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October 29, 2010

Intel Lays Groundwork to Fulfill 2015 Cloud Vision

Nicole Hemsoth

According to IDC forecasts, “by 2015, over 2.5 billion people with more than 10 billion devices will access the Internet,” which means that capacity will be stretched to over twice what it is now. Already, datacenters are experiencing the effects of increased demand, and build-outs of existing datacenters, due to cost and efficiency pressures, are forced to learn quickly how they can somehow manage to become far more efficient while still offering peak performance.

What is needed is an overhaul of current theories about efficient datacenter operation so that flexibility and cloud architectures are given sufficient weight. These are all issues that Intel addressed recently via a string of announcements that were geared toward creating a more open, accessible, flexible and efficient cloud.

This week Intel announced its Cloud 2015 Vision, which sets forth its mission to create a “federated, automated and client-aware” environment that adheres to its three pillars of cloud, including efficiency, simplification and security as well as its goals to “create solutions that are open, multi-vendor and interoperable.” By packaging a small bundle of rhetoric-driven announcements into a hard-to-disagree-with bundle of topics that challenge cloud adoption, Intel took some steps toward making itself heard in the “cloudosphere” on some of the major issues that vendors in niche cloud spaces have often discussed at length.

Key Challenges for the Next Five Years

Intel’s goals over the next five years are based on some inherent challenges that are holding the paradigm shift of cloud at bay. These include:

• Maintaining the stability of mission-critical applications during the cloud migration process.

• Finding ways to negotiate issues related to privacy, security and the protection of intellectual property.

• The automation and flexibility of resources will still be evolving as cloud tools continue to evolve.

• Finding solutions that will meet goals of interoperability and maintain flexibility.

• Making sure that cloud-based applications enable user productivity, no matter what device is being used.

In order to address these challenges, the company has named three pillars in its strategy for the years to come. These elements are defined by the words “federated, automated and client-aware.”

The Federation and the Fleet

In Intel’s view, the concept of a federated cloud refers to an equally vague notion that “communications, data and services can move easily across cloud infrastructures.” In non-marketing speak, that means that interoperability is the prime directive for the federation since datacenters have had difficulty moving data and services across their own borders.

 Intel is calling for “a level of federation that enables the movement of workloads and data from one service provider to another burst implementations between internal private cloud and public cloud providers if additional capacity is needed; and secure and reliable data flow across vendors, partners and clients.” Sounds like a tall order, but if Intel is backing it and they’ve got five years to do something about it, we can hold out hope that this federation goals will go beyond rhetoric.

Today Intel, along with 70 other vendors announced the creation of a coalition to form a system of open standards for the cloud called the Open Data Center Alliance. This fits in with the 2015 vision and according to reports, will represent over $50 billion in annual IT investment. Since Intel’s products are driving the vast majority of the servers operating in the cloud now, they will not be members who have a vote, but instead will serve as technical consultants.

According to Intel’s representative for the Open Data Center Alliance, Billy Cox, the coalition “is a way to create and unify the voice of cloud consumers and cloud users, using usage models as a way to specify requirements. We’ve never seen this approach before.”

Automatic for the People

Automation is another keystone in the three pillars that Intel sees as upholding its Cloud Vision for 2015, which means that provisioning is no longer a crisis situation and is instead handled automatically. Ever since IDC released its 2009 Data Center Survey report suggesting that virtualization thus far has not reduced complexity and that in fact, “the number of server instances that can be managed by the average system administrator has increased from 27 to 41, comparing non-virtualized servers to virtualized servers” we can see how Intel might see this is an issue worth tackling.

Without effective datacenter automation, the benefits of cloud, particularly from a cost standpoint are diminished and furthermore, adding this layer of complexity into an IT organization doesn’t make the cloud a very attractive option. Intel sees it as of critical importance to address issues of automation of provisioning, resource monitoring, reporting for consumption for bill back and workload balancing. Again, a tall order, but one that is being worked out at various other cloud management-focused companies.

Client Awareness and the Lowest Common Denominator

One of the greatest challenges on the horizon for the cloud ecosystem will be the vast number and array of devices. As Intel states, “today there are certain frameworks that allow for some level of datacenter intelligence and scaling to support the client being served; but they are neither consistently applied nor ubiquitous. Many of today’s Internet services default to the lowest common denominator even if the user is accessing the service with a more capable device such as a PC.”

As the amount of data being generated continues to increase and the range of devices continues to expand, Intel suggests that the only solution is for datacenter and service providers to enable secure access and optimized experience regardless of device, for “the cloud to sense and dynamically adjust to take advantage of attributes and capabilities of the client device,” including everything from the battery and connectivity to policies.

How many times have I used the phrase “tall order” and would it violate the rules of writing or be redundant if I said it again? Do I really need to at this point?

Moving Beyond Rhetoric

There are many key words in Intel’s mission statement for its cloud vision that is set to be realized by 2015 and while these are lofty goals — creating an interoperable and open cloud that focuses on efficiency and security — these are the same words echoed by any other number of cloud vendors in the space right now. However, coming close to creating interoperable solutions that provide an easy framework for users is much more complex than it sounds, and it will certainly be 2015 before major progress on the interoperability front (and not just due to Intel) will be made.

Intel thinks of cloud computing as less of a revolution and more as a paradigm shift in IT delivery. As the company noted in its explanation of its vision, the cloud “offers the potential for a transformation in the design, development and deployment of next-generation technologies,” which will “enable flexible, pay-as-you-go business models that will alter the future of computing from mobile platforms and devices to the datacenter.”

Interestingly, during this exact same week, Microsoft launched a full-blown effort to address many of these same issues, particularly as they relate to cross-device efforts to improve IT delivery. Through its “client-plus-cloud” initiative, the company is also seeking to address the many platforms and devices through which clients access and use resources, be those HPC or vanilla machines. Lately, in fact, there has been increasing momentum around the issues presented by mobile applications and their role, not only for mainstream use, but for HPC as well.

Many researchers are finding value in mobile access to their scientific applications and with the cloud, their data can be uploaded instantly to a remote source. This could mean new breakthroughs in research but the cloud and mobile technologies need to be able to work together seamlessly — a fact that both Intel and Microsoft (as well as the majority of other major vendors in the cloud space) are recognizing and addressing.

The Cloud Builders

In addition to its role in the Open Data Center Alliance, Intel also has pledged its commitment to its Cloud Builders program, which allows a number of vendor partners, including IBM, Microsoft and VMware, among others, to provide the solutions that are required according to the needs expressed by the alliance.

“Cloud Builders providers the industry a central point for cloud innovation based on the IT requirements defined by the Open Data Center Alliance and other IT end users.” The program also aims to publish “detailed reference architectures, success stories, and best practices that customer can use now to deploy and enhance the cloud.”

Intel is taking steps toward creating a healthier cloud ecosystem, but true revolutionizing, especially on the interoperability front, is going to take one heck of a lot more than simply having detailed conversations about it. While it’s too early to begin speculating on how the challenges preventing seamless interoperability standards will actually pan out, seeing how the rhetoric spills over to the real world will be interesting to watch.

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