Monday, September 15, 2008

Let the Cloud Computing OS wars begin!

Today is a big day in the cloud computing world. VMWorld is turning out to be a core cloud industry conference, where many of the biggest announcements of the year are taking place. Take,for instance, the announcement that VMWare has created the vCloud initiative, an interesting looking program that aims to build a partner community around cloud computing with VMWare. (Thanks to the every increasingly cloud news leader, On-Demand Enterprise, for this link and most others in this post.) This is huge, in that it signals a commitment by VMWare to standardize cloud computing with VI3, and provide an ecosystem for anyone looking to build a public, private or hybrid cloud.

The biggest news, however, is the bevy of press releases signaling that three of the bigger names in virtualization are each delivering a "cloud OS" platform using their technology at the core. Here are the three announcements:

  • VMWare is announcing a comprehensive roadmap for a Virtual Datacenter Operating System (VDC-OS), consisting of technologies to allow enterprise data centers to virtualize and pool storage, network and servers to create a platform "where applications are automatically guaranteed the right quality of service at the lowest TCO by harnessing internal and external computing capacity."

  • Citrix announces C3, "its strategy for cloud computing", which appears to be a collection of products aimed at cloud providers and enterprises wishing to build their own clouds. Specific focus is on the virtualization platform, the deployment and management systems, orchestration, and--interestingly enough--wide area network (WAN) optimization. In the end, this looks very "Cloud OS"-like to me.

  • Virtual Iron and vmSight announce a partnership in which they plan to deliver "cloud infrastructure" to managed hosting providers and cloud providers. Included in this vision are Virtual Iron's virtualization platform, virtualization management tools, and vmSight's "end user experience assurance solution" technology to allow for "operating system independence, high-availability, resource optimization and power conservation, along with the ability to monitor and manage application performance and end user experience." Again, sounds vaguely Cloud OS to me.

Three established vendors, three similar approaches to solving some real issues in the cloud, and three attacks on any entrenched interests in this space. All three focus on providing comprehensive management and infrastructure tools, including automated scaling and failover; and consistent execution to allow for image portability. The VMWare and Citrix announcements go further, however, in announcing technologies to support "cloudbursting" in which overflow processing needs in the data center are met by cloud providers on demand. VMWare specifically calls out OVF as the standard that enables this in their release; OVF is not mentioned by Citrix, but they have done significant work in this space as well.

Overall, VMWare has made the most comprehensive announcement, and have a lot of existing products to back up their feature list. However, much of what needs to be done to tightly integrate these products appears yet to be done. I base this on the fact that they highlight the need for a "comprehensive roadmap"--I could be wrong about this. They have also introduced a virtual distributed switch, which is a key component for migration between and within the cloud. Citrix doesn't mention such a thing, but of course the rumor is that Cisco will quite likely provide that. Whether such a switch will enable migration across networks, as VMWare's does (er, will?) is yet to be seen, however (see VMWare's VDC-OS press release). Citrix does, however, have a decent stable of existing applications to support their current vision.

By the way, Sun is working feverishly on their own Cloud OS. No sign of Microsoft, yet...

The long and the short of it is that we have entered into a new era, in which data centers will no longer simply be collections of servers, but will actually be computing units in and of themselves--often made up of similar computing units (e.g. containers) in a sort of fractal arrangement. Virtualization is key to make this happen (though server virtualization itself is not technically absolutely necessary). So are powerful management tools, policy and workflow automation, data and compute load portability, and utility-type monitoring and metering systems.

I worry now about my alma mater, Cassatt, who has chosen to go it largely alone until today. Its a very mature, very applicable technology, that would form the basis of a hell of a cloud OS management platform. Here's hoping there are some big announcements waiting in the wings, as the war begins to rage around them.

Update: No sooner do I express this concern, than Ken posts an excellent analysis of the VMWare announcement with Cassatt in mind. I think he misses the boat on the importance of OVF, but he is right that Cassatt has been doing this a lot longer than VMWare has.

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