A View from 30,000 Feet: What Does the Cloud Really Mean?
I wrote this post on a flight back from Colorado (hence the title). It seemed only fitting that, being up above the clouds myself, I should write my next Journey to the Cloud blog post. I started thinking back a couple of weeks ago, when GreenPages held its annual Technology Summit in Portsmouth, NH. The event consisted of two and a half days of keynote and breakout sessions delivered by a combination of our top vendor/manufacturer partners and our own solution architects. The event attendees included delegates from our top 70 customers and ranged from C level executives to IT management. Probably no surprise to any of you, but the theme of the event this year centered on cloud technologies. I was inspired to write this blog post based on some of the keynote sessions and feedback from attendees.
I think there is a lot of misperception around all of this “cloud” stuff so I wanted to lay out my thoughts on the topic and hopefully level a bit on where GreenPages sees the technology both today, as well as in the future. My belief is that when anyone says the word ”cloud,” most people immediately think of some type of public, multi-tenant environment like Amazon’s EC2, AT&T’s Synaptic Compute, or Terremark’s Enterprise Cloud and, frankly, that tends to scare the hell out of many of our customers. It’s the whole Coke/Pepsi thing where both companies may purchase space in something like Amazon’s environment and those applications could literally be running side by side on the same physical piece of hardware inside of Amazon’s environment. Most of GreenPages’ customers today, for one reason or another with some being valid and others not so much, are simply not ready to dive into this world with primary/tier 1 types of applications and data. I very much liken this discussion to the virtualization discussions we were having three to five years ago, telling customers “hey, you can run these 10-20 applications on top of a single physical server with little to no performance or stability issues” and having customers give us the “yeah, right, like that is ever actually going to work” kind of look.
While I do honestly believe that the majority of objections to this public cloud/utility computing model can be overcome today, I am also a realist and understand the apprehension many customers have to diving into this type of a major platform shift in the short term, which brings me to the point of this post. Don’t think of ”cloud” as being only a public/shared type of service; there is a ton of opportunity for customers to develop their own “private” clouds within the four walls of the existing corporate data center.
During the summit event, I got the distinct impression that many of our customers felt that GreenPages, as well as other IT providers, were twisting their arms and forcing the public cloud down their throats. I want to clear the air and firmly state that this is not the case from GreenPages’ perspective. We believe that in the short term, the concept of a private cloud will prevail, and this is not at all a bad thing. Building a private cloud will essentially streamline IT operations internally and provide that foundational understanding of what a “cloud” really is, so that when the initial apprehension is gone and our customers are ready to move some or all of their applications to more public offerings they will be educated and able to easily migrate to, from, or between these public options. Once this is in place, the concept of the Enterprise Hybrid Cloud will be realized.
So, where do you start in this journey? The first step is to fully understand the core components that make up a private cloud. In my opinion, there are four primary components: virtualization, monitoring, management, and automation. I think most of you reading this are already well down the path of virtualization, but this is only part of the journey. You may have 15:1 or 20:1 consolidation ratios, but have you truly changed the way you manage this environment compared to what you were doing pre-virtualization? We constantly see environments that are heavily virtualized but poorly monitored and managed. This presents a huge opportunity to further streamline operations and get IT out of the business of ”keeping the lights on” and simply being a cost center and into the business of innovating and turning IT into an essential part of the business. Once robust monitoring and management are in place, the automation component may be added to make intelligent decisions based on the data collected by the monitoring tools and the policies and workflows put in place by the management tools. Together, these four pillars of the private cloud will enable the true transformation of the data center and allow for an easier transition to public offerings once the business is ready to take that leap.