Not many companies have as many servers as Intel, but cloud computing, public or private, is all about scale. With a combination of well-managed virtualization, data center automation, and self-service tools (which allow stakeholders to provision and scale resources without involving IT), each system admin can handle a magnitude more servers -- from an average of around 100 to thousands, according to Bob Muglia, president of Microsoft's Server and Tools Division.
The hardware companies are betting this dynamic will hold true even in the midmarket. Hewlett-Packard, for example, launched its Cloudstart solution in August, which combines hardware (HP BladeSystem Matrix), software (HP Cloud Service Automation), and professional services (HP Cloud Consulting) to yield fast-track deployments. And Dell, which owns the cloudcomputing.com URL, offers various have-it-your way combinations of professional services and products to accelerate private cloud efforts.
IBM jumped in 18 months ago with its WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance, which is basically a blade server preconfigured for Java dev and test that lets developers self-provision resources through a Web interface, with metering of those resources built in. Metering and chargeback, along with an easy Web interface for self-service provisioning, are essential elements of the private version of IaaS.
VMware's introduction of vCloud Director, which takes server virtualization management to the next level, was something of a milestone in this regard. For governance purposes, it goes beyond metering and chargeback to allow customers to establish SLAs for internal accountability.
Even Microsoft is venturing into the private cloud. In July, the company announced it was offering Windows Azure -- its public cloud service -- in a box as the Windows Azure Platform Appliance (or rather many boxes, since it's scaled to run on approximately 1,000 servers or more).
Microsoft heads skyward
Microsoft's future, however, is now largely wedded to SaaS and PaaS in the public cloud. In March, CEO Steve Ballmer claimed that about 70 percent of Microsoft employees were "doing things that were entirely cloud-based, or cloud inspired" and that by sometime in 2011 it would be 90 percent.
Those claims seemed exaggerated at the time. But in October, Microsoft backed them up with the announcement of Office 365, which for the first time wrapped together a locally installed version of Office with Microsoft-hosted Exchange, SharePoint, and Lynx (formerly Office Communications) servers for a single per-seat subscription rate. When Office 365 is ready in 2011, you'll even be able to opt for a version that includes Office Web Apps and no locally installed version of Office whatsoever -- a 100 percent SaaS solution.