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Raining support money (someday)

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Let's get one thing straight. We don't like the term cloud computing any more than you do

Of course, Richard Stallman doesn't like when we call it Linux rather than GNU/Linux. He's gotta live with Linux. And, well, we've gotta live with cloud computing. It's not going away.

Commercial Linux and middleware distributor Red Hat is, like other platform providers, trying to get money from IT departments that buy software. But Red Hat can't say that. For one, the company can't sell software because that violates open source licensing, and two, it's too boring to just come out and say that.

In this day and age, making a sale seems to mean convincing IT execs that your company has a full stack of virtualized servers and storage than can be shaped into pie-in-the-sky, super-low-cost, easier-to-administer and program, cloudy infrastructure. I say this mainly because of the way most IT vendors talk, not because of the results they get.

Debating whether or not cloud computing is a good term - or whether or not this is a revolution or evolution - is pointless. Though it can be fun. Utility computing is a much better term for what we are moving towards as far as I am concerned, and anyone who has been paying attention to IT since it was called data processing knows that so-called cloud computing is just an evolution. Brian Stevens, chief technology officer and vice president of engineering at Red Hat, said as much as he kicked off the second Open Cloud Computing Forum.

"It's really about the users, about allowing end users to standing up applications quickly," Stevens said. And yes, standing up is a new usage in the IT lingo for wrapping up applications in virtual machine wrappers and getting them running on virtualized hardware. "It is really a model that supports on demand, not just in provisioning, but in un-provisioning. Cloud is all the rage, but it is just a natural evolution of where computing is heading with or without the name cloud."

Yes, he said un-provisioning.

The problem with all of this cloud speak, explained Stevens, is that IT departments might be lulled into thinking that this stuff actually works yet in a manner that is safe for enterprise-class deployments. To be sure, 80 to 90 per cent of the clouds out there are using open source tools, but no two clouds seem to be built the same way. There are evolving and competing sets of standards.

"There a lot of great demoware out there," Stevens said of cloudy infrastructure, "but most customers are in the virtualization phase." He meant they're not quite ready for the very fluid kind of IT that cloudy infrastructure implies. And the good thing for Red Hat - which wants to make money selling support for open source infrastructure software - is that there is time yet to get a complete cloud stack together and wrap it all up, much as Red Hat did with the Linux kernel and a bunch of other useful bits to create Advanced Server Linux in May 2002.

Red Hat today trotted out some interesting projects that are part of its cloudy efforts. Many of them have their origins in the JBoss middleware stack, interestingly enough, since JBoss had to wrestle with some of the same provisioning, scalability, and storage issues that cloud infrastructure does.

The first project that Red Hat discussed at the Open Cloud Computing Forum was called BoxGrinder, which is a tool being cooked up by Red Hat to "grind out" server configurations for the multitude of virtualization fabrics out there.

According to Bob McWhirter, chief architect of cloud computing for JBoss middleware, BoxGrinder got its start because Red Hat needed to be able to crank out cloud-ready images of JBoss projects. While McWhirter contributes to these projects, BoxGrinder is part of a suite of products called StormGrind that are being managed by Marek Goldmann.

McWhirter has plenty of projects of his own as the founder of Codehaus, a repository for open source projects, Drools, a rules engine, Groovy, a programming language for the Java platform, and TorqueBox, an application platform for Ruby that runs atop JBoss.

BoxGrinder hooks into RPM repositories and allows programmers or system administrators to quickly grab and package up the front end, application server, and database tiers of an application stack inside virtualized appliances and dispatch them as a connected package for deployment on virtual infrastructures.

Right now, BoxGrinder can create servers based on Fedora Linux and will support Red Hat Enterprise Linux in the future (my guess is when RHEL 6 debuts sometime around the middle of this year). BoxGrinder doesn't just pull the RPMs out of the repository. It also allows you to allocate processors, memory, and disk to the virtual machines for each part of the stack with just a couple of lines and even use so-called Just Enough Operating System (JEOS) skinnied down Linuxes instead of the full Fedora or RHEL stack.

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