Guest Post: Virtualization and Cloud Computing

Hello, my name is Karl Schulmeisters, director of alliance technology and architecture for the Microsoft global alliance at Unisys.  We are a global systems integrator that focuses on large scale-up solutions particularly in the public sector, financial services, federal government and pharmaceuticals industries.

I watched Monday’s mid-day keynote at the Virtualization Launch in Bellevue, in which Senior VP of Server and Tools, Bob Muglia, spoke and brought a Gartner analyst on stage for an industry view.  The traditional viewpoint of virtualization is that it is driven by cost savings, Green IT and operational efficiency.  But according to Gartner, those are tactical considerations.  Gartner believes that virtualization unlocks Cloud Computing, which in turn fundamentally transforms how IT is run. 

I’m not sure that virtualization itself unlocks Cloud Computing.  Pervasive connectivity and standardized data protocols, like XML, are more crucial to this.  What virtualization lets you do though is to get rid of the issues of app conflicts that have grown out of the PC industry’s history of using dedicated machines for a particular server type.  Essentially it lets you isolate the various application servers as though they were on a separate physical box without having to assume the cost of that separation.

Where I agree with Gartner is their somewhat radical notion that Cloud Computing is the future of INTERNAL IT!!  Because it moves IT operations from managing components in silos to managing pools of resources in clouds.   Gartner identified the four key hallmarks of Cloud Computing as Services Orientation, Utility Pricing, Massive Elasticity, and Delivered over the Internet.  And the only difference with the modern IT approach is the delivery over the Internet.  IT delivers over the Intranet. 

The Gartner analyst did a nice job of categorizing the big change issue that virtualization brings to the puzzle – the decoupling of components previously locked together (Hardware, OS, Apps) that enables a new set of solution categories: 

·         Infrastructure As A Service: hardware pooling, dynamic hardware provisioning, Pay for usage, etc. which are built on virtualized hardware

·         Grid Computing, which is essentially a service that delivers virtualized Hardware PLUS OS but not much more.

·         Software Appliances – which is a service that delivers virtualized OS plus Application, and can run independently of the particular OS environment.  JavaVM apps fit this profile

·         Application Streaming – which is a service that delivers virtualized applications

This differentiates nicely the distinctions between different Cloud Computing directions. Amazon’s ESS online storage is Infrastructure As a Service. Grid Computing, ala Google Gears, is really a Software Appliance – Google Gear Apps target the Google Gears runtime (OS) environment. Facebook is pure application streaming – all Facebook Apps are thin browser apps that connect to other types of back end services

So where  does Microsoft fit in this?   Kevin Turner comes out to tell us.  Software plus Services is one of the four pillars of innovation that he cites and Kevin differentiates between MS Online, which is targeting Commercial customers, and MS Live services, which is targeting the consumer world.  In particular he points out that unlike the other players in the S+S field, Microsoft offers the ability to have the commercial services operate either as locally installed solutions, partner hosted solutions or Microsoft generically hosted solutions (i.e., App Streamed, Software Appliance Mode or Infrastructure As a Service)

Seems to me this approach is a much stronger way to bridge to this coming world. Rather than via 100% commitment to one or another mechanism in a world that is not yet tried and true.

I am very pleased to see that Microsoft is not limiting its view of virtualization simply as a means of offering Infrastructure as a Service.  And I am looking forwards to PDC 2008 this October to see what cool things are in store (Kevin Turner closed by throwing up a teaser slide about the new things that will be released at the PDC).

Karl Schulmeisters