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April 23, 2010

Hybrid Multi-Cloud Enablement — the Next Wave for Enterprise?

Nicole Hemsoth

This week at Cloud Expo, Oracle and Microsoft discussed their offerings in the public cloud environment with Microsoft emphasizing public clouds and Oracle fine-tuning the discussion on hybrid clouds.

In his talk at Cloud Expo in New York this week, Oracle President Hal Stern stated, “If you look at every one of the cases that has been held up as a great case of public cloud, they ran for a period of time and then put the resources back. That’s what made them cost effective.” The former Sun Microsystems CTO reminded attendees that the cloud is only useful when dramatic scaling instances are used — not usually when routine operations are moved out into the cloud. In fact, moving general operations like payroll processing and inventory management, for example, into a cloud might end up being more expensive than continuing those functions in one’s own data center.

This means something many enterprises know already — if not simply from hard experience: the cloud is useful only when it’s cost-effective. And sometimes it’s not. Accordingly, the cloud-bursting hybrid model is becoming the primary choice, which is an even more attractive option when it’s possible to move between cloud providers.

Unlike smaller-scale enterprises, the demands of enterprise and scientific computing, at least in terms of extending into the cloud, require more than simply having the ability to drive key resource-heavy applications into the cloud on an occasional, as-needed basis. When the “cloud bursting” model is implemented, it can often only be accomplished using one of the major players in the public cloud space, like EC2, for instance. Accordingly, there is ever-increasing demand for cloud-bursting ability on a seasonal or an on-demand basis. With that said, there’s additional demand to be able to extend applications into multiple clouds, depending on which clouds are designated for which applications, which cloud providers offer better functionality or price, and which are assigned to certain workloads. In the wake of numerous discussions about the fear of “cloud lock-in” this provision of hybrid multi-cloud solutions is a natural step in the right direction.

In an interview yesterday with Gary Tyreman, senior vice president of products and alliances at Univa UD, the discussion hinged on the hybrid multi-cloud environment and how cloud enablers like Univa UD and others are working to make the migration and policy engines hum along to permit seamless transitions among cloud providers.

Tyreman states, “As an enterprise, if I have multiple target service providers I will want a common management metaphor and capability for any resource across any provider. In a compute-intensive environment I should be using the same technology and platform for all of my applications. I don’t want to or need to add two or three different capabilities — that’s cumbersome for a company. I will want to take advantage of a policy engine to help me maintain a sense of control over what goes into a particular cloud under what terms of conditions.”

Why Hybrid Multi-Cloud?

Over the last several months several companies have been working to form strategic alliances to make hybrid multi-cloud deployment a swift reality through a process bearing minimal hassle, fear, time and cost. Most cloud providers and “cloud enablers” like Univa UD and RightScale for instance are seeing that hybrid clouds are the wave of the future and are thus scrambling to make this option easily accessible. Just this week Univa UD announced integration with Rackspace in addition to its other providers, including Amazon and GoGrid, and also released news on the data migration front as they partnered with Aspera.

Tyreman notes, “The cloud burst model is the most popular choice and while there’s always been public and private debates, my personal view — is that it’s all about hybrid. It is going to be about taking advantage of different infrastructure for capacity, cost, and for many different reasons but customers need to be able to have the independence and mobility.”

Those who have found the hybrid model appealing desire to maintain control over their data and maximize the cloud when they do use it by selecting a provider that can be ready for them on demand. While the choices governing which provider is used are often open to a host of variables including capacity, cost, permissions, and policy, and functionality, there is now a definite choice as more “cloud enablers” are jumping on board to make this transition a possibility.

Some organizations have requirements that state they designate an alternate cloud provider but often, this need for a multi-cloud environment emerges in the course of general operations. As Tyreman notes, “We’ve been working with the U.S. Space Agency and their hope was to first, take advantage of peak capacity requirements; second to do so only under strict control — meaning that there’s time it will make sense because the application and data have met certain requirements to determine what can go to the cloud and what can’t; and third, they wanted to put the right work in the right location — so if Amazon’s spot instance is at a good price or if Rackspace is better suited to the work, they could have the mobility to move across these providers. This is the hybrid use case and it’s also the multi-cloud case. They can access Rackspace, Amazon, or GoGrid on demand, all driven by policies that allow them to make these decisions in a way that can help them take greatest advantage of the cloud’s offerings and to provide them with more control.”

In order for organizations to take advantage of cloud functionality and improvements across different cloud providers, there needs to be a layer of software that has automated the capability to provide commonality. In short, companies like Univa UD and others need to integrate with as many service providers as possible. As Tyreman discusses:

We are cloud enablers. In order to enable hybrid computing we have to consider data and data movement so whether it’s database applications, transcoding or electronic design, we need to be able to move data in and out efficiently. This is where Aspera comes into the picture; such integration allows us to embed integration of policy and workload management (so gauging of data in the compute cloud so if want to shift to Amazon or GoGrid this can be done smoothly). If you have bulk data transfers (genome sequencing, for instance) you used to use FedEx or FTP to upload it, but for mission-critical projects, there needs to be a quick, seamless way to transfer data. Our decision to partner with Aspera is all about transport—if you want to migrate a live virtual machine, they can do it faster. Ultimately, this helps us innovate and improve performance on a basic capability. As customers deploy hybrid clouds, they need that independence and mobility to shift between providers as their offerings change, improve, or are otherwise abandoned for particular workloads. Integrating with Rackspace is an obvious step in expanding our backend and Aspera is the key element in getting the data out and moving it between providers. In the end, we have more fine-grained control and can improve performance of the transfer.

Extending the Wave: Seasonal Hybrid Multi-Clouds

The hybrid model for enterprise can also be described as “seasonal” if needs for public clouds to handle temporary gluts in data can be approximated scheduling-wise. Using this seasonal-needs approach, enterprises can vastly improve efficiency. Tyreman put it into context using the example of the pharmaceutical companies, many of whom have complex in-house infrastructure but have occasional, anticipated spikes in compute resource needs. At mostly predictable points throughout the year, the FDA would rope off part of the infrastructure at a firm and would drill through the reports and request multiple runs, which resulted in vast demand that went beyond typical capacity. If an organization can plan on having these planned peaks, they can alter their compute environment to fit these occasional “cloud bursting” needs without a great degree of effort or time.

As Tyreman states, “In order to take advantage of cloud cluster, there has to be something replicable but it’s not something that will be done daily so every part of the process needs to be automated as much as possible. With cloud cluster, we can provision everything to a service provider and that infrastructure becomes push-button fully configured.” Tyreman goes on to note that in the past, the procurement process could take many months from the time someone desired it, but with advancements in this ready-made configuration from Univa UD and others, this is no longer the case. It is now possible for enterprises to take advantage of the cloud only during times of peak needs — and the process is smoother when it is scheduled to some degree, or at least expected.

Tyreman says that over the coming months we will likely see more additions to the list of Univa UD service providers as the company forms strategic partnerships with other cloud vendors. Besides, these partnerships are positive for cloud enablers and providers alike. As Tyreman notes, “The thing I like about Rackspace is they have a large enterprise business and the customers that they can expose us to and we can in return is very synergistic.”

It seems that companies like Univa in partnership with cloud providers are onto something that could mean big things for enterprise — the ability to have, on-demand, a selection of cloud providers with easy transfer — all based on which can best utilize resources to the maximum.