App portability in cloud still a work in progress

Cloud computing networks are still largely walled off from each other, making it difficult to move workloads from one cloud service to another or from an internal data center to a cloud provider, Interop keynote speakers said Wednesday. But progress on standards and common formats should eventually allow some portability.


“We’ll see a time, probably in this calendar year, where it’s easy to move workloads from internal to external clouds, using a software product,” said Randy Rowland, senior vice president of product development at Terremark. Customers want assurance that they can bring cloud-based workloads back into the enterprise data center if their circumstances change, he said.


“People are afraid to lock in,” Rowland said. Unfortunately, some networking obstacles exist, such as finding an easy way to change IP addresses, he said.


But “that concern around portability will be addressed,” Citrix CTO Simon Crosby said. “The vendors know they’ve got to do this.”


Amazon virtual machine images, which are used on Amazon’s popular EC2 cloud computing service, are proprietary and difficult to map to enterprise networks, said Alistair Croll, founder of Bitcurrent.


But Crosby noted progress on some fronts, such as the Open Virtualization Format standard, which he said makes workloads independent of the hypervisor, allowing interoperability with multiple virtualization platforms.


Virtualization has improved portability of server-based workloads, but early versions of infrastructure-as-a-service cloud offerings have been weak on the networking front, according to Crosby. New methods of abstracting network resources will be necessary to improve portability.


IBM CTO Kristof Kloeckner, another keynote speaker, said in an interview that moving some workloads between internal data centers and clouds is easy, but problems occur with applications that require lots of data to be moved to the cloud.


There have been demos of apps moving between different cloud networks but “many of the demonstrated examples are really trivial in the sense that they don’t carry a lot of data with them,” Kloeckner said.


Grid-based applications, various kinds of simulations, and workloads that only run seasonally may be good candidates for movement to a cloud service, Kloeckner said.


“Clouds will integrate with each other,” Kloeckner said during his keynote address. “Clouds will have to stay open. That is a major part of our agenda. I believe what is happening here is a fundamental shift in creating more flexibility in how you deploy IT-based services.”


In the future there will basically be three categories of applications, Croll said. One type will always remain inside the enterprise data center; others can be done internally or inside a cloud, and are hosted in cloud services only if it makes financial sense; and a third category that should always be in the cloud, perhaps because an application needs to be exposed to partners.


The question of whether businesses should move existing applications to external cloud-based services still has no easy answer. Some speakers at Interop suggested that customers are willing to put new applications in the cloud but aren’t sure if the effort and expense of moving existing apps will be worth it.


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