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Posts Tagged ‘intercloud

The emergence of “cloud computing” has injected a lot of excitement within the IT industry, users and vendors alike, as it has shown to significantly reduce cost and increase flexibility/agility.  Interestingly, cloud based services of many varieties – IT or not – have been available for many decades.  Are there key ingredients of these well known services that also apply to modern IT clouds?

One everyday service often mentioned in IT cloud literature is electric utility service – always on, ubiquitous, elastic and priced based on usage. It provides AC power to every home and business within the territory served.  Any certified electrical appliance can be plugged into the standard 3-pin electric socket.  The industry is an eco system consisting of regulated utility companies, appliance vendors of all sorts, installers, wire/socket/peripheral makers, etc.  Similarly, natural gas and water utilities are other examples of everyday non-IT clouds.


Key characteristics of these “infrastructure” cloud services are summarized in the table below.


Let’s consider few technology-related residential cloud service examples and their characteristics.



In a competitive market place, there may be multiple cloud providers providing the same service – for instance, AT&T and Verizon providing the mobile telephony service.  These clouds often interact with each other, as shown in the example below.  A landline phone user can call a mobile phone user, or talk to a Skype user on PC connected to the Internet.  Similarly, an Internet user may consume cloud-based web application services, such as webmail.


What are the key ingredients in creating profitable markets for these everyday cloud services?  They are open standards, vendor interoperability and certification (and, in some cases, regulations).  Standards include physical interface, wire protocol, user-to-network interface (UNI) and network-to-network interface (NNI).

As we move to IT-focused “modern” clouds, similar type of ingredients are needed.  Physical interfaces and wire protocols already exist, thanks to IEEE, IETF and ITU.  Others need to be developed and/or widely adopted, including user-to-cloud provisioning, cloud-to-cloud (intercloud) provisioning, state migration of networks/network services/security/segmentation, virtual machine portability etc etc…

For sure, modern IT clouds are at an early stage of development, so it’ll take some time to see light at the end of the cloud tunnel.  Nonetheless, the journey promises to be nothing short of exciting…


 “To cloud or not to cloud?” is not up for debate – clouds were here before, are here now and will always be here in future, albeit under different labels to fit market inflections of each era.  Benefits to enterprise customers (of all sizes) for doing clouds have been well established also: lower cost with pay-as-you-grow pricing model and higher flexibility/agility.  Because these business benefits were also applicable to traditional hosted datacenter/application providers, it is important to identify newer elements that make up modern clouds.

As described in A Simplified Framework for Clouds, modern clouds may be characterized at least in two dimensions: infrastructure or application, public or private.  All clouds, modern or not, need traditional elements such as scale, resiliency, multi-tenancy and automated provisioning, though there could be fresh requirements imposed on them by modern clouds for addressing today’s business requirements. In contast, canonical elements discused below are enablers for modern clouds and are not typical of legacy hosted datacenter/application environments:

  • Computing: server virtualization, live application migration (LAM)
  • Networking: modern network fabric
  • Security: policy-based segmentation
  • Application: federated single sign-on (SSO)

1) Server virtualization, a must-have element of infrastructure/compute clouds (public or private) that (a) maximizes efficacy of server computing by partitioning each physical server into many virtual machines, and (b) decouples OS – and thereby applications – from physical servers thus allowing applications to be portable (via application+OS packaged as a machine-executable “file” that can be moved, copied, stored, carried, deleted…).  With deployment of dense multi-core blade servers, hundreds of virtual machines can be instantiated per server rack.  Such massive server scale, along with application mobility, enables unparallel compute elasticity that allows rapid scale up/down of the number of virtual machines allocated to a given application workload.

2) Live application migration (LAM), an exciting element of infrastructure/compute (public or private) clouds that enables live (in-service) migration of application workloads from one virtual machine to another using technologies such as VMWare’s vMotion and Citrix XenServer’s XenMotion.  Of course, the immediate benefit is that servers/OS can be upgraded/retired without bringing down the application itself.  Extending this further, applications can be envisioned to run anywhere in a cloud through policies based on dynamic context, such as temperature (follow-the-mercury), cost (follow-the-price), time (follow-the-sun), availability (follow-the-uptime), capacity (follow-the-GHz)…  For instance, an application workload could move from a hotter rack to a cooler rack, or from a higher cost data center to a lower cost one during non-business hours.  Ultimately, application workloads could migrate live from one cloud to another, or expanded across multiple clouds during peak demands (e.g. from private cloud to private + public clouds).  As migration footprint widens, crossing heterogeneous administrative domains, multiple new business and technology challenges emerge:

  • security (should intellectual property data be served from a piracy-prone region?);
  • compliance (can personal information move outside jurisdictional boundary?);
  • eDiscovery (will a secondary, sub-contracting cloud provider block enterprise’s access to enterprise’s own electronically stored information?);
  • cross-cloud interoperability – provisioning, consistent policy for LAM, SLA ownership, trouble-shooting etc. (who is the responsible party?).

