


Of all the new year predictions surrounding the data center, the most intriguing center on the cloud. More precisely, how will the cloud impact current data center hardware and software infrastructures? And how will any of this change the way we create and manipulate data?


While the ultimate answer to those questions won't come until we've settled the more basic "What is the cloud?" issue, there are a fair number of near-futurists willing to give us an idea what the cloud could be-if we want it.


In general, most predictions combine the old concept of utility computing, in which computing resources are untethered from their underlying hardware, with the newer SaaS/SOA concepts that would allow those resources to be shifted and reconfigured depending on user needs. But to quote Captain Jack Sparrow: "To what point and purpose, young missy?"


This piece on Processor.com offers a range of opinions from vendors, service providers, even a venture capitalist. Among the more interesting questions is whether the cloud will help break the digital divide between the well-heeled enterprise and the start-up, and whether we'll see a new class of software emerge that utilizes elements of both the cloud and traditional in-house infrastructures. If I were on the panel, my answers would be "Yes," and "I sure hope so."


Another batch of opinions, mostly from a software development angle, comes courtesy of Dana Gardner at ZDnet. He recently posted a transcript of a podcast featuring Tim Hall and Russ Daniels of HP's Software and Solutions unit, and Andy Mulholland, CTO at IT consulting firm Capgemini. Unfortunately the text doesn't indicate who is speaking at any given time, but there is plenty of interesting commentary to chew on, like how the cloud will provide unprecedented levels of collaboration with both colleagues and customers.


Amid a number of specific market predictions for next year, SaaS provider Appirio is expecting to see things like the 1,000-employee serverless enterprise and, not surprisingly for a service provider, the rise and then fall of the concept of the private cloud. The company sees little value in private clouds outside of heavy transaction processing and regulatory/compliance applications.


It's hard to find an opinion on the cloud without the words "paradigm shift" in it these days, but this piece by Cisco techie James Urquhart delivers one of the more compelling visions to date. He claims that using the cloud to expand the current hosted services model is peanuts compared to the real capabilities to be unlocked. He sees the development of an "Intercloud" that would foster complete workload mobility anywhere in the world. Organizations could shift productivity workloads and resources to where the need is greatest, like on the daylight side of the planet, while automated tasks can be shifted to lower-cost areas, most likely on the night side. Or you could find the most legal- and regulatory-friendly environment, or those best suited for, say, networking or storage.


He lists several key developments that would be needed for this kind of flexibility, but much of it can be accomplished by extending the ability of VMotion and other live migration platforms beyond the subnet and past organizational boundaries. It'll be interesting to see what Cisco comes up with over the next few years.


Ultimately, the development and evolution of the cloud will be influenced as much by business requirements as by technology advancements. The lab can move the concept from paper to reality, but it's the users who decide what to do with it from there.