Why the cloud must come back to earth

All the hot air in cloud computing has been about apps, but we need to refocus on getting more network resources as services, says Lori MacVittie
Written by Lori MacVittie, Contributor

Cloud services seem to have got hung up on providing applications, but the focus needs to shift back to network resources as services, says Lori MacVittie.

In the early days of cloud computing all the enthusiasm was about the network, but that focus has been quickly eclipsed by the promise of easy application deployment. The end user has become the centre of attention.

The call to provide business users with what were described as ways to circumvent unresponsive IT organisations grew louder, while calls for network infrastructure services were quickly drowned out.

Of late, cloud computing seems to have stalled in its pursuit of the goal of IT as a service. Little in the way of infrastructure services has been announced above and beyond load-balancing services for applications.

It's time to step back and refocus on what needs to be accomplished if we're ever going to reach the top of this technological Mount Everest.

Business and end users can't be expected to provision, deploy and eventually manage applications if they can't simultaneously provision, deploy and manage the application delivery policies — for security, performance and availability — required to ensure those applications meet operational and business goals.

Policies as services

Those policies need to be delivered more like services than scripted configurations, and they need to be application-centric. Infrastructure needs to recognise that today's environments and future direction are going towards deploying and managing applications. That means infrastructure management needs to adapt its model to focus on applications rather than components and functions.

Infrastructure services should encapsulate policies — whether related to security, performance or capacity — in a way that allows them to be packaged up easily and deployed along with applications. They need to make sense to business users and developers to whom network and infrastructure-specific terminology is as foreign as Swahili is to most of the world.

When deploying an application, business users and developers should be able to check a PCI-compliance box that allocates the requisite policies to the appropriate infrastructure components. Infrastructure services are necessary to enable that level of automation and completeness of deployment.

Enabling services

The National Institute of Standards and Technology has the least contentious definition of cloud computing:

  • Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources — for example, networks, servers, storage, applications and services — that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.

We seem to have, for the most part, a workable set of services addressing servers and applications and storage resources. We do not, however, have a workable set of services addressing network resources.

The industry has failed to pursue the concept of a more services-oriented approach to managing infrastructure.

We have load balancing, and we're starting to see some additional services offered in web application security, but there's very little in between. In short, there're a lot of infrastructure network resources missing from the services available today.

The industry has failed to pursue the concept of a more services-oriented approach to managing infrastructure. Without the ability for IT to manage infrastructure via services, it is difficult to offer packages of infrastructure services encapsulating business and operational goals.

Rapidly provisioning infrastructure services

To that end, the industry must step up and provide the means by which infrastructure services can be enabled, integrated and employed by IT so customers can rapidly provision those services as a part of the deployment process.

Whether we're talking about public or private, off- or on-premise cloud computing, infrastructure services are a necessary next step in the maturation process.

Without enabling infrastructure services, we aren't going to be able to automate operational processes efficiently. We need to rediscover our initial excitement about the network and focus on offering more network resources as services.

Lori MacVittie is responsible for application services education and evangelism at application delivery firm F5 Networks. Her role includes producing technical materials and participating in community-based forums and industry standards organisations. MacVittie has extensive programming experience as an application architect, as well as in network and systems development and administration.

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