Application Portability–An Ever More Crowded Space

Every time I start to use the term “cloud bursting”, friend and Clouderati ringleader Christian Reilly’s eyes start to roll and he makes comments about the illusory nature of the term – in his view, true application portability that sees workloads simply move from one place to another is a pipedream or, in his phraseology, unicorns and rainbows. Which makes it all the more interesting that so many companies are trying to solve the problem – from CloudSwitch to CloudVelocity, from Ravello to Cliqr. Recently I took a chance to talk to a couple of these vendors, CloudVelocity and Cliqr, to get their thoughts on this holy grail of technology.

CloudVelocity

CloudVelocity’s aim in life is to extend the enterprise data centre to the public cloud. They promise to enable multi tier applications to run in the public cloud – securely and with no impacts on performance. CloudVelocity was founded by engineers with a background at NeoPath Networks and Sun Microsystems. The promise was attractive to backers with Mayfield Fund stumping up with $5M in Series A cash. The CloudVelocity approach is to clone private applications and then forklift them, in one swoop, onto AWS. Subsequent releases are supposed to support other public cloud providers.

CloudVelocity sees a continuum in the functionality it wishes to offer, at the low end it is simply a case of easing the migration of workloads from traditional to cloud infrastructures, thereafter comes failover. From here it is, theoretically, a short step to true cloud bursting. CloudVelocity isn’t there yet but is promising live cloud bursting by the end of 2013. At the same time they’re also talking about their offering providing a degree of management. It is interesting to hear these vendors start with high level talk of true cloud bursting but then slowly modify their language to be more about management – it seems the engineering realities around cloud bursting are an under appreciated obstacle.

Aside from the technical barriers however, it’s often argued by enterprise practitioners that there is no real desire to move legacy workloads between infrastructures – yes those applications need to be exposed to the outside world at the read/write layer, but in terms of the plumbing they sit upon, the usual approach is to simply leave them where they are – “if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. CloudVelocity has a different view and believes that the overwhelming majority of enterprises will want to take advantage of new platform architectures rather than the traditional views they currently have – time will tell.

Cliqr

I also talked with another startup in the space, Cliqr. Cliqr was founded by a bevvy of ex VMware executives and has also picked up its own funding – this time from Google Ventures. Cliqr is positioning itself as a platform to move, manage and secure applications. They’re aiming to offer application templates, application benchmarking and, eventually, the ability to run applications anywhere. More unicorns and rainbows?

I asked Cliqr how they thought they differed from the plethora of other players in the space. Their response was interesting, in their view there are three distinct takes on this application portability space:

  1. First-Generation Script-Based Migration Tools such as RightScale and the recently released AWS OpsWorks. These platforms hard-wire applications to Specific Cloud API’s. Because of this approach, using these platforms for multi cloud operations is possible but requires multiple migrations to do so
  2. Newer Image-Based Tools Provide Good Portability like Ravello, Cloud Switch. In Cliqr’s (admittedly biased) view, these platforms typically introduce a migration and performance overhead. They’re also not really focused on the management side of things and hence don’t offer much in the way of application visibility or management. With these platforms, it is problematic to deliver secure scaling, unless scripts are used. In moving to a script based approach however the portability of applications is restricted
  3. Application-Centric Cloud Management Platforms. The holy grail where Cliqr believes they play. Offering the ability to on-board once and run anywhere, to move in real time between cloud and between private infrastructure and clouds. These platforms also have a management and security aspect to them.

MyPOV

Bottom line? No one has yet cracked it. Nobody offers multi cloud portability in real time, with reasonable scalability and robust security. All the players have a different take on how they work and have different strengths and weaknesses. They’re all proxies for another contentious topic, open and widely adopted standards. After all with standard architectures and approaches there would be significantly less barriers to cloud migration – and therein lies the rub, these vendors are essentially working against the cloud vendors somewhat underhanded attempts to increase the stickiness (or lock in if you will) of their platforms. it’s not a new trait for technology – the industry has been built on this passive/aggressive way of talking open but building closed.

In an idea world therefore cloud bursting would be an easy thing to deliver – the reality is and will always be quite different. Vendors such as those above will continue to try and solve the weighty issues around moving workloads. No one is there yet and the reality is that true cloud bursting is a long way into the horizon.

1 Comment
  • Similar to you Ben, I’m not convinced of the use case for cloud bursting the types of applications being alluded to in this article. What’s the real business value of this (aside from a cloud-based fail-over)?

    For Big Compute (HPC) and Big Data workloads it’s an entirely different story. There is real value in being able to dynamically move these workloads between on-premise and public cloud environments based on capacity requirements and availability. This is what we’re focused on at GreenButton (http://www.greenbutton.com) and have been doing this for some time with customers across Financial Services, Manufacturing, Digital Media, BioTech etc…

    I also don’t see important business problems such as managing governance across multiple environments being effectively addressed by some of these technology-only solutions.

    Irrespective, it’s great to see the topic of cloud bursting on the agenda.

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