2012: The year cloud computing took a bite out of IT

As new public cloud plays leap in and the private cloud slowly evolves, we're on the brink of a shift to cloud computing for critical business workloads

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The biggest deal in the private cloud this year was clearly OpenStack, an open source "cloud operating system" built on the collaborative work of NASA and public cloud provider Rackspace. OpenStack has tremendous community momentum, plus the support of key vendors, including Cisco, Dell, HP, IBM, and Red Hat. That's impressive for a project whose first release was in late 2010.

Yet today, few enterprise customers are attempting to deploy OpenStack in a production environment.

OpenStack is similar
 to the Linux kernel, in 
that vendors add value
 around it to make it
 practical to deploy and 
maintain. A number of companies, including
 big players like HP and 
startups like Nebula and 
Piston Cloud, are doing just that. Others, including Red Hat and Rackspace, are offering their own fairly raw OpenStack distros wrapped in scripts to ease deployment. In other words, for the most part, the fully packaged OpenStack solutions are still being baked, and only the boldest customer would consider downloading, installing, and firing up OpenStack for anything except experimental purposes -- especially when the bits are undergoing major revisions every few months.

Meanwhile, OpenStack is hardly the only game in town. VMware probably has one of the more mature commercial private cloud solutions, thanks mainly to vCloud Suite. Plus, one of the big cloud events of 2012 was VMware's $1.2 billion acquisition of Nicira, a hot little network virtualization company that, along with Cisco, has led the development of the Quantum network service component of OpenStack. Then there's Microsoft -- Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012, released this year, together offer a viable private cloud solution.

Two other open source players deserve mention. Eucalyptus is a private cloud stack intended to mimic Amazon Web Services, with full API compatibility. CloudStack, an open source project launched by Citrix in April 2012, is well-positioned for use by cloud service providers, featuring a great Web UI for administering cloud resources.

And that represents an irony of the private cloud: Many of the early adopters of these do-it-yourself cloud stacks are public cloud service providers -- who will of course opt for open source solutions. HP and Rackspace, for example, both offer IaaS based on OpenStack. For private cloud enterprise customers, only those that have already implemented wide-scale server virtualization need apply, and adoption of more advanced private cloud functionality will take years.

Just get it done
A long gestation period for the private cloud may not bode well for IT. Once, users and the competitive marketplace in which they operated were willing to endure protracted waiting periods for suitable solutions. No more.

Expectations have changed. Consumer technology, from mobile devices to social networking, simply works. The business version of that experience can be found in SaaS, where browser-based applications are typically simple to use -- and more important, where users can simply fire up an account on their own rather than waiting for IT to procure, deploy, and maintain an on-premises application. No wonder the adoption public cloud services continues to accelerate.

It's clear that IT needs to catch up with that agility, unless it wants to cede more and more of its domain to the public cloud.

This article, "2012: The year cloud computing took a bite out of IT," originally appeared at InfoWorld.com. Read more of Eric Knorr's Modernizing IT blog. And for the latest business technology news,follow InfoWorld on Twitter.

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