Because of above issues, cross-cloud (inter-cloud) or even cross-datacenter LAM, while hugely exhilarating, will take some time to become practical (for more inter-cloud meandering, see A Hitchhikers Guide to the Intercloud).

3) Modern Network fabric, an underlying networking element of all modern clouds for enhancing server virtualization and live application migration, and for collapsing parallel cloud fabrics into a single Ethernet-based unified fabric.  In particular, the latest Ethernet incarnation is adopting concepts from IP, Fibre Channel and Infiniband protocols for powering modern cloud environments (for more on Ethernet’s evolution, see Ethernet 4.0).  Specifically:

  • Server virtualization drives much higher utilization of 1Gb/10Gb Ethernet links, thus requiring a line-rate network infrastructure having symmetrically balanced cross-sectional bandwidths (i.e. ingress-to-egress bandwidth ratio in Ethernet/IP switches trending 1-to-1).  Porting virtual machine images (few Gigabytes in size) to servers also needs a very high speed network.  Similarly, LAM needs larger Layer-2 domains for broadening the live migration footprint and benefits from lower network latencies.  With 10GbE network substrate (that is architecturally ready for 40GbE/100GbE interfaces) and lower latency Ethernet, plus enlarged Layer-2 domains via Ethernet multi-pathing or through virtual private LAN Service (VPLS), modern Ethernet/IP networking meets the needs of virtualized cloud environments.
  • Unified fabric, an emerging ingredient for collapsing parallel cloud fabrics into a single transport fabric.  In particular, Ethernet-based data fabric, Fibre Channel-based storage fabric and Infiniband-based cluster computing fabric can be replaced in aggregate by a single unified fabric, that is based on the latest evolution of Ethernet (aka Data Center Ethernet or Converged Enhanced Ethernet).  Benefits of lower cost and reduced operational complexity are attained because (a) no need to buy and manage disparate devices, (b) lower number of host adapters on servers from up to six to two, (c) proportional reduction in cabling and (d) simplified transport topology.

4) Policy-based segmentation, a necessary ingredient for extending traditional network segmentation concepts (de-militarized zone or DMZ, Extranet, Intranet) to the cloud world.  In virtualized, elastic and collaborative cloud environments where network borders are hard to quantify (see also Networks without Borders), segmentation based on VLANs, IP addresses and Layer-4 ports has become insufficient.  What is needed are virtual zones (vZones) that (a) leverage policies based on identity, protocol, network, environment and application attributes (b) apply to user-to-machine as well as machine-to-machine transactions, and (c) are reconfigurable at a moment’s notice based on changing business, regulatory and security environments.  In effect, along with traditional network zones created by firewall’s Layer-4 ACLs (access controls lists), vZones established by granular Layer-7 ACLs are necessary for policy-based enforcement without touching servers, OS or applications. With unprecedented granularity and control provided by policy-based vZones, IT can maintain consistent security posture and ensure regulatory compliance while enabling the business to reduce cost, improve agility and broaden collaboration.

5) Federated single sign-on (SSO), a necessary ingredient of all application clouds for providing highly convenient and seamless access to application resources.  As described in the cloud framework post, enterprises will retain many applications in the private cloud, subscribe to multiple SaaS (public cloud) apps, and utilize public infrastructure clouds for running other internal apps. Despite such highly heterogeneous application environment, it is imperative that access to cloud applications be seamless, via cloud-agnostic single sign-on (SSO), and leverage one or more enterprise-administered directory stores for ensuring consistent, attribute-based application access.  A user having contractual relationship with the enterprise – as an employee, customer, partner/vendor, contractor, etc. – should need to login only once to access all allowable cloud applications wherever they may reside.

The above five elements do appear to form a rather complete basis for modern clouds.  Interestingly, as one would expect, canonical elements are applicable by and large to infrastructure clouds – a center point for most of the current cloud sizzle!


    • Kevin Clark: Interesting article. Keep it up.
    • Michael Segal: Prashant, An interesting analogy between the earlier and the most recent cloud models. What became evident to me based on this analogy, is the gro
    • Pete K.: Prashant, You are ever the professor. I see cloud computing as a semi-dumb interface (more than a CRT in a network PC - such as at an airport gat