Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Inklings of what you really need for cloud management

I've seen a number of articles in recent weeks recounting some of the issues that customers are going to have if they really, truly want to start using cloud computing in some capacity. A number of the presenters at this week's Cloud World Expo said much the same.

And it's not pretty. For example:

David Linthicum, in an Intelligent Enterprise piece recently, rattled off some pretty serious issues to consider before deciding whether an application is at all a fit for any sort of cloud architecture. It included compliance, privacy, fear, and control. Along with his suggestions for working through these items, he concluded there are some apps where using a cloud will never make sense. "Cloud computing," he writes, "is almost never cost effective or a good technical fit for all applications." [Emphasis mine.]

Gordon Haff of Illuminata had a similar Top 10 list of observations about where we are today in the cloud computing market. Several of his observations noted how complicated the real world always is, especially when compared with the PowerPoint version of our plans. Some "very real and very thorny" IT questions start to come up as people really start doing cloud computing, says Haff. Some of the tough ones he noted were security, compliance (again), data portability, and even legal matters, like what happens when the FBI shows up at a hosting provider with a search warrant.

How do you start to jump over these serious hurdles?

Several of the presentations I saw today at Cloud World in San Francisco from people like James Urquhart (Cisco), Sam Charrington (Appistry), CA's own Stephen Elliot, and Joe Weinman of AT&T hit the point home. Cloud computing has a number of big issues to solve. As Weinman said in the closing keynote panel, "The enterprise data center is not going to go away" just because cloud computing appeared on the scene. (In fact, if you believe Weinman, "AT&T has been in the cloud business since 1878," a comment which amused the audience.) The question, he said, becomes "how do you make all this stuff work optimally with all the trade-offs?"

One of the missing components needed to make sure a big IT shop can take advantage of some sort of cloud architecture -- internal, external, or somewhere in between -- is management. Pretty complex and thorough management, actually. The advent of serious cloud management capabilities is going to signal that this cloud computing stuff is going to be possible for mere mortals.

Maybe I wasn't paying enough attention to the "big guys" before (call it a start-up induced blind spot, perhaps), but several very established players are jumping into the space, including CA, the new home of Cassatt employees and technology assets. CA used this week's Next Generation Data Center and Cloud World and whatever-other-names-IDG-is-using-this-year Conference to announce Amazon EC2-related capabilities across a large number of its products. The CA press release is posted here.

Is EC2 support an important thing?

Sure, the CA EC2 support is nice, but in fact I think the more interesting angle on this announcement is that a company like CA is starting to weave cloud capabilities into its entire (very broad) product line. Since CA started talking about its activity in the cloud space last November, they've now brought data center automation, application performance management, database management, and service management into the mix. And systems management is underway.

Moves like what CA is doing are starting to answer a lot of the "thorny questions" that customers are asking. Sure, there are more solutions and capabilities to deliver. But, if the industry discussion and conference chatter is any indication, people are starting to ask questions about how they cover a lot of the messier areas to make cloud computing work. And the first steps at answering those questions are appearing.

There's lots of work to do, but the more we as an industry talk about the real issues customers are going to have when incorporating cloud computing in their IT portfolio, and the less we sweep it under a layer of hype, the better.

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