Q&A with Andrew Hillier of CiRBA

By Andrew Hillier (Profile)
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Thursday, February 16th 2012
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VSM: What is the biggest challenge faced in managing an internal cloud?

AH: In a word, complexity. Virtual and cloud infrastructure increase complexity exponentially with the sharing of infrastructure resources, the mobility of workloads, the policies that govern service levels and business requirements for systems. Infrastructure teams are challenged simply to understand all the moving parts let alone control them. This prevents organizations from operating efficiently and achieving desired cost savings and density levels. We see organizations wildly over-provisioning capacity and over-allocating resources in an attempt to stave off any possible issues associated with the lack of visibility and control they have.

Organizations need to reexamine management approaches and tooling for these environments. More often than not, today’s cloud strategy involves piecing together hypervisor management layers with self-service portals, orchestration solutions, provisioning tools, and other base components. While this will yield a functioning cloud, it tends to operate at a relatively basic level, with little intelligence powering its action. This is a lot like having a body with no brain.

Taking this analogy further, think about these systems as parts of a body. The eyes and ears are the monitoring tools, request portals, trouble-shooting and alerting tools that tell you what’s going on. These are important for monitoring environments and tracking what is being requested from users. The arms and legs are the provisioning tools, orchestration frameworks and load balancers that help you move things around, take action and generally get things done. All of these components are extremely useful, but the problem arises when organizations build cloud stacks by simply connecting the eyes and ears to the arms and legs. While this may create a functioning cloud stack, it will not be a very clever one, and there is no real strategy behind the actions it takes. Like tapping a knee to judge a reflex, a cloud stack built this way will respond to certain conditions, but there is no reasoning behind it.

It is important to keep in mind that cloud computing is not simply the re-branding and re-packaging of virtualization. Instead, virtualization is the enabler that provides the flexibility to make the cloud paradigm work. The addition of analytics that consider all factors to determine where workloads can go and how big to make them is key to enabling increased agility, while at the same time assuring infrastructure is managed as efficient as possible.

VSM: With all the management tools available for virtual infrastructure, how is it possible that this is a problem? What is required for companies to be effective in the cloud?

AH: Unfortunately, most virtualization management tools only look at one part of the problem. The difference in these new environments is that there is a much tighter inter-relationship between all of the physical and virtual components. Physical complexity is replaced by virtual complexity, and characteristics like multi-tenancy and resource overcommit add a new twist. All of these factors combine to create an interesting challenge in the management of these environments, taking it beyond the realm of what intuition, spreadsheets and simple load-balancers can effectively handle.