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Intel floats hybrid cloud scheme for SMB apps

Cloudwashes local server workloads

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There are 22 million small and medium businesses in the world, and the last thing that Intel wants them to do is say to hell with servers and move all their workloads and data to public clouds.

So Intel has come up with a clever scheme that will let service and application providers cloudwash their traditional SMB setup – i.e. move it to the cloud without really moving it to the cloud.

The AppUp Small Business Service – which Intel rolled out on Tuesday with its server, service provider, and software partners – runs atop the company's Hybrid Cloud platform. It tries to give everyone the best of the on-premises and cloud worlds by mixing them together. Perhaps more importantly, the AppUP service will allow server makers, hosting companies, and application makers to share in the wealth that can be mined from SMBs that are sick of managing applications and servers as well as paying for iron and perpetual software licenses every couple of years.

Luckily for Intel, most SMB shops are not quite ready to move their data and applications to a public cloud, especially after Amazon's multi-day outage in its Virginia data center last month and the many public security breaches and hack attacks reported in the press on a daily basis.

That said, SMBs don't want to compute like its 1999, either. They like the idea of pay-per-use software pricing, but service providers and their application provider partners, according to Boyd Davis, vice president of marketing at Intel's Data Center Group, do not have a consistent means of metering software usage and packaging-up applications for easy consumption by SMBs.

"We encourage people to install hardware and packaged applications," says Boyd. "That is a perfectly valid thing to do. But not everyone has access to capital."

Intel could wait around for someone to create such a framework to allow software providers and SPs to work together to dispatch server applications down to SMB sites, where companies could run the applications locally but have someone else manage and monitor the systems. Instead, Intel created the Hybrid Cloud, an online catalog and brokering system for cloudy applications that service providers and application makers can use to push applications down over the Internet to virtualized servers that run under the desks and in the closets of SMBs – right where SMBs like to keep their data.

There's nothing all that special about the servers that work in conjunction with the Hybrid Cloud application and service-brokering service and the AppUp software catalog, except that they need to be certified to support the Intel software stack, and they need to have certain chip and chipset features to work.

Sorry, AMD, but you are not invited to the AppUp party.

Required features include Intel's Trusted Execution Technology (TXT), which is embedded in the "Westmere" and "Sandy Bridge" Xeon processors and used to ensure secure downloading and execution of applications that are packaged up in virtual machines. Also required is Active Management Technology (AMT), which allows for servers to be remotely administered no matter how badly operating systems or hypervisors are behaving. You need the Virtualization Technology (VT) extensions to support hypervisors, of course.

For the moment, Intel is using the XenServer hypervisor from Citrix Systems and Xen images to package-up applications, and chose Xen first because it was able to modify kernel-mode drivers in the hypervisor.

But Intel says that it will be hypervisor-agnostic in the future. It stands to reason that the freebie ESXi hypervisor from VMware will make it onto the servers used in conjunction with the AppUp service at some point, and ditto for Microsoft's Hyper-V and Red Hat's KVM.

At the moment, Intel is offering a single-socket Xeon 3460 whitebox server with 16GB of memory, dual Gigabit Ethernet ports, and up to six 1TB disks in a RAID 5 array as the application server in the AppUp service. Lenovo has also certified two of its ThinkServer TS200v configurations – an entry machine with a Xeon 3450, 4GB of memory, and a single 500GB disk and a standard machine with a Xeon 3460, 8Gb or 16GB of memory, one 128GB solid state drive for the OS and two 1TB disks for data – for use in the AppUp service as well.

Intel also says that Lenovo will put a two-socket option into the field, and other vendors including Acer and NEC have agreed to participate, as well. HP, Dell, IBM, and Fujitsu were probably invited to the AppUp party, but as of yet have made no public commitments.

Software appliances can be fired up with Microsoft's Small Business Server 2008 and Windows Server 2008, and there is a bunch of applications in the AppUp catalog to run on top of the hypervisor and in a guest VM, including firewall, antivirus, backup, disaster recovery, VoIP and PBX telephony, and selected application software such as Intuit's QuickBooks and Microsoft's Sharepoint and Exchange Server. Intel is obviously keen on building out the AppUp catalog.

Here's how the AppUp service works. You go to a service provider and ask to sign up for AppUp. Depending on the application stack, the service provider sizes up a machine and gives you a three-year lease on the box with a monthly payment. The SP sets up the apps on the box, ships it to you, and uses the Intel Hybrid Cloud to monitor and manage those apps remotely.

Intel's cloud broker actually collects money from the service provider for the applications, and then pays suppliers for the software licenses and for the server that gets plunked down into your site. The idea is to bill for software as it is used on a monthly basis. If you uninstall software, you aren't billed for it the following month, and as you add new software to an existing server, the VMs are passed down from the Hybrid Cloud running in Intel's data center to the hypervisor running on your server.

Everybody gets a piece of the action, and Intel gets to keep selling Xeon processors to SMBs.

The AppUp service is being launched in North America and India right now, and will be expanded to other countries as service providers and application providers help Intel work out the kinks. ®

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