OK, are we all on the same page when it comes to cloud computing?
What's that? You're not even sure of the book, let alone the page?
You're not alone. To a person, the IT folk I've spoken with lately acknowledge that the concept of cloud computing is cloudier than ever. That doesn't stop most, though, from saying there's new equipment on the go that fits the profile of a cloud-computing platform.
This emerging hardware virtualizes the functions formerly performed by multiple boxes -- and does so across wide geographical networks.
Case in point: the InteliCloud 360, a blade-level box for ISP and enterprise networks that virtualizes network, storage, and computing functions and operates within a dispersed group of boxes. InteliCloud Technology, a two-year-old startup based in Newport Beach, Calif., claims its design can triple the number of customers (within an organization or outside of it) while using 60 percent less power and space than traditional, redundant hardware.
The InteliCloud 360, according to the startup's CEO, Ken Hubbard, operates on an internal network model that it matches to physical resources in the network. Hence, if you're an ISP that needs to borrow video bandwidth from your network in Cleveland to support customers in Ashtabula, the system will automatically sense the need and shift the bandwidth.
In case you're not particularly impressed by the claims of a two-year-old startup, albeit one that just scored funding in this tight market, look around: Most established data center equipment vendors are working on cloud computing gear as well.
Cisco Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CSCO), for instance, unveiled its Unified Computing System, a blade-level server with storage and networking built in, in March. Hewlett-Packard Co. (NYSE: HPQ) followed suit this week with release of the HP BladeSystem Matrix. And late last year, EMC Corp. (NYSE: EMC) announced EMC Atmos, designed, like InteliCloud's platform, to support service environments for large enterprises, ISPs, and telcos. (Atmost isn't available yet, though.)
Like the InteliCloud 360, these products, also just emerging, are helping to better identify cloud computing. After all, distribution and virtualization are fundamental to any kind of network (a.k.a. cloud), and the Internet is the ultimate distributed network, right?
Getting the right features together is no mean feat, according to analyst Marc Staimer of Dragon Slayer Consulting. Geographical awareness is particularly challenging. "Very few systems are truly geographically aware," he says. "You need to be able to load data on or off the grid at any time, manage bandwidth between locations, monitor traffic and other factors... This has huge value for people who can make it work, but getting it right is nontrivial."
The progress being made on the equipment front is helping coalesce the key concepts of cloud computing. "Ultimately, cloud computing is not a checklist of very specific things so much as a general approach for the next wave of computing," states ThinkerNetter Gordon Haff of Illuminata Inc. in his latest blog. Haff also cites dynamic IT infrastructure, including virtualization; a services orientation; and network-centricity as characteristics of what many are calling "private clouds" -- a term he concedes he's been slow to accept.
Public clouds appear to add the feature of Internet capability to all this. "For me, cloud computing is any computing done on the Internet for end users," says InteliCloud's Hubbard. He says it can be a function of any kind of service provider, and he gives the example of Conexant Systems Inc. (Nasdaq: CNXT), which offers an enormous network of services to internal constituents as well as external customers.
However you think of cloud computing, emerging products could help refine your views.
— Mary Jander, ThinkerNet Editor, Internet Evolution
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