Moving to IaaS: An overview

Summary:Should your business retain its in-house data centre or outsource it to a service provider? What are the drivers and barriers when it comes to cloud infrastructure? What kinds of workloads are best suited to cloud deployment, and who are the leading cloud platform providers? We look at recent recent research on these important IT architecture questions.

What should go in the cloud?

If your business is evaluating private, public or hybrid cloud infrastructure, you need to consider the types of workloads you run, and whether these are suitable for deployment on a highly virtualised architecture that's designed for applications that can scale out rather than scale up. Companies will usually run some combination of cloud-native applications, websites and web apps, mainstream business and enterprise applications (some of them mission-critical), test-and-development workloads, and batch computing jobs such as HPC (High-Performance Computing) and Big Data analytics.

In 2011, PWC asked a sample of 489 senior executives and middle managers (including CIOs and CTOs) about the cloud-readiness of their organizations' workloads. At the time, only 14 percent of respondents estimated that more than half of their workloads were cloud-ready, but this figure rose to 51 percent in the 2014 timeframe:

Source: The future of IT outsourcing and cloud computing. (PWC, November 2011)

Back in 2011, data storage and retrieval was the most prevalent type of workload deployed on cloud infrastructure. This was predicted to remain the most popular category in 2014, but was expected to be joined by significant amounts of other kinds of workload — transaction processing, batch computing, web services and high-performance computing/analytics:

Source: The future of IT outsourcing and cloud computing. (PWC, November 2011)

A significant omission here is the category of mainstream business and enterprise applications, mostly running under Windows, that serve vital functions in many organisations. Rewriting legacy (Windows or Linux) software to run efficiently in the cloud is expensive and time-consuming, and organisations may be better off continuing to run some of the more complex applications in the traditional way.

However, solutions are available to 'cloudify' platform-native software in a painless manner, notably from Numecent with its cloudpaging technology and recent Native as a Service (NaaS) offering. Here, instead of running a Windows application such as Photoshop on a remote server and streaming the pixels to a client device, cloudpaging is used to stream the program itself over the network in such a way that it can load quickly on the client (using its CPU and GPU resources) and call up additional functionality as required.

The NaaS service, which also looks after licensing and has robust data security features, currently runs on Amazon Web Services (AWS) infrastructure and is aimed at ISVs and developers, but is expected to be tailored for service providers, telcos and enterprises, and be available as a self-hosted offering, in the future.

The alternative, of course, is to move away from platform-native software and replace it with cloud-native SaaS applications.

Cloud platforms

When it comes to creating a private cloud, the vital component is the virtualisation platform on which it's built. Factors to consider include the ease with which virtual machines can be moved between hypervisors (if you're planning on running more than one), and whether you can create a hybrid cloud by integrating with a public IaaS provider.

The main choice is between proprietary platforms from leading vendors like VMware (vSphere with Operations Management), Microsoft (Windows Server 2012 and System Center 2012) and Citrix (XenServer), and open-source platforms such as OpenStack, CloudStack and Eucalyptus. Proprietary platforms offer solid functionality, support and a measured pace of development; open-source platforms emphasise low cost, lack of vendor lock-in and a rapid pace of development.

A recent survey from IT systems management company Opsview canvassed 420 IT decision-makers in large and medium-sized companies in North America and Europe. Not surprisingly, market leader VMware dominates the private cloud space in this survey, followed by Microsoft, giving proprietary platforms 78 percent of the preferred-vendor share. OpenStack is the best-supported open-source platform with just 12 percent:

Source: Cloud, IaaS and Virtualization Survey 2013. (Opsview, May 2013)

When it comes to public cloud IaaS, another big beast, Amazon Web Services (AWS), dominates the scene. Together with Rackspace, these two service providers have 74 percent of the preferred-vendor share in Opsview's survey:

Source: Cloud, IaaS and Virtualization Survey 2013. (Opsview, May 2013)

AWS also dominates Gartner's Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure as a Service, with (Verizon-owned) Terremark, Savvis, CSC and Dimension Data co-occupying the 'leaders' quadrant:

Gartner's October 2012 Magic Quadrant for Cloud Infrastructure as a Service.

Increasingly, public cloud service providers will want to interoperate with enterprise private clouds in order to facilitate hybrid deployments. This will be easiest where the service provider and the enterprise use the same virtualisation platform. Rackspace, as the founder and main supporter of OpenStack, should have an advantage in the open-source space, while Microsoft, having added IaaS to its Windows Azure service, is well placed to improve its competitive position versus VMware.

Outlook: cloudy

The outlook for enterprise IT is definitely cloudy. For reasons of energy and cost efficiency, IT decision-makers will want to virtualise their data centres, remove or repurpose any 'comatose' servers, and in many cases outsource the data centre entirely. Many businesses will benefit from access to on-demand private, public or hybrid cloud infrastructure, although they will need to evaluate the cloud-readiness of their workloads and perhaps make some adjustments to the mix. The IaaS market is evolving rapidly and includes both proprietary and open-source platforms, which makes the choice of technology and service provider a challenge for enterprise IT architects. Given that a hybrid cloud architecture is likely to prove a good fit for many businesses, service providers that make it easy to integrate private and public cloud infrastructure are likely to prosper.

Topics: Cloud


Hello, I'm the Reviews Editor at ZDNet UK. My experience with computers started at London's Imperial College, where I studied Zoology and then Environmental Technology. This was sufficiently long ago (mid-1970s) that Fortran, IBM punched-card machines and mainframes were involved, followed by green-screen terminals and eventually the pers... Full Bio

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