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On-Site Data, Off-Site Tools

Just a few years ago every vendor seemingly hopped on the cloud bandwagon, attaching the "cloud" moniker to any feature they could host within their internal datacenters (and, notably, not yours). That first generation of cloud services was usually an all-or-nothing approach, meaning your data, services and the tools to manage those services. Vendors' pitches started and ended with everything moving "to the cloud."

Services in the cloud were a natural fit for the vendor; every cloud play embodied the definition of economies of scale. Focus on a narrow solution, consolidate the tools, gather enough customers and the money should start printing itself.

Unfortunately, what was good for the vendor sometimes wasn't good for the customer. Cloud as a marketing buzzword got a lot of negative press in its early days, due to the (still) usual concerns of security, data ownership and the well-intentioned curiosity: "What the heck are they doing with my stuff up there?" As a result, a wide array of early cloud solutions found themselves without much of a subscriber base.

Not all were failures. Plenty of those first-generation tools still exist. Microsoft Office 365, Salesforce.com -- even Intuit -- are examples of the winners. They occupy survivor status in part because wars based on economies of scale tend to naturally drift toward oligarchy. Get big, or go home.

But following right behind these is a second generation of solutions just now surfacing as products. These cloud solutions aren't interested in your data. Or, in many cases, they're optionally interested in your data. Rather than focusing on the still politically charged conversation about hosting your data, these new solutions instead offer to remove the complexity in managing it.

We've entered the world of Services as a Service. A couple of key examples immediately come to mind. One is the confusingly named Citrix Workspace Cloud (formerly Citrix Workspace Services, and unrelated to its on-premises Citrix Workspace Suite offering). This particular solution as of this writing remains in Tech Preview, but I might imagine will be released at some point this year.

Citrix Workspace Cloud offers to solve a singular problem IT pros have experienced with Citrix products since time eternal: They're difficult to manage.

Here's how it works. Think for a minute about all the different pieces that make up a Citrix XenApp or XenDesktop environment. You've got your XenApp servers or your XenDesktop hosts. You've also got a range of other servers and/or services that surround these central delivery components that are responsible for managing, monitoring and otherwise taking care of the environment.

For most of us, constructing the UX that's a XenDesktop VM or a XenApp host is an activity that's relatively easy to accomplish. Most of us at this point know how to create and deploy a good VM image. It's all that extra stuff, though, that trips us up.

Are your delivery controllers properly configured? Have you installed that latest hotfix update and were you aware it conflicts with another update from a couple of months ago? Are your Virtual Delivery Agents actually deployed, or are they reporting incorrectly? The list goes on.

Softening the pain of managing complex solutions that you'd rather keep on-site is the unabashed goal of solutions such as Citrix Workspace Cloud, among others. And, Citrix isn't alone. Once you grasp the concept of what this class of products attempts to do, it's easy to predict something similar from the other cloud services oligarchs like VMware and Microsoft. It's not difficult to imagine a System Center or vSphere variant eventually becoming new examples of Services as a Service.

In the end, that's the goal: I'll keep my data, thank you very much. Just make it easier for me to manage.

About the Author

Greg Shields is Author Evangelist with PluralSight, and is a globally-recognized expert on systems management, virtualization, and cloud technologies. A multiple-year recipient of the Microsoft MVP, VMware vExpert, and Citrix CTP awards, Greg is a contributing editor for Redmond Magazine and Virtualization Review Magazine, and is a frequent speaker at IT conferences worldwide. Reach him on Twitter at @concentratedgreg.

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