2011: When cloud computing shook the data center

In a year of surging private cloud activity and major build-outs in public cloud capacity, the cloud's promised simplification remains elusive

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The cloud panacea
Yet for some reason, all these efforts to automate everything simply remind me how complex the data center really is. In a recent presentation by VMware vice president of products Ramin Sayar, I was struck by how ambitious VMware's plans seemed -- how many different types of managers and administrators all that software needed to serve -- and how much cost and effort might be incurred in wrapping it all the way around the data center. The road to simplicity seems paved with even more complexity.

The irony is if you choose to relocate your data center to the public cloud, that complexity will not magically disappear. IaaS is still infrastructure. You won't need to pay for hardware up front, and you won't need to employ people to stand up boxes or reroute cables, but your own IT people will still need to watch the meters and turn the dials remotely. Very likely, they'll need cloud-specific skills on top of the usual skills required to run a data center.

Ultimately, IT's mission is to deliver applications -- either bought or built for the business. In the long run, the cloud that really simplifies IT will largely be composed of SaaS and PaaS (platform as a service). Slowly, haltingly, Microsoft is moving in that direction with Office 365 and Azure. Salesforce lives there and its newly acquired PaaS play Heroku now goes beyond Ruby to support Node.js, Java, and  Python. And of course, there's Google Apps and Google App Engine.

Those are just a few big names amid hundreds of SaaS and PaaS players. But it's still too early for any but the smallest startup to consider going without local infrastructure at all. Instead, we're entering a long hybrid cloud period, with a chunk of public cloud infrastructure over here, some SaaS apps over there, and a local data center that -- through Herculean efforts to overcome complexity -- will be somewhat easier to manage thanks to private cloud software.

All that will need to be integrated together. Gaurav Dhillon, CEO of cloud integration startup SnapLogic, wants to supply that connective tissue between cloud services and on-premise applications -- as do several other public cloud integration services, including Boomi, acquired by Dell a little over a year ago.

Dhillon recently told me "2012 is the year the enterprise cloud...the first time enterprises use the public cloud in a big way." Maybe so, although it will still be a small slice of the enterprise IT spend. I have little doubt the cloud will triumph in the end -- the economies of scale are just too compelling. But we're at the beginning of a very long ascent skyward, with many convoluted twists and turns along the way.

This story, "2011: When cloud computing shook the data center," was originally published at InfoWorld.com. Follow the latest developments in cloud computing at InfoWorld.com. For the latest business technology news, follow InfoWorld.com on Twitter.

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