February 11, 2011

The Coming Multi-Cloud

Okay, the name ‘multi-cloud’ probably won’t pass muster with the marketing types, but I am very excited to posit on the near future of what a combined public/private cloud will look like.  It is beyond discussion at this point that the cloud is a fad at this point – we know it isn’t.  If Web 2.0 was about the social experience, Web 3.0 is about the utility of the internet as a development platform.  Discrete computational buckets, throw away services, dynamic provisioning, pay as you go, operational expense versus capital expense…these are the defining components of the multi-cloud – and they are here right now, in production.

The public cloud has just started to gain a real foothold in the enterprise.  We see it in the news, in surveys conducted by the likes of CIO.com and more, explaining to us all that most major IT shops will be ‘dipping their toes’ into the waters of the public cloud this year.  The investment paradigm is huge!  Windows Azure represents a fantastic public cloud offering, combining the traditional with the unique:

  1. Elastic computing
  2. Web hosting of .net applications
  3. SQL Databases
  4. BLOB/TABLE/QUEUE storage
  5. Service Bus
  6. Access Control Lists services
  7. Data Market

The guidance that we’re working with customers on right now is very simple – keep it simple!  I’m not out in the market trying to win million dollar projects with Azure.  What I am trying to do is work with clients to identify simple, easy one off apps that annoy IT (like Access databases) and get them to try migrating those apps into the cloud.  Great successes so far!  But where does that leave us?

At the end of the day, however, the public cloud gets us only so far.  The utility of it is phenomenal and there is going to be an enormous market here (there already is).  But the enterprise…oh that wonderful enterprise!  Not everything goes into the public cloud – period.  Where the multi-cloud paradigm comes into play is right here…where the public cloud needs to interact behind the firewall and all be seamlessly managed from a single console.  And no one is doing anything like Microsoft.

Let’s talk about the private cloud for a second.  There are varying concepts and notions here from simple virtual machines and virtual applications to a more robust cloud concept like AppFabric for Windows Server (currently in a very VERY 1.0).  There are other concepts that can be considered in this space too.  The Eucalyptus project is a great example where we can take the power of the Amazon cloud platform behind the firewall in an open source environment.  The Azure Appliance  (if it ever ships) is another example.  The ability to bring the public cloud features behind the firewall is compelling.  That utility computing is arguably MORE valuable inside the corporate network than on the public internet for the enterprise customer.  But there remains one very key component that is missing at this moment, and when it is addressed, I believe we will have ourselves a multi-cloud that enterprises of all shapes and sizes will be able to leverage: a unified management tool.

That’s it?  That’s the great grand unifier/game changer?  Yep.  A unified management tool which brings the ability to provision resources, be it compute, storage (of whatever type), whole OS machines and applications as templates either on the public cloud or the private cloud will revolutionize the revolution!  Imagine having all your computing resources as commodities on prem or in the cloud and the ability to provision any of those things in real time, under different load templates (memory, cpu, priority, etc) and have them deploy smartly to where they need to be just by clicking a few buttons.  I see this unifying management tool of discrete computational assets to be THE piece of the puzzle that will finally be able to bring true cloud computing to the enterprise model.  You might be wondering if I had something in mind for this tool?  In fact I do, it’s in private CTP right now and you can learn more about it here.