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Enterprise cloud computing coming of age

In recent weeks, the landscape of cloud computing has changed dramatically, with the introduction of services from the likes of Amazon, Savvis, Terremark and OpSource.

One of the most interesting aspects of the weeks leading up to and including this year's VMWorld was the incredible innovation in cloud-computing service offerings for enterprises--especially in the category of infrastructure as a service. A variety of service providers are stepping up their cloud offerings, and giving unprecedented capabilities to their customer's system administrators.

In this category, enterprises are most concerned about security, control, service levels, and compliance; what I call the "trust" issues. Most of the new services attempt to address some or all of these issues head on. Given that this is the infancy of enterprise cloud computing, I think these services bode well for what is coming in the next year or two.

Here is a brief analysis of the offerings that recently caught my eye:

  1. Amazon Web Services Virtual Private Cloud: There is no doubt that the smart people at Amazon continue to innovate at a breathtaking pace. The last three years have seen a whirlwind of new and upgraded services, ranging from storage and server capacity, to payment processing and content delivery.

    Amazon's new Virtual Private Cloud offering is just another example of how they listen to their customers when they build solutions. Not so much unique and innovative, as a near perfect execution of a simple solution to a raft of thorny problems, Amazon's VPC service is essentially a powerful VPN gateway which allows Amazon services to be added to the customer's network.

    Now, this doesn't directly address security, compliance, or service levels, but it gives enterprise customers a level of control over network configuration that was previously unavailable from Amazon, which in turn enables the customer greater latitude to address those issues.

  2. Savvis "Project Spirit": Available in beta "by the end of this year," Savvis's Project Spirit adheres to a "Virtual Private Data Center (VPDC)" concept very similar to the Virtual Data Center vision espoused by Sun. In a video providing an overview of the service, Savvis indicates that Project Spirit provides three tiers of service, each with an increasing set of capabilities and improved quality of service (QoS).

    The video demonstrates wizard-based provisioning and drag-and-drop resource topology design, both of which are similar to features from GoGrid and Sun, though perhaps a little more aligned with the latter than the former.

    What I like about Project Spirit is its sense of configurability; something that I think has been missing from many IaaS offerings to date.

  3. Terremark vCloud Express: Terremark is one of the first out of the gate with a basic "one server at a time" offering based on VMWare's vCloud Express infrastructure. Targeted at the same users who find Amazon's EC2 so easy to use, the service is meant as a simple, low-risk way for customers to acquire compute capacity.

    In a video recorded at VMWorld, Simon West, Terremark's VP of marketing, demonstrates provisioning a server in the service. Like other services in its class, it focuses on allowing you to select a server image from a menu of possibilities, click a button, and boot the resulting server in a few minutes. Pricing starts at $.036/hr for a 1 "VPU," 0.5GB server, but as Chris Flex of Citrix Systems notes in a blog post, Terremark charges differently than Amazon, so the CPU cost does not necessarily reflect cheaper overall operation costs.

    Terremark's new service complements its existing Enterprise Cloud service, which is targeted at larger, more sophisticated infrastructure needs.

  4. OpSource Cloud: Hosting vendor, OpSource, is taking a more network-centric approach toward cloud definition, similar to the "subnets" that Amazon allows customers to create in its VPC offering. The OpSource cloud is in pre-beta now, with an October target for "public release." When the OpSource team demonstrated their user interface to me, they showed me a metaphor that begins with the definition of a "network," which is an isolated through custom routing capabilities at the OpSource data centers.

    Each network comes with eight public IP addresses (more can be added), and you can add resources such as servers, storage, and firewalls as you see fit. You can also create as many networks as you'd like for each account.

Obviously, there are many more offerings like these in the market today. However, it is interesting to note that the common theme here seems to be security, either through "isolation" via networking, and/or through the availability of enterprise-class firewalls, load balancers, and the like. The expansion of virtual data center offerings is also interesting, as I think it shows the early growth of what will likely be the true enterprise cloud-computing space.

Access control and user account management was a little sketchy in most of the services I saw, although some showed real promise.

However, one has to wonder as application architectures adjust to cloud computing, how much longer they are going to be tightly coupled to data center architectures. At what point will it no longer be advantageous for application owners to define infrastructure in terms of servers, storage, and security devices?

That being said, the independence of distributed applications from underlying architecture is a long way off, even from the enterprise perspective. I expect that by this time next year, we will see a stable of very strong enterprise public cloud offerings, with support for various compliance standards, sophisticated networking, and cloud-centric security services and technologies.

This is just the beginning of a long evolution, folks.