Appliances Offer Quick Access to the Cloud

Enterprise architectures were complicated enough even before virtual and cloud technologies came along.

Small wonder then that organizations are turning to the same tools that simplified physical infrastructure to gain quick access to the cloud ? namely, the appliance.

The past few months have seen a raft of appliances loaded with all the templates and automation tools needed to quickly and easily build private clouds. In this way, enterprises can gain the experience they need to manage and maintain cloud environments without leaving the safety of their firewalls. But be forewarned, over-reliance on cloud appliances could ultimately undermine the cost and scalability benefits that the cloud is supposed to provide.

Earlier this month, IBM rolled out its next-gen cloud appliance, the Workload Deployer, which the company bills as the successor to the WebSphere CloudBurst device. The unit is loaded with patterns, templates and other tools needed to quickly define and accelerate private cloud environments, although it also enables a fair amount of customization. For instance, there is a pattern for Web applications aimed at building PaaS solutions, while a series of topology patterns can be used to build a variety of configuration and integration templates. As well, users have access to a number of hypervisor images using the system’s Image Construction and Composition Tool.

Meanwhile, Microsoft is closing in on its long-awaited Azure appliance initially touted as a “private cloud in a box” solution. Fujitsu has slated its Global Cloud Platform for delivery in August, although the description given out so far has it resembling more of a containerized data center than a simple appliance. The units are said to contain hundreds, if not thousands, of servers all running the Azure platform, with initial deployments limited to data centers owned by Fujitsu, Dell, HP and other OEMs. Eventually, the concept is expected to trickle down to medium and large enterprises and public cloud providers.

At the same time, smaller firms are carving out market share with automation-rich appliances of their own. Opscode, for example, just released the Private Chef appliance that bundles everything from deployment and configuration management to infrastructure visibility and data encryption in a convenient package. The company promises a dynamic, fully scalable and automated private cloud environment in a matter of hours, rather than weeks or months.

Appliances are ideal solutions for enterprises that want to gain cloud experience but don’t fully trust third-party providers with their data, according to TMCnet’s Susan Campbell. As the bridge between internal data center infrastructure and the cloud, appliances can provide the flexibility and reliability that enterprises are looking for, but only if they are matched with the proper automation tools that streamline provisioning and other processes. Without them, appliances will have trouble meeting both the performance and cost requirements of the front office and the performance levels demanded of knowledge workers.

In all likelihood, appliances will fill the same role in the cloud as they do in traditional environments, that is, to offer quick access to advanced functions but then ultimately serve supporting roles as those functions become integrated into the general IT environment.

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