Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Delivering a cloud by Tuesday

Much of what I heard at VMworld in San Francisco (and is likely being repeated for the lucky folks enjoying themselves this week in Copenhagen) was about the long, gradual path to cloud computing. Lauren Horwitz captured this sentiment well in this VMworld Europe preview at SearchServerVirtualization.

And I totally agree: cloud computing is a long-term shift that will require time to absorb and come to terms with, while taking the form of public and private clouds – and even becoming a hybrid mix of the two. How the IT department in the largest organizations will assess and incorporate these new, more dynamic ways of operating IT is still getting sorted out.

Mike Laverick, the virtualization expert and the RTFM blogger quoted in the SearchServerVirtualization story, said that “users shouldn’t be scared thinking that they have to deliver a cloud by Tuesday of next week. It’s a long-term operational model over a 5- or 10-year period.”

But what if you can’t wait that long to deliver?

What if you really do have to deliver a cloud (or at least an application) next Tuesday? And then what if that app is expected to handle drastic changes the following Thursday?

Despite the often-repeated “slow and steady” messages about IT infrastructure evolution, I think it’s worth making sure we all don’t forget that there’s another choice, too. After all, cloud computing is all about choices, right? And cloud computing is about using IT to make an immediate impact on your business. While there is a time and place for the slow, steady, incremental change, there’s also a very real need now and again to make a big leap forward.

There are times to throw incrementalism out the window. In those situations, you actually do have another choice: getting a private cloud set up in record time with a more turnkey-type approach so you can immediately deliver the application or service you’re being asked for.

Turnkey cloud platform trade-offs

A turnkey approach for a cloud platform (which is, in the spirit of full disclosure, the approach that our CA 3Tera AppLogic takes) can get you the speedy delivery times you’re looking for. Of course, the key to speed is being able to have all of the complicating factors under your control. The 3Tera product does this, for example, by creating a virtual appliance out of the entire stack: from infrastructure on up to the application, simplifying things immensely by turning normally complicated components into software-only versions that can be easily controlled.

A turnkey cloud is probably best suited for situations where the quick delivery of the application or service is more critical than following existing infrastructure and operations procedures. After all, those procedures are the things that are keeping you from delivering in the first place. So there’s your trade-off: you can give yourself the ability to solve some of the messier infrastructure problems by changing some of the rules. And processes. The good news (for CA 3Tera AppLogic customers, anyway) is that even when you do break a few rules there’s a nice way to link everything back to your existing environment as that becomes important (and, eventually, required).

Create a real-world example of what your data center is evolving into

For these types of (often greenfield) situations, a turnkey private cloud platform gives you the chance to set up a small private cloud environment that delivers exactly what you’re looking for at the moment, which is the critical thing. It also sets you up for dramatic changes in requirements as conditions vary.

But beyond solving the immediate crisis (and preparing you for the next one), there’s a hidden benefit that shouldn’t be overlooked: you get experience working with your apps and infrastructure in this future, more cloud-like state. You get firsthand knowledge of the type of environment you’d like your entire data center to evolve into over the next 5-10 years. You’ll find out the things that work well. You’ll find out what the pitfalls are. Most of all, you’ll get comfortable with things working differently and learn the implications of that. That’s useful for the technology, but also for the previously mentioned processes, and, most of all, for the IT people involved.

So, when is that “big leap” appropriate?

The Forrester research by James Staten that I’ve referred to in previous posts talks about the different paths for moving toward a cloud-based environment – one more incremental and the other more turnkey. I’m betting you’ll know when you’re in the scenarios appropriate for each.

Service providers (including some of those working with us that I mentioned in my last post) have been living in this world for a few years now. They are very obviously eager to try new approaches. They are looking for real, game-changing cloud platform solutions upon which they can build their next decade of business. And the competitive pressures on them are enormous.

If you’re in an end user IT organization that’s facing an “uh oh” moment -- where you know what you want to get done, but you don’t really see how you can get there from here – it’s probably worth exploring this leap. At least in a small corner of your environment.

After all, Tuesday’s just around the corner.

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