Structure 09: Private Clouds: "It's About the Services, Stupid"

privatecloudpanelWhile it may seem that everyone and their mother is moving to the cloud, the truth is that many enterprises are still wary about moving into public, shared infrastructures. But there are undeniable business benefits to cloud computing, and enterprises are beginning to ask: How can we get the cost of IT operations and application delivery down? That’s where private clouds come into play.

George Gilbert, co-founder and partner for analyst firm TechAlpha, moderated a discussion among representatives from infrastructure/hardware, the infrastructure management layer, and public clouds — including James Urquhart, technology strategist for Cisco (s csco) (@jamesurquhart), Chuck Hollis, VP and CTO of Global Marketing for EMC (s emc) (@chuckhollis), Stephen Herrod, CTO and SVP R&D of VMware (s vmw); Scott Morrison (@kscottmorrison), chief architect of Layer 7; Kia Behnia, CTO of BMC (s bmc); and Brandon Watson, director of Microsoft’s (s msft) Azure Services Platform (@brandonwatson) — to discuss the question: What are the pieces that have to come together to make private clouds a reality?

The hardware side has long been the subject of much discussion about the cloud, so the panel started there. But even the hardware vendors agreed: The key shift occurring around private cloud adoption is understanding that it’s not about IT anymore — it’s about the services that IT provides. In the case of Cisco’s (s csco) recently unveiled Unified Computing System, that means the ability to begin to work with abstractions, rather than actual physical resources, said Urquhart.

Private enterprises have adopted some kinds of virtualization, but UCS allows them to converge server, computer and network virtualization into a single layer. That, in turn, boosts manageability of the application workload. “The ability to know that your workload can choose from a very large pool of resources to run on is a very critical element,” said Urquhart. VMware’s Herrod agreed that this kind of deeper level of virtualization, which further separates the logical view of a process from its physical implementation, makes it easier for companies to innovate. Urquhart stressed, though, that UCS isn’t just about virtualization — it is about a way to leverage fixed components in a very dynamic way.

Dynamic management of workloads, ultimately, was another reason many of the panelists agreed private clouds have emerged, and systems that enable companies to implement workloads based on actual needs will be important. Hollis of EMC said companies need to create use cases for each workload — do it all at the server layer, or all in the network, or in some cases leveraging a homogenous storage array. “You ought to be having a discussion about the functionality and less about where in the stack it happens,” he said.

That’s the key issue for most IT professionals today — BMC’s Behnia said currently, the majority of IT shops are not managing services; they’re managing servers. “That’s not going to go away, but it’s going to change in a virtualized environment,” he said. The solution is for management to become much more top down and service-oriented.

Traditionally, IT has focused on service-level agreements that established “5 9s,” as opposed to application response times and other things that matter to the business. With private clouds, IT has to care more about the relevance of their services to the business: “Business doesn’t care about 5 9s,” Behnia said. EMC’s Hollis later reiterated the point that business decision makers care more about the value provided by services — including how quickly they can be deployed and revised — than about how they’re deployed.

In terms of architecting private clouds, the management layer — which TechAlpha’s Gilbert suggested is the least understood today — is critical for delivering the efficiencies most businesses are after: just enough hardware, power and computing to achieved desired goals. VMware’s Herrod said that separating implementation from policy allows businesses to fine-tune the kind of SLA they need — e.g., availability or performance.

Morrison, of Layer 7,  said that management itself is becoming a service. “We have to remind ourselves all the time, it’s about the services: small, compact pieces of functionality. The mechanism for doing that is management policy and enforcement policy.” While the big discussion is about the virtualization layer, big chunky things — app server, OS, application, all that — we have to focus on that application and what it’s about.

Morrison gave the example of a stock app that might have different services — delivering quotes, buying stock, or some other “strange Madoff app, no one knows what it does” — that would require different levels of security and monitoring. Providing management in the communications layer, where services are talking to each other, allows for better visibility and security across the application. “It’s about the services, stupid,” he quipped.

That approach has implications for IT professionals’ skills: “In true cloud fashion, you need your knowledge to scale out, not up,” said Cisco’s James. Cloud computing also puts pressure on IT teams to compete with outside service providers, Hollis said. Fortunately, that will force IT to change faster and become more innovative. “There are new barabarians at the gate, and they’re knocking at the CEO’s door, promising faster, better, cheaper.”

One impact, Behnia said, is that IT is becoming more amenable to adopting best practices and standards, rather than make everything different and specialized — ultimately, that cuts costs and time.

But private clouds still face the question of scale — and many turn to public clouds to serve at least a portion of those needs. In terms of which workloads will migrate to the cloud, VMware’s Herrod said the question should be how quickly you can migrate. “On-premise may be more efficient — allowing for self-provisioning, chargeback models — but you shouldn’t have to rewrite your model of programming to work in the cloud,” he said. Which workloads move to the cloud will depend on the data: “Mission critical data is not going to move to the cloud unless a company feels comfortable.” Meanwhile, test and development are very likely to move to the cloud.

The panelists agreed that for enterprise, their private cloud services are designed to give companies more room to push forward, not to tell them what they have to stop doing. Cloud services enable that kind of decision making, based on new needs that emerge. According to Microsoft’s Brandon, workloads will move to the cloud, when it enables customers to accomplish their other goals.”Get out of their way,” he said.

Video of the panel is here:

Photo by James Duncan Davidson (@kscottmorrison