The drumbeat of cloud computing has become so loud that no business manager can avoid it, a siren song of lower cost, greater business agility, and the perfect alignment of business and IT. If you somehow missed it you can catch the cloud wave at Cloud Computing Expos in June and November.
Cloud computing, however, has proven easier said than done. Even before the recent Amazon cloud disaster when hundreds of Amazon Elastic Cloud Computing (EC2) customers lost access to their applications and data for most of a day or longer, technology vendors had been scrambling to make cloud computing easier to use and less risky.
Red Hat, the large open source Linux provider, is the latest to launch a series of cloud technologies that promise to mitigate the risk of deploying applications to the cloud. But IBM, HP, Microsoft, EMC, Dell and others have their own initiatives aimed at doing the same thing.
In some ways cloud computing is remarkably simple. Just find an application, say Salesforce.com, and it is delivered via the cloud as software-as-a-service (SaaS). Deployment can be fast and easy, and the costs are reasonable and predictable. The same can be said for cloud-based data backup services.
Things get more complicated, however, when you want to start mixing and matching various cloud services and SaaS applications. Or maybe you want to combine private and public cloud capabilities in a private cloud, creating what amounts to a hybrid cloud, and then build and deploy some of your own applications along with the cloud components. Of course, you'll want to integrate and manage it all as one for efficiency.
Well, that's not so easy. It can be done but you have to overcome the understandable tendency of vendors to lock you into their particular way of doing things. You end up with a lot of piece parts that don't necessarily work together, at least not without a lot of cobbling on your part.
In Boston, yesterday, Red Hat took a major step in enabling organizations to avoid this. It introduced a platform-as-a-service (PaaS) offering called OpenShift. It is aimed at open source developers and provides them with a flexible platform for developing cloud applications using a choice of open development frameworks. Based on a cloud interoperability standard, Deltacloud, OpenShift promises to end PaaS lock-in, allowing developers to choose not only the languages and frameworks they use but the cloud provider upon which their application will run.
At the same conference, Red Hat also announced CloudForms, a product for creating and managing Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) for private and hybrid clouds. It allows users to create integrated clouds from a range of computing resources and remain portable across different physical, virtual and cloud computing resources. CloudForms addresses key problems encountered in first-generation cloud products: the cost and complexity of virtual server sprawl, compliance nightmares, and security concerns. One key benefit of CloudForms is the ability to create hybrid clouds using existing computing resources.
Other vendors also have introduced new cloud initiatives recently. IBM, for example, demonstrated an enterprise cloud service delivery platform that it is piloting with key clients. It promises to allow enterprise clients to select key characteristics of a public, private, and hybrid cloud and match them to workload requirements ranging from simple Web infrastructure to complex business processes. These characteristics fall along five dimensions: security, performance/availability, technology platform, management/deployment, and payment/billing.
HP has joined with Red Hat in what is being called the Red Hat Cloud-HP Edition. This is a private cloud design and reference architecture for IAAS that combines Red Hat Cloud solutions with HP's CloudSystem, Cloud Maps and associated services
Add to the above what Dell, Microsoft, EMC, and others are doing with initiatives to simplify and streamline business use of the cloud and it becomes clear that the vendors have gotten the message: Businesses want cloud computing that delivers what it promised—open, flexible, reliable, and efficient computing with less risk.