Users have a lot to learn about virtualisation and the cloud

By Simon Sharwood
Wednesday, 11 February, 2009

Melbourne IT has had to use “a lot of smoke and mirrors” to deliver cloud computing for the four beta testers of its cloud computing services powered by VMware vCloud.

Glenn Gore, Melbourne IT’s Chief Architect, says the company plans to “give customers the management interface so they have a slice of our infrastructure. We want to say: ‘Here is the interface to build your own infrastructure in our enterprise.’”

The service aims to let customers change variables like memory and CPU consumption rates or the quantity of storage employed, all without manual intervention by Melbourne IT.

“It reduces the amount of time needed to make changes, because instead of calling us customers can do it themselves.”

Gore says delivering on this vision has required “a LOT of work.”

“It is not as clear cut as some would have you believe,” he says “There is a lot of smoke and mirrors to get it done.”

Much of the effort has been consumed by the need to create new infrastructure separate to Melbourne IT’s current hosting environment for the cloud service. “We needed new separate infrastructure to operate vCloud,” Gore says. “And we have needed different software to manage it, based loosely on VMware lab manager.”

Lack of mature process

“The more interesting part has been management practises, because if we are allowing customers to create and upload virtual machines, turn them off and pass them, you get really interesting knock-on effects.”

“Today, if we build a virtual machine in our data centre we can guarantee backup. But what are the processes if a customer creates a Windows virtual machine and then revives it three months later without applying the latest patches and it is then exploited and used to attack other servers behind their firewall?”

“Would we sandbox that server even if it effects the rest of that customer’s environment? That’s the interesting part of vCloud.”

Gore says he believes these questions cannot comfortably be answered today because virtualisation is currently targeted at technologists. Business people are yet to become sufficiently aware of the technology to understand how to bring process management rigour to its deployment.

“There’s no understanding of the authorisation levels for creating a virtual machine,” Gore says. “What is stopping someone from creating a VM without understanding the flow on effects and the cost? No-one knows if ten or twenty staff are adding capacity [to a cloud computing facility] without oversight or knowledge of the costs.”

This kind of behaviour is also creating challenges for Melbourne IT.

“An enterprise understand the size of their user base. As a hosting company, the customers are sizing it themselves. When you multiply it, our infrastructure needs to be flexible and dynamic.”

“We have to have more infrastructure ready and waiting to be used than people are already paying for.”


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