Enterprise IT shops are starting to embrace the notion of building private clouds, modeling their infrastructure after public service providers such as Amazon and Google. But while virtualization and other technologies exist to create computing pools that can allocate processing power, storage and applications on demand, the technology to manage those distributed resources as a whole is still in the early stages.
The corporations building their own private clouds include such notable names as Bechtel, Deutsche Bank, Morgan Stanley, Merrill Lynch and BT, according to The 451 Group. The research firm found in a survey of 1,300 corporate software buyers that about 11 percent of companies are deploying internal clouds or planning to do so. That may not seem like a huge proportion, but it's a sign that private clouds are moving beyond the hype cycle and into reality.
"It's definitely not hype," says Vivek Kundra, CTO for the District of Columbia government, which plans to blend IT services provided from its own data center with external cloud platforms like Google Apps. "Any technology leader who thinks it's hype is coming at it from the same place where technology leaders said the Internet is hype."
At the center of cloud computing is a services-oriented interface between a provider and user, enabled by virtualization, says Gartner analyst Thomas Bittman. "When I move away from physical to virtual machines for every requirement, I'm drawing a layer of abstraction," Bittman says. "What virtualization is doing is you [the customers] don't tell us what server to get, you just tell us what service you need."
While virtualization technologies for servers, desktops and storage are readily available, Gartner says to get all the benefits of cloud-computing enterprises will need a new meta operating system that controls and allocates all of an enterprise's distributed computing resources.
It's not clear exactly how fast this technology will advance. VMware plans to release what might be considered a meta operating system with its forthcoming Virtual Datacenter Operating System, but in terms of timing the vendor will say only that will be released at some point in 2009.
But cloud computing is less a new technology than it is a way of using technology to achieve economies of scale and offer self-service resources that are available on demand, The 451 Group says. Numerous enterprises are taking on this challenge of building more flexible, service-oriented networks using existing products and methodologies.
Thin clients and virtualization is the key for Lenny Goodman, director of the desktop management group at Baptist Memorial Health Care.
Baptist uses 1,200 Wyse Technology thin clients, largely at patients' bedsides, and delivers applications to them using Citrix XenApp application virtualization tools. Baptist also is rolling out virtual, customizable desktops to those thin clients using Citrix XenDesktop.