Virtualisation as an enabler for cloud computing

In my summary of the key messages from Microsoft’s virtualisation launch last week, I promised a post about the segment delivered by Tom Bittman, Gartner’s VP and Chief of Research for Infrastructure and Operations, who spoke about how virtualisation is a key enabler for cloud computing.

Normally, if I hear someone talking about cloud computing they are either: predicting the death of traditional operating systems (notably Microsoft Windows); they are a vendor (perhaps even Microsoft) with their own view on the way that things will work out; or they are trying to provide an artificial definition of what cloud computing is and is not.

Then, there are people like me – infrastructure architects who see emerging technologies blurring the edges of the traditional desktop and web hosting models – technologies like Microsoft Silverlight (taking the Microsoft.NET Framework to the web), Adobe AIR (bringing rich internet applications to the desktop) and Google Gears (allowing offline access to web applications). We’re excited by all the new possibilities, but need to find a way through the minefield… which is where we end up going full circle and returning to conversations with product vendors about their vision for the future.

What I saw in Bittman’s presentation was an analyst, albeit one who was speaking at a Microsoft conference, talking broad terms about cloud computing and how it is affected by virtualisation. No vendor alegiance, just tell it as it is. And this is what he had to say:

When people talk about virtualisation, they talk about saving money, power and space – and they talk about “green IT” – but virtualisation is more than that. Virtualisation is an enabling technology for the trasnformation of IT service delivery, a catalyst for changing architectures, processes, cultures, and the IT marketplace itself. And, through these changes, it enables business transformation.

Virtualisation is a hot topic but it’s also part of something much larger – cloud computing. But rather than moving all of our IT services to the Internet, Gartner see virtuaInternetlisation allegiancetransformationas a means to unlock cloud computing so that internal IT departments deliver services to business units in a manner that is more “cloud like”.

Bittman explained that in the past, our component-oriented approach has led to the management of silos for resource management, capacity planning and performance management. Gartner: Virtualising the data centre - from silos to clouds
Then, as we realise how much these silos are costing, virtualisation is employed to drive down infrastructure costs and increase flexibility – a layer-oriented approach with pools of resource, and what he refers to as “elasticity” – the ability to “do things” much more quickly. Even that is only part of the journey though – by linking the pools of resource to the service level requirements of end users, an automated service-oriented approach can be created – an SoA in the form of cloud computing.

At the moment internal IT is still evolving, but external IT providers are starting to deliver service from the cloud (e.g. Google Apps, salesforce.com, etc.) – and that’s just the start of cloud computing.

Rather than defining cloud computing, Bitmann described some of the key attributes:

  1. Service orientation.
  2. Utility pricing (either subsidised, or usage-based).
  3. Elasticity.
  4. Delivered over the Internet.

The first three of these are the same whether the cloud is internal or external.

Gartner: Virtualisation consolidation and deconsolidationVirtualisation is not really about consolidation. It’s actually the decoupling of components that were previously combined – the application, operating system and hardware – to provides some level of abstraction. A hypervisor is just a service provider for compute resource to a virtual machine. Decoupling is only one part of what’s happening though as the services may be delivered in different ways – what Gartner describes as alternative IT delivery models.

Technology is only one part of this transformation of IT – one of the biggest changes is the way in which we view IT as we move from buying components (e.g. a new server) to services (including thinking about how to consume those services – internally or from the cloud) and this is a cultural/mindset change.

Pricing and licensing also changes – no longer will serial numbers be tied to servers but new, usage-based, models will emerge.

IT funding will change too – with utility pricing leading to a fluid expansion and contraction of infrastructure as required to meet demands.

Speed of deployment is another change – as virtualisation allows for faster deployment and business IT users see the speed in which they can obtain new services, demand will also increase.

Management will be critical – processes for management of service providers and tools as the delivery model flexes based on the various service layers.

And all of this leads towards cloud computing – not outsourcing everything to external providers, but enabling strategic change by using technologies such as virtualisation to allow internal IT to function in a manner which is more akin to an external service, whilst also changing the business’ ability to consume cloud services.

One thought on “Virtualisation as an enabler for cloud computing


  1. Thanks for the information. You may be interested to know that Telstra – Australia’s biggest telco has just announced (on 17th August) a $500m investment into cloud computing which is pretty huge.

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