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Symantec Analyst Relations

The cloud orchestration wars - focus on the task at hand

Created: 10 Dec 2013 • Updated: 10 Dec 2013
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Few areas of IT seem to be gaining as much attention at the moment as cloud orchestration, as represented by OpenStack and CloudStack, VMWare and the like. The debates in the blogosphere and on social media could suggest nothing short of all-out war as different vendors and groups back one approach or another. 

To understand what's going on, it is best to start with the elephant in the room - Amazon, whose Elastic Compute Cloud(EC2) service (now part of its AWS portfolio) scared the socks off other vendors when it came to market - not least because it offered a fundamentally different approach to computing, compared to traditional, in-house systems. 

The Amazon model is based on the enormous power of virtualisation, which enables processing workloads to be allocated to computer hardware far more dynamically than was possible in the past. This is what gives EC2 its 'elasticity' in that processing cycles can be scaled up or down according to demand. To fully take advantage of the notion requires more distributed approaches to software design, so that some processing can take place in parallel. 

Ever since EC2 was launched, more traditional hardware and software vendors have been working hard to bring similar capabilities to market. Amazon's weakness is that it is entirely hosted - workloads have to be built and run "in the public cloud", that is on Amazon's servers. Equally, it can get expensive, particularly (it is said) for data transfers.

For a number of reasons, not least because it is a good idea, vendors have been looking to deliver similar capabilities to run in their clients' own data centres (as a "private cloud") or in hosted data centres - the term "hosted private cloud" refers to the fact that it is possible to combine both. A front runner is VMWare, which is understandable given its market dominance in the virtualisation space: VMWare's cloud orchestration technology is called VSphere. 

A number of other initiatives have been kicked off by consortia of vendors and other groups. One is OpenStack, formed between hosting provider RackSpace and NASA in 2010, with an aim to use open source technologies to provide all the capabilities needed in a highly dynamic, virtualised IT environment. Another is CloudStack, based on a product acquired by Citrix which has now been open sourced; smaller, similar efforts include Eucalyptus. 

The front runner is probably OpenStack, which is now backed by some 250 vendors including IBM, HP and Dell. I say 'probably' because this is the nub of the issue - with so much choice, each of which has its own strengths and weaknesses, it has become difficult for enterprises to decide which approach might best meet their needs. The comparison cannot be like for like - for example, CloudStack is reputed to be less fragmented, as well as easier to install and manage than OpenStack. 

The market is continuing to evolve rapidly - just this week for example, Amazon announced a GPU-based EC2 instance to enable more graphics or computation-centric processing such as VDI or gaming (and which can no doubt be turned to big data analytics and the like). 

On the upside, conversations are turning increasingly to the notion of interoperability. For example, Eucalyptus boasts close API alignment with Amazon EC2 enabling the two to work together. As enterprise adoption increases, it seems inevitable that organisations will clamour for different cloud orchestration models to work together, as their own needs evolve and mature alongside market evolution. 

The market in 2-3 years time will likely look quite different to now, though the same players might still be fighting it out.  For any organisation looking to make a foray into the world of private cloud computing, therefore, the key is to fully understand the requirements to be met and to conduct appropriate due diligence to ensure that current and immediate future needs will be met. It may also be best to stick to core features of any platform, apart from where a clear business return can be achieved by pushing the envelope. 

The highly dynamic compute models made possible by virtualisation can enable organisations to achieve great results. Better to focus on these first, than try to come up with a one-size-fits-all strategy in what is still a rapidly evolving market.  

Symantec provides storage management software for a number of cloud platforms, including Amazon Web Services (AWS) and OpenStack. You can read more here: http://www.symantec.com/cloud-storage-backup and please share your thoughts below.