Will VMware’s vSphere solve IT cloud computing worries?

For all the hype about cloud computing in the enterprise-hype that Gartner believes is now nearing its peak-IT professionals continue to tell cloud-related vendors that the cloud will not be practical until several serious concerns are addressed.

VMware, with its vSphere 4 announcement today, is laying the foundation for what it hopes will be a central role for VMware technology in enterprises making use of both public and private cloud computing systems.

So, how well does vSphere address the key worries that enterprises have about cloud computing?

First, a bit of definition on what VMware rolled out today: VMware is positioning vSphere 4, which replaces its current Virtual Infrastructure 3 (VI-3) product, as the “first cloud OS platform.”

“It enables enterprises and service providers to take their data centers and turn them into a private cloud,” says Raghu Raghuram, VP and general manager of VMware’s server business unit. “We are enabling companies to deliver IT as a service.”


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Keep in mind that the term “private cloud,” which is very much in vogue these days, has a different definition depending on what vendor is using it. At its simplest, analysts say, a private cloud can just mean a large number of virtualized servers in a data center. Salesforce.com, Google and Amazon.com, for example, all have their own take on the matter. VMware’s definition: “Step one is you virtualize,” Raghuram says.

“The next part of it is how do you provide capacity to end users?” In VMware’s view, Raghuram says, a highly-virtualized data center does not become a “private cloud” until the IT group can provision services and capacity to users on a self-service basis, automate management tasks and chargeback billing to the business.

IT Faces Crisis of Credibility

Today’s vSphere news is the first in a two-part rollout to help customers achieve that private cloud vision. But it won’t be until later this year that VMware will debut its products that address the management, automation and chargeback parts of the picture, Raghuram says.

The remaining question, however, is will IT buy into VMware’s vision?

At a big-picture level, IT knows it needs to consider and plan for the private and public cloud, says Forrester senior analyst Glenn O’Donnell. “IT is in a crisis of credibility right now,” O’Donnell says, noting the wide gulf between the business goals and IT processes at many large enterprises. “All of this is being exacerbated by economic conditions.”

If IT does not figure out how to cut costs and improve service to the business via cloud and other virtualization technologies, he says, IT groups will face what he calls “punitive outsourcing,” where the business side of the company decides to cut IT out of the picture by shipping the IT work out of house.

VMware currently dominates the virtualization market and will certainly be among the top contenders for IT groups examining the notion of private cloud computing. But some of the key concerns that enterprise IT leaders have about cloud computing remain beyond VMware’s control, analysts say.

Here’s a breakdown of six key hurdles to cloud adoption in the enterprise and where vSphere delivers and does not. (For more background on these hurdles, see CIO.com blogger Bernard Golden’s recent series “The Case Against Cloud Computing”.)

1. Burst-up Capability Far From Real for Most Enterprises

One of the sexiest lures of cloud computing for enterprise IT is the ability to “burst up” to a public cloud provider and tap into its computing power when the company’s data center needs extra compute capacity on demand-say, at key sales or end-of-quarter times.

IT commits a cardinal sin if it lets the business down at these high-demand periods. Unfortunately, this burst-up capability remains far off in the future for most enterprises, though some early-adopter companies are able to tap into it now via Amazon’s EC2 cloud services, for example.

vSphere 4 lays foundation for VMware customers who want eventual burst-up capability, but even VMware doesn’t estimate exactly when this burst-up scenario will be a real option for most enterprises. “Tools and simplicity have to happen,” says VMware’s Raghuram.

He says virtualization open standards such as OVF (Open Virtualization Format) will help make burst-up more practical with what VMware calls “federated” public-cloud providers, with whom VMware is now cultivating business relationships. “Bursting up to the cloud is a nice thing to eye for the future and may be something that gets folks excited at conferences, but most enterprises aren’t even close to considering it for production workloads today out of concerns of regulatory and security compliance,” says Burton Group senior analyst Chris Wolf. “In cases of dev, test, and training, there are some fits, but that’s it. The average enterprise has a number of business process issues (such as chargeback) to resolve before adopting an internal cloud model. I see mainstream external cloud adoption as happening a few years down the road.”

“Still,” Wolf says, “it’s important for organizations to begin architecting for external cloud today and VMware is betting that by getting organizations to deploy vSphere 4.0, they’ll stay on VMware as they move to leverage external cloud resources in the future.”

2. Fear of Vendor Lock-In

Enterprise IT groups, long stung by expensive lock-in deals with ERP software vendors such as SAP and Oracle, say they’re loathe to lock themselves into any one vendor’s cloud vision or technology.



And the industry has given IT little assurance that once a company’s data sits in say, Amazon’s cloud, that IT will someday be able to port that data to another cloud. Architecture and storage issues abound. Moreover, vendor partnerships remain fluid at this point.

For its part, VMware has publicly announced that its customers will eventually be able to work with public cloud providers, including AT&T, Verizon, Rackspace and BT-but Amazon remains notably absent from VMware’s list of cloud business partners.

“We want to make available the widest choice of service providers,” says VMware’s Raghuram. The Open Virtualization Format standard could help with moving data between providers as well, he notes, adding that OVF will offer a way to share service-level attributes among applications.

But he doesn’t sugar coat the customer lock-in worri

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