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Enterprise Cloud Computing: A Question of Business Policy

What we are really witnessing here is the dawn of a new era in IT management

Few would disagree that the Cloud computing frenzy of the last year has put more, not less, pressure on the IT organization.   Much of this focus has been on the Public vs. Private Cloud debate, but what we are really witnessing here is the dawn of a new era in IT management.

For the last thirty years or so, since the earliest days of client-server computing, IT organizations have essentially run exactly the same way, desperately trying to keep their arms around an ever growing environment.  This includes growth in quantity and complexity of equipment, growth in applications, and growth in the level of significance to the business - and hence the demands from the business.

The IT organization's (wholly justified) need to retain control essentially came down to this simple maxim "if we let you play with it, you'll break it - and you'll likely break other people's stuff too".  In practical terms, this led to a line in the sand, where the IT organization provisioned everything, and then handed limited control to those that actually used it.   By ensuring users only had access to the machines running their own applications, or access as a mere user of those applications, all was well.

And for around twenty years this was workable.  But just as things started to creak, along came virtualization, which theoretically allowed you to do more with less, dramatically adding to reliability along the way.  And to some extent it did, but in reality it was just delaying the inevitable a while longer.

Fast forward to today, many enterprises are creaking again.   The level of work on the already over-stretched IT organization is becoming intolerable.  Machines (physical or virtual) take too long to provision and manage.  The business loses agility and gets frustrated.  The promised benefits of increased hardware utilization and lower costs haven't materialized.

And just when you thought things could not get any more complex, along comes Cloud computing to "save us all".    Elastic, fantastic, pay with your plastic, it's the answer to all our prayers, right?    Not quite.   What about those annoying little details like security and compliance?   And who is going to manage all this?  You guessed it - the IT organization, because nothing's changed, the Cloud is just another layer of complexity.

But there is an answer.   It's called the "Virtual Enterprise", and it's driven not by the necessary requirements of IT, but by business policy.

A Virtual Enterprise (of any size) has all the characteristics of a physical one, (machines, applications, storage, networking, administrators, users and so on) except that instead of computer hardware, it has computing resources.   These resources are familiar; terabytes of storage, gigabytes of memory, CPU cores, public IP addresses and so on, there just isn't any hardware - so you don't have to worry about buying it or fixing it - but you have total control over what you do with it.   Create Virtual Datacenters, appoint people to manage them, launch Virtual Machines and Appliances, either from a library of pre-built images, or upload your own, and launch them in seconds - all without any involvement or delays from the IT organization.

But before you IT types blow a gasket, all this comes at zero risk to the IT infrastructure.    First off, Virtual Enterprises operate within enforced resource limits, which cannot be exceeded.    Secondly, the actual mapping of virtual entities to the physical world is handled entirely by the system, according to the business policy.   Virtual Enterprise users never get near physical hardware, in fact, so long as business policy is applied, they neither know nor care where their stuff actually runs - so there is no chance of them breaking anything, or interfering with something that doesn't belong to them.

Freed from the tyranny of frustrated users, and the mind-numbing provisioning of virtual services, the IT organization can focus on what it does best - managing the IT infrastructure.   Infrastructure which can now be provided from a multitude of sources; your own local and remote datacenters, hosting providers, IaaS providers, wherever.  Complete elasticity, and the freedom to get the best cost/service for your requirements.

It's a cleanly delineated model where computing resources are provided by the IT organization and consumed by the Virtual Enterprises.  A model where neither side needs to interfere in the day-to-day operations of the other, and where both remain fully empowered.

Now for the really interesting part - business policy, which has the ability to resolve a multitude of problems, both existing, and particularly those associated with Cloud adoption.

First up is utilization.  Business policy decides where each virtual entity ends up, and hence can determine whether, say, to fully load one physical server before powering up the next, or whether to spread load evenly across available resources to maximize performance.   If you are a hosting provider, you likely want the former - in fact your business policy might even be to overload machines in the same way airlines overbook flights, and further to push load off elsewhere in the unlikely event everyone does show up.    Now we have an effective way to really improve utilization.

Next are security and compliance.   Need to comply with EU law ensuring employee data stays within the country boundary?  Set a business rule for the HR Virtual Enterprise.   Transaction processing must stay within a datacenter we own?  Set a business policy.   Need to ensure that Research and Investment Banking applications are physically separated?   Set another business policy.

And the list goes on - who gets to use the expensive hardware, what virtual entities need to be co-located, which must be separated for disaster recovery?     All these issues and more can be solved by business policy, and as public Cloud providers resolve concerns around security, those policies can be adjusted or relaxed accordingly.

The mapping of virtual to physical resources, hitherto largely determined by the provisioning IT guy, is a complex task which lends itself to policy based automation.   The benefits are potentially huge.

Virtual Enterprises, in conjunction with business policy, the basis of which would be determined at the CIO level, are the foundation upon which existing IT infrastructure issues can be resolved, and upon which Cloud computing can be safely realized.

Welcome to the new dawn.

More Stories By Pete Malcolm

Pete Malcolm is CEO of Abiquo, a leading vendor of Cloud infrastructure management solutions. Described by SYS-CON's Jeremy Geelan as “a beacon of light amid the murky fog surrounding Cloud Computing”, Malcolm is the inventor of the term “Resource Cloud”, a concept which provides complete separation between physical infrastructure providers and virtual enterprise consumers, with substantial benefits to both. Malcolm was previously founder and CTO of Orchestria, Benchmark Capital’s first European Entrepreneur-in-Residence, and a Senior Vice President with CA, Inc.

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