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Microsoft's Private Cloud Formation

As CIOs largely reject the early crop of cloud services for business-critical apps, Redmond readies private and hybrid cloud platforms.

As Microsoft rolls out its Windows Azure and SQL Azure public cloud services in January 2010, the first implementers will likely include those building greenfield Web 2.0-type apps as well those who develop and test software looking for capacity on demand. But for cloud computing to take hold in the enterprise for business-critical applications, Microsoft knows it must extend Windows Azure to integrate securely and seamlessly with internally hosted systems.

Hence, the next phase of Windows Azure will enable enterprises to build private and enable hybrid clouds with a new set of deliverables that will evolve throughout 2010 and likely into the following years.

The allure of cloud services is that they provide infrastructure on demand and remove the capital and administrative requirements of running internal systems. Yet the vast majority of CIOs say they simply can't put certain types of applications and data into the current incarnation of cloud services.

"It's going to be a tough sell," says John Merchant, assistant vice president at The Hartford Financial Services Group Inc., a large insurance company. "As a Fortune 500 company with highly regulated data and a very conservative outlook, it's going to be difficult for any insurance company or any financial institution of any size to migrate any data to the cloud."

On a panel in November at Interop New York addressing the top cloud engineers at Amazon.com Inc., Google Inc. and Microsoft, Rico Singleton, deputy CIO for the State of New York, asked: "Can you give me a private cloud that can provide all the benefits that you provide now on my private network closed to the outside, and still be able to give me similar ROI?" The answer by top cloud engineers at Microsoft, Amazon and Google was a resounding: "Not yet."

The melding of internally hosted systems with public and private cloud services is what many believe will drive enterprise cloud computing in the years to come. Indeed, a survey of 500 C-level IT executives by Kelton Research commissioned by Avanade Inc. found a 300 percent spike over the past nine months in plans to either test or start deploying cloud services.

Yet 95 percent of executives ultimately plan on a hybrid approach, which blends public and private clouds, according to the recently released study. "A hybrid model gets people comfortable in the shorter term," says Tyson Hartman, CTO of Avanade, a subsidiary of Accenture that deploys Microsoft-based solutions.

A United Cloud
It appears that Microsoft Chief Software Architect Ray Ozzie, Server and Tools President Bob Muglia and both their teams are well aware that enterprises will expect their cloud infrastructures to fully support the need for private and hybrid clouds.

"With Windows Azure, Windows Server and System Center, there's one coherent model of managing this infrastructure as a service across Microsoft's public cloud to private cloud to clouds of our partners who host," Ozzie said in his keynote address at the recent Microsoft Professional Developers Conference (PDC09). Of course now it appears Ozzie's roll with Azure may be diminished moving forward as reported.

At PDC09, Ozzie and Muglia explained how Redmond will enable hybrid and private clouds and outlined a new roadmap of deliverables. First is Project Sydney, technology that will connect services running in data centers with Windows Azure. Due to go into beta in early 2010, Project Sydney will include an IPV6- and IPSec-based connectivity agent that will utilize Windows Identity Foundation -- code-named "Geneva" -- Microsoft's claims-based federated identity-management framework.

Another key deliverable that will support hybrid cloud capabilities is AppFabric, an application server extension to Windows Server and the Windows Azure cloud platform. AppFabric will be based on the app server preview released last year called Project Dublin and combined with the in-memory data caching server technology Microsoft has previewed for some time, called Project Velocity. With the two now melded, Microsoft released the first beta of AppFabric for Windows Server 2008 R2 at PDC09.

At some point in 2010, Microsoft will release a community technology preview (CTP) of AppFabric for Windows Azure with plans for commercial release by year's end.

Both will share a common service bus, security model and developer experience for software running apps in this hybrid cloud model. "AppFabric will extend the environment that you're very familiar with, with IIS, and provide you with a platform for building scale-out, highly available, middle-tier services," Muglia said in his keynote address at PDC09. As reported, Microsoft sees AppFabric as the next layer in its stack.

The service bus and access-control components will support distributed and federated apps, while also enabling services that extend beyond enterprise boundaries. The AppFabric Access Control allows secure authentication via RESTful Web services that federate among different identity providers.

The AppFabric Service Bus lets administrators and developers choose how apps communicate, taking into consideration firewalls, network address translation, dynamic IP and different identity management platforms.

There's much more to come, says Yousef Khalidi, a distinguished engineer at Microsoft, in an interview (see Q&A). "Stay tuned," Khalidi says. "We have a lot of IP involved here, but the dates and the like we haven't discussed yet." It is also worth noting that Microsoft is not necessarily talking up its plans to deliver private clouds per se.

Hybrid Hyperbole?
While hybrid clouds promise to address many of the concerns among skeptics, time will tell whether Microsoft and its rivals can actually address these concerns. "We're debating whether a model like this with the right policy constraints can get the enterprise to a place where it's cloud-like and eventually migrating toward a cloud environment," said Alistair Croll, principal analyst at Bitcurrent, speaking during a panel discussion on hybrid clouds at Interop New York.

Still, some wonder whether that will make sense over the long term. "I think there's value in private clouds and value in public clouds, but they are very separate things," says Anders Lofgren, chief research officer at TheInfoPro, an IT research firm. "I think the hybrid cloud complicates something that's already really complex."

About the Author

Jeffrey Schwartz is editor of Redmond magazine and also covers cloud computing for Virtualization Review's Cloud Report. In addition, he writes the Channeling the Cloud column for Redmond Channel Partner. Follow him on Twitter @JeffreySchwartz.

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