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» Enterprise IT Planet » Networking » Networking Features

Journey to the Center of the Cloud

By Drew Robb
June 18, 2010

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Jules Verne's novel, "Journey to the Center of the Earth" featured adventurers traveling down volcanic pipes to a new world in the center of the earth. The theme of last month's EMC World conference in Boston had a Verne-esque feel -- "Your Journey to the Private Cloud." Instead of volcanic passageways, EMC is proposing virtualization as the route to a new IT world.

"The next wave in IT is cloud computing," said Joe Tucci, chairman and CEO of EMC (NYSE: EMC). "EMC is going all out on the private cloud."

Why now? IT infrastructure is getting too complex, too inefficient and too costly, he said. To make his point, he cited a stat of 72 percent of IT investment going to maintain existing applications and infrastructure. EMC aims to offer solutions to both sides of the equation: VMware for virtualization and EMC storage technologies as the underlying infrastructure for cloud computing.

While companies like Google and Amazon are setting up a public cloud, EMC sees the private cloud as a more viable enterprise model. Email, backup and storage on a public cloud might be fine for home computers, but no company is going to trust such a setup. That opens the door to private clouds that offer the flexibility and agility of the cloud while surrounding it with enough control, reliability and security so enterprises will be comfortable with it.

But Tucci doesn't predict an either/or scenario. Both public and private clouds will have to co-exist. Large data centers will provide their own private clouds, which will extend regionally or globally to encompass users, customers and partners. Around these private clouds will operate a smaller number of massive public clouds that provide certain services deemed too safe to farm out to service providers.

"Both camps will have to work together," said Tucci.

Further, EMC doesn't plan to acquire companies so that it can offer every aspect of the private cloud. Instead, it will partner with Cisco and others to deliver a complete solution.

"You can use servers from different vendors and even non-EMC storage if you want to," said Tucci. "Our goal is to give max efficiency, choice and control to customers."

According to analyst research from IDC, the cloud looms large among current enterprise priorities, along with server/storage virtualization. That leads Tucci to believe EMC has its biggest opportunity yet for major expansion. The coincidence of VMware pervasion and EMC's overall dominance in storage technologies can come together to potentially propel the company into an even wider sphere.

That might even affect Microsoft's domain. As hypervisors claim a larger presence, they take over some of the functions that traditionally reside in the operating system. Device driver management, for example, moves away from the OS and into the hypervisor.

EMC's cloud vision will also impact the role of the PC. Instead of user data residing on a specific device, Tucci sees data as following the user from device to device -- all stored within the cloud, which is underpinned by EMC storage.

"The concept of the PC will change dramatically," he said. "Users will access their data using public and private clouds to give them more flexibility."

As a result, cloud federation will rise into more prominence, i.e. technology that permits applications to interoperate and data to be transferred seamlessly between private and public clouds. In addition, federation will take care of how workloads are moved to minimize costs and maximize efficiency. If a mission-critical application requires more resources within the private cloud, other workloads can be moved over to public networks, provided enough security and performance is available.

What about the idea that everything will eventually meld into a few massive clouds that service all users and all enterprises? Tucci doesn't see that as a workable approach. Most organizations have too much time and development resources invested in internal applications to turn them all over to the Amazons and Googles of the world.

"There are billions of lines of code representing trillions of dollars of investment residing inside companies," he said. Thus, the public cloud might be just fine for newly developed applications -- developers will have coded them specifically with a cloud-like infrastructure in mind. This means a far more dispersed infrastructure, but one that plays more into the hands of customers rather than vendors. They have the choice, after all, of multiple infrastructure providers as well as service providers.

"In 40 years, I have never seen a time when customers are so in the driver's seat," said Tucci.

Drew Robb is a freelance writer specializing in technology and engineering. Currently living in California, he is originally from Scotland, where he received a degree in geology and geography from the University of Strathclyde. He is the author of Server Disk Management in a Windows Environment (CRC Press).

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