Private Clouds, Application Awareness and Why Virtualization is Not Enough…

Given the huge amount of conflicting opinion regarding the future and meaning of cloud it was refreshing this week to take part in a panel discussion in which some degree of consensus was reached. Speaking at Waters Power in London – an event which explores IT challenges facing the financial services sector – I was joined by senior IT executives from tier one banks to discuss the costs, risks and benefits of cloud.

Participants on the panel said they were excited about cloud and were actively looking at ways in which it can benefit their organizations. This in itself was significant since most of the talk at last year’s event focused on grid and virtualization rather than cloud. More interesting, however, was the general agreement on where cloud is heading. The panel believed that while there’s no doubt public cloud services are the future of IT we’re some way off reaching that point.

For now, private cloud is where firms are focusing most of their attention. This is particularly the case as organizations remain cautious about the security of their data when stored beyond the corporate network. Latency too was felt to be a key barrier to public cloud adoption and it was agreed more needs to be done to ensure applications are suitable for the cloud.

The issue of economics was also raised by the panel. Despite the widely touted cost saving benefits of cloud services, organizations are reluctant to pay others to host their data when they have already invested significant sums of money in their own IT infrastructure, which everyone agreed was greatly underutilized. Getting the most out of existing investments is therefore crucial and a key challenge, hence why we developed Platform ISF – to bring the same types of cost savings and higher utilization benefits Platform Symphony has delivered for HPC workloads, to the rest of the data center. ISF is currently in beta release at many of these same customers and will be GA in November.

Besides the fact the private cloud is the main focus right now, the other two key takeaways from the conversation with the panel and with several senior IT executives I meet with during my visit to both Paris and London this past week was around “application awareness” in the cloud and that “virtualization is not enough”.

On the first topic, it was clear from the audience questions that they were concerned where application and their sub-components would be placed in the cloud when deployed to this dynamic infrastructure within VMs. They wanted the cloud “engine” to do automated placement that considered some type of “affinity” or closeness of where these deployments occurred relative to other components or to storage, networks, etc. This is something Platform ISF already has included in its policy placement engine as noted in the ISF data sheet, so I guess we are on the right track.

As far as virtualization not being enough, the issue is that many firms do “static placement” of VMs, which only helped slightly in increasing infrastructure utilization and lowering costs. Due to this static placement, application VMs are being over provisioned and that meant less VMs can be “packed” into one server than was originally thought could be done. The reason why these were statically placed and not generally moved unless a VM becomes “hot” and needs more CPU than is available is that it normally required a system admin to manually do the migration. This is because few companies trusted the VM Management software to automatically migrate the VMs, since this software lacked the application awareness and intelligence that was discussed earlier in this post.

Expect to see more financial services firms making the step beyond grid in the months ahead as the efficiency and cost saving benefits of private cloud become too tempting to ignore. As one participant commented, even in a downturn banks need to innovate. Experimenting with private cloud and establishing a flexible and scalable IT infrastructure can support innovation by helping firms get products to market quicker than ever. On this point alone there’s little disagreement this is hugely desirable in today’s economic climate.


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