Comparing four cloud computing strategies

It's important for prospective cloud adopters to know what the key vendors are planning. Our expert explains what to expect from four different offerings.

When planning to invest in cloud computing technology, prospective adopters must examine factors like degree of lock-in, openness of application programming interfaces, service-level agreements, open standards support, scalability, licensing and pricing. What most IT pros sometimes ignore, however, are the long-term strategies of cloud vendors.

To understand how a cloud provider's plans can affect your environment, we will examine the strategies for four vendors: Microsoft, VMware, Eucalyptus and Red Hat. These four were chosen because they all have something in common -- private cloud offerings -- yet their cloud strategies are different enough to demonstrate the effects of choosing one over the other.

Microsoft's cloud strategy
Microsoft’s cloud approach involves two distinct sets of offerings:

  1. An on-premise enterprise private cloud (Hyper-V Cloud) built around Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V and System Center (and its components)
  2. Windows Azure, Microsoft’s cloud platform

There is little interoperability between these two Microsoft cloud services, although the introduction of the Virtual Machine (VM) Role tool allows virtual machine images to be uploaded from Hyper-V Cloud to Azure.

Microsoft believes that Platform as a Service (PaaS) is the future of cloud computing, but it is not giving up on the enterprise cloud market. An important part of Microsoft’s strategy is to enhance its System Center components to be cloud-capable. Microsoft’s focus is its huge installed base; with more than 70% of servers running Windows, it's one of the major reasons that Microsoft is not really working to interoperate with other clouds.

Microsoft has positioned itself to be a private and public enabler for Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), a private enabler and public provider for PaaS and a public provider for Software as a Service (SaaS).

VMware's cloud strategy
VMware’s initial cloud strategy was to be the leading cloud enabler, meaning it would provide the infrastructure and management components to build clouds. With the acquisition of SpringSource and Zimbra, however, VMware is trying to take on more public cloud attributes. The company's strategy includes signing up numerous partners -- telecom, hosting, and service providers -- to support its vCloud effort. VMware is promoting vSphere for IaaS (inside the firewall) and vCloud Express for public enablement of IaaS; setting up its VMforce platform for public PaaS and vFabric for private PaaS; and beginning to position Zimbra for SaaS partners.

VMware’s cloud strategy also includes using vCloud Director to turn a vSphere environment into an automated self-service cloud environment. The vCloud API will work across internal VMware environments and vCloud Express hosters, so users can treat public clouds as if they are a part of the VMware IT environment -- fully managed and secure.

Eucalyptus Systems' cloud strategy
Eucalyptus Systems presents itself as an open source software company; however, it markets and sells a commercial version of its product, Enterprise Edition 2.0, with features not contained in the open source version.

Eucalyptus Systems is a private enabler for IaaS; the basic premise is that a customer treats its data center as an extension of Amazon's cloud (or vice versa) and uses the same tools to migrate from one to the other. Eucalyptus also implements most of the Amazon EC2 API. Another component of the Eucalyptus strategy is to give users the ability to leverage the investments made in VMware virtualization software.

Red Hat's cloud strategy
Red Hat’s cloud strategy involves promoting interoperability and application portability. It includes a PaaS strategy around its JBoss middleware and other software that runs natively on Red Hat Enterprise Linux, including LAMP and Ruby. The goal is to offer the most programming languages, frameworks and platforms on the broadest range of clouds. JBoss cloud images will be available in Red Hat’s software, as well as Amazon EC2 and Windows Hyper-V.

Red Hat will continue to focus on its Cloud Foundations portfolio of software. This cloud stack is designed to run consistently across physical servers, private clouds and public clouds. Red Hat is positioned to be private and public enablers for IaaS, and a private enabler and public provider for PaaS.

What you get with each cloud provider
If you choose one of these four cloud providers, what will your cloud environment be like in a few years? What happens if you select a vendor but soon want, or even need, to move clouds? That's why one of the most important factors to consider is whether your initial vendor's strategy will facilitate switching clouds, as open standards for cloud APIs are not expected to be ratified for at least three more years. Here's what else you can expect from each of these cloud vendors:

Microsoft provides extensive cloud offerings
Microsoft is almost exclusively focusing on its installed base. If you buy into Microsoft and its cloud strategy, you can almost forget about being able to interoperate with any other clouds, including public ones like Amazon EC2. And Microsoft’s cloud software only works with Windows systems, so no Linux (Hyper-V, however, supports Linux guest operating systems). The good part is that Microsoft will provide you with most of the cloud technology that you need, albeit at a relatively high cost.

With Microsoft Hyper-V Cloud, you can build private clouds. Microsoft and its Hyper-V Cloud partners (including Dell, Fujitsu Ltd., Hitachi Ltd., HP, IBM and NEC) are attempting to deliver a set of predefined, validated configurations for private cloud deployments. These deployments consist of compute, storage and networking resources, along with virtualization and management software.

Microsoft also offers the Azure platform, which is hosted in six Microsoft data centers scattered around the world. It provides three things:

  • Application hosting, or the ability to run x86 and x86-64 applications in Microsoft data centers.
  • The ability to store large amounts of data at scale, either structured or unstructured.
  • Automated service management, with integrated deployment, management and monitoring all rolled up in the Azure platform.

There is also the Windows Azure Platform Alliance, a "cloud in a box" strategy Microsoft is creating with its hardware providers. The first wave of the alliance includes Fujitsu, Dell and HP. The intent is for these hardware partners to house Microsoft pre-configured systems as an appliance, which could then fit into any ISP. As a result, customers can go to their local ISP for a virtual cloud environment, all based on Microsoft’s cloud products. The Windows Azure Appliance gives customers that have been unwilling or unable to have their data hosted in Microsoft’s data centers the opportunity to take advantage of Azure’s scalability without having to move anything off-premise.

