Many organizations avoid cloud computing because they have too much invested in their existing data centers. Cost, complexity and IT resources prevent them from building their own clouds, but that's about to change.
What’s the state of your data center? In a down economy, with IT resources scarce, an inefficient data center is the equivalent of throwing money away.
Analysts such as IDC and Gartner estimate that the typical server in the typical data center runs at between 5 and 15 percent capacity.
Imagine if you could bring that up to 20, 30 or 40 percent. Doubling your efficiency means that you essentially get a new data center for free. If your organization is on the low end, at 5 percent or less, your gains are exponential.
Of course, this is the allure of virtualization and cloud computing. Lower costs, greener IT and more flexible application provisioning all benefit the bottom line. However, getting from an underutilized data center to a well-oiled cloud is easier said than done.
“Today, enterprises and service providers that are interested in launching cloud computing services face the difficult task of integrating complex software and hardware components from multiple vendors. The resulting system could end up being expensive to build and hard to operate, minimizing the original motives and benefits of moving to this new model,” said Sheng Liang, founder and CEO of Cloud.com, a provider of open-source cloud computing software.
Cloud.com CEO Sheng Liang discusses the movement to the cloud.
A New Era of Vendor Lock?
Worried about complexity, cost, security and other obstacles, many believe that the only safe path to the cloud is to outsource the complexity of building and managing a cloud to service providers. Outsourcing these headaches has merits, and service providers such as Amazon, Google and Rackspace have done an admirable job of driving cloud computing into the mainstream.
However, the service-provider approach has its drawbacks – if you don’t carefully investigate the vendors you work with. First, without established standards, moving from one service provider to another could prove difficult. Even the ability to move your data from one cloud-based application to another is not a given.
Second, outsourcing your core infrastructure to service providers puts you at their mercy. We can safely trust that Amazon and Google will be around for years to come, but what about smaller, less-established service providers?
This is why it's important to choose cloud providers that support open standards and heterogeneous cloud environments. Had Coghead been a more open cloud, customers would have had little trouble moving to a new provider or even shifting to their own internal clouds.
As it was, the Coghead closure caused a near panic among customers. Since applications were built on top of Coghead’s proprietary APIs, users struggled to manually remove data or cobble together rough middleware fixes.
Cloud.com CEO Sheng Liang shares some insights regarding his company.
An Open-Source Alternative
Any time proprietary technology solutions cause problems, it’s a safe bet that independent programmers will start experimenting with open-source alternatives. With the cloud, we’re actually well past the experimentation stage, and open clouds are becoming a viable “third way.”
“There’s a growing demand for both enterprises and service providers to deliver their IT as a cloud. The technologies are fast evolving, and the opportunities to run IT more efficiently are coming quickly,” said Michael Coté, industry analyst at RedMonk. “To cope with that landscape, the best strategy now seems to be taking on as open and heterogeneous a cloud infrastructure as possible that can span private and public clouds.”
“No matter how successful cloud computing is, there will still be a large percentage of workloads running inside the firewall,” said Sheng Liang of Cloud.com. “Ideally, there will also be plenty of workloads running outside of the firewall. Both sides will continue to grow. Both have their advantages.”
The truth is that you can move to the cloud slowly, application by application. It is not an all-or-nothing technology. E-mail, for instance, is a clear example of an app that belongs in the hosted cloud. Employees seek access no matter where they are, and even if you have an on-premise Exchange server, many of your employees are probably already synching via Gmail.
Other apps, such as those with sensitive customer data or intellectual property, probably belong inside the firewall. For this reason, proprietary solutions that don’t play well together become all the more troubling.
Fortunately, many cloud vendors are moving to embrace open-source cloud tools. In addition to Cloud.com, another start-up, Eucalyptus, offers an open-source cloud alternative. Meanwhile, established players like Citrix, Google and Red Hat trumpet the virtues of open-source clouds, albeit while still trying to woo people to commit to their end-to-end solutions.
With cloud computing business cases and deployment models still evolving, it’s important to have an “enabling” attitude when it comes to the cloud. If the building blocks you’re using today won’t accommodate tomorrow’s cloud evolutions, you’ve wasted time and money.
For instance, a new cloud segment, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), has been catching on in the last couple of years. Essentially, IaaS does the same thing for the larger data center – processing, storage, switching, etc. – that virtualization did with applications on servers.
“Architecting and deploying cloud infrastructure and services can be complex, time-consuming and expensive. Our mission is to provide innovative solutions that simplify deployment, automate management and accelerate an organization's ability to achieve the full potential of the cloud,” Liang said.
To achieve this, Cloud.com built its solution on top of open-source components, such as Java, Xen, KVM and Linux.
Cloud Layer Makes it Easy to Build Your Cloud
Cloud.com’s vision of the future of the cloud is elegantly simple. For servers and storage that have already been virtualized, it’s a matter of simply adding a cloud layer above the virtualization one. That’s it.
The company’s CloudStack software integrates with existing infrastructure without modification, special-purpose hardware or reconfiguration, making it possible for end users to easily and affordably build their own clouds. Through the implementation of common cloud frameworks like the Amazon Web Services API, Citrix Cloud Center (C3) and VMware’s vCloud initiative, Cloud.com provides an open environment that interoperates and extends existing cloud initiatives.
This is a critical advantage of solutions like CloudStack. One of the most damaging misconceptions about cloud computing is the whole notion that you must choose between public or private clouds, and that once you choose, you’re locked in.
Open-source solutions like CloudStack give you a cloud roadmap that allows for private, public or even hybrid clouds that will all work seamlessly together. The cloud is still evolving, so it’s important not to limit your choices as the cloud matures.
Other cloud vendors are starting to throw their support behind Cloud.com’s open-source enablement model. “CloudStack instantly turns any deployment of Citrix XenServer into a fully functional, self-service cloud,” said Simon Crosby, CTO, Data Center and Cloud Division at Citrix. “Cloud.com has invested in an open-source, community-based development model that harnesses the power of the Xen hypervisor to enable anyone to download and easily deploy a standards-based cloud infrastructure with automated elasticity, multi-tenancy and simple administration, for free. This will dramatically accelerate the adoption of enterprise-ready cloud services.”
With solutions like Cloud.com removing the barriers of entry to the cloud, organizations now moving into the cloud have the best of both worlds. They can protect their existing infrastructure investments, while positioning themselves to rapidly take advantage of whatever new business models emerge as the cloud matures.
Sheng is the CEO and founder of Cloud.com, where he drives the vision and overall direction for the company as it transforms the way business can harness the power of their own cloud. Sheng is a recognized expert in virtualization technologies as the lead developer on the original Java Virtual Machine team at Sun Microsystems. Sheng was co-founder and CTO of Teros (acquired by ciitrix), a leader in perimeter and network security solutions for enterprises and service providers. Sheng has also held technology leadership roles as SEVEN Networks and Openwave systems where he developed software products for leading service providers and operators around the globe.