Wednesday, December 3, 2008

From Gartner's Data Center Conf: Tom Bittman says the future looks a lot like a private cloud

Here's an amusing tidbit that gives you some indication what Gartner's Tom Bittman thinks the future holds for IT infrastructure and operations: he had so many "cloud" images in his keynote PowerPoint presentation here in Vegas on Tuesday that he actually had to go out and take photos of clouds himself. He needed to have enough distinctly different images that simply using clip art was getting Gartner into copyright issues (lawyers do care where you grab clip art from, I guess).

Bittman's presentation and comments kicked off the 27th annual Gartner Data Center Conference. Since Cassatt is here as a silver sponsor anyway, I thought I'd take the opportunity to give you a quick run-down of some of the highlights as they happen. Or at least as soon after they happen as is reasonable in a town like Las Vegas.

Back to Tom's opening comments: in laying out the future of infrastructure and operations, he described them as the "engine of cloud computing." In other words, pretty central to what is happening in this space. Cloud computing as provided by independent vendors today or as delivered by you inside your own data center all require an evolution in IT operations & management. Here are some interesting comments he made on-stage:

"The future of infrastructure and operations looks an awful lot like a private cloud." With the advent of cloud-style computing, "it's now about who can share things best," according to Bittman. But sharing is not something IT -- or end users, for that matter -- have been used to doing. Or have liked doing. Certainly virtualization has gone a long way toward getting people to think about their IT resources in a new way. In fact, he pointed out how interrelated virtualization, cloud computing, and Gartner's concept of a "real-time infrastructure" actually are. That real-time infrastructure story is one that Bittman, Donna Scott, and the Gartner folks blazed the trail with seven years ago and Tom noted that examples are starting to appear. Google and Amazon have some of this figured out. Tom gave them credit for understanding how to do shareable infrastructure, but not for understanding quality of service requirements for applications anywhere close to the way the IT people in his audience do.

"If you fully utilize your own equipment, Amazon [EC2] will cost you twice as much." Meaning this: the cloud computing benefit that is most interesting is not price. In most enterprises, if you are doing a good job of running your IT ops, you can do it for less than Amazon can. Instead, Bittman contended, it is the low barrier to entry that's so intriguing. And the concept of elasticity. The cloud providers have a lot of work to do managing elasticity, though, and it's one of the reasons Cassatt talks to organizations about using our software to do that -- for their internal resources.

"[In cloud computing] you don't ask how it's done, you ask for a result." This is one of the beauties of cloud computing, inside or outside your four walls. It's about masking the underlying infrastructure from you in a way that's financially beneficial and very flexible. In discussing this, Tom explained the new "meta operating system" required in the data center (or in your cloud service provider's data center) to make this all possible. He talked about VMware's future vision of something like this announced at VMworld (Ken Oestreich provided a good commentary on the pros/cons of that) and Microsoft's newly announced Azure.

But, Bittman said, "a meta operating system is not enough. We need to have something that can automate this to service levels. In cloud computing, today this is very simplistic. There's very little you can control." In fact, this is a sign of the immaturity of the cloud offerings.

The thing that can fill this gap is what Tom and Gartner call a "service governor" (and, is the category in which Donna Scott placed Cassatt Active Response in her Wednesday RTI presentation). A "service governor is what's going to take advantage of the meta OS -- whatever's under the covers -- and make it do useful work," Bittman said.

Bittman also offered a warning. The path that cloud computing doesn't want to follow is that of client/server. People went around central IT and the result was skyrocketing costs and little integration. Failures will be rampant with cloud computing, he said, unless IT is involved, no matter how well-meaning those do-it-yourselfers from the business side of the house are.

His advice: have a plan. Be proactive when it comes to cloud computing, but have a blueprint about where you're going, especially in these economic times. Or, if I may add my own suggestion, at least hedge your bets by starting a side business selling cloud photography to IT departments, analysts, and vendors. We could even use a few ourselves.

Next up: more highlights from Vegas, baby.

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