Feeds

Virtualization and the cloud

Just a stepping stone?

  • alert
  • submit to reddit

High performance access to file storage

Reader Workshop A reasonably fundamental principle of virtualization is that it creates a layer of abstraction between a virtual machine and the physical hardware. As we have already discussed in this series, this allows multiple virtual machines to run on a single physical machine, and also can enable a virtual machine to be moved quite straightforwardly from one physical machine to another.

Within the data centre this has a number of benefits, such as workload balancing (server too busy? 'Simply' move one or two VM's onto a less populated server), higher availability (virtual machines can be moved off a physical server so it can be replaced, upgraded or fixed) and so on.

But hang on – if it's that straightforward to move virtual machines, what's keeping them from moving outside the data centre altogether? One obvious scenario is to move a machine onto hardware run by another company.

Third parties such as CSC, IBM, EDS and Rackspace have run server environments for use by their clients for many years, using a number of names such as ‘hosting’, ‘service provision’ and so on. These companies have been joined more recently by companies such as Amazon, which prefer to label themselves ‘cloud providers’.

Indeed, the older hands at this game have found the lure of the cloud irresistible, and have been launching repackaged cloud services of their own. The current marketing bucket for all such services is ‘Infrastructure as a Service’. Without getting too much into the nuts and bolts of it all, the open question from a virtualization perspective is, if a machine is virtualized and therefore movable, what are the benefits and costs of running it in the cloud?

Any challenges are likely to be around managing the associated risks. There is something about keeping IT in-house, within the firewall where it at least appears better protected and more under control. Taking a workload and giving it to any old Tom, Dick or Harry to manage can be fraught with danger, particularly if the data being processed is sensitive.

With this in mind, it’s still possible to imagine several likely scenarios which possibly boil down to the following factors:

  • How practical it is to move a given workload in the first place (for example, in terms of network bandwidth)
  • How much management and control is required – is the workload something that can ‘just run’?
  • As mentioned, the sensitivity of the data and application involved
  • Legal and compliance issues around geographic location of data

So, number-crunching of non-confidential information (for example in analytics or research) might be a quick win, whereas that business-critical system on which pricing information is changed on a daily basis might need a little more thought before it is shifted off to a data centre goodness-knows-where.

An upside of the cloud is that it creates some possibilities that just didn’t exist before. Smaller companies for example told us how they are now able to create a disaster recovery ‘site’ which replicates their core systems as virtual machines, whereas before (with physical servers) the costs would have been prohibitive.

In companies of all sizes, as with virtualization itself, we are seeing earlier adoption of IaaS in development and test environments. The ability to create one or more sand-box replicas of a live environment, which can be built and deleted as necessary, is highly compelling. Similarly, scientists requiring to run a set of compute-intensive algorithms can now do so, rather than just wishing the possibility were there.

These are still early days, and we are a long way from handing over our IT environments (virtualized or otherwise) to IaaS providers. Or are we? Common sense suggests that we are a long way off wholesale adoption of such an underdeveloped technology or concept as cloud. However, historical examples such as outsourcing teaches us that sometimes organizations can throw common sense out of the window as they try to save a quick buck in the short term. Yes, we have seen it before.

IaaS is not wrong in principle – and indeed, there are plenty of examples of where it may well be able to save organizations a lot of cash at the same time as bring flexibility and higher levels of service into the mix. For example, in the future, organizations struggling with managing their desktop estates (and who may well be looking at desktop virtualization) might indeed be better off handing their desktop management ills to a third party.

But there is still plenty to do before anything other than discrete, low-sensitivity workloads can be run in the cloud, not least in terms of architecture, security/legal and costing models. We'll cover these off in the next article, as well as considering some of the due diligence aspects that can be taken into account during selection and procurement.

Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction

More from The Register

next story
This time it's 'Personal': new Office 365 sub covers just two devices
Redmond also brings Office into Google's back yard
Oh no, Joe: WinPhone users already griping over 8.1 mega-update
Hang on. Which bit of Developer Preview don't you understand?
Microsoft lobs pre-release Windows Phone 8.1 at devs who dare
App makers can load it before anyone else, but if they do they're stuck with it
Half of Twitter's 'active users' are SILENT STALKERS
Nearly 50% have NEVER tweeted a word
Internet-of-stuff startup dumps NoSQL for ... SQL?
NoSQL taste great at first but lacks proper nutrients, says startup cloud whiz
Ditch the sync, paddle in the Streem: Upstart offers syncless sharing
Upload, delete and carry on sharing afterwards?
New Facebook phone app allows you to stalk your mates
Nearby Friends feature goes live in a few weeks
Microsoft TIER SMEAR changes app prices whether devs ask or not
Some go up, some go down, Redmond goes silent
Batten down the hatches, Ubuntu 14.04 LTS due in TWO DAYS
Admins dab straining server brows in advance of Trusty Tahr's long-term support landing
prev story

Whitepapers

SANS - Survey on application security programs
In this whitepaper learn about the state of application security programs and practices of 488 surveyed respondents, and discover how mature and effective these programs are.
Combat fraud and increase customer satisfaction
Based on their experience using HP ArcSight Enterprise Security Manager for IT security operations, Finansbank moved to HP ArcSight ESM for fraud management.
The benefits of software based PBX
Why you should break free from your proprietary PBX and how to leverage your existing server hardware.
Top three mobile application threats
Learn about three of the top mobile application security threats facing businesses today and recommendations on how to mitigate the risk.
3 Big data security analytics techniques
Applying these Big Data security analytics techniques can help you make your business safer by detecting attacks early, before significant damage is done.