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Do we need a cloud standard or just one good old IT management standard?

By John | July 1, 2008

It is my belief that what we today call the “cloud” will really just evolve into a complex IT infrastructure of the future, and in the end, will just be referred to as infrastructure. There is no doubt the traditional IT landscape of the last 20 years is going through a substantial transformation on the same scale as what happened in the mid 1980′s as mainframe resources shifted to distributed computing and client server architectures. This new complex IT infrastructure of the future will link services from a myriad of inter connected inter-operable applications spanning internal legacy applications, internal/external virtual resources, private clouds, and public clouds. For example, I can envision a scenario where a business service runs internal behind-the-firewall VMware instances for parts of an application and possibly inter-operates with resources on Amazon’s EC2, Flexiscale, Google’s App Engine, or a player to be named later. These same business services might also use resources from private internal clouds running 3Tera’s Applogic, IBM’s Blue Cloud, or Cassatt’s Active Power Management. Like it or not, Microsoft will have resources involved in this new IT management infrastructure of the future. Any interoperability discussion will need to include them as well. There are also numerous variations of cloud “types” that are available as services. Traditional storage pools now run as standalone clouds as well as new storage types like SimpleDB and BigTable. Storage resources like Hadoop and CouchDB will also be key components in the IT infrastructure of the future. Not every cloud type solution will be bound to a public infrastructure. For example, an enterprise might create their own private internal cluster of HFS (Hadoop File System) proprietary storage resources for reasons such as security, compliance, and/or confidentiality. Therefore, applications will need to talk not only between different cloud vendors but also to different cloud types. Platform as a Service (PaaS) solutions that today run as cloud services, like Ruby-on-Rails, Python, and Java based cloud sub-infrastructures will also need to be provisioned and configured dynamically in the IT infrastructure of the future. LAMP stack applications seem to be the meat and potatoes of today’s clouds, however; they will also have to be inter-operable with new and traditional IT infrastructure services in the future. Last but not least, SaaS pure plays like a CRM system will need to be integrated into these new IT infrastructures as well. The new IT infrastructure of the future will enable services to spin up and spin down IT resources in sub-minute execution possibility even in seconds. The on-demand nature of this new infrastructure will most likely be pay-as-you-go and services will be chosen based on geography, market demands, and possibly even geopolitical criteria. A business service based out of NY might get a burst of activity in Sydney that requires an automated selection of resources that best-fit performance and cost for the clients in that area. There will also exist a mesh of geopolitical nation-to-nation sensitivities between web services that will have to be navigated. In Cote’s recent blog he points to Dan Farber’s “Cloud computing on the horizon” post. Farber quotes Sun Microsystems CTO Greg Papadopoulos’ predictions where Popadopoulos predicts, in Carr’sk like fashion, that there will only be six large cloud vendors in the future. My question is, if that is true, how many of them will be in Russia, China, and India as opposed to the US? I think it’s silly to suggest in a global economy there will be only a small number of huge infrastructures in the future. How many utility companies are there in the world today? I have never agreed with this Nick Carr type assumption in the first place. In my opinion there will be thousands perhaps 100′s of thousands of huge infrastructures needing inter connecting inter-operable services around the globe.

The key to connecting all of theses new infrastructures together will hinge on traditional IT management disciplines. Applications such as monitoring, automation, provisioning and configurations will have to start to meld together to make this new IT infrastructure of the future possible. The good news for IT management vendors is that with the advent of these new emerging IT infrastructures terms like autonomics will really mean something and the ROA for well defined IT management API’s will be invaluable to enterprises. Monitoring and automation will be the key to the new IT infrastructure of the future as they will play the role of the autonomic nerve center for the infrastructure, while provisioning and configuration will be the arms and legs of this new infrastructure. Monitors will predict possible resource shortages and automation, provisioning, and configuration will allocate and make new resources available. Proprietary solutions from core vendors like IBM, Sun, HP, Microsoft, BMC, and Oracle, will definitely be part of the final solution as well as core open source plays like Hyperic, Zenoss, Puppet, and ControlTier. Monitoring and automation will be used as the autonomics to determine when to speed up or slow down service requests manage queues and other resources. Provisioning will be used to allocate resources dynamically and cloud based or virtualized infrastructures will allow this to occur with sub-minute execution time. Configuration tools will provide the last mile in ensuring uniformity, compliance, and proper execution of the provisioned services. I spoke to the guys at ControlTier last week and they said they had conversations with Puppet and the guys at HJK Solutions at O’Reily’s Velocity conference and talked about how to create some interesting cloud prototypes. An inter-operable prototype with Puppet, iClassify, and ControlTier might go a lot farther in engaging the cloud standards discussion than any premature meta-language standard. It is my belief that the core of any good cloud standard discussion most likely will lead you directly back to the old IT Management standards discussion. For which I will leave you in the capable hands of Mr. Vambenepe who is indeed an expert on said subject.

