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Private cloud: Strategy and tactics from the big boys

App repatriation – it's for winners

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Comment A few weeks ago I attended the Italian VMUG user conference. One of the most interesting sessions at the event was “Strategic Private Cloud”, presented by Alan Civita of Sky UK, who confirmed what is now a common trend in very large IT organisations: a strategy based on two different private clouds.

Cloud is a synonym for operational agility and efficiency. Many IT organisations have been migrating to the cloud for a while now and, at the beginning, the public cloud seemed to be the cure for all ills (with AWS and Microsoft being the providers of choice).

Well, this was true until the bills started coming in, which was when many discovered that costs can quickly become unsustainable.

As someone told me a few days ago, “doing only public cloud is like living at the Four Seasons” and I couldn’t agree more. Private and hybrid clouds are not to be seen as a step back; on the contrary, they are actually becoming more and more popular because, when it comes to large organisations, they have the right balance between cost, efficiency and flexibility.

Why two (or more) clouds?

The IT problem is always the same, heading towards the future while managing the legacy. In this case, the legacy is virtualisation or, more commonly, VMware-based infrastructures. On the other hand, the future is an AWS-like cloud for new applications designed to take advantage of its characteristics, and OpenStack is the basic component that can help to realize this vision.

A VMware-based cloud is fundamental to all traditional enterprise needs, applications and workloads. Usually, it is just an IaaS but because of its status of “enterprise cloud”, everything is supported and managed end-to-end. This means that any resource part of it has a first-class status and end users are real end users who expect performance, stability, availability, consistency, backups and so on. They want it, and they don’t care how it’s done.

Furthermore, in some cases, and back to the point of “everything is managed end-to-end,” users go through traditional provisioning processes and don’t see any cloud aspect at all. The cloud part of this infrastructure is seen only by the ops team, and even then as an evolution of the legacy infrastructure they’ve always managed.

The OpenStack-based cloud is a totally different story and is seen as a much more strategic component. Even though someone is using it as a replacement for VMware (leveraging custom scripts and storage for managing HA and DR, for example), applications should be designed from the ground up to be scale-out, with resiliency at the application level and all the characteristics you usually find in applications designed for public cloud.

In fact, application repatriation is not as uncommon as you would think. Contrary to what happens in VMware-based clouds, nothing is taken for granted and the end user (the developer in this case) is in charge of everything from performance down to data protection.

Strategy and tactics, again.

As you can imagine, we are not talking about small organisations here, and this is why building two different clouds, with totally different technologies, place these enterprises in a strong position. Strategically speaking they can easily manage the migration from the virtualization era to the cloud era with more confidence and less risks by choosing the right timing and technology. Staying with a traditional application model is much easier but, in the long term, rewriting applications could bring many more advantages.

Infrastructure and application development are quickly evolving on two parallel tracks. On one side are VMware, OpenStack, public clouds, more sophisticated orchestration tools and, possibly even containers.

On the other hand, applications are moving from an assumption that they are on a physical server and oblivious to failure, to starting to take on more and more “cloud native” functionality. This is providing plenty of choice and freedom for managing legacy and future apps together on the same building blocks.

In fact, a multiple cloud strategy is like having the upper hand. VMware is working very hard to be competitive and find a place in the OpenStack ecosystem and public cloud; I’m not saying they are succeeding at the moment though. But for the customer, having alternatives means putting pressure on vendors – which is always a good thing if you want to get better prices/conditions.

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