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Mix-and-match trouble with virtualization, cloud computing

Kevin Fogarty | Sept. 29, 2008
Virtualization vendors have to give customers the freedom to choose the operating systems, management tools and other products that work most effectively for them.

"To work, these services need to be better than you get from your own data center," Vogels says of cloud-computing services in general. "They have to be close to perfect, indistinguishable from perfect, which is a lot better than you can do in your own data center. Otherwise you don't want them."

You also don't want them if they're attached to one specific vendor or another, panel members agreed.

"For the average developer, the average IT shop, the level of abstraction keeps moving up a level at a time," according to Matthew Glotzbach, product management director at Google. "No one asks what's running between the hardware and the operating system. For a lot of businesses, the Internet is the platform as far as what you care about and what you can do."

Any service that provides anything but bandwidth and raw processing power includes some lock-in, according to Parker Harris, executive vice president of technology at Salesforce.com. But cloud-based services have to be inherently interoperable or they won't be financially viable for either the providers or the customers, Harris says.

"If you do it at the hardware level it's easy to imagine how you can move from one [vendor's product] to another," Rosenblum says. "At a higher level, I assume if I can get all my data into Salesforce and use it, then taking it to some other CRM provider would be relatively easy as well."

All those points are among the benefits that make cloud computing attractive as a generic idea. Buy what you need when you need it without having to worry too much about formats or operating systems or other vendor lock-in issues.

"Ultimately what you want to own is an application," Vogels says. "You don't want to own a machine or an operating system. At the end of the day you want to have the data and the application and don't want to have to worry about standardization."

In a cloud-computing model the operating system, "this thing that was really crucial to bind the interface to the hardware," Rosenblum says, "it will be there, but it will be part of the applications. You'll just pick from this set of applications and what you pick will come with some piece of the operating system in a package that you'll need."

Which is nice, but leaves the question of what kind of virtual infrastructure to buy completely unanswered. Amazon built its system on Xen because it was open-source, relatively inexpensive and Amazon had the expertise in-house to handle code that's wonky even for an infrastructure product.

The cloud computing world is not going to standardize on Xen, though, or ESX or Hyper-V or any other specific product, panel members agreed. Interoperability and vendor independence isn't just part of the cloud-computing ethos, it's one of the technical requirements.

 

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