Image representing Forrester Research as depic...
Image via CrunchBase

It might seem that the mega-bucks reports from the likes of Gartner, Forrester et al are the preserve of CxOs with vast desks upon which they can array the multitudinous documents to which their employers’ subscription entitles them. The truth, though, is that these documents — which notionally sell for hundreds or thousands of dollars apiece — can often be downloaded in exchange for some contact details. The source of this apparent largesse is not the analysts’ own website, but rather the sites of companies looked upon with particular favour within a given report. The back-room exchanges of kudos, cash, or mutual back-slapping that sees these assets made freely available are well understood, and legitimate.

And so it was with a recent report from Forrester, made freely available to all via the web site of 3Tera; the co-founder of which I spoke with recently in one of my podcasts.

The report is ‘Deliver Cloud Benefits Inside Your Walls,’ dated 13 April 2009, and produced by Forrester’s James Staten with input from Simon Yates, John Rymer, Frank Gillett and Lauren Nelson. Billed as “the first document in the ‘Private Cloud’ series,” it would appear that Forrester, at least, has no hang-ups about the notion of a Private Cloud. Whilst some purists become incredibly agitated about this ‘dilution’ of their dream, realists, pragmatists and (it would appear) analysts are simply getting on with it.

According to the report’s Executive Summary,

“While the excitement about cloud computing centers on Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) and other public infrastructure-as-a-service products, many enterprise infrastructure and operations professionals are taking this concept in-house and building their own internal clouds. These pools of virtual machines can be built upon either virtual server or high-performance computing (HPC) grid foundations and can be operated according to the specific security and process requirements of the business. But to deliver the fundamentally better economic value of cloud architectures within your walls, these clouds require a dynamic platform (or automated workload management) and developer self-service interfaces. There’s a growing list of vendors eager to help you deploy an internal cloud, but be sure you understand that these solutions are more building blocks than complete solutions and must be customized to your specific needs.”

It would be impossible to cover the space in much detail in a report comprising just nine pages of substantive content, but Staten and his co-authors do a reasonable job of outlining some high level benefits of internal deployment whilst also flagging some of the issues in need of addressing. Prominent amongst these is the suggestion that ‘bypassing IT Ops’ to hand developers their own internal Cloud is not necessarily something to be done lightly;

“Whether you buy the hype or not, enterprise application developers are finding the self-service, pay-as-you-go, instant deployment values of cloud computing platforms appealing. Developers can go to a Web page, sign up with a credit card, and instantly instantiate any number of virtual machines and applications without any IT ops involvement. Interviews conducted by Forrester show that many
enterprise developers are doing just that.

But IT ops processes and procedures — and enterprise architecture rules for that matter — exist to ensure that the overarching needs and policies of the business are fulfilled and followed. Although making time in the deployment process to accommodate these demands may hinder time-to-market, often there are very good reasons to do so”

This is true, but overlooks the reality that those processes and procedures arose to manage a very different environment. There is a middle ground to steer here, and it is one that should make a great deal of sense. Virtualisation, elasticity and more create significant opportunities for the cost-effective provision of Enterprise IT. Rather than simply accepting the status quo of those established processes and procedures, or routing around them with the departmental credit card and some cheap Dells or EC2 instances, there is a real opportunity for IT and business teams to engage in fresh dialogue; to understand the match between changing expectations, changing requirements, and changing possibilities.

A throwaway comment also points, tellingly, to the real need for organisational change if we are to optimise the benefits of these new opportunities;

“We can stand up a LAMP stack or Windows VM within 24 hours now — one hour to provision the VM and 23 hours to move the money.”

Elsewhere in the document, the Forrester team suggests that,

“With today’s virtual infrastructure solutions and a growing list of internal cloud platform technologies, it’s fairly easy for an enterprise to start up a cloud-like environment within its own domain.”

The document goes on to suggest that, in Q3 of 2008, around 4% of surveyed enterprises in Europe and North America had done so, with a significant number implementing or seeking budget. More than half of those surveyed, though, were either ‘Not Aware’ or ‘Not Interested’ in an Internal Cloud. For ‘small businesses’ of fewer than 100 employees that figure rose to a massive 80%. It would be interesting to see the same figures for ‘Public Cloud’ utilisation… although there is likely to be significantly more under-reporting of public Cloud use as so much of it will be by individuals and teams who are below the corporate radar.

With one of the significant cost reductions in the public Cloud being directly related to more efficient utilisation of virtual and physical machines, the corresponding saving within the enterprise — whilst still significant — is likely to be smaller, and there may still be a need for a hybrid arrangement to permit ‘cloud bursting’ at times of particularly high load.

The document draws out three ‘internal Cloud solutions’ — 3Tera, Elastra and Zimory — all of which are worth a look, and then goes on to very briefly touch on three alternative approaches. Here, more than elsewhere in the document, Forrester seem not to go into enough detail. They touch upon a DIY approach based upon EUCALYPTUS (now available in commercial form, of course, although the authors don’t mention this), contracting with a systems integrator such as IBM to secure a bespoke solution, and ‘waiting for the major virtualisation vendors to show up.’

There’s an awful lot of activity already underway from these companies, with whom enterprises probably already have a relationship, and it seems unhelpful to pass over them so quickly. What about Windows Azure, for example, which Microsoft is increasingly suggesting should be available for local utilisation?

So, on the whole this document is a useful overview. As might be expected in something of this length, it ends up raising more questions than it answers (which drives Forrester customers back to their Analysts, of course), and there are one or two areas in which it leaves odd gaps. Maybe the next document in the series will begin to fill some of those gaps?

Reblog this post [with Zemanta]