Bad news about cloud computing: it doesn't exist; Good news: New tech makes it easier

Cloud computing, as a functional category, is not a real technology. But what it really is is better.

There's a dirty little secret about cloud computing – the hottest, most innovative, most status-quo-disrupting technology on the market today: There is no such thing.

Cloud computing isn't a technology, it's a metaphor.

Cloud computing in any form isn't a thing in itself, it's just really good virtualization.

Remember virtualization? Rather than putting just one OS/application combo on a server, you put on four, five, a dozen, then lie to the hardware about how much software it's running and convince each application it lives alone on one piece of hardware.

Improve that a bit and you can build a whole cluster of servers underneath the VMs as long as you're really, really careful about maintaining, extending and elaborating on the lies you've been telling your software.

With just the right set of extremely detailed technical falsehoods, one big application will believe it lives all alone on a whole cluster of servers which, depending on how the app itself it written, might allow this king of all apps to stretch itself across all the available hardware like a roomful of sports fans during the 12-hour Superbowl pre-game show.

It doesn't even matter if the whole cluster is in one place. A well-managed virtual-server infrastructure puts storage, servers and software in the most efficient place – both to keep its performance high and to keep it close enough to its users to deliver answers without extra latency caused by data having to stand in line on the WAN to get from the data center where its processers are to the one that holds its users.

Sound familiar? Like Cloud Computing Infrastructural Systems of Beauty?

Look more closely at the management tools coming out to allow customers to roll out cloud networks within their own companies while still being able to manage them just as if they were powerful but ordinary technologies rather than the miracle cure of 21st century IT.

VMware, Microsoft, Citrix, Red Hat and half the other OS and/or server companies out there are putting out management apps, cloud dashboards, cloud performance- and capacity-management tools that, when you get right down to it, are designed to do things that make virtual servers and other virtualized resources find and talk to each other more clearly.

"Cloud is obviously an evolutionary thing, but only if you can manage it and plan it so it runs the way you need it to," according to Lou Shipley, president and CEO of VMTurbo, which released a new version of its well-regarded Operations Manager cloud/virtualization workload management suite today.

"Without being able to decide which workloads you're going to put where, and where the resources are that make you want to put one on a particular server, you can't move up the stack toward cloud or make your virtualized infrastructure run as predictably or efficiently as you should."

Just being able to see all a company's VMs – both where they are and what they're doing – is enough of a reason to spend money on management products according to Jon Shulda, systems administrator for Rotary International, which is based in Evanston, Ill.

"We're around 80 percent, 90 percent virtualized," Shulda said about Rotary's 300-server infrastructure. "As we became more virtualized we were losing a lot of visibility into what was happening inside the hosts until, like any other organization, frustrations about performance started being blamed on the thing we understood the least.

"So any time there was a lag we'd figure it had to be a bottleneck in the VMware servers, but even when that was right, it didn't tell us enough about what to do about it," Shulda said.

VMTurbo doesn't answer all those questions, but it answers a lot, and predicts thanges that may have to be made later, to improve capacity planning.

"It lets us look down the line and find where the max load will be on the environment, identify where the latency will be, and work around those things to keep costs down," Shulda said.

"I agree that the whole cloud concept is undefined, but I don't think that's what the organization is looking for from us," Shulda said. "We run [Vmware's clustering] Vblock so, for all intents and purposes, we run a cloud network, but that's not what we're after.

"What [the decision to try VMTurbo and VMware cloud management apps] amounted to was software makers getting to the point of supporting virtualization to the point that it makes more and more sense and works that much better and lets you see what can go wrong," Shulda said.

Doesn't sound like a miracle cure, as cloud often does. That approach is much more practical than metaphorical clouds.

But it works; it works now; it saves money and delivers better performance and divides computing resources according to the needs of the apps due to receive them.

There's a lot of that in descriptions of how the cloud works, though it manifestly is not as sexy or market-slick as the hottest buzzword-metaphor-tech ology on the market.

But it works a lot better.

And, by coincidence, it's almost the same thing, anyway.

Read more of Kevin Fogarty's CoreIT blog and follow the latest IT news at ITworld. Follow Kevin on Twitter at @KevinFogarty. For the latest IT news, analysis and how-tos, follow ITworld on Twitter and Facebook.

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