2010 is the Year of the Federated Cloud
In this first post of 2010, I’d like to look at one of the most important cloud issues that enterprises want to tackle: federation in the cloud — across clouds and between the cloud and the data center. Also known as hybrid clouds, the notion of federation has been around since cloud computing began, but as a long-term vision rather than a working solution. This year that gap is going to close.
What Is Cloud Federation?
Federation brings together different cloud flavors and internal resources so companies can select a computing environment on demand that makes sense for a particular workload. It opens the door to a range of useful scenarios that take advantage of cloud capabilities:
- Using multiple clouds for different applications to match business needs. For example, Amazon AWS or Rackspace could be used for applications that need large horizontal scale, and Savvis or Terremark for applications that need stronger SLAs and higher security. An internal cloud is another federation option for applications that need to live behind the corporate firewall.
- Allocating different elements of an application to different environments, whether internal or external. For example, an application could run in a cloud while accessing data stored internally as a security precaution. (We call this concept “application stretching.”)
- Moving an application to meet requirements at different stages in its lifecycle, whether between public clouds or back to the data center. For example, Amazon or Terremark's vCloud Express could be used for development, and when the application is ready for production it could move to Terremark's Enterprise Cloud or similar clouds. This is also important as applications move towards the end of their lifecycle, where they can be moved to lower-cost cloud infrastructure as their importance and duty-cycle patterns diminish.
Enterprise users don’t typically talk about federation per se; they speak in terms of application-specific and general business requirements. While some applications will always belong in their data center, they may have others (possibly hundreds) that could run more cost-effectively in the right cloud. Our customers and prospects tell us that they would love to take advantage of different clouds to get the computing performance they need, along with the desired service levels, scalability, security and price points. And since they aren’t that clear yet on their cloud requirements, and cloud services are in early stages and will continue to evolve, they want the ability to pick up their applications if necessary and move them to other clouds or back to the data center with minimal effort.
The problem is that the cloud is not a homogenous entity, but covers a broad landscape of computing environments, with no consistency between any of them or with the enterprise data center. Federation is the missing link, providing a structure that bridges these disparate environments so enterprise cloud computing can become as seamless and straightforward as it needs to be. Let’s examine some of the key issues and see what CloudSwitch is doing to make federation work.
Bridging the Differences
An application should to be able to run “as is” in any cloud with the resources to support it. But each cloud has its own server platforms, operating system versions, APIs, network settings, storage options—a whole landscape of varied characteristics. Without federation, each cloud deployment becomes a custom “one-off” exercise to meet the requirements of a particular cloud environment. That’s not acceptable internally, and companies are now demanding the ability to leverage different clouds without the underlying engineering efforts required to make it happen.
A unique capability of CloudSwitch is the ability to integrate at an infrastructure level between the data center and different clouds. We sit in the middle of all of these resources and automatically bridge the differences, regardless of variations in virtualization platforms, operating systems, APIs, storage infrastructures or other characteristics of the different clouds. Both internal and cloud resources appear as if they’re running locally, using a common interface spanning multiple clouds and the local environment.
Setting Consistent Rules
Rules and permissions about what employees can do in the cloud must be consistent with those in the data center. Role-based controls are required, for example, to enable a particular individual or group to create servers but not to delete or modify them. However, in these early days of cloud computing, the standard procedure is to allow cloud users access to the cloud credentials; essentially every user has full control and access to the cloud resources. This not only causes control issues but makes auditing and problem resolution difficult since it is unclear who is responsible for any particular action.
CloudSwitch solves this problem by holding the credentials for external clouds and serving as the gateway to cloud accounts. Rather than users accessing their accounts directly, they interact with the cloud through the gateway, which consolidates permissions for all users and multiple clouds for management by an administrator. The approach provides consistent policies governing user and management roles, whether internal or external.
Streamlining Cloud Management
Federation also means that administrators should be able to manage applications running in one or more clouds as if they were running locally, using their familiar tools and processes for application lifecycle management, monitoring, compliance management, etc. But cloud computing involves a wide assortment of isolated environments to keep track of and manage. Adding to the complexity, cloud providers often have their own management tools that users or administrators need to learn, all different from each other and from what enterprises have internally.
CloudSwitch keeps things simple for the enterprise by replicating the existing IT infrastructure and mapping it to the target cloud. The approach allows current management tools to work seamlessly in the cloud, just as if an application were running locally. Using consistent tools and policies, applications and resources can be managed with the same flexibility, security and control regardless of their location.
Bringing the Vision to Life
Federation is required for cloud computing to be successful, particularly as computing needs continue to expand. Enterprise users want to take advantage of all the capabilities available in the cloud, but without the complexity or risk. The ability to federate this heterogeneous ecosystem—to create a uniform environment spanning external and internal clouds—is going to allow IT organizations to meet user and corporate needs with an agility and economy not previously possible. CloudSwitch is part of an emerging ecosystem that’s making federated cloud a reality.