Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Federation - The Enterprise Cloud Objective

I know the title to this blog post sounds a bit like a Star Trek episode, but I believe I have an useful point to make with the term federation - even at the risk of sounding a bit corny. I have been watching with interest the lexicon of terms that are emerging to describe the architecture and value of cloud computing. VMware uses the terms Internal/External/Private to describe the distribution of application workloads across multiple networks in a coordinated fashion. Sun uses the terms Private/Public/Hybrid, respectively, to describe the same architecture (although they would argue for Sun branded components in lieu of Vmware/EMC branded components). I think both of these term sets as descriptors for a cloud architecture that distributes workloads across multiple networks are flawed and confusing. Rather than simply complaining, however, I am willing to offer a solution.

The term Federation describes the end state of an effective cloud architecture perfectly, and I think we should all begin using it when we attempt to sell our respective goods and services to enable the enterprise cloud. Whether part of a Internal/External/Federation combination or a Private/Public/Federation combination or Network1/Network2/Networkn/Federation, the common term accurately describes the end objective of cloud computing.

First, some attribution. This term was presented to me as a descriptor for cloud value during my work with the cloud infrastructure group at EMC (the folks that own the Atmos product line) over a year ago. It is now my turn to put some greater structure on this enviable original thought that belongs to EMC.

A good general definition for Federation (independent of an IT context) is a union of member entities that preserves the integrity of the policies of the individual members. Members get the benefits of the union while retaining control over their internal affairs.

In the case of a technology infrastructure federation (aka a cloud architecture), the primary benefit of the union is the lower cost and risk associated with a pool of technology assets which are available across a diversified set of independent networks. In other words, application workloads should be distributed to the network with the lowest risk adjusted cost of execution – i.e. based upon the risk policies of the enterprise. If the risk of running a mission critical, enterprise workload on Amazon's AWS network is deemed high (for whatever reason, real or perceived), that workload might stay on a proprietary network owned by the enterprise. Likewise, a low risk workload that is constantly being deferred due to capacity or complexity constraints on the enterprise network might in fact be run for the lowest cost at Amazon or a comparable provider. For a startup, the risk of depleting capital to purchase equipment may dictate that all workloads run on a third party network that offers a variable cost model for infrastructure (Infrastructure as a Service, IaaS).

Independent of the proprietary calculus for risk that must be undertaken by every enterprise relative to their unique situation, it should become clear to all that the distribution of application workloads across multiple networks based upon the cost/capability metrics of those networks will lower the risk adjusted cost of enterprise computing. The same diversification theories that apply to managing financial portfolio risk also apply to managing the distributed execution of application workloads. The historical challenge to this notion of application workload federation is the lack of an efficient market – the transaction cost associated with obtaining capacity for any given application on any given network were too high due to complexity and lack of standards for application packaging (de facto or otherwise). Now, with virtualization as the underpinning of the network market, virtual appliances as the packaging for workloads, high bandwidth network transit and webscale APIs for data placement/access, the time is coming for an efficient market where infrastructure capacity is available to applications across multiple networks. And Federation is the perfect word to describe a cloud architecture that lowers the risk adjusted cost of computing to the enterprise. Enterprise. Federation. Clouds. Star Trek.

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