I was having a discussion with a skeptical CIO the other day. His issue was that a private cloud isn’t real. Why? In contrast to the public cloud, which has unlimited capability on demand, a private cloud is limited by the size and capacity of the internal data center. While I understand this point I disagree and here is why. I don’t know of any data center that doesn’t have enough servers or capacity. In fact, if you talk to most IT managers they will quickly admit that they don’t lack physical resources. This is why there has been so much focus on server virtualization. With server virtualization, these organizations actually get rid of servers and make their IT organization more efficient.
Even when data centers are able to improve their efficiency, they still do not lack resources. What data centers lack is the organizational structure to enable provisioning of those resources in a proactive and efficient way. The converse is also true: data centers lack the ability to reclaim resources once they have been provisioned.
So, I maintain that the problem with the data center is not a lack of resources but rather the management and the automation of those resources. Imagine an organization leverages the existing physical resources in a data center by adding self-service provisioning and business process rules for allocating resources based on business need. This would mean that when developers start working on a project they are allocated the amount of resources they need – not what they want. More importantly, when the project is over, those resources are returned to the pool.
This, of course, does not work for every application and every workload in the data center. There are applications that are highly specialized and are not going to benefit from automation. However, there indeed can increasingly large aspects of computing that can be transformed in the private cloud environment based on truly tuning workloads and resources to make the private cloud as elastic as what we think of as a ever expanding public cloud.
To comprehend HP’s cloud computing strategy you have to first understand HP’s Matrix Blade System. HP announced the Matrix system in April of 2009 as a prepackaged fabric-based system. Because Matrix was designed as a packaged environment, it has become the lynch pin of HP’s cloud strategy.
So, what is Matrix? Within this environment, HP has pre-integrated servers, networking, storage, and software (primarily orchestration to customize workflow). In essence, Matrix is a Unified Computing System so that it supports both physical blades as well as virtual configurations. It includes a graphical command center console to manage resource pools, physical and virtual servers and network connectivity. On the software side, Matrix provides an abstraction layer that supports workload provisioning and workflow based policy management that can determine where workloads will run. The environment supports the VMware hypervisor, open source KVM, and Microsoft’s Hyper-V.
HP’s strategy is to combine this Matrix system, which it has positioned as its private cloud, with a public compute cloud. In addition, HP is incorporating its lifecycle management software and its security acquisitions as part of its overall cloud strategy. It is leveraging the HP services (formerly EDS) to offer a hosted private cloud and traditional outsourcing as part of an overall plan. HP is hoping to leveraging its services expertise in running large enterprise packaged software
There are three components to the HP cloud strategy:
- Cloud Services Automation
- Cloud Consulting Services
CloudSystem. What HP calls CloudSystem is, in fact, based on the Matrix blade system. The Matrix Blade System uses a common rack enclosure to support all the blades produced by HP. The Matrix is a packaging of is what HP calls an operating environment that includes provisioning software, virtualization, a self-service portal and management tools to manage resources pools. HP considers its public cloud services to be part of the CloudSystem. To provide a hybrid cloud computing environment, HP will offer compute public cloud services similar to what is available from Amazon EC2. When combined with the outsourcing services from HP Services, HP contends that it provides a common architectural framework across public, private, virtualized servers, and outsourcing. It includes what HP is calling cloud maps. Cloud maps are configuration templates based on HP’s acquisition of Stratavia, a database and application automation software company.
Cloud Service Automation. The CloudSystem is intended to make use of Services Automation software called Cloud Service Automation (CSA). The components of CSA include a self-service portal that manages a service catalog. The service catalog describes each service that is intended to be used as part of the cloud environment. Within the catalog, the required service level is defined. In addition, the CSA can meter the use of services and can provide visibility to the performance of each service. A second capability is a cloud controller, based on the orchestration technology from HP’s Opsware acquisition. A third component, the resource manager provide provisioning and monitoring services. The objective of CSA is to provide end-to-end lifecycle management of the CloudSystem.
Cloud Consulting Services. HP is taking advantage of EDS’s experience in managing computing infrastructure as the foundation for its cloud consulting services offerings. HP also leverages its consulting services that were traditionally part of HP as well as services from EDS. Therefore, HP has deep experience in designing and running Cloud seminars and strategy engagements for customers.
From HP’s perspective, it is taking a hybrid approach to cloud computing. What does HP mean by Hybrid? Basically, HP’s hybrid strategy includes the combination of the CloudSystem – a hardware-based private cloud, its own public compute services, and traditional outsourcing.
The Bottom Line. Making the transition to becoming a major cloud computing vendor is complicated. The market is young and still in transition. HP has many interesting building blocks that have the potential to make it an important player. Leveraging the Matrix Blade System is a pragmatic move since it is already an integrated and highly abstracted platform. However, it will have to provide more services that increase the ability of its customers to use the CloudSystem to create an elastic and flexible computing platform. The Cloud Automation Services is a good start but still requires more evolution. For example, it needs to add more capabilities into its service catalog. Leveraging its Systinet registry/repository as part of its service catalog would be advisable. I also think that HP needs to package its security offerings to be cloud specific. This includes both in the governance and compliance area as well as Identity Management.
