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Cloud and the New IT Pillars

By Massimo Re Ferre’  

Staff Systems Engineer – vCloud Architect


I have used one
of my recent posts in some off-line discussions about the use and penetration of virtualization
in some accounts. In this post I’d like to expand a bit on that. I will just
start with a nice picture that is supposed to summarize with a different
graphic (but with the same core concepts) what I was trying to argue in the
post I was referring above.  In
this case, I think a picture is worth 1,000 words:

VCloud and the new IT pillars Specifically I
want to position where cloud infrastructures are going to fit into an
organization. While this picture is really focused on internal (enterprise)
deployments it also maps how service and hosting providers are going to shape
their offerings for their end-users (more specifically, on the right hand-side
the traditional hosting business and on the left hand side the new virtual
servers /cloud business).


To make a long
story short, most enterprise will have to accommodate – like it or not – these
four platform pillars (right to left):


* Proprietary platform: essentially all non-x86 platforms.
Think of mainframes and the AS/400 as prime examples. While many may not refer
to Unix as a proprietary platform, I believe it is.


* Physical x86 platform: traditional Windows and
Linux deployments on physical servers. This is the typical old way where a
single OS image maps to a dedicated physical server.  Many customers still have physical server deployments as
part of their regular practice. Sometimes this is required; sometimes they do
this simply for “irrational fear of virtualization technologies”.


* Virtualized x86 platform: this is the first
deployment policy for many organizations. Think of VMware VI3 or VMware vSphere
deployments. This has proved to work well for the last five to six years and it’s
an established good practice. As mentioned in the post I referred to at the
beginning, the level of penetration may vary depending on many factors.


* Cloud platform
(IaaS): this is the new potential player in your infrastructure and it’s
probably going to support the less critical and more dynamic environments you
have to deal with on a daily basis (test and development is one common example;
there are many others).


One could spend
hours commenting on this slide but I’ll try to be dry on some key points that
you need to digest (in my opinion).


First and
foremost there is clearly a trend where the left pillar(s) is taking over some
of the workloads of the right pillar(s). And this trend is consistent across
the board: x86 physical deployments are cannibalizing proprietary platforms. It’s
the same pattern for virtualized deployments eating up typical x86 physical
workloads (more and more we hear about the “virtual first policy”). Last but
not least expect the new player, cloud infrastructure, to cannibalize most of
the traditional virtualized x86 deployments.  Stopping the trends I am describing here will be as
difficult as trying to stop a moving train with your fingertips: good luck.


At this point
you may wonder why, given that cloud infrastructures build on top of and
leverage virtual infrastructures, I am calling out two specific and separate pillars.
That’s a good point, especially because it’s true that clouds (specifically
IaaS clouds) build on top of hardware virtualization. In fact I argued just
this point in the other post I referenced at the beginning of this blog: since
the first cloud instantiation will tend to trade-off the complexity of many
tuning options for a better and easier end-user experience, we expect some
workloads that require a bit of tuning and visible infrastructure layout
options to remain on more traditional vSphere types of deployment.


If you think
about this, cloud is all about agility and with agility comes less control
(i.e. tuning). As time goes by these two pillars will converge. The Cloud
pillar will take over the traditional virtualization pillar. Indeed, I expect
that most of these tunings and controls will no longer be needed because of the
additional automation and auto-tuning concepts that cloud-related technologies
offer. Last but not least, let’s not forget that Cloud technologies will also
mature over time and will fill holes we see in the first wave of cloud


Finally, I’d
like to touch briefly on management. I think we need to be all very pragmatic
here. I know many customers are looking for the nirvana “one tool to manage
them all”. The fact of the matter is that the more you try to normalize these
pillars under the same management umbrella, the more benefits for each of the
pillars you must sacrifice. I have had an interesting discussion lately with a
colleague at VMware and I think he did hit the nail on the head when he said, “
They want to have one tool
because they think it’s more efficient. It’s not. It’s more efficient, and more
effective, to run two tools that manage two systems well than to run one tool
that manages ten systems poorly


In my previous
IT life I was in the business of trying to homogenize heterogeneous
virtualization platforms under a single management umbrella so I have to
(strongly) agree with my colleague’s statement. In fact, these pillars are very
different in the way you manage them. This is true not only from a technology
perspective but also, and even more so, from a process perspective. For
example, the process to request a partition on a legacy Unix system may be
totally different than the process required to instantiate a new physical
server, which in turn is totally different than the process to request a new
vSphere virtual machine. To complicate things more, the Cloud pillar, by very
definition, doesn’t require any process whatsoever to instantiate a new
workload from the self-service portal.


Try to
homogenize this with common processes, a single management umbrella, and a
single pane of glass. The moment you think you have done it, you wake up all

I am not making the case that your application or
service will not span different pillars. You may very well have your scale-out
web front-end on a dynamic cloud pillar and your scale-up back-end database on
a more tunable virtualized pillar or any other combination. After all, the
concept of application layer tiering
isn’t that new in this industry. If you think about that we have just added
another interesting pillar (Cloud) into a picture that we have been using in
the last ten years.  This is not
going to shake our world, but it is going to make it much better.






One comment has been added so far

  1. I agree with your statement, “….will be as difficult as trying to stop a moving train with your fingertips….”.
    We can’t stop the trend towards the cloud, or private cloud, virtualization continues to sizzle.

    Mike Flaherty
    Online Tech – Colocation, Dedicated Servers, Michigan Data Centers

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