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CIO - With a tag line of "Virtual Roads. Actual Clouds," it's easy to understand that this year's US VMworld was wall-to-wall cloud computing. Nevertheless, it was striking how cloud-centric the expo floor at VMworld was. Based on my meetings, chance discussions, and floor wandering, here is my admittedly impressionistic take on the event:
Slideshow: Six Cool Features in vSphere 4.1
The Cloud Gets Real
I spoke with a number of vendors who are bringing what I would consider second-generation offerings to market. By this I don't mean version 2.0 of an already-existing cloud computing product; rather, I mean vendors providing products that fill in a cloud computing stack to make it more consumable in real-world environments. Products that offer security, monitoring, management, etc. to make a VMware-based cloud environment more successful were in evidence everywhere.
In this category I would put VMware's new vShield product, which offers a suite of products designed to simplify security by delivering a set of virtual appliances to offer VPN, DHCP, L3 networking capabilities. In his post on vShield (highly recommended), Chris Hoff speculates that part of the motivation for the product family was VMware's realization that relying on an ecosystem to deliver a basket of products was falling short of a complete security solution, both from a functionality and a customer comfort perspective. I would also add a complexity factor, because it's never easy to knit together products from different vendors into a unified whole.
Overall, the delivery of these second-generation product indicates that customer acceptance of cloud computing is moving to the practical stage. The past had a lot more vision; now the emphasis is on delivering products that actually provide functionality necessary for implementing a cloud.
The Cloud Turns into Bits
I was struck by how much storage was emphasized on the expo floor, particularly in comparison with network. Of course, my attention might have been focused by the ongoing battle for 3Par by HP and Dell (incidentally, the people on duty in the 3Par booth had really big smiles plastered on their faces, caused no doubt by visions of dollar signs dancing in their heads).
The proliferation of storage solutions illustrates how cloud computing is almost unfailingly accompanied by big data. The growth of data, along with the issues posed by the "skinny straw" of limited bandwidth to external clouds, will pose challenges for enterprises as they migrate to cloud applications. One approach to solving this challenge is, of course, keeping all the data on-premise, but that then poses a different set of challenges with respect to capital investment and storage management complexity.
The Cloud Causes Pain
While the initial section of this post notes that a second generation of products is coming out designed to complete the software stack, one thing that wasn't discussed much was the process and organizational challenge caused by implementing a cloud computing environment. One can't really blame the vendors, of course: their revenues depend on convincing people that their products make implementation simple. Also, our industry has a long-established tradition of focusing on technology to the exclusion of other factors; the problems those factors cause seem to impress everyone as unexpected and novel -- every time they occur. And occur they will.