Why Enterprise Clouds Are Inevitable

Cloud model is an inevitable consequence of pervasive virtualization -- call it applied virtualization with a business-centric focus.

Cloud computing is a multivalent proposition. Proponents like to champion it as an utterly transformative, paradigm-shifting force -- the stuff of solid-state electronics or the World Wide Web. The kind of occurrence, in other words, that forever and irrevocably alters a status quo.

Other proponents -- perhaps sensitive to (or wary of) the hype that envelops (and may even distort) cloud computing -- prefer to downplay its radical aspects, conceding that although it's the stuff of change, the cloud model is nonetheless consistent with (true to its origins) the status quo. Champions of the so-called "private cloud" -- i.e., of cloud computing made safe for (or (em>palatable to) enterprise customers -- often use this strategy (see: http://esj.com/articles/2009/06/23/big-iron-clouds.aspx).

Someone like Stephen Elliot, vice-president of strategy with CA Inc.'s infrastructure management and automation practice, might dismiss both viewpoints as alternately shortsighted or insufficient.

Radical and transformation are tendentious concepts, after all; Elliot, for his part, tends to plot the cloud model as a point -- a particularly important point -- in a continuum: in this case, a virtual continuum. Cloud computing, according to Elliot, is basically a conceptual refinement of pervasive virtualization. In this sense, he argues, the cloud model is an inevitable consequence of pervasive virtualization. Call it applied virtualization, with a business-centric mindset.

"It's a business-first mentality, so it's informed by key concerns such as 'How much are these services going to cost our customers?' or 'We have to be competitive versus benchmarks and outsourcers.' There's also the issue of service quality: the service must be reliable, [a provider has to] provide different levels of service capabilities to their customers," he comments.

This is underscored in an enterprise (or private cloud) context, Elliot continues. "At bottom, it's about accountability: it just isn't good enough to virtualize everything. What cloud does is make IT more accountable to the CIO or the CEO, to the [internal or line-of-business] customer themselves," he asserts.

In the private cloud model, Elliot points out, customers don't purchase capacity from IT -- they purchase services. They aren't paying IT to host their applications (or services). They're paying IT to provide a certain definite service: think of it not so much as software-as-a-service but of business-process-as-a-service.

In this respect, Elliot contends, customers are largely indifferent to information technology-specific concerns, such as hosting or capacity. "Accountability so that if something does happen, how fast can [IT] respond to minimize the revenue impact? I think there's a tremendous surge here that we're seeing with the customers. Yes, we're still in the infancy [of the cloud model], but these themes [of utility-like service and service-level guarantees] really resonate with customers," he says. "IT has always been risk-averse, so while they may not necessarily be framing the discussion [with customers] in terms of a 'compute cloud,' there's no doubt that these characteristics and the solutions they're pitching to customers are very much cloud-related."

For business customers, Elliot says, a transition to internal private enterprise clouds is inevitable. "I think the definition for a private infrastructure discussion -- whereby service [is delivered] over a standardized platform -- will really become the de rigueur strategy for a lot of companies."

CA, like other vendors, has entered full-tilt into the cloud computing fray. On the private cloud front, Elliott points to recent improvements to its Spectrum Infrastructure Manager, eHealth Performance Manager, and Spectrum Automation Manager that he says are designed to make it easier for IT pros to manage their increasingly -- and pervasively -- virtualized environments.

For example, Elliot says, CA's revamped Spectrum Infrastructure Manager and eHealth Performance Manager products now support VMWare Inc.'s vSphere 4 hypervisor and Cisco Systems Inc.'s Nexus 1000V. As a result, both products can perform event correlation and root cause analysis, as well as identify performance anomalies before users or services are affected. Elsewhere, he continues, the revamped products deliver new interactive reporting features and are able to generate historical trend reports to support capacity planning efforts.

Elliot concedes that private or enterprise clouds are by no means commonplace, but nonetheless talks up bubbling customer interest.

"This is a journey here, but there's just a tremendous amount of tire-kicking going on right now, [as customers work on] just understanding what are the services that are available, what are the price points, and is there an economical advantage here from an IT standpoint?" he concludes.