IBM cloud chief: Private clouds a fit for test and development

A private cloud network that uses virtualization to provision new resources can dramatically improve efficiency

Enterprises are embracing private cloud networks to improve the efficiency of test and development organizations, IBM cloud computing software chief Kristof Kloeckner says.

Test and development systems are generally not highly utilized, he notes. IT provisions servers and storage for specific purposes, but then doesn't reclaim them when that purpose has been fulfilled, leading to a shortage of resources. Secondly, procuring servers and setting them up takes longer than users would like.

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Therefore, a private cloud network that uses virtualization, service automation technologies, and a self-service interface to provision new resources can dramatically improve efficiency, Kloeckner said in a recent interview.

"We've talked to virtually dozens of companies that have sizable test and development organizations, who say, 'I realize I have resources that are underutilized, and that aren't managed properly. Can a private cloud help me improve utilization, improve my processes, and drive down capital expense?'" Kloeckner says.

While many experts expect private clouds to be used more in production roles as enterprise grow comfortable with the technology, Kloeckner says test and development is a good starting point.

Kloeckner, officially the CTO for enterprise initiatives and vice president of cloud computing platforms at IBM, notes that Big Blue is trying to provide many of the provisioning and service automation features needed in private clouds through its Tivoli software group, as well as products like the recently announced WebSphere CloudBurst Appliance.

"We introduce virtualization, we introduce service automation, and we introduce self-service access to the resources," he says.

Instead of test and development teams submitting a request for new physical hardware, a private cloud strategy lets them call up a service portal and find a catalog of preconfigured, virtualized test systems. Under the covers, the system automatically provisions the storage, operating system, and middleware needed to make the test environment run.

When building private clouds, clients typically want to reuse existing hardware in a more efficient manner, rather than buy new systems, Kloeckner says. For x86 shops, the key virtualization technology must be acquired from VMware, Microsoft, Citrix, or another vendor. But IBM does provide virtualization for mainframes and Unix servers.

While the phrase "private cloud" is new, the problems solved by the approach have been recognized for several years. But virtualization, service automation and self-service technologies are only now becoming sophisticated enough to adopt the approach en masse, according to Kloeckner. Moreover, financial pressures are greater today, forcing IT shops to reevaluate inefficient processes.

"I believe the economic pressure for standardization of service delivery wasn't as strong [three years ago] as it is today," he says. "We continued for a few years with sealing wax and baling wire, delivering needless customization. There's a crisis of complexity that impacts cost, quality, and speed of service delivery. Cloud combines many important technology innovations that came up over the past 10 years, but combines them in a novel way."

Going forward, Kloeckner sees the industry moving to a mixture of private clouds, public clouds like Amazon Web Services, and shared private clouds. The latter category is like the Amazon model, but involves a small number of customers who share the same infrastructure but have separate networks using VPNs.

One challenge is ensuring interoperability among different clouds, allowing workloads to move from one cloud to another. This will require the establishment of open standards. Although vendors are working together to develop these standards, customers have limited flexibility in today's market.

"The movement of services and applications, and combination of applications only works if all the providers adhere to a common set of standards and interfaces," Kloeckner says. "We aren't starting from zero. We've gained a lot of experience in the industry from working with competitors in the context of Web services standards and service oriented architectures. I believe we can build on that."

But, "in general we are not quite there yet," Kloeckner adds. Public cloud providers base their services on various virtual machine models, but these VM images aren't totally compatible.

Data exchange, security and how to manage services across different cloud platforms are also important questions, he notes. Authenticating and identifying users in a federated environment will be difficult.

In the meantime, Kloeckner says cloud opportunities for customers are real, but it's still early. Whether looking at private or public clouds, clients are typically starting out with non-differentiating applications that could be operated more efficiently, he says.

While declining to specifically discuss future IBM technology, Kloeckner indicated that many new cloud products and services are on the way. He predicted that cloud-based analytics products and developer services will be important.

"We certainly will continue to support our clients to build private clouds, so you will see us showcase more supporting infrastructure," Kloeckner says. "You will see us focusing on the interconnection between private and public clouds, and you will see us release more purpose-built infrastructure in support of clouds. We feel the economics of private clouds are compelling in the enterprise, and the combination of private and public clouds looks very attractive."

This story, "IBM cloud chief: Private clouds a fit for test and development" was originally published by Network World.

Copyright © 2009 IDG Communications, Inc.