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EMC/Cisco's V-Block faces the hard Cell from HP

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Cell technology treats VMware as just another VDC component, and wraps it up inside a quasi-VDC operating system based on sets of virtualised machine resources called cells.

According to John Manley, Director of Automated Infrastructure in HP Labs, Bristol, a cell is an infrastructure-level cloud service, a secure and isolated partition in the infrastructure - a virtualised entity. It is, as you would expect, composed of servers (HP blades), switches (ProCurve) and storage (XP, EVA, etc.) operated as virtualised resources and described by a set of metadata, a model.

The model data describes - or rather specifies - the cell's loading, response time needs, scaling behaviour, failure behaviour, security, connectivity and so forth.

Models are cell templates and describe every necessary component, applications and operating systems included, for a cell to be loaded and started up. You could have, for example, a database cell, an order processing cell, or an accounts payable cell. The cells are virtual black boxes.

Once running, cells can be combined to form business processes. Cells in a data centre can be extended to other data centres, or to service providers to do this. They are virtualised building blocks, V-Blocks in ECV's language, for horizontal and vertical cloud services.

The management layer hides the complexity involved and provides life cycle management of cells. You would use this to build a customised set of services in a virtualised data centre, for IT service consumers in public or private clouds, or both. Manley reckons that the cloud will be absolutely heterogeneous in future, and will use federated domains. (Find out more here (pdf).)

Service providers could use cells to deliver services to multiple customers simultaneously. We could think of cloud service providers as operating cell factories which run on large scale, modular, flexible and virtualised physical infrastructures.

Controlling HP's destiny

With this cell-based management technology in its labs, HP has been developing cloud infrastructure management layer software that could look after a variety of virtualised server environments, VMware, Hyper-V, Citrix or RedHat. By developing its own virtual data centre management product, HP would avoid being in thrall to VMware or dependent on Microsoft's schedule for developing and extending Hyper-V.

It would be far better for HP to be in control of its own destiny and this HP Labs Cell technology indicates how it could do so. Were HP to make this into a product, then it's arguable that it would be making the running in the virtualised cloud data centre stakes and not EMC and Cisco, who would be relegated to catch-up mode.

In fact, it seems that we could say, in terms of virtual data centre deliverables, HP is actually ahead of Cisco and EMC already. Neither of them, on their own, is capable of challenging HP in this area. They have to partner, having no other choice if they want to compete, and EVC and its V-Block is the result.

These two individually weaker players, in the cloud VDC stakes, are partnering to challenge HP, and then IBM. That's one way to look at it. We'll just have to wait to see whose offering comes out on top. ®

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