The VMware approach to cloud computing

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Many have said that 2010 will be the year of cloud computing. What this really means is unclear, just like the definition cloud computing.

Problem is that cloud computing means too many things already and the market doesn’t even exist.
The industry somewhat agreed to recognize as cloud computing just three major architectures (with examples):

  • Software-as-a-Service (SaaS)
    SalesForce CRM
    Google Apps
  • Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS)
    Google App Engine
    Microsoft Azure
  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)
    Amazon EC2
    The Rackspace Cloud

But the reality is that the expression “as a service” can be applied to much more than that, and the vendors’ marketing departments learned this game too well during the advent of virtualization.
So, for instance, we can find things like Desktop-as-a-Service (DaaS) or Computer-as-a-Service (CaaS), which simply are IaaS architectures which only serve virtual desktops instead of generic virtual machines. It’s like saying Virtual Desktop Infrastructures (VDI) on demand.

We can still manage to understand these variants because, as already said, the market still is in development phase. Things will eventually go much worse, with a plethora of XaaS products popping up everywhere, as soon as the customers start to demonstrate a minimum desire to spend money on the technology.

Similarly, “the year of cloud computing” may mean too many things. 
Does this mean “the year when three/four major cloud providers will develop a very limited but viable offering that some early adopters will start to use for production”?
Or does it mean “the year when we’ll see +100 web hosting providers and ASPs converting their facilities to become cloud providers and customers will start to feel like cloud computing is a credible alternative to on-premises data centers”?
Or maybe it means “the year when we’ll have +1000 new vendors coming out from nowhere that are offering cloud platforms that are proven to be reliable and secure”.
Depending on which definition we pick up, there’s a huge difference in the expectations we can set.

For sure, the growth of this market will depend on how easily the providers will access the technologies that enable cloud computing.
If a provider wants to build the whole infrastructure from scratch it will be a challenging activity, no matter which is the cloud architecture of choice. But if the provider wants to leverage existing technologies, then the mileage may vary.
If you want to be a SaaS provider then you may want build on top of a PaaS cloud.
If you want to be a PaaS provider then you may want to build on top of a IaaS cloud.
If you want to be a IaaS provider than you may want to build on top of virtualization.

While hardware virtualization platforms become increasingly cheap, compared to IaaS and PaaS approaches, the IaaS cloud has the highest cost of entry.
The fact is that a hypervisor (which is free in most cases) and a robust management layer (which may be free in some cases) are not enough to turn a virtual infrastructure into a IaaS cloud.
There’s much need for tools to enforce service level agreements (SLAs), for data center orchestration, for chargeback in a pay-per-use model, a stronger security layer for multi-tenancy, interoperability APIs and of course simplified front-ends for end-users.

In 2008 VMware announced its plan to become the technology backbone of choice for IaaS clouds. The $20 million investment in Terremark and the acquisition of SpringSource, clarify that they want to become a relevant PaaS provider too.
So how VMware is shaping its offering to accelerate the growth of cloud computing market? To (partially) answer this question we can use a presentation (TA1402 –Unveiling New Cloud Technologies) that was performed at VMworld 2009 by William Shelton, Senior Director of Product Management.

This is the architecture VMware plans for IaaS clouds based on vSphere:


As you see the virtual machines migrations happen over the Internet. vCloud will support chunked and resumable uploads through the browser with a Java client that will also appear as a vCenter plug-in. 
VMware also contemplated transfer quarantine to increase security.


How big the VMware vCloud can be? On paper, up to 25,000 running virtual machines / data center but with no more than 2,000 users / open consoles, and no more than 5,000 customers:


The vCloud APIs will be availabe for a number of tasks and will allow the provisioning of new vCenters (no more than 25 per data center):

  • vApps Upload/Download/Management
  • Inventory Listing
  • Catalog Management
  • Task Management
  • Automation

And as VMware already demonstrated with vCloud Express and Go, the offering will come with a front-end interface that end-users will be able to manage with a browser.

For networking, one of the most complex aspects in a IaaS cloud that supports multi-tenancy, VMware introduced the fencing technology which allows to deploy multiple, isolated VMs which can coexist despite they have identical network configurations.
Fencing, which is used by every virtual lab automation (VLA) product on the market, including the VMware own Lab Manager, will be used to share the same network with multiple customers inside the same data center.
On top of that VMware supports the existence of so called Network Devices (NDs), which are virtual appliances offering routing, NAT and firewall capabilities:


To simplify application provisioning VMware will offer a service catalog, where end-users will be able to pick up and deploy pre-configured templates, vApps or installation media (CD/DVD ISOs and floppy images).

Billing, another very complex aspects of IaaS clouds, will be managed in two ways: customers will be either charged on maximum allocation purchased (which they may or may not use during the month) for CPU, RAM and storage resources, or they will be allowed to buy pre-configured containers which are organized in sizes (small, medium, large for instance, pretty much like Amazon does for the single VMs it offers inside EC2).

According to the presentation, in September 2009 there were 5 active hosting providers using vCloud APIs worldwide:

  • Terremark (US)
  • (US)
  • BlueLock (US)
  • Logica (EMEA)
  • Melbourne IT (APAC)

These five companies are the ones that VMware marks as featured providers at today. 
All of them are offering vCloud as limited beta.