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Virtualization: Interview

Cloud Computing: Creating a Functioning Market for Capacity

An exclusive Q&A with CiRBA CTO & Co-Founder Andrew Hillier

"Cloud puts control back in the hands of the consumers," noted Andrew Hillier, CTO and co-founder of CiRBA, in this exclusive Q&A with Cloud Expo Conference Chair Jeremy Geelan. "Cloud computing creates a functioning market for capacity, it gives consumers choices," Hillier continued. "This forces everyone to sharpen their game, from Cloud providers to outsourcers to internal IT. As such, Cloud computing is more of a shift in business model than it is a technology change, and this is what makes it truly different."

Cloud Computing: A very general question first, about Cloud Computing itself: Surely we've heard all of this before in various forms and guises - grid computing / utility computing, etc.? What is different this time - why is everyone so convinced it will now work?

Andrew Hillier: What is different this time is the way Cloud puts control back in the hands of the consumers. If we rewind a couple of decades, the early days of "open systems" were hugely empowering to business groups. If they wanted to deploy a new app they simply purchased some servers and found some suitable space (under a desk would do). Although empowering, this wasn't optimal, and in response to the mess this created, there was a shift in the '90s to more centralized IT management. Although this was very necessary, this also introduced more centralized procurement of hardware, which took some control away from the business groups.

The move toward virtualization in the last decade partially reversed some of the negative effects of this. The one-box-per-app mentality was shattered and much higher utilization and efficiency was made possible. Also, procurement times were shortened by allowing VMs to be spun up on hardware that is already on the floor. But what virtualization did not do is put control back in the hands of the business groups. The main beneficiaries of virtualization are the infrastructure groups, and application owners must still go through them to gain access to new capacity.

Cloud computing brings this cycle full circle, by re-empowering the users of capacity with the ability to get what they need when they need it. This takes them back to the place they were two decades ago, only now they don't stub their toes on the servers under their desks. And because Cloud computing creates a functioning market for capacity, it gives consumers choices. This forces everyone to sharpen their game, from Cloud providers to outsourcers to internal IT. As such, Cloud computing is more of a shift in business model than it is a technology change, and this is what makes it truly different.

Cloud Computing: What are the three main factors driving companies toward the cloud?

Hillier: Ultimately, there is a desire in many organizations to get out of the business of running data centers. Depending on the nature of the organization, this may be impractical, but simplification and driving efficiencies of scale are worthwhile goals, even if they mean you are still in the business of hosting workloads. This is why hybrid Cloud is a common goal.

Until such massive changes in business models are possible, the medium-term goal is often to establish truly shared internal environments, where standardization is the rule, not the exception, and application owners need to justify why they need different hosting strategies or non-standard configurations. This is something rarely achieved through virtualization alone; although it enables sharing, it does not intrinsically drive standardization, and it may not safely support diverse consumers sharing common resources.

Even this may take some time to achieve, and in the short term the goal is often simply to streamline the process of provisioning users with the capacity they need. Being an intermediary between users and their capacity is not a valuable use of an IT organization's time, and enabling users to help themselves will free up valuable resources so they can focus on managing the infrastructure, not the users.

Cloud Computing: And what are the three main barriers preventing some companies from moving some of the on-premise computing to the Cloud?

Hillier: Data centers are full of constraints, and these do not simply disappear when Clouds are introduced. This is the reason hybrid Clouds exist, and it may not be possible to host workloads on external capacity for certain types of applications. Some of the most common barriers to moving to external public Clouds include:

  • Data Sensitivity - it is unwise to take liberties with sensitive data, and applications containing trade secrets, customer information or other sensitive data need to be treated very carefully. Even if the security of such data is protected through a Cloud provider's legal agreements, the damages caused by breaches can go well beyond any legal recourse available.
  • Availability Requirements - many transactional applications require very high availability, and are hosted on highly resilient server infrastructure. Virtual and Cloud environments often provide some form of high availability, but it may not guarantee the level required, and is often achieved through more of a "fail and reboot" method than true resiliency. This works better for stateless components than it does for stateful ones, which may require platforms that do not fail, not ones that can be rebooted quickly.
  • Business Acceptance - even if external capacity is technically suitable, it may not be politically acceptable. There are often business considerations that trump technical ideals, and the concerns of business groups are very important (they are, after all, the ones making the money).

Cloud Computing: How does your own company's offering/s assist CIOs and organizations/companies?

Hillier: When building Cloud infrastructure, there are many components that need to come together. There is a provisioning and orchestration component, which is like the arms and legs of the Cloud. There must be a way to enter requirements, and to monitor and report back on use, which forms the eyes and ears of the Cloud. CiRBA is the brain, and works with all of these components to make sure workloads are routed to the right type of capacity, places on the right servers, and allocated the right resources. This enables a policy-based management approach, and provides intelligence that allows organizations to maximize efficiency and minimize operational risk. By ensuring environments are not over or under-provisioned, and by reporting the true efficiency of virtual and Cloud environments, it all runs like a well-oiled machine.

Cloud Computing: Are there other players in the Cloud ecosystem offering the same - or is your company unique? Why?

Hillier: Our company is unique, as it focuses on the intelligence behind the Cloud, thus optimizing efficiency while reducing risk. It uses multidimensional analysis to understand all the configuration, business and utilization constraints and solve them in a single model. This allows very sophisticated policies to be easily constructed, allowing precise control over areas such as:

  • Technical Compatibility
  • Business Compatibility
  • Utilization & Density Targets
  • Reservations & Over-commit
  • Trending & Growth Modeling
  • Performance & Availability
  • Security & Compliance
  • Location & Facilities
  • Tiering & Affinity

No other technology can do this.

Cloud Computing: We hear talk of a Cloud Revolution and also of a Cloud "evolution" - either way, what kind of time span are we talking about, do you think. In other words, for how long is Cloud Computing going to exert its pull on the minds, hearts, and budgets of all involved in modern-day Enterprise IT?

Hillier: I think it has legs - it is as much a way of thinking as it is a technology. Customers are now empowered to acquire their own capacity, and that will sharpen the game of internal IT groups and external infrastructure providers. Just like you can't unlearn something, you probably won't see thinking shift back to the captive, long procurement cycle IT model.

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