Microsoft is looking at a future where applications will be delivered primarily by PaaS. As a result, it is working to ensure that everything on Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V will run on Windows Azure by second half of 2011. It is possible to move VM images from Windows Server 2008 R2 (with Hyper-V) to Windows Azure using the VM Role tool but not vice versa.

Even if you do not fully buy into Microsoft’s cloud strategy, you can use its Online SaaS service. Online SaaS includes a number of products, such as Business Productivity Online Suite (Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Live Meeting, Office Communications Online), Exchange Hosted Services, Dynamics CRM Online, Office Web Apps (the Web version of Microsoft Office) and Office 365.

If you're interested in Microsoft’s cloud strategy but have already virtualized your Windows data center servers with VMware virtualization software, Microsoft will most likely try to get you to replace VMware with its own technology. A good plan would be to leverage your investment by using vCloud Director to create VMware clouds where there is VMware virtualization software. In conjunction, you can also use Azure to develop and deliver new applications. This creates a two-vendor cloud, but it's a solid approach at a lower cost.

VMware provides an aggressive strategy with long-term stability
Generally, you are in good stead with VMware. The company is trying to marry private clouds and public clouds with its vCloud API, which has a good chance of becoming the de facto standard for both cloud models. VMware has more than 25,000 partners, many of which are vCloud partners.

VMware believes that the transformation of IT infrastructure to a hybrid cloud model has already begun, and it is looking to dominate this change. Because the vCloud API is used in VMware-based private and public clouds, you can move images and data back and forth between clouds and easily establish a hybrid model.

VMware vCloud Express is the public cloud part of VMware’s cloud strategy. It allows VMware service provider partners to create cloud computing platforms with functionality and pricing advantages. Much like Amazon Web Services, it is positioned as a cheap and easy on-ramp to the cloud for customers that may later be talked into migrating to VMware-based enterprise cloud offerings.

While still pushing its bread-and-butter enterprise business, VMware is also moving ahead with other cloud services. Last year, the company collaborated with on VMforce, a PaaS platform that will compete with Azure and other cloud platforms. VMforce allows developers to write Java applications and get them up and running very quickly inside’s data centers.

VMware also offers vFabric, a version of VMware’s development platform that large enterprises or VMware service providers can use to create their own internal PaaS for Java developers. Many enterprises will find it tough to let go of their existing investments in applications, but many modern apps will be built for the cloud, not the internal data centers of yesterday. vFabric is being positioned so that enterprises can work with both.

If you have a Windows-installed base with VMware virtualization software, you can turn it into a cloud environment with VMware vCloud Director. However, you could also be caught in a situation where having VMware installed complicates your interactions with Microsoft’s cloud technologies. Adopting the two-cloud strategy suggested earlier makes sense: creating VMware clouds using vCloud Director, leveraging your VMware software investment and developing and delivering new applications with the Azure platform. As VMware starts to face more competition from Microsoft, however, expect VMware to enhance its focus on the Linux-themed base.

Eucalyptus provides interoperability with Amazon EC2 and VMware
Selecting Eucalyptus Systems makes sense for anyone with a Linux environment; if you want to move forward to Windows, you will have to wait a bit. Because Eucalyptus is designed to be API-compatible with Amazon’s EC2 platform, you will be able to move virtual images created using Eucalyptus Enterprise Edition 2.0 over to EC2 and run applications. Virtual images can also be downloaded from Amazon EC2 and run on your private Eucalyptus cloud platform.

Eucalyptus Systems’ support for VMware virtualized environments also allows a private Eucalyptus cloud to be created on top of a VMware virtualized environment, but you will have to use a third-party graphical user interface (GUI) if you want more than the Eucalyptus command line interface. And if you want to utilize automation management tools, you will have to get them from a company like Makara, newScale or enStratus.

Red Hat provides an open strategy for the Linux base
The overarching strategy behind Red Hat’s cloud offerings is to provide a consistent environment where users can run workloads in enterprise data centers or public clouds. For example, if capacity is exhausted in your data center, Red Hat software -- specifically MRG Grid -- can automatically schedule workloads on virtual machines in the Amazon EC2 cloud.

What most IT pros ignore are the long-term strategies of cloud vendors.

Bill Claybrook

Red Hat’s primary audience is its installed base, but its reach and market share is expected to expand as the market transitions to cloud. This would come from developers building new applications on Red Hat’s public PaaS offerings and migrations from non-Red Hat platforms.

Red Hat designs its offerings to avoid lock-in with its cloud stack. If you have installed VMware virtualization software, you can keep it and expand with Red Hat cloud offerings. You can also use Red Hat’s migration tool, virt v2v, to move workloads from VMware ESX to Red Hat KVM and back again.

You can also use Red Hat’s PaaS capability to develop JBoss-based applications using multiple development frameworks, ranging from Java to Spring to Ruby. Finally, the Red Hat-sponsored open source Deltacloud tool permits the enabling and managing of a heterogeneous cloud infrastructure, including Amazon EC2, GoGrid, OpenNebula and Rackspace.

These cloud computing strategies only specify the best intentions of the vendor today. If you have specific requirements for cloud computing, such as private IaaS and public PaaS, it would be wise to track each vendor's progress and make sure that they are adhering to their stated focus.

Bill Claybrook is a marketing research analyst with more than 30 years of experience in the computer industry, with the last 10 years in Linux and open source. From 1999 to 2004, Bill was Research Director, Linux and Open Source, at Aberdeen Group in Boston. He resigned his competitive analyst/Linux product marketing position at Novell in June 2009 after spending over four and a half years at the company. He is now president of New River Marketing Research in Concord, Mass. He holds a doctorate in computer science.

Dig Deeper on Public cloud and other cloud deployment models

Data Center