Cloud interoperability: Problems and best practices

As more applications find their way to the cloud, data portability and other issues are coming to the fore.

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One emerging common definition for hybrid clouds is a composition of at least one private cloud and at least one public cloud. The private cloud can be an on-premises private cloud or a virtual private cloud located outside the enterprise data center. The simplest hybrid cloud consists of a single on-premises private cloud and a single public cloud. However, a hybrid cloud could theoretically consist of multiple private and/or public clouds.

Ideas International's Iams says the real issue is around managing computing resources on any side of the cloud divide. This leads to such questions that your internal IT group must answer, including:

  • What is your company's primary systems-management solution?
  • What are the criteria and policy for deciding which applications get assigned to public clouds and which to private clouds?
  • What are the requirements associated with security, SLAs and availability?
  • Why are you moving applications to an Amazon or Rackspace? Is it cheaper, so much cheaper that it is going to be worthwhile?
  • How much data has to move between the clouds, what is its cost and what is the risk?

Sand Hill's Pemmaraju says, "What users really want is a single pane of glass, whether they are working with a private cloud or multiple clouds, from the point of view of management of the cloud environment(s). They are looking for seamless management for an application move to a target cloud."

Tools for working around the cloud interoperability issue

Public cloud providers, including Amazon, Rackspace and Terremark, offer templates for building virtual servers to run an application. Third-party products such as CloudSwitch and RightScale are available to ease the task of moving applications to target clouds.

These tools, along with a new Amazon offering called Amazon VPC, promise seamless integration between a source cloud and target cloud. Other options here include ServiceMesh and Racemi. The goal of most of these tools is to let you run your enterprise's applications in a cloud without having to completely rewrite the apps.

If you are using VMware vCloud Director in your private cloud, you can work with a number of VMware partners who are already certified for vCloud Express. A target cloud hosted by a VMware partner becomes a seamless extension to your private cloud. VMware partners and vCloud Director-based private clouds use the same set of management tools, providing one virtualization stack, one set of virtualization tools and technologies standardized around VMware ESX. But this approach locks you into VMware.

Other solutions that soften the cloud interoperability problem, but fall short of what CloudSwitch provides, include Red Hat's Deltacloud open source project and Eucalyptus Systems' Eucalyptus cloud.

The next few years

Jeff Deacon, managing director of cloud services at Verizon Business, says third-party vendors are going to be instrumental in solving cloud interoperability issues. "If a cloud has the proper API, third-party vendors will make it interoperate with other clouds."

Dassault's Chilton says that platform consistency among cloud providers makes sense, to allow customers to pick providers based on the vendors' competencies. Today, no cloud provider is jumping out as the most secure, most available or the most IP-safe provider. Chilton imagines a time where multiple clouds will be needed to fill these different requirements, and this will drive price negotiations. His strategy for now is to start with a single cloud provider and have a small team work hands-on with this cloud and with CloudSwitch's tools to gain experience.

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