Four Key Categories for Cloud Computing

When it comes to cloud computing, concerns about control and security have dominated recent discussions. While it was once assumed that all computing resources could be had from outside, now it is going towards a vision of a data center magically transformed for easy connections to internal and external IT resources.

According to IDC’s Cloud Services Overview report, sales of cloud-related technology is growing at 26 percent per year. That is six times the rate of IT spending as a whole; although they comprised only about 5 percent of total IT revenue this year. While the report points out that defining what constitutes cloud-related spending is complicated, it estimates global spending of $17.5 billion on cloud technologies in 2009 will grow to $44.2 billion by 2013. IDC predicts that hybrid or internal clouds will be the norm, although even in 2013 only an estimated 10 percent of that spending will go specifically to public clouds.

According to Chris Wolf, analyst at The Burton Group, hybrid cloud infrastructure isn’t that different from existing data-center best practices. The difference is that all of the pieces are meant to fit together using Internet-age interoperability standards as opposed to homegrown kludge.

The following are four items to consider when making a “shopping list” when preparing your IT budget for use of private or public cloud services:

1.       Application Integration

Software integration isn’t the first thing most companies consider when building a cloud, although Bernard Golden, CEO at cloud consulting firm HyperStratus, and CIO.com blogger, says it is the most important one.

Tom Fisher, vice president of cloud computing at SuccessFactors.com, a business-application SaaS provider in San Mateo, California, says that integration is a whole lot more than simply batch-processing chunks of data being traded between applications once or twice per day like it was done in mainframes.

Fisher continues to explain that it is critical for companies to be able to provision and manage user identities from a single location across a range of applications, especially when it comes to companies that are new in the software-providing business and do not view their IT as a primary product.

“What you’re looking for is to take your schema and map it to PeopleSoft or another application so you can get more functional integration. You’re passing messages back and forth to each other with proper error-handling agreement so you can be more responsive. It’s still not real time integration, but in most cases you don’t really need that,” says Fisher.

2.       Security

The ability to federate—securely connect without completely merging—two networks, is a critical factor in building a useful cloud, according to Golden.

According to Nick Popp, VP of product development at Verisign (VRSN), that requires layers of security, including multifactor authentication, identity brokers, access management and sometimes an external service provider who can provide that high a level of administrative control. Verisign is considering adding a cloud-based security service.

Wolf states that it requires technology that doesn’t yet exist. According to Wolf, an Information Authority that can act as a central repository for security data and control of applications, data and platforms within the cloud. It is possible to assemble that function out of some of the aspects Popp mentions today, yet Wolf maintains that there is no one technology able to span all platforms necessary to provide real control of even an internally hosted cloud environment.

3.       Virtual I/O

One IT manager at a large digital mapping firm states that if you have to squeeze data for a dozen VMs through a few NICs, the scaling of your VM cluster to cloud proportions will be inhibited.

“When you’re in the dev/test stage, having eight or 10 [Gigabit Ethernet] cables per box is an incredible labeling issue; beyond that, forget it. Moving to virtual I/O is a concept shift—you can’t touch most of the connections anymore—but you’re moving stuff across a high-bandwidth backplane and you can reconfigure the SAN connections or the LANs without having to change cables,” says the IT manager.

Virtual I/O servers (like the Xsigo I/O Director servers used by the IT manager’s company) can run 20Gbit/sec through a single cord and as many as 64 cords to a single server—connecting to a backplane with a total of 1,560Gbit/sec of bandwidth. The IT Manager states that concentrating such a large amount of bandwidth in one device saves space, power and cabling and keeps network performance high and saves money on network gear in the long run.

Speaking about the Xsigo servers, which start at approximately $28,000 through resellers like Dell (DELL), the manager says, “It becomes cost effective pretty quickly. You end up getting three, four times the bandwidth at a quarter the price.”

4.       Storage

Storage remains the weak point of the virtualization and cloud-computing worlds, and the place where the most money is spent.

“Storage is going to continue to be one of the big costs of virtualization. Even if you turn 90 percent of your servers into images, you still have to store them somewhere,” says Golden in summary. Visit Nubifer.com for more information.

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