Last week Gartner published a great interview with Ian Pratt, CTO of Xen, Vice President of Advanced Products at Citrix (formerly co-founder of XenSource) and Chairman of Xen.org.
During the interview Pratt answers several questions about cloud computing and next steps for virtualization. Some answers are specially interesting:
Q: How real is the vision of cloud computing for the average organization today? Are we set to see a mass migration of IT functions toward external suppliers?
A: These things never happen as the people who are selling them propose, but I think there will be a movement over time. There are already plenty of startups whose entire IT infrastructure is cloud hosted and so they don’t have any physical infrastructures. Clearly, companies such as Amazon are providing a service that is useful.
But it’s a far bigger deal to take things that are working and running well in a data center and then try to push them out into the cloud. There are obviously going to be a lot of concerns around security, and you have to do a good job of convincing people that you’re going to look after their data in a secure fashion. I think the clouds that we have today are capable of evolving to do that. We have hypervisors. We know how to do a lot of these things, and I think that kind of strong isolation will evolve and be built into these cloud computing farms over time so they can provide those kind of guarantees: You can really create virtual data centers within a cloud and have confidence your data is being looked after, both when it’s on disk and flying across the network, as well as when it’s actually sitting in memory.
So while VMware believes that the transition to cloud computing will happen in the next two years, Pratt seems more cautions despite his Xen is the only hypervisor used today to power a really large general purpose cloud computing infrastructure: Amazon EC2.
He says it would take probably 10 years:
Q: If I’m a CIO, then should I be looking to move functions out to the cloud now or next year? Or should I sit back and watch?
A: I think we’re in the pilot phase. Many CIOs can identify applications that are candidates now, particularly applications that are external network-facing – where the point of the application is to communicate with customers or partners. Those are the kinds of things that probably make sense to move out first, or to look at moving out because the end-user experience will actually be better as a result.
It’s a process, just as with virtualization. There were certain applications that people picked first, but you still have databases and things like that running on their networks. I think it will remain like that. At least it’s still within your own data center. It’s a leap of faith to push this out to the cloud. Although I believe it will happen eventually, it’s going to take time. I think we’re talking a decade. One of the analogies being used by various folks is power generation. A lot of people had their own generators for a long time and there are still reasons to have your own generator for backup so as not to rely on the grid. Ultimately, it’s cheaper, makes more sense and is more reliable to use the grid than to have your own generator in most cases.