Tasks symbol green

Are we set to see a new generation of cloud infrastructure providers?

Cloud providers have struggled to meet demands for enterprise-class SLAs; could a new batch of start-ups fill a gap?

Cloud service providers have been creating infrastructure as a service (IaaS) offerings using technology never envisaged for use in a multi-tenanted cloud environment.

In doing so, they have struggled to provide true on-demand services that have enterprise class performance SLAs. By this I mean the applications, and servers that underpinning them, have their resources aligned on a individual basis; the customer has the ability to make changes instantly, regardless of location, while not having to pay massive premiums or be locked into long-term contracts.

Is this one of the reasons why enterprises have been slow migrating their mission-critical applications?

I think it is, so let\’s look at a couple of the key areas that, to date, have not only held back enterprise clients but also medium-sized businesses from moving more quickly to the cloud and what are some of the technologies that look like they are going to change rules.

Currently the mainstream IaaS providers struggle to fully guarantee workloads. Some specialist providers do guarantee them using dedicated pools within a multi-tenanted platform, but to date no-one has a true on-demand environment that covers all the main resources; CPU, memory, I/O bandwidth and disk I/O.

Most providers offer some sort of guarantees around CPU and memory but start to struggle with I/O bandwidth and disk I/O. Both of these are areas that, until now, have been underpinned by technology not designed for cloud, especially high performance storage. Add in the need and the ability to control I/O on a server-by-server basis on the fly and the traditional storage vendors’ offerings struggle to deliver in multi-tenanted environments.

Over the last couple of years I’ve been working with several start-ups that have been focusing in this area and this year we will see a new generation of storage from start-ups like SolidFire who have designed their offerings from the ground up specifically for use in cloud environments.

These products have the ability to control bandwidth and disk I/O to 1000s of applications and they can adapt to changes on the fly allowing the service provider to meet the demands of their customers and allow them to get very close to true utility computing that comes with performance guarantees.

When you look at workloads in an enterprise they normally have a rhythm to the peaks and troughs, but within a cloud environment this doesn’t exist. Instead it’s replaced with a randomness that is massively impacted by ”noisy neighbour” syndrome.

Until now, these attributes have only been dealt with by isolating the workloads, in effect providers are almost creating dedicated areas which is more akin to a managed service than true cloud.

Whenever I meet new clients to discuss transforming their IT services to a cloud orientated one, one of the main technology barriers is the network; it’s complicated and expensive to change what has normally taken many man years of effort to get it to where it is today, let alone change it again to allow it to cope with third-party cloud offerings. It’s also one of the areas that internal IT departments use to discourage the business from embracing cloud.

Again, where there is a problem, there is a start-up. Like SolidFire, Nicira has designed from the ground up a new way to deploy and manage networks for the cloud era. Nicira’s product virtualises the network and allows service providers to link customers sites, with either one or multiple cloud providers very quickly and simply.

The key to these two technologies isn’t just that they solve problems that have caused delays in cloud adoption, but that they are simple. They are simple to deploy in relation to other technologies in their areas but, most importantly, they are simple to use.

From my perspective, we need service providers that will embrace these and other new technologies that have been designed specifically for use in the cloud. As it’s only through adoption of innovative technologies that cloud will reach its full potential.

I believe we are at the beginning of a new wave of cloud technology companies, some will no doubt be acquired by the existing goliaths but some, I hope, will stay independent, fresh, creative and ultimately innovative and its these attributes and organisations that will drive the future of cloud.

By Julian Box, Posted 3rd May 2012.