Clouds Are Real, Until You Try to Touch One

As far as metaphors go, the term "cloud computing" is pretty accurate.

By Arthur Cole | Posted Dec 2, 2009
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As far as metaphors go, the term "cloud computing" is pretty accurate. As I noticed while flying to visit relatives over Thanksgiving, real clouds look like solid things from far away, but they tend to dissolve as you get closer.

So too with IT's current fascination with the cloud. Everyone seems to have a clear idea of what it will be when we get there, but the actual process seems to get lost in a haze.

Part of the reason for this is that there is so little actual experience with cloud computing that even the most knowledgeable among us readily admit that much of the transition process itself is still largely undefined and will vary greatly depending on what sort of data center infrastructure you are coming from.

Much of the hard work will be in integrating the various physical, virtual and cloud resources to act as a cohesive, cloud-ready whole. Andy Ingram, vice president of product marketing and business development for Juniper's Fabric and Switching Technologies Business, whittles the process down to three overarching goals: shift networks from the current plethora of autonomous devices to a single logical switch, share resources through a combination of system- and network-level virtualization, and consolidate and virtualize security services. This is certainly easier said than done, and considering that these moves represent fundamental shifts in current build-out strategies, they should probably be made only after a thorough planning and consultation process.

Because the cloud, like virtualization before it, involves decoupling data and applications from underlying hardware, more pressure will be placed on the network itself in the form of increased data loads. That's why we're seeing such a rapid rise in higher-bandwidth solutions on integrated network platforms. Broadcom is the latest to make a move in this direction with the purchase of  Dune Networks, maker of a scalable chipset said to support rates up to 100 Gbps with the ability to service more than 10,000 ports in one deployment.

Other firms are mixing wide-band connectivity with advanced management techniques to foster a smooth migration from the physical silos of today to the cloud. Extreme Networks, for one, is building out a platform that can range from 40 Gbps to 100 Gbps, while making virtual machines (VMs) visible to the network-management stack. The idea is to create a cohesive management structure that oversees the entire IT infrastructure so server, storage and network resources can be used in tandem.

Any way you look at it, the cloud will usher in permanent changes to the way IT is run, according to InformationWeek's Charles Babcock. Everything from application workload management to vendor relations will probably come up for review as the new computing paradigm takes hold. One of the more difficult changes to accomplish will be the kind of collaboration between various disciplines -- such as system admin, networking and security -- needed to ensure proper resource allocation in the cloud.

Again, though, these views are coming largely from the ground. The vision of a dynamic, resource-driven IT infrastructure is as real as those white, puffy things that float past on a summer's day. It's when you actually try to touch them that they tend to vanish before your eyes.

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