Utility computing has several layers, none more important than a new perspective on datacenter management. Asked where the meat of utility-computing development will be during the next couple of years, William Fellows, a principal analyst at The 451 Group, replies, “Internal utilities and management with service provisioning being front and center.”
Unlike conventional network-management solutions, utility-oriented datacenter management tools must extend beyond problem monitoring and resolution. They must also provide a deep reservoir of virtualization, provisioning, and, above all, automation.
Both Hewlett-Packard and IBM are announcing such enhancements to their respective OpenView and Tivoli management systems, but the road map is gradual. The Microsoft Operations Manager 2005 platform has a strategic orientation toward provisioning and centralized monitoring, but it still lacks specific support for grids or virtualization, not to mention support for platforms outside of Windows.
Today, only smaller, hungrier innovators give us a real glimpse of what datacenter automation can achieve. An excellent example is Opsware, which has a three-pronged approach to the automated datacenter with its Server Automation System, Network Automation System, and Asset Management System. By providing specific support for a huge library of server platforms, network infrastructure, and client hardware and software, Opsware enables its customers to more easily automate large-scale management tasks such as server rollouts and provisioning, desktop image management, and enterprisewide software rollouts.
But Opsware’s solution only goes so far. Brian Chee, director of the Advanced Network Computing Laboratory at the University of Hawaii, points out that such efforts simply automate today’s vision of datacenter management. Still missing: support for managing servers as compute nodes, managing applications on layers divorced from physical servers, and managing off-site and on-site resources as though they were a single entity.
An organic, self-managing datacenter is a worthy goal, but the products required to realize it remain elusive. Implementing the utility vision within any computing environment will pose awesome challenges for IT management for years to come.