Is Cloud Computing Ready for Prime Time?

Thursday Nov 19th 2009 by David Needle
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Interest in cloud computing is rising, but barriers like complexity and lack of infrastructure foundation are slowing adoption.

SAN FRANCISCO -- When Dilbert's pointy-haired boss asks IT for something, there's usually no substance behind the request other than it's trendy. Wednesday's strip, in which he asks Dilbert to "implement cloud computing so I'll have something to talk about at the next executive meeting" shows at least he's right on top of the latest trend.

"We've been pleasantly surprised by the uptake in interest in the cloud. There's so much hunger and receptiveness for private clouds now. We've gone through the Gartner hype cycle quickly and now we see it's real," said Bogomil Balkansky, vice president of product marketing at VMWare's (NYSE VMW) server business unit. Balkansky joined other virtualization vendors at a media event here sponsored by HP.

While there's interest, the vendors said there has to be greater penetration of virtualization technology as a foundation before cloud computing -- the idea of IT as a service that doesn't need to reside in a company's datacenter and can be outsourced -- can take hold.

Virtualization is stuck at around 20 to 30 percent adoption at many companies that were ready and willing to consolidate servers for the relatively straightforward cost savings. But virtualizing more of the IT infrastructure has proved problematic in many cases.

"We see a lot of folks jumping beyond 20 percent, but the blockers are complexity. When you get beyond 20 percent, you have to worry about the physical world. What companies find is they have to manage both physical and virtual assets separately," said David Greschler, director of systems marketing for the servers and tools business at Microsoft (NASDAQ: MSFT).

When companies get to 40 percent or greater virtualization, Greschler said it can become costly and too complex for many to allocate the necessary management resources.

"Our strategy is to let IT see both the physical and virtual from the same console," he said.

In general, the panel of vendors was bullish on the prospects for both public and private cloud adoption as better systems for managing and tracking costs come to the fore and the economy turns around, freeing up funds to invest.

"Today a lot of companies are spending 70 to 80 percent on K.T.L.O. [Keep The Lights On], so how do you innovate?" said Ramin Sayar, vice president of products for HP's (NYSE: HPQ) software and solutions who leads the company's virtualization strategy.

There is also the question of definition. At a recent CIO summit sponsored by HP, Sayar said nine out of ten CIOs surveyed stated they had a cloud initiative underway for this fiscal year. But follow up questions revealed many were talking about more limited SaaS and on-premise implementations. "That's not the cloud," said Sayar. "The numbers went down to a few who had cloud computing projects actively underway."

Making cloud costs transparent

Sayar said HP is trying to be a conductor for IT, managing the various solutions to make it all "play" right. The company is also providing tools to help IT track costs and charges to various departments. "The cloud is all about procuring the best services at the lowest rate and having that all be transparent," he said.

Mike Evans, vice president of corporate development at Red Hat (NYSE: RHT), doesn't doubt cloud computing is the future, but he's not sure how fast or comprehensive the ramp up will be.

He noted ISVs (define) are being asked to support five to ten hypervisors. "That's a major barrier," he said. And on the public cloud side, Amazon Cloud is different than Rackspace and other competitors so there's another learning curve for would be buyers.

It's also a relatively new technology. "Four or five years ago, Linux was proven to be faster than Unix and people still buy a lot of Unix," said Evans. "People don't rip and replace until their servers come off lease. Also, we don't see a lot of trust at the heavy production cycle (for cloud computing). The big guys want to see big usage success," he added pointing to examples like Wall Street financial firms as reticent to offload their datacenter to third-party cloud services.

HP's Sayar said enterprises are evaluating both public and private cloud solutions.

"The challenge is for decision makers and CIOs to push the pedal with a stick or carrot on whether to provide central infrastructure or to procure from the outside, and that's not an easy decision. What we usually see is that it starts with an external-facing, non-mission critical system like e-mail services to embark on a public cloud and then that opens the kitty to other types of cloud services."

Before too long the cloud will be "ubiquitous, like radial tires," predicted Jeff Carlat, director of partner and platform software for HP's infrastructure software and blades.

Silver bullet ROI and what's next

IT spending on cloud and other infrastructure upgrades is showing signs of improving along with the economy, according to John Bara, vice president of marketing in the DataCenter and Cloud division of Citrix Systems (NASDAQ: CTXS).

"The first wave of virtualization was about server consolidation and people got excited about the silver bullet ROI of the last five years," said Bara. "We're at the beginning of the next phase which is about ubiquity, cost and bringing value to the user like being able to access your PC remotely and hold virtual meetings. The desktop is going to have a lot to do with that."

He added "There's been a dam on IT spending, but now there is a flow where companies are able to spend sensibly. We're seeing more in our executive briefings that we're hitting an upgrade cycle with servers, desktops and portables. And Microsoft got it right with Windows 7, so that's triggering a lot of upgrade decisions."

The group of vendors also predicted PC makers will ship more systems with virtualization technology built in that will help spawn new applications. "A hypervisor on every client is going to bring an exciting era of new applications that will make the PC more valuable," said Hara.

Article courtesy of InternetNews.com.

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