Cloud Computing: Enter the “Stacker"

structure_speaker_series There exists, as I have previously noted, sufficient motivation for more advanced resource controls in IT infrastructure components. But while there are encouraging indications that component manufacturers are responding to this need, we have some distance yet to travel.

Horizontal aggregation

As we consider infrastructure components, we know that the physical and virtual worlds can diverge. This divergence gives us a chance to create new physical devices optimized for scale and equipped with more granular resource management functions, while preserving in virtual form the existing industry abstractions. Put a different way, the IT industry has an opportunity to rethink its physical deployment building blocks and, in the process, insert a new level of QoS control in the environments built with these components. Some vendors are already seizing this opportunity.

I’m excited to see the development of products and protocols on the part of Cisco and HP meant to address some of these needs. These new devices share common characteristics — they have high levels of integrated functionality provided efficiently at scale with management software designed to independently operate in the virtual and the physical worlds. These are good first steps toward the types of devices that will be the heart of the next-generation data center, where more of the enterprise data center role shifts to that of service provider in multitenant environments.

In building these new devices, the old physical device boundaries are being redrawn. For example, Cisco’s Unified Computing System UCS integrates server and switching functions and also reallocates the functions of each to achieve better economics. This form of “horizontal aggregation” will be common in the IT components of the future.

The stacker

New systems won’t be only horizontally aggregated. They will be vertically aggregated, too, as software building block boundaries are also revisited. Database server, application server, and web server software can be combined with hardware, creating a new IT device ready for application integration. Oracle has started discussing these types of systems as a result of its proposed acquisition of Sun Microsystems. Other major consolidations could follow. The result may yield a new competitive landscape in IT components, where the old world of interoperable software stack components and general purpose servers and operating systems that support them (and all of the associated compatibility and integration complexity) gives way to the “stacker” –- a completely integrated application deployment platform component with sufficient resource capacity. The stacker supports several complete instances of virtualized application stacks and associated internal and external network in one physical device.

It is into this evolving physical landscape that we want to incorporate more complete QoS controls, thereby enabling enterprise-grade, multitenant cloud services. To accomplish this goal, the focus needs to be on both hardware and software resources. The stacker must support end-to-end QoS controls by preserving customer context, priority, and policy through all logical and physical resource dependencies, including required threads, memory, queuing, and concurrency controls to truly support multitenancy. The efficacy of this entire path affects the performance of the application from an end user perspective and thus must be assured.

As more and more enterprises seek to optimize their IT infrastructure spend, the challenge before IT industry infrastructure component manufacturers is to enable the service provider to deliver true shared environment economics for a wide range of enterprise applications. This will be achieved not just through large-scale systems, but through the continued enhancement of QoS controls that govern both the hardware and software resources in these environments.

The opportunity is now. The evolution of existing IT components toward the stacker and the separation of virtual and physical design forces provides the opportunity to incorporate these controls into the building blocks of the future service provider cloud. I’d like to see the industry accelerate efforts to harden and standardize newly emerging concepts and protocols in these areas.

This is the third post in a 3-part series. Please also see Part 1, Cloud Computing: A System of Control, and Part 2, Cloud Computing: Building Blocks for the Enterprise.

Bryan Doerr is chief technology officer for Savvis.


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