Success Lies in the Cloud - But Which Cloud?

by Larry Freeman, NetApp

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Mac® vs. PC. Windows® vs. Unix®. Oracle® vs. SQL Server®. And for (ahem) "seasoned" data storage mavens like me, ESDI vs. SCSI. In heated IT technology showdowns of the past and present, sometimes there’s a clear winner. Other times, a dominant choice fails to emerge.

But almost always, IT needs to place its bet on one side long before a clear winner is established.

This brings us to the looming cloud computing wars. When it comes to the cloud (whether private, public or hybrid), placing your bets early is precisely what many IT vendors hope you’ll do. And they may want you to go all in—despite the fact that viable cloud frameworks, intercloud management processes and industry standards around cloud data portability are still evolving and subject to change.

Among the many battlegrounds for enterprise cloud dominance is the fast-growing arena of public Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). A clear early leader is Amazon’s AWS, which remains far ahead of the pack, according to Gartner. Within the pack, however, are several large up-and-comers, with familiar names like Google, HP, IBM, Microsoft and VMware.

Should You Bet on an Early Leader?
Chances are your organization is already using cloud computing services from one of the major providers. According to a recent cloud computing study from The 451 Group, 69% of IT organizations currently have budgeted cloud projects. Perhaps you’re backing up to the cloud, your engineering group is piloting a development project in the cloud, or you’re hosting applications on a cloud infrastructure from one of the cloud computing companies.

But why did you choose that particular cloud service provider? Did you evaluate its capabilities? Did you choose it based on reputation, or because it was an existing vendor?

Whatever the reason, it pays to revisit how well your current cloud service provider can deliver in the areas of data migration, integration and what I’ve come to think of as cloud portability.

How five IT leaders deliver business value with an agile data infrastructure.

How Do You Define Portability?
The questions of data migration and the integration of applications into the cloud are tricky—especially if you’re locked into a proprietary IaaS format from a vendor that may be here today but gone tomorrow.

Cloud portability—also known as cloud interoperability—should be a paramount concern when choosing an infrastructure provider.

Many of the vendors jockeying for position in the cloud come from an earlier life in the data center—whether in enterprise storage, servers, networking or software management. Others have minimal experience with customer data centers but have built large internal, hyperscale infrastructures that are a natural fit for cloud services. When evaluating these vendors, the important questions to ask aren’t about where they came from, but about where they plan to take you in your cloud journey. For example:

  • How smoothly can the vendor move data across its own environment? Within the same data center? What about between data centers? Between geographic regions?
  • Is it possible to dynamically—preferably, nondisruptively—manage and move applications to other vendors’ infrastructures? How well do the service provider’s products work with open cloud standards such as OpenStack, TOSCA and CDMI?

The answers to these questions can give you clues about the vendor's approach to cloud portability and your prospects for future interoperability with other cloud environments.

Portability Requires an Open Ecosystem
An application delivery model based on the cloud involves many components, including hardware, software, infrastructure and services.

My advice on this? Determine that the components of your cloud computing service are based on openness, flexibility and choice. If you do, it’ll be much easier to merge public and private cloud services into a fluid and dynamic hybrid cloud environment.

This will give you a greater chance to achieve seamless data portability, while keeping your organization agile, regardless of what the future brings.

Larry Freeman, Senior Technologist at NetApp

A frequent speaker and author, Larry’s current role at NetApp is educating IT professionals on the latest trends, techniques and best practices in data storage technology. He authored the book Evolution of the Storage Brain and hosts the popular blog About Data Storage.

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