Ellen Rubin is the founder and Vice President of Products for CloudSwitch, which allows enterprises to run applications in the cloud without re-architecting the application or changing existing management tools.
At first glance, cloud computing can appear to be "virtualization taken to its logical conclusion." After all, if the main benefit of virtualization is to consolidate data center resources and increase the speed of provisioning, then cloud is the ultimate pay-off: don’t own the resources at all and cut provisioning down to a few minutes with instant self-service gratification.
But upon further thought, cloud seems to be giving virtualization a return to the spotlight. A recent Gartner study noted that cloud computing is the number two priority for CIOs – trumped only by virtualization. And many panel discussions and sessions at recent cloud-related trade shows have addressed the benefits of extending virtualization footprints within the data center and starting to turn these into internal clouds, or at least “cloud-like” environments.
Still More Virtualization To Be Done
So is virtualization what’s old but new again? Remember that most enterprises have adopted virtualization in some way, but are only about 20% virtualized so far. So there’s plenty of room left to penetrate, and there’s still lots of opportunity for optimization and better management. Virtualization has primarily been used for consolidation, not for optimizing workload management and self-service. And many companies have large investments in existing hardware and virtualization licenses that they’d like to use more efficiently. In many ways, cloud computing has emerged on the scene as a disruptive force while virtualization is still an evolution in progress.
The common wisdom shared by many vendors, analysts, and customers is that "hybrid" environments are key to the emerging IT infrastructure. Some applications will stay behind the firewall and others can be moved to outside cloud environments. Some may need to be split between the data center and external clouds, especially where the database needs to stay inside. In this hybrid world, some enterprises will want to focus on growing the internal virtualization footprint and starting to build capabilities for provisioning, charge-back, orchestration, role-based access, etc.
This may require significant investment in additional hardware and software. Enterprise IT will also need to develop a new perspective on managing their virtual investments, learning from cloud providers and technology innovators about best practices and how to combine external cloud services with their own environments securely and transparently.
Bias Toward Known Technologies?
It's also true that many vendors (as well as some IT departments) have a bias towards focusing the cloud revolution on known and existing technologies. It's still somewhat scary to think about moving things outside the data center, and cloud technologies are still in relatively early stages. And external cloud services (in particular public clouds) are pushing the envelope in terms of customer expectations and placing new, challenging demands on virtualization.
But virtualization will have to step up to these demands now that the cloud revolution has raised the bar. Many of the emerging capabilities will need to be at the management plane: a broad range of self-service functions, for sure, but also the ability to route workloads to the appropriate environments based on business and technical requirements, and to federate across multiple and diverse environments both on-premises and externally. The public cloud providers and cloud-enablement vendors are leading the way in these areas. So maybe cloud computing turns out to be not only the logical extension of virtualization, but the catalyst that helps virtualization move to the next level.
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