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EMC's compute cloud will increase virtualisation mix but reduce lock-in

Tim Stammers | Oct. 20, 2009
EMC is beta testing a public cloud that will host virtual servers and complement its existing Atmos online storage service.

EMC is beta testing a public cloud that will host virtual servers and complement its existing Atmos online storage service. Until recently virtual server hosting services from big suppliers were scarce, but new entrants are changing this situation fast, and altering the mix of virtualisation platforms in public clouds. Ironically, that may help improve interoperability between those platforms. The more mixed the markets, the more vendors are motivated to cooperate on standards.

Infrastructure services are still only a cloudlet with promise

Until this summer, Amazon and IBM were the only two large companies offering on-demand, virtual server hosting services. Amazon is not actually a big IT supplier, but is a giant retailer that currently does more raw computing business than any IT supplier. Nevertheless, even Amazons revenues from its EC2 compute services are only relatively small, at around $300400 million per year. To put that in perspective, the IT services market pulls in around $800 billion per year.

EMC is one of the suppliers that clearly expect this limited demand to grow. It has not publicly announced its virtual server hosting service, but its existence has been revealed by a service guide published on its website. This follows hard on the heels of promises from giant telecoms suppliers AT&T, Verizon and Savvis to launch similar services.

Uncertainty over interoperability is fuelling a platform battle

Because EMC owns almost all of VMware, it is no surprise that it will run its coming cloud on VMwares virtualisation software. That puts it in the same camp as Verizon, AT&T and Savvis. But so far the majority of cloud infrastructure services have been based on the rival Xen hypervisor, because Xen has the advantage of being open source and customisable.

As the biggest supplier of Xen-based software, Citrix Systems wants to maintain Xens dominance of public infrastructure clouds. Meanwhile, VMware wants to end it. In both cases a big reason for this is that if public infrastructure clouds become popular then businesses will want to use the same virtualisation platforms in their own data centres as are being used in public clouds.

If the virtualisation platform is the same at both ends, the process of bursting application workload from customers premises into the public cloud will be easier. That does not mean that virtual servers built to run on one platform cannot be converted to run on another, but they cannot be converted on the fly, and the conversion is an extra complication. Also, if the platform is the same at both ends, so are the management tools. It remains to be seen how big a practical advantage this will really be, but at this stage perception will guide purchasing decisions. That is one reason why AT&T, Verizon and Savvis chose VMware, because VMware is by far the most popular server virtualisation software among enterprises. Also, VMware very likely gave them a price break.


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