It’s a “coming of age” story, really. The cloud computing movement is reaching a new stage in its evolution. Many early clouds were built on top of existing server virtualization systems, with the primary objective of demonstrating the underlying technologies. Having proven that cloud computing works, enterprises are now looking to graduate to clouds that will support the long-term, production needs of the business; they are looking to build professional-grade clouds that will carry them the full distance. But that then begs the question, what makes a cloud “professional-grade?”
I see three primary differentiators that characterize professional-grade clouds:
- The ability to deliver a range of services to the broad group of end-users served by IT. Overwhelmingly, the first use-case targeted by most cloud pilots is software development and testing. Software development is a natural fit for cloud computing since developers and testers usually have a spikey demand for infrastructure, which makes the economic model a no-brainer. Further, these early users are quite technical, and so any rough spots in the cloud user-interface can be overlooked to keep the pilot project on track. But the simple user-interfaces delivered during the pilot phase typically don’t work well as the cloud moves to production and the user base expands to include non-technical business users. Instead, you’ll want a self-service interface that even a marketing intern could love, an interface that can deliver more than raw developer building blocks like Windows or Linux virtual machines. You’ll need a service catalog with user authentication, role-based access control, and the ability to provision complete, fully-configured end-user applications like Sharepoint, wikis, and collaboration tools.
- The ability to support the diverse set of cloud platforms required by the enterprise, both current and future. Many early clouds were built as mere extensions of the existing server virtualization platform already deployed at the time. Take virtualization, add a self-service interface, and you’re done! That’s a reasonable decision for a pilot program or technology demonstration, but it won’t go the distance. A professional-grade cloud will use a real cloud management platform to insulate cloud users from all the underlying implementation choices, making it easy to build hybrid clouds based on a variety of underlying implementation technologies: VMware vSphere, Microsoft Hyper-V, Citrix XenServer, OpenStack, a variety of public cloud providers, and even bare metal. Further, we all know that needs and technologies will evolve over time; a professional-grade cloud anticipates that future change and takes it in stride.
- Integration with IT processes and systems needed by the business. Most early clouds are built with clean-sheet design principles, implemented as independent islands outside normal IT processes and not integrated with existing systems. This allows the pilot project to get up and running quickly and to remain uncluttered by traditional IT thinking. Over time, however, the enterprise needs to be able to manage the performance, capacity, security, and change capabilities of the cloud, just as it does today with physical and virtualized infrastructure. Does this mean weighing down your nice, sleek, agile new cloud with two-tons of ITIL? No, not necessarily. Well-built, enterprise-class clouds cooperate with other IT systems, delivering the appropriate I-dotting and T-crossing with integration and automation so that enterprise compliance requirements and business policies remain enforced.
Now that cloud computing is growing up and going mainstream, it’s time that we got past the pilots and demos and started building professional-grade clouds that can meet real needs across the business, built for the long haul. We can leverage all the work we have done with those early projects and move them forward, building the advanced set of capabilities that will serve as the foundation moving forward.
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