A few of the leading cloud vendors I have talked to seem to imply it might be a little two early to start a “Cloud” standards definition. While most agree that standards will be necessary at some point, almost all agree there is a lot of work to be done before we can get there. A few cloud vendors are lining up their meta definitions as best practices and letting lessons learned guide them as the go. 3Tera is probably in the best position to start this discussion from a cloud interoperability perspective since they are one of today’s leaders of running clouds to cloud infrastructures. 3Tera has recently introduced Cloudware as their stake in the ground. Despite some mis-representations by Forbes (not 3Tera) in a recent article, I think they are on the correct path (listen to me get all googley-eyed in a recent Cloud Cafe Podcast). RightScale probably has the most experience in providing public cloud services on Amazon’s EC2 and S3. They will also have a significant say in how the IT infrastructure of the future inter-operates, based on their strong experience. Elastra is another vendor I have been following that has also introduced robust meta-defintions for cloud operations called ECML/EDML (Here is the Elastra Cloud Cafe Podcast). It is also my belief that emerging open source cloud meta definers, like Eucalyptus, Sclar, and HP’s Smartfrog (just learned about SmartFrog today from William V.) will play a huge part in the final IT management infrastructure. However, unless these open source meta proponents include the participation of other open source monitoring and automation solutions like Hyperic and Zenoss, and provisioning and configuration solutions like Puppet and ContrlTier, they might get lost in all the noise.

Cloud technology has clearly raised the bar on IT infrastructure. The traditional mantras of ESM autonomics are truly a reality with the new cloud and virtualized infrastructures. However, the technology is moving so fast it seems premature to try and screen print any cloud standards discussions at this point. What we are calling the cloud has only begun to really take shape. It is 1988 and we have installed our first Unix box. I agree with most of the cloud vendors, that a standards discussions might be a little early. There is also still a lot of work that still has to be done sorting out the basic IT management standards discussion. I am not sure we have nailed that one yet. I do think it is important for cloud vendors to put their cloud meta solutions out there as starting points for cloud standards discussions. However, I think the real discussion starts when we sort out the old IT management standards and start to figure out how these new technologies fit in. Since in my opinion this is all just one big old fat infrastructure problem, I believe the the basic “How do I manage IT” discussion needs be addressed first before we can isolate in on what the cloud brings to the table.

Topics: 3tera, SaaS, amazon, app engine, aws, bigtable, cloud computing, cloudt10, controltier, ec2, elastra, eucalyptus, flexiscale, hadoop, hyperic, ibm, ibm blue cloud, open source, other, puppet, ruby on rails, zenoss | 14 Comments »

14 Responses to “Do we need a cloud standard or just one good old IT management standard?”

  1. Jason Meiers Says:
    July 1st, 2008 at 11:58 pm

    This is a very interesting question. I wrote a blog how a cloud standard for event management and autonomic computing helps manage events in clouds, IT departments and mobile networks.

    Hope this helps.


  2. William Vambenepe Says:
    July 2nd, 2008 at 11:21 am

    I am with you John. To a large extent, this is mainly the continuation (now with hype), of the evolution of IT management towards increased automation.

    Then again, you and I both come from the traditional IT management world, so maybe we both suffer from a “when you have a hammer” perspective…

    But assuming that indeed this is just an evolution from a technical perspective, the question is whether this is an evolution or a disruption from a business perspective. Is it going to fundamentally change the business of IT? If so, how?

  3. John Says:
    July 2nd, 2008 at 11:43 am

    “when you have a hammer” perspective…
    Is there any other way to look at it :)

    I definitely think this thing called “cloud” is a disruption however, business will need to adapt from what they have today and where they will be going. To be corny for a minute, evolution still occurred even though the Dinosaurs were wiped off the face of the earth. People talk about the Internet as being an early disruption, however, in my opinion it was not really an IT infrastructure disruption. It was still a rack-m-stack-m world even while the web app world was going nuts.

    Going from Mainframe to distributed was really the first IT disruption in my opinion. I lived it and it was insanity. In fact in some ways IT infrastructure is still playing catch-up. A lot of the same arguments were made in the mid 1980′s about concerns of security and locality of data that people point out about the clouds. However, in the end the economics of distributed computing “seemed at the time” to win out.

  4. Adam Jacob Says:
    July 2nd, 2008 at 11:55 am

    Hi John,

    We’re already running automated, mixed infrastructures in the cloud with EC2, Puppet, iClassify and Capistrano. ControlTier just hit our radar in the last month or so, but they have a great open source application deployment solution (and are working on some things that are really lacking in the open source world, namely easy reporting.)

