Vendors air the cloud's pros and cons

Officials weighed the cloud's economic benefits as well as the security and standardization concerns at the Cloud Computing Conference and Expo

Industry officials promoted the benefits but also noted the challenges posed by cloud computing at the Cloud Computing Conference & Expo conference last Friday afternoon, citing economics as a plus for the concept and security as a concern.

Cloud computing features users accessing services deployed by a third party's infrastructure rather than using their own in-house systems. The concept offers improved economics, with a shared infrastructure and elasticity, said Preeti Somal, vice president of research and development at VMware, during a general session at the event.

But a lack of standardization in the cloud creates complexity and switching costs when moving to another vendor, she stressed. Each cloud vendor has a different application model. Proprietary, vertically integrated stacks limit choice, according to VMware.

To address standardization, VMware is proposing OVF (Open Virtualization Format), a packaging and distribution format for virtual formats. It is intended to offer more portability and platform independence.

Service providers play a key role in VMware's plan. "For us, our goal is to [enable] service providers, to provide them that software layer that enables them to move to cloud computing," Somal said.

Additionally, VMware wants enterprise IT people to be able to move applications to the cloud without modifications.

VMware offers its vCloud technologies for cloud computing. VCloud features an API layer for exposing APIs so tooling can be built. Also, costs are simplified in moving things in and out of the cloud and the datacenter, Somal said.

She presented VMware's roadmap for cloud services. Presently with this roadmap, the company has more than 100 service providers using VMware virtual infrastructure. Enterprise-class cloud, hosting, and managed services also are featured.

A subsequent vCloud services component presented on the roadmap features the vCloud API, which is due in 2009. Also featured at this stage of the roadmap were virtual appliances and vApps to enable mobility and consistent management. Solutions include disaster recovery, infrastructure as a service, and "flex capacity."

The third part of the roadmap features optimized vCloud services with integrated management between on-premise and public clouds as part of VMware's vCenter. Applications will be built to leverage the vCloud distributed architecture.

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During a panel session at the conference, security was cited as a concern of cloud computing. The number one objection of CIOs in recent a survey taken on cloud computing was security, said Erik Carlin, senior architect at Rackspce.

"Security is definitely an interesting factor and there are a lot of issues when you share infrastructure," said panelist Peter Nickolov, president and CTO at 3tera. But security issues can be worked out, he said.

Cloud computing can mean having two competitors' data on the same computer, said Carlin. There will have to be acceptance of the hypervisor as an acceptable security perimeter in the cloud, he said.

The cloud offers speed and agility in deployment without the need to plan ahead, Nickolov said. In the next five months, there will be more vendors offering cloud services as well as more high-profile applications available, panelists said. Global access also will be possible.

Panelists also stressed the role of virtualization. Cloud computing, with its scalability and related requirements, said panelist Steve Herrod, CTO at VMware, "really relies on separating your applications from the underlying infrastructure that you're using and that is what virtualization is."

"I don't think that cloud computing would be possible without virtualization," Nickolov said. Carlin said virtualization is important for infrastructure clouds like Amazon Web Services but not as valuable when scaling an application across many servers.