Monday, May 21, 2012

Hybrid Clouds

Last week at the Boston 2012 VMware Forum I attended a presentation on Hybrid Clouds. During the Hybrid Cloud presentation, a solution architect takes to the stage and shows how easy it is to move applications from your existing infrastructure to an external hosting provider. Click a button and shazam your application has been magically transported to the ether plane of a cloud partner. Apparently cloud applications have come with an interesting new wormhole feature that lets you defy the laws of physics.

The NIST defines a hybrid cloud as a composition of two or more distinct cloud infrastructures (private, community, or public) that remain unique entities, but are bound together by standardized or proprietary technology that enables data and application portability.

Gartner’s conclusion about moving applications to the cloud is that IT organizations desire to conduct V2C (virtual machine to cloud) migrations, but today's market lacks maturity for most scenarios. Additionally, these migrations are time consuming and problematic. Most IT organizations should wait for tools to mature in terms of automation and performance before committing to V2C. As for now, organizations that need to migrate applications should do so by manually redeploying applications to the cloud provider.

That doesn’t disqualify some useful applications for hybrid clouds as long as you are realistic in your approach. First, if you move your virtual machine templates to a cloud partner and build up the infrastructure then you can leave it turned off in a “pay as you go” model for bursting capabilities. This does require you to build out the virtual machines and then reload your applications, but they would be available when you need additional capacity for peak usage.

A re-occurring example of an organization that would benefit from a hybrid cloud solution is Ticketmaster. Theoretically, Ticketmaster must have massive utilization requirements when tickets go on sale for concerts or sporting events. Let’s say it is Friday morning and Bruce Springsteen tickets are going on sale at 10 am. The instant those tickets are available, Ticketmaster will require an enormous amount of IT infrastructure to support the amount of transactions that happen for the next few hours. How can Ticketmaster afford the infrastructure for a business model that requires peak demands for ticket sales like Bruce Springsteen? They could rely on a cloud service provider.

Building out your virtual environment on a cloud partner’s infrastructure may save you from the capital expense of having to purchase the underlying hardware, but it certainly doesn’t admonish you for supporting the virtual instances. Even though these virtual machines may lie dormant, you still need to ensure that they are kept up to date with the latest security patches and software updates. Additionally, you need to make sure baseline infrastructure components like corporate security authentication and names resolution work in your partner’s multi-tenant environment.

When starting to assess applications that are suitable for a hybrid cloud solution, it is good to start with lab and development workload until your company is mature enough to move production instances. One scenario that does not work well in a hybrid cloud model is an application that relies on back-end infrastructure at the company’s datacenter and is adverse to latency issues. Applications with high I/O that need to navigate the network can make your users suffer poor performance and application time-outs. It doesn’t matter how much you save on infrastructure costs, if your customers start to experience poor performance for outward facing applications then the savings is not justified.

Gartner’s take-aways for IT organizations that are considering migrating applications to a cloud service provider:
  • Migrating applications to the cloud normally demands a manual process of deploying fresh cloud templates, reinstalling applications, and moving data.
  • Emerging V2C migration tools attempt to automate a migration from a traditional server virtualization environment into a cloud environment. These tools are not enterprise-ready because they are limited by hypervisor type, guest OS, cloud provider, and VM size:
    •  The V2C migration process is time consuming and prone to failure; the VM size and movement across networks are major contributing factors.
    •  Existing V2C migration tools such as Amazon's VM Import and VMware's vCloud Director are nascent and do not provide much visibility, insight, or assistance to IT organizations.
    •  Before selecting a CSP, IT organizations should ensure importing VMs is on the CSP’s 12-month road map.
    •  Hybrid cloud software and migration tools are emerging, but they are point-to-point, often unidirectional.

 In early May, Riverbed Technology announced a partnership with VMware, which was developed to help enterprises accelerate their journey to the cloud. With the latest collaboration, Riverbed WAN optimization increases the speed of virtual machines moving between clouds (private, public and hybrid) with VMware vCloud Connector. The combination of Riverbed and VMware solutions can enable cloud service providers to maximize their cloud computing offerings by empowering their customers to utilize their existing IT investments. This seems very promising, but it is a technology that was recently released and there are very few cloud service providers that have invested in the capabilities.

When moving to a hybrid cloud model, be realistic about the capabilities in the space before you sell a solution that doesn’t currently exist.
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