    Since we’re making future predictions, I think we’re going to see a new era of infrastructure tools and interoperability. That’s what the Cloud has exposed in IT management: I don’t know what tools I need yet, but I know for certain I need them to be able to work together to solve the management problems at all levels of my architecture.

    As for whether it will fundamentally change the business of IT, I think it will. The big change coming is similar to the changes we saw in Web 2.0 – more open, more participatory, more interop, less monolithic solutions.

    It won’t be for everybody (if you have ever thought to yourself “I Should Buy Tivoli!”, and are still in the same job, these are not the tools for you yet, I think) but it will be incredibly disruptive.

    Smaller tools, loosely coupled, targeting specific problem areas in the automation stack (OS install, Configuration Management, System Inventory, Application Deployment) all built with the idea that they will work with other parts of the system. Without a standards body trying to regulate it. They’ll work just like the web does: with XML, YAML and JSON.

    My $0.02. :)

    Hope you come to Velocity 2009, John.


  5. Adam Jacob Says:
    July 2nd, 2008 at 11:58 am

    Perhaps I should have said, I’m part of the ‘Guys at HJK Solutions’.

  6. John Says:
    July 2nd, 2008 at 12:06 pm


    If I didn’t know who you were I would be an idiot. I consider you one of the rock stars of this movement. I am really sad I couldn’t make it to Velocity 08… hopefully next year.


  7. People Over Process » links for 2008-07-03 Says:
    July 3rd, 2008 at 2:31 am

    [...] Do we need a cloud standard or just one good old IT management standard? | IT Management and Cloud B… (tags: cloud standards JohnWillis 3Tera RightScale elastra ControlTier) [...]

  8. John Allspaw Says:
    July 3rd, 2008 at 7:39 am

    Nice post, John. In trying to figure out what bothers me most about the magical promises of cloud computing, I can say that at least part of it is what Adam said about the current toolkit. Black boxes don’t impress me, even elastic ones. Transparency is indeed what I think we need, and as standards and cloud-specific tools are developed, I’m willing to bet the magic will be backed up with numbers. showed the basics of what is possible. When cloud providers start seeing their resources graphed, in public view…now we’re talking competition.

  9. John Says:
    July 3rd, 2008 at 8:38 am


    I think the magic of the “cloud” is going to come down to cost and speed of deployment. Cost savings will come in a number of ways. One, the obvious savings for new projects, startups, and prototypes. I spoke to a startup the other day that is using EC2/S3 and they estimated that they saved at least 70k for their initial startup. That is huge for a few guys trying to take a new idea to market. The second big saving is when you get into template based clouds like 3Tera, RightScale, and Elastra the administration costs can be significantly reduced. These type of infrastructures start to save companies huge administration and professional service costs because the complex multiple instance configurations are simplified by tools and scripts. For example, the 70k savings that the startup I mentioned was only in hardware infrastructure costs. They still had to design,develop, and implement a complicated logical multiple instance infrastructure. Fortunately , for them, they were an ex Java professional services guys but their time/costs could have also been reduced had they been able to start with someone like Rightscale and Elastra.

  10. Damon Edwards Says:
    July 4th, 2008 at 3:43 pm

    My $0.02:
    I’m somewhat confused about what people want when they call for a standard specifically for the “clouds”. Clouds are just the same old thing by a new fancy. Its brilliant marketing and not technical innovation.

    Clouds are not “clouds” because of technical reasons. Cloulds are “clouds” because of business reasons. What’s ec2? Its Linux, its Xen, its some Ruby-based tools, its a billing system, and its a whole lot of commodity hardware and network gear. There’s really no new technology there. What actually is new? How it’s being run, the business relationship between you and the provider, the financial model under which you get to use the stuff, the ownership of the operational risk… these are all business concepts and this is where the innovation lies.

    The IT management stack (hardware and network provisioning, os provisioning, platform configuration management, application deployment, monitoring) is the same inside the cloud as it is outside of the cloud. The only differences are who is responsible for doing it and the level of automation and reliability that their business needs require.

    In my own self-interest, the whole cloud concept has been great because it shins a light on just how semi-manual, kludgy, unreliable, and downright awful most people’s processes really are. But I hold out little hope for this new buzz to create any sort of IT management standard. It hasn’t happened since the invention of commercial computing and it’s not gong to happen now. All we can do is focus on making straightforward and effective free tools that solve peoples problems and easily interoperate.

    Keep up the good work, John.


  11. John Says:
    July 4th, 2008 at 3:58 pm

    Amen brother Damon…

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  14. William Vambenepe’s blog » Blog Archive » IT management and Cloud: now some products Says:
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