IT shops shaping 'internal clouds'

VMware and Microsoft are getting some IT shops thinking about building internal software services, or 'clouds.' For others, the concept of cloud computing is still ethereal.

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LAS VEGAS -- For IT shops, the concept of cloud computing is starting to take on some form.

For one thing, VMware and Microsoft are sending out similar messages. VMware has its new virtual data center operating system and vCloud initiatives, and Microsoft has its dynamic data center initiative. In the end, both companies are promising to give end users anywhere access to their personal settings and applications regardless of the device they are using.

The idea of cloud computing is that a user's personal information is offered up as a service, and whether they gain access to that information using some internal service provided by IT or through a third party doesn't matter, to the vendor at least.

"vCloud [which federates computing capacity between service providers and internal virtual data centers] is going to allow you as an IT organization to understand whether an application load is isolated and well formed enough to be able to hand it off to someone else to run in their environment," said Paul Maritz, CEO of VMware, at VMworld here this week. "It will also allow the IT organization to talk to cloud providers to decide which parts of application loads they want to run internally or externally or change their minds [about this] over time."

But for some IT managers, the mandate for now is to keep it in-house. More IT shops are being called on to act as a service provider to their company's departments. Right now, Corey Heiden and his team are figuring out how to build an internal cloud, as he calls it, to deliver services on the fly to end users.

"We are defining service offerings that IT will deliver and [service-level agreements]," said Heiden who works for a communications company out of Omaha, Neb. "Right now it's about resource allocation and cooling, but it's also because business units don't want to incur capital expenses related to IT."

For others, the need just isn't there yet. With 300 systems running smoothly internally, John Hartley, information systems architect with nCipher Corp. Ltd., based in the U.K. with offices in the U.S., said cloud computing is 'cool' but unnecessary at this point.

"If we were to need more resources and could use [a service provider], but keep control over our systems...that I could see doing," Hartley said, adding that an investigation into a cloud provider would be far out as his company is just getting started with virtualization.

Cloud computing is too new to be on the radar for Vitas, a hospice care provider out of Miami, Fla. But Felipe Rodriguez is keeping an eye on the players and tabs on how the concept of cloud computing can improve internal resource allocation endeavors and scalability.

He said he believed VMware has an advantage, given its decent track record with virtualization technology, though other players such as Microsoft are playing catch up. In the case of Microsoft, he sees its potential to gain some ground.

"Microsoft has a licensing advantage and they already have a set customer base, but in general working with an external cloud provider just may not be a fit for us," Rodriguez said.

A year from now, ask Gerald Raymond, infrastructure manager with energy provider Black Hills Corp. in Rapid City, S.D., about his cloud computing plans, and he may have a different story. He would like end users to be able to get their applications, securely from any device. Cloud computing is a strategy that might work for that.

"Right now, the focus is on how we can virtualize more applications," Raymond said. "We'll probably look at the cloud for desktop virtualization versus [developing] a services infrastructure, to start of with."

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