Are All Clouds Equal and Ready for Enterprise IT Workloads?

Lots of enterprises are evaluating external clouds, such as Skytap and Amazon EC2, to off-load their dynamic IT workloads. Top candidates include dev/test, IT prototyping and application migration environments. These can account for 35% or more of IT infrastructure and offer immediate opportunities for cost savings because (1) they are often underutilized due to uneven demand, and (2) expensive to administer because they require frequent set-up and tear-down work. They are also low-risk candidates to move to an external cloud as they don’t typically have an immediate impact on mission-critical systems.

Amazon EC2 is clearly a pioneer in ‘Infrastructure-as-a-Service’ cloud computing. But many enterprises are asking if raw ‘Infrastructure-as-a-Service’, such as EC2, is enough for their dynamic IT workloads.

Working with many Fortune 1000 companies, we’ve discovered the top ten enterprise requirements that any credible solution for dynamic IT workloads must meet. Here’s the top ten list you should use when evaluating a cloud provider:

1. Ability to Run Existing Enterprise Applications Unchanged in the Cloud An external cloud must support all enterprise applications and operating environments that run on the x86 platform, including ERP systems, client-server applications and infrastructure servers, such as Windows Domain Controllers. In addition, there needs to be robust network virtualization and enterprise-grade IPsec VPN capabilities to enable seamless connectivity to in-house systems, such as mainframes and Web services.

2. Self-Service Web Portal for Functional Users Enterprises have a wide range of users that require access to the cloud. To ensure cost savings and agility associated with ‘self-service IT,’ a business or functional user must be able to provision and access cloud resources without assistance from technical support. Command-line tools and a basic Web interface designed for technical users isn’t enough to satisfy this requirement.

3. Virtual Data Center Control and Configurability In the same way enterprises run a wide range of applications and platforms, they also need to support a wide range of infrastructure configurations in a virtual data center (VDC). To ensure that a cloud environment can mirror an internal environment (esp. important for dev/test), a cloud platform must offer full configurability of servers and networking including the ability to dynamically scale disks, set CPU cores and memory per virtual machine, configure NICs and MAC addresses, and specify network subnet addresses, host IP addresses, host names and more.

4. Virtual Data Center Install and ‘Fast’ Snapshots To reduce manual set-up and tear-down work to create IT environments, our customers require the capability of suspending an entire VDC and taking a snapshot (including memory state of the machines). Snapshots are especially useful when diagnosing software bugs, as an entire application stack can be suspended at the point of failure for a developer to debug at a later time. It is also useful to save a ‘golden image’ of a virtual data center for deployment at a later date.  In all these cases, our customers expect rapid response time and ease of use, typically operations to be performed in seconds rather than minutes.

5. Import and Export VMware Images The vast majority of enterprises run VMware for their virtualization platform and expect their external cloud provider to run on the same platform. We expect Hyper-V will also gain traction in the next couple of years. We believe the ability to import and export native virtual machine images is important to enable interoperability between environments and avoid vendor lock-in. We have spent tremendous time ensuring we deliver on that promise. Enterprise customers want to know “how easy is it to get out” more than “how easy is it to get in.”

6. Support for Existing Software Licenses It’s essential for cloud providers to support existing software licenses as most enterprises have already paid for licensing agreements to cover enterprise-wide usage. For instance, Microsoft’s MSDN licenses cover the development and test of Microsoft products by specified individuals in an organization. Many external clouds, including EC2, force users to ‘double pay’ if they already own MSDN licenses.

7. Role-Based User Access Control (UAC) Users within an enterprise often have different permission levels. Our customers require us to provide the ability to set fine-grain permissions depending on the role of the user to comply with corporate policies. Furthermore, enterprises often require a ‘single sign-on’ capability to utilize the same LDAP or Active Directory servers for user management

8. Policy Management, Cost Control and Charge-Back To keep costs down and ensure compliance, our customers asked for the ability to auto suspend machines when not in use. As a result, we only charge when machines are in use. They also required us to provide quota management at an individual and organization level to cap usage, provide charge-back reporting and enforce corporate IT policies in the cloud.  A model of charging for any provisioned machine with no granular policy management is not likely to be suitable for most enterprises.

9. Team Collaboration and Workflow To facilitate and agile approach to IT delivery, clouds must allow users to share desktops and virtual data centers, assets and documents, much in the same way users collaborate using products like WebEx and Microsoft SharePoint.

10. Enterprise-Class Support and Training Enterprises should expect a dedicated account team and technical specialists, as well as a thorough on-boarding process to ensure the cloud is successfully adopted across the organization. Premium phone support is a good start, but this isn’t enough.

At Skytap, we are seeing cloud computing gain more traction in the enterprise. We’ve seen these critical enterprise requirements take precedence to a low cost cookie cutter infrastructure as a service approach. As we said earlier, Amazon EC2 deserves huge credit for blazing the innovation trail here.  However, we feel most ‘Infrastructure-as-a-Service’ offerings are fast becoming an undifferentiated utility without addressing enterprise requirements.

That said, if the majority of IaaS vendors improve their platform fidelity and performance, and enterprise customers are satisfied it can meet their requirements, we expect the adoption rate of these services to increase significantly. With those changes, we also expect solutions that include brokerage capabilities to rapidly gain in popularity.

(For more details on these capabilities, download the white paper, A Buyer’s Guide to Choosing a Cloud Service Provider).

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