VMware Canada chief pushes internal cloud

Rather than going to multiple software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers to host your applications, VMware Inc. wants you to build a private, cloud-like infrastructure in your own data centre. But with the in-house skills and costs required to make it happen, virtualization experts argue that VMware’s vision is far away from becoming a reality.

Last September, the virtualization giant unveiled Virtual Datacenter OS, a set of services that allows IT managers to “pool all types of hardware resources – servers, storage and network – into an aggregated on-premise cloud,” according to the company. This will enable users to abstract the underlining physical infrastructure from the applications and give VMware customers the ability to offer SaaS on their own premise.

“If you look at the other cloud models, companies like Amazon and Google, or SaaS providers like Salesforce.com, the challenge is you essentially have to adopt all of their applications in order to make the model work,” said Grant Aitken, VMware’s Canadian country manager.

Aitken pointed out that the transition from a company’s existing in-house applications to a third-party hosted application can be a gigantic stumbling block for most IT shops. VMware sees its technology as an on-ramp to a cloud model that doesn’t require a change in applications, he said.

“The idea that going to a Salesforce.com or any other single area software provider and that you’re suddenly going to be able to jump over and solve the vast majority of issues around IT costs is unrealistic,” Aitken said. “If you switch to Salesforce.com, you’ve solved on application area, but you might have another 40 to go. If you buy each one on a service basis, you’ve got a bit of a mess on your hands with systems that don’t talk to each other.”

But Scott Elliott, senior systems network specialist at Christie Digital Systems Inc. and leader of the Southwest Ontario VMware User Group, said that while companies want to avoid sending corporate data to SaaS providers, the amount of skill required for in-house cloud computing is far too significant right now.

“If you don’t have the in-house knowledge or skill sets required, it ends up being IT managers sticking their neck out on technology that is still unproven,” he said. “I don’t know if cloud computing is a ready-to-go piece of technology and to be quite frank, all the vendors are still arguing what it actually means. If you ask VMware about cloud computing it will mean something different than if you ask Oracle or Microsoft.”

“How do you choose something that’s still maturing?”

Adding to the confusion, according to John Sloan, senior research analyst with Info-Tech Research Group, is that VMware’s cloud computing initiative is actually just the utility computing concept in disguise.

“What you’re seeing is a rebranding of utility infrastructure or virtual infrastructure that they’re starting to call internal or private clouds,” Sloan said. “I’m not saying that’s wrong, because external cloud providers are doing the same sort of thing. There is a lot of commonality between an internal virtual infrastructure and an external cloud.

“But right now, you get a little bit more mileage out of calling something an in-house cloud, because of the interest in cloud computing out there,” he added.

Other analysts argue that while VMware’s internally deployed cloud plan is intriguing, only the largest enterprises with a sizable IT budget and managing staff should consider a deployment.

“It’s one of those things that the bigger you can scale it, the better your return will be,” Charles King, a principal analyst with Pund-IT Research Inc., said. “Most of the deployments out there have been what you would call pilot or exploratory deployments.”

According to Aitken, VMware’s most sophisticated customers – those with about 30 to 40 per cent of their infrastructure virtualized – have begun achieving internal clouds. He estimated that there were about a couple hundred of these companies in Canada alone.

“They’ve already achieved a level of portability that gives them the ability to run their IT infrastructure independent of the specific application,” he added. That gets them out of the app-by-app business and allows them to maintain their infrastructure and deliver their applications based on business demands.

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