The lightweight, breakthrough cloud solution is designed to be highly fault-tolerant but takes you several steps beyond simple virtualization.
The momentum behind cloud computing continues to grow even though many organizations today are concerned about challenges involving security, reliability, standards, and control. Their solution instead is to take advantage of improved virtualization within existing hardware platforms, but a move into the public cloud is perceived tantamount to giving away keys to the castle. There is an in-between step, however, called the private cloud. Companies now can download a breakthrough entry-level cloud platform from the IBM Web site, set it up in a few hours, and use it free for 30 days.
Called Smart Cloud Provisioning, it is billed as an "infrastructure-as-a-service," or IaaS for short. It's scalable and allows for very rapid deployment of applications in order for enterprises to react to dynamic changes in demands of user resources. You can deploy inexpensive commodity servers, yet achieve the reliability of more robust and expensive hardware through the service's ability to work around hardware failures and allow for the addition, removal, and upgrade of physical servers without changes in configuration. In just a few hours, you can be cloud-enabled with a low-cost private cloud solution that is easy to use and able to provide a foundation on which to later build an even more robust cloud infrastructure.
Introduced last fall as a beta, SmartCloud Provisioning runs on Red Hat Enterprise Linux 6 and 6.1, 64-bit, and supports VMware, KVM, and Xen hypervisors. It can serve as the basis for other IBM advanced cloud offerings such as IBM Service Delivery Manager for the cloud. Why would you want to start building a cloud infrastructure? Basically so that you can understand the technology behind it and start along the path toward lowering costs and reducing complexity of your IT services. Becoming familiar with it also will help build faith in the technology that actually is a highly reliable type of infrastructure providing non-stop operations since it can tolerate and automatically recover from many software and hardware failures. In fact, IBM is touting this private cloud environment as offering "near zero downtime."
Ultimately, cloud computing is going to serve the needs of your business better by allowing you to accelerate the delivery of computing resources. The idea is this will speed up the delivery of innovative services and enable companies to respond faster to market changes and new opportunities.
Nothing comes without a price, however, and custom configurations may become less popular since one of the ways SmartCloud Provisioning saves time for managers is by offering automated configuration, provisioning, and monitoring. Happily, this also tends to reduce errors and improve security and compliance because the software takes all the guesswork out of configuration. If a manager does want to change the configurations, or even restart a node or server, she does it through an intuitive graphical interface.
The lightweight cloud solution is designed to be highly fault-tolerant because redundant nodes have a highly available and robust infrastructure. A peer-to-peer network connects management "agents" that are coordinated by a "dynamically elected leader agent." If these terms are new to you, as they were to me, it just shows that there is more to this than basic virtualization and may merit further investigation.
SmartCloud Provisioning, while an easy and free download, is just one of a half dozen or more new private and public cloud offerings that IBM introduced late last year. The company has plans to support about 200 million users on SmartCloud by the end of 2012 as users shift over core applications and processes. While many companies are testing it, there still is reluctance (so far anyway) to move mission-critical applications to the cloud.
SmartCloud Provisioning is part of IBM's family of private cloud offerings called SmartCloud Foundation, which offers both software and hardware for the purpose of supporting the enterprise to deploy and control clouds inside their firewalls. The IaaS products that IBM is offering users in the form of secure public clouds are SmartCloud Enterprise and SmartCloud Enterprise+. These are both designed to run enterprise workloads under committed service-level agreements.
Within the enterprise public cloud offerings, IBM has what it is calling SmartCloud Application Services. These are designed to meet enterprise application development, deployment, and management requirements in the cloud. IBM is quite confident that, despite the services residing on a public cloud, it can provide the security, portability, and governance essential to maintain control over the data and operations of a cloud environment while reducing the cost for both traditional and new applications. Among the Application Services are Application Lifecycle, Resources, Environments, Management, and Integration. Utilizing these services, users are expected to be able to set up a development environment in a matter of hours rather than weeks, reduce database administration from six hours per week per database to a single day, deploy a Web application in a matter of minutes instead of weeks, integrate applications in a matter of hours or days as opposed to months, and even provision a SAP test environment in a matter of minutes. As far as administering applications, a single operator will be able to oversee 10 times as many apps in the cloud as she can today in an on-premise environment.
The cloud is here to say, and any company that is not moving in that direction will be left competing with higher administration costs and limits on how fast it can scale services compared to companies that embrace the cloud. Downloading IBM SmartCloud Provisioning is a good way to stick one's proverbial toe in the water with little investment or risk. If you want to learn more before even going that far, you can download the free eBook Private Cloud for Dummies from the IBM Web site.