Just how much will HP plan to compete in the public cloud space is uncertain. Can HP be effective in both markets? Does it need to combine its offerings or create two different business models?
It is clear that HP wants to make cloud computing the cornerstone of its “Instant-On Enterprise” strategy announced last year. In essence, Instant-on Enterprise is intended to make it easier for customers to consume data center capabilities including infrastructure, applications, and services. This is a good vision in keeping with what customers need. And plainly cloud computing is an essential ingredient in achieving this ambitious strategy.
So in a perfect world all data centers be magically become clouds and the world is a better place. All kidding aside..I am tired of all of the hype. Let me put it this way. All data centers cannot and will not become private clouds– at least not for most typical companies. Let me tell you why I say this. There are some key principles of the cloud that I think are worth recounting:
1. A cloud is designed to optimize and manage workloads for efficiency. Therefore repeatable and consistent workloads are most appropriate for the cloud.
2. A cloud is intended to implement automation and virtualization so that users can add and subtract services and capacity based on demand.
3. A cloud environment needs to be economically viable.
Why aren’t traditional data centers private clouds? What if a data center adds some self-service and virtualization? Is that enough? Probably not. A typical data center is a complex environment. It is not uncommon for a single data center to support five or six different operating systems, five or six different languages, four or five different hardware platforms and perhaps 20 or 30 applications of all sizes and shapes plus an unending number of tools to support the management and maintenance of that environment. In Cloud Computing for Dummies, written by the team at Hurwitz & Associates there is a considerable amount written about this issue. Given an environment like this it is almost impossible to achieve workload optimization. In addition, there are often line of business applications that are complicated, used by a few dozen employees, and are necessary to run the business. There is simply no economic rational for such applications to be moved to a cloud — public or private. The only alternative for such an application would be to outsource the application all together.
So what does belong in the private cloud? Application and business services that are consistent workloads that are designed for be used on demand by developers, employees, or partners. Many companies are becoming IT providers to their own employees, partners, customers and suppliers. These services are predictable and designed as well-defined components that can be optimized for elasticity. They can be used in different situations — for a single business situation to support a single customer or in a scenario that requires the business to support a huge partner network. Typically, these services can be designed to be used by a single operating system (typically Linux) that has been optimized to support these workloads. Many of the capabilities and tasks within this environment has been automated.
Could there be situations where an entire data center could be a private cloud? Sure, if an organization can plan well enough to limit the elements supported within the data center. I think this will happen with specialized companies that have the luxury of not supporting legacy. But for most organizations, reality is a lot messier.
I admit that I haven’t written a blog in more than three months — but I do have a good reason. I just finished writing my latest book — not a Dummies book this time. It will be my first business book based on almost three decades in the computer industry. Once I know the publication date I will tell you a lot more about it. But as I was finishing this book I was thinking about my last book, Cloud Computing for Dummies that was published almost two years ago. As this anniversary approaches I thought it was appropriate to take a look back at what has changed. I could probably go on for quite a while talking about how little information was available at that point and how few CIOs were willing to talk about or even consider cloud computing as a strategy. But that’s old news. I decided that it would be most interesting to focus on eight of the changes that I have seen in this fast-moving market over the past two years.
Change One: IT is now on board with cloud computing. Cloud Computing has moved from a reaction to sluggish IT departments to a business strategy involving both business and technology leaders. A few years ago, business leaders were reading about Amazon and Google in business magazines. They knew little about what was behind the hype. They focused on the fact that these early cloud pioneers seemed to be efficient at making cloud capability available on demand. No paperwork and no waiting for the procurement department to process an order. Two years ago IT leaders tried to pretend that cloud computing was passing fad that would disappear. Now I am finding that IT is treating cloud computing as a center piece of their future strategies — even if they are only testing the waters.
Change Two: enterprise computing vendors are all in with both private and public cloud offerings. Two years ago most traditional IT vendors did not pay too much attention to the cloud. Today, most hardware, software, and services vendors have jumped on the bandwagon. They all have cloud computing strategies. Most of these vendors are clearly focused on a private cloud strategy. However, many are beginning to offer specialized public cloud services with a focus on security and manageability. These vendors are melding all types of cloud services — public, private, and hybrid into interesting and sometimes compelling offerings.
Change Three: Service Orientation will make cloud computing successful. Service Orientation was hot two years ago. The huge hype behind cloud computing led many pundits to proclaim that Service Oriented Architectures was dead and gone. In fact, cloud vendors that are succeeding are those that are building true business services without dependencies that can migrate between public, private and hybrid clouds have a competitive advantage.
Change Four: System Vendors are banking on integration. Does a cloud really need hardware? The dialog only two years ago surrounded the contention that clouds meant no hardware would be necessary. What a difference a few years can make. The emphasis coming primarily from the major systems vendors is that hardware indeed matters. These vendors are integrating cloud infrastructure services with their hardware.
