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SDN: Article

Mature Maneuverings in an Immature Cloud Climate

The cloud computing driving license has been issued, but in many cases it may still be a provisional document

Has cloud computing matured yet? This is of course the $64,000 question and if we knew the answer to this poser we would all be a lot clearer on the general ‘state of the virtualized multi-tenant nation' than perhaps we are today.

What we see happening at the coalface of average company X may not be exactly in line (yet) with the general shape of the big vendors' roadmaps. But if the industry gets it right architecturally, then surely there can be little doubt as to whether the average firm will get pulled along into the slipstream of cloud innovation momentum.

What we are alluding to here are higher-level technologies and in particular Software Defined Networking (SDN) and its impending impact upon the cloud firmament.

What Is SDN?
In terms of a definition, Software Defined Networking is designed to raise the deployment and management of the company network to a space above the physical structure of machines. In this strictly defined higher-level space we find our focus being directed toward actual behavior of data traffic flows so that the network can be managed via a layer of software programmability as a whole entity, rather than a collection of individual machines.

While we are repeatedly using terms like ‘still nascent' and ‘rapidly burgeoning' to describe the cloud computing marketplace, we might possibly argue that with SDN evolving as it is, the mechanics are already in motion among IT vendors to manage newly virtualized resources before they even get to the cloud.

This is arguably a very good thing.

CIOs put off by the prospect of cloud computing initially have voiced what we might even call ‘pseudo-misgivings' for waiting to migrate. Security fears, governance and compliance concerns or even uncertainties over latency were not really the problem; major hosting providers were clear on these issues from the start. No, the real problem with cloud computing was an issue of general maturity.

That was then and this is now - and today we are seeing rapid movement in the SDN-driven cloud engine room. Summer 2012 has seen Oracle purchase software-defined networking specialist Xsigo Systems; VMWare purchase Xsigo competitor Nicira; and IBM push to extol the virtues of OpenFlow, a data center protocol that IBM pitches against similar offerings from Cisco.

NOTE: OpenFlow is being promoted by the Open Networking Foundation founded by six companies that own and operate some of the largest networks in the world - Deutsche Telekom, Facebook, Google, Microsoft, Verizon and Yahoo! - as well as close to 50 member companies, including IBM and NEC, as well as other major equipment vendors, software suppliers and IC technology providers.

HP also sits in this list of SDN-focused IT behemoths with new software capabilities designed to manage computing and storage resources across a cloud network. The firm is aiming to improve multi-tenancy controls (to shield clients' data from each other) and at the same time link multi-national datacentres together.

Specifically here we see HP adding features to its HP Converged Infrastructure offerings, which do indeed fall into its SDN strategy. Ultimately we want to be able to coalesce and corral virtual data centers in multiple locations into a single virtual space; this way, both data blocks and entire virtual machines can be moved within them at will. HP's product in this area is its HP EVI (Ethernet Virtual Interconnect) software.

Without going into an explanation of Layer 2 networking and Layer 3 routing, these are the mechanisms that will govern the way cloud data management is soon brought about.

Will a Transition to SDN Be Difficult?
Pat Phillips is practice director for independent IT and business change professional services firm Xceed Group. Phillips says that CIOs have to be aware of the "myriad of rapid changes" happening in the cloud space.

"After all, the CEO and other board members will be looking to them to interpret and plot the best course to adoption to support and grow their business. CIOs also have to consider the current state of their network infrastructure and the implications of migrating data and services off of it," he said.

"When thinking about this, keep it simple, breaking it down to focus on a small number of high-level areas such as current network design - is it optimal, is it scalable, is it resilient, can it be upgraded, is it a ‘business inhibitor', is it fully supported/supportable and is it documented? You need to understand what you have today to know what improvements are required for the future," argues Xceed Group's Phillips.

When Will We Reach Maturity?
When will cloud computing reach maturity then? Ah well, that's another $64,000 question I'm afraid. We may be able to pinpoint some level of adolescence at the very least if we look forward 18-months from now and see some of these SDN and other architecture centric technologies being brought to bear.

The cloud computing driving license has been issued, but in many cases it may still be a provisional document. So proceed with caution.

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This post was first published on the Enterprise CIO Forum.

More Stories By Adrian Bridgwater

Adrian Bridgwater is a freelance journalist and corporate content creation specialist focusing on cross platform software application development as well as all related aspects software engineering, project management and technology as a whole.

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