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The straight dope on Infrastructure as a Service vendors

It can be tough to get to the bottom of what IaaS vendors offer and what they're not telling you. Get the hard truth on five players in private cloud.

As the cloud market continues to grow, IaaS providers are vying for your business. How do their products compare? We cut through the marketing hype to get to real truth behind five Infrastructure as a Service cloud products. 

Some companies -- VMware, Microsoft, IBM and HP -- are large entities trying to lock you in, while providers such as CloudSwitch promote interoperability. All five private cloud vendors highlighted here, however, provide infrastructure software and components for building private clouds. 

Let’s take a look at each company's cloud strategy, get an idea of what's in their product offerings and where they are in terms of innovation and interoperability.  

VMware vCloud and vCloud Express
VMware dominates the x86 virtualization market with about 250,000 customers, a wealth of partners and possibly the broadest cloud portfolio in the market. Its cloud strategy -- to be the leading cloud enabler that provides infrastructure and management components to implement private and public clouds -- has been very successful in the past year. 

While it may be a leader in innovation, one sticking point customers have with VMware’s products is that they don’t play nice with others.

VMware is signing as many partners as possible to support its hybrid cloud offering to bridge on-premises, private clouds as well as off-premises, public clouds.  The vCloud API is an important component of its hybrid cloud strategy. And the company is promoting vSphere for cloud infrastructure inside the firewall and vCloud Express to enable public clouds.

VMware maintains a load of bread-and-butter enterprise customers who have used VMware virtualization technologies while it attempts to drive forward and gain leadership in the cloud computing arena. And the company is seeing success in this by marrying private clouds and public clouds with its vCloud API.

VMware’s private cloud products. vSphere ESXi is the leading proprietary hypervisor, and vMotion is the leading tool for moving virtual servers within a data center.  vCloud Director is