Hybrid Cloud Computing Faces Multiple Challenges

By Michael Vizard

Most existing examples of hybrid cloud computing are not all that complicated. They generally involve integrating a CRM application, such as Salesforce.com running in the cloud, with, say, an ERP application from Oracle or SAP running on-premise.

That type of hybrid cloud computing is generally not much more complex than trying to integrate two applications running on-premise; the only difference is that one of those applications is running in a third-party data center that needs to be accessed over a wide area network that is inherently latency sensitive.

According to Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of Nucleus Research, the return on investment in cloud applications is too compelling to ignore. Wettemann says Nucleus research finds that cloud applications deliver 1.7 times more return on investment on average over on-premise applications.  At the same time, however, managing applications running on-premise and in the cloud is not easy.

“Integration is so important, which is why this is such a hot area of investment,” says Wettemann. “Still, it can be a pretty scary thing to do.”

When most vendors talk about hybrid cloud computing, their aspirations tend to go well beyond the comfort level that most IT organizations have with cloud computing today. IBM, for example, likes to paint a cloud computing picture that is application workload-centric.

“Cloud computing will be all about running the right application workload on the right system at the right time,” says Hector Hernandez, cloud computing business development leader for IBM.

Major elements of that IBM vision, however, will give most IT organizations a moment for deep pause. The idea that virtual machines carrying workloads that will be processed on systems that are best optimized for that workload raises a specter of complexity that most IT organizations don’ t have the tools and processes to manage. In fact, most IT organizations are more interested in how to stabilize an increasingly complex IT environment that is already made up of more static virtual machines than they can sometimes handle.

“Managing IT is tough enough as it is,” says Rich Hathaway, principal of RLH Telecom Solutions, an IT consulting firm. “Nobody is voluntarily doing anything like that today.”

Before most IT organizations get anywhere near that level of hybrid cloud computing complexity, there are a number of issues that need to be addressed, not the least of which is IT automation. Unfortunately, most of the management processes being used inside IT are either manual or use custom scripts that don’t scale well.

Worse yet, the overall virtual machine environment is becoming more heterogeneous. Startup companies such as Ravello Systems are addressing today’s complexity by making it simpler to take an application workload running on one virtual machine, such as VMware, and deploy on a cloud computing platform that supports Xen or KVM hypervisors.  Currently available in beta, the HVX cloud hypervisor is a nested hypervisor that normalizes various cloud computing platforms.

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