Trends in Practical Cloud Computing for 2012

As we close out 2011, infrastructure is no longer the bottleneck for IT. Applications are. How will cloud change -- and change IT -- in the year ahead?

By Shawn Edmondson, VP of Product Strategy, rPath

Tired of the hype and confusion about cloud? Fortunately, that period is wrapping up fast. The cloud trends we saw in 2011, and see coming in 2012, are all about IT getting a grip on the many aspects of cloud while starting to build practical solutions for real business outcomes. Cloud vendors can expect to see real buying in 2012, but they must be aware of the fact that IT is quickly turning into a savvy cloud customer.

Cloud Trends in 2011

2011 Trend #1: Cloudwashing

"Cloud" has, quite possibly, become the most amorphous, meaningless term since "service." Every vendor, technology category, IT organization, and service provider that deals with virtual machines at scale appears eligible for the cloud label. I'm waiting for my local dry cleaner to offer their services in the cloud; all they need is a Web site.

Fortunately, a more sophisticated, practical definition of cloud is emerging, and we hear IT architects articulate this every day. When we ask them to describe the difference between cloud and large-scale virtualization, we hear two things: "self-service portal" and "application centricity." When a line of business can go to a live portal, not just a ticketing system, and stand up a real application, not just a batch of infrastructure, this is when that business sees a real difference. It means meeting business requirements in days instead of months.

Cloudwashing was rampant in 2011, but it is coming to a halt -- and good riddance. IT buyers are beginning to gain a clear idea of the problems that a "real" cloud can solve today.

2011 Trend #2: Devops

In 2011, Devops burst onto the scene, and just like its cousin, agile development, it was something that everyone needed to have an opinion about. Was Devops going to be a fringe philosophy, a flash in the pan, or the Next Big Thing?

Closing out 2011, the answer is clear. Devops is the right process framework to manage production applications that change frequently -- but unlike agile, which replaced a completely broken process, Devops is not yet ready for immediate consumption. Real Devops is now a five-year trend; it's a gradual transformation for how we deploy applications. In 2011, we agreed to break down some of our silos, but that process will still take years.

2011 Trend #3. Cloud as virtualization-plus

Vendors in 2011, especially such vendors as VMware, had a cloud lifeline for architects and managers in charge of virtualization. Add another abstraction layer to unify your separate virtualization clusters, and voilà: private cloud. VCloud Director was perfectly timed for this phenomenon. IT could nominally stay ahead of the cloud revolution just by adding another management layer.

We are hearing a consistent reaction to this new and improved virtualization: it still isn't solving the real business problem because it isn't application-centric. For that flavor of cloud, applications are still golden images plus deployment scripts, and that approach still doesn't scale.

As we close out 2011, infrastructure is no longer the bottleneck for IT. Applications are the bottleneck.

Cloud Trends in 2012

2012 Prediction #1: Cloud will be the change vehicle for IT

After organizations wrap their heads around cloud, they will soon look at their siloed, infrastructure-centric organizations and realize that cloud isn't a sensible add-on -- it's a mandatory transformation.

Previous IT revolutions (client/server, Web applications, etc.) pushed big IT initiatives (such as the conversion to IP networking) past their inertial resistance. Cloud is the next freight train for IT, and it is taking smaller revolutions (just a few of which are named below) along for the ride:

  • Devops
  • Application-centric vs. silo-centric teams and organizations
  • Model-driven automation
  • Multi-tenant app architecture
  • Middleware standardization
  • Chargeback accounting for central IT

In 2012, expect to hear statements such as "Our cloud initiative finally got our middleware standardization effort unstuck." The demand for these efforts is like seismic stress; cloud is the earthquake that frees them all up at once.

2012 Prediction #2: Image sprawl grows

Starting around 2009, we saw a negative side effect of VMware's success: the rise of VM sprawl. Provisioning virtual machines wasn't just easy, it was too easy. Large organizations now have the governance and automation features that they need to prevent VM sprawl.

The centralization of virtualization management, especially with higher-level management tools such as vCloud Director, has created a new problem: image template sprawl. It starts with a base Linux image template from the platform team. Then the JBoss team clones the Linux image and adds JBoss. Then an application team creates an application virtual appliance based on the JBoss template.

So far, no problem, but then the OS team needs to create patched versions of the above and can't retire the previous images just quite yet. Now we have 6 images. When a new data center opens, it turns out that the backup agent in the images needs a slightly different baked-in configuration for each data center. Now we have 12.

This example isn't contrived; it is oversimplified. Large image libraries rapidly become unmanageable. In 2012, expect image sprawl solutions to emerge, from image governance to model-driven image generation.

2012 Prediction #3. Practical private cloud becomes popular

Some IT organizations figured out cloud earlier than others, and the first wave has been quietly busy building practical private clouds with elastic virtualization, self-service portals, and enterprise app stores. These projects are real, are happening at the largest corporations, and are entering production right now.

Instead of providing a minor optimization to infrastructure delivery, they are focusing on complete application delivery. Instead of requiring a massive rearchitecture on platform-as-a-service, they are delivering "practical PaaS" -- standardized, rapidly deployable middleware stacks that solve the middleware consistency problem without rebuilding the world. Instead of complex IT budgeting, they are delivering clear, simple chargeback information to their lines of business.

In 2012, expect the wraps to come off these projects, and to see vendors delivering these clouds as one-stop bundles. Cloud isn't hype; it is here, and it is solving real problems.

Shawn Edmondson is the vice president of product strategy at rPath, where he is responsible for driving strategic direction for the company's technologies and business objectives. You can contact the author at sed@rpath.com