Change Five: Cloud Security takes center stage. Yes, cloud security was a huge topic two years ago but the dialog is beginning to change. There are three conversations that I am hearing. First, cloud security is a huge issue that is holding back widespread adoption. Second, there are well designed software and hardware offerings that can make cloud computing safe. Third, public clouds are just as secure as a an internal data center because these vendors have more security experts than any traditional data center. In addition, a large number of venture backed cloud security companies are entering the market with new and quite compelling value propositions.
Change Six: Cloud Service Level Management is a primary customer concern. Two years ago no one our team interviewed for Cloud Computing for Dummies connected service level management with cloud computing. Now that customers are seriously planning for wide spread adoption of cloud computing they are seriously examining their required level of service for cloud computing. IT managers are reading the service level agreements from public cloud vendors and Software as a Service vendors carefully. They are looking beyond the service level for a single service and beginning to think about the overall service level across their own data centers as well as the other cloud services they intend to use.
Change Seven: IT cares most about service automation. No, automation in the data center is not new; it has been an important consideration for years. However, what is new is that IT management is looking at the cloud not just to avoid the costs of purchasing hardware. They are automation of both routine functions as well as business processes as the primary benefit of cloud computing. In the long run, IT management intends to focus on automation and reduce hardware to interchanagable commodities.
Change Eight: Cloud computing moves to the front office. Two years ago IT and business leaders saw cloud computing as a way to improve back office efficiency. This is beginning to change. With the flexibility of cloud computing, management is now looking at the potential for to quickly innovate business processes that touch partners and customers.
There has been a lot of discussions these days about private and public cloud. More discussion has been generated because both Amazon.com and Salesforce.com have added a Virtual Private Network (VPN) option to their public cloud services. What does this mean in the context of how customers will move to cloud computing? It is clear from the research that I have been doing that the private cloud and the hybrid cloud are real and will be part of the computing landscape for a long time. The emergence of the virtual private cloud is an early indication that customers some customers want a better guarantee of their data. The combination of a public cloud with the privacy offered by a VPN is only going to grow over the coming year.
So, is a Virtual Private Cloud still a public cloud? I particularly found the blog published by Amazon’s CTO,Werner Vogel’s announcing the virtual private cloud fascinating. On one hand, the private virtual cloud announcement is a proclamation that customers want to be able to have secure access to services on the Amazon EC2 Cloud. On the other hand, he is quite clear that this there is no such thing as a private cloud. Clearly, it is in Amazon’s best interest for customers to focus on public clouds. Vogel states in his blog that “What is called private clouds have little of these benefits (he means characteristics of the cloud) and as such I don’t think of them as true clouds” The four characteristics of the cloud he points to include:
- eliminating costs – lowering both capital expenses and operating costs
- elasticity – avoiding complex procurement cycles and improving time to market
- and removing undifferentiated heavy lifting by off loading data center operations
While I agree that there are many situations where this is an ideal approach for many businesses, I don’t think the situation is black and white. There are indeed shades of gray. In my view, a private cloud has to be architected to be different than a traditional data center. But like a traditional data center, it is protected by a firewall and sophisticated security. A private cloud will almost always be combined with some public cloud services (either capacity, software as a service, or platform as a service). So, I’ll take each of the three characteristics mentioned in Vogel’s blog and explain my view based on the fact that customers will make both economic and technical choices.
- eliminating costs – In reality there are data centers that work pretty well and are core to the business. The company has made an investment and therefore would not necessarily be able to lower costs. However, I expect that even if a company decided to go with a private cloud, there will be good reasons to use capacity on demand to fill gaps and expand for projects. In addition, a very large company will have the financial means to establish its own cloud that will be much more cost effective. A cost/benefit analysis of using a public cloud versus a private cloud is not straight forward. It requires a deep assessment of lots of different factors.
- elasticity – It is quite clear that many data centers do not have an efficient way to procure resources to users. However, if a data center is rearchitected to enable self-service provisioning, it can be transformed to better support users. Again, I expect that customers will take advantage of additional capacity or platform services even if they have private cloud services. This is especially true for companies where their computing infrastructure is the foundation of their business.
- removing undifferentiated services – This will really depend on whether the data center helps a company differentiate itself. There are definitely services that offer no value to the bottom line that should be placed in a public cloud (with a VPN for security, in some cases) such as electronic mail. However, where these services are at the core of the business and probably need to be in a private cloud. Many companies will select which services are not differentiated and which ones are and create a hybrid environment. Companies will have to do their homework both in terms of focus and costs. It might initially cost more to move a service such as email to a public cloud but will have huge resources in the long run. In other situations, paying per hour, etc. may be a lot more costly than you might imagine.
My bottom line is this. The cloud will continue to evolve over the coming decade and there is no one approach that will become the standard. The cloud is primarily an economic proposition that will require careful evaluation. Companies need to understand what their business is, what the value and role of the data center is and what is the best set of services available. The good news is that with the evolution of the cloud companies will have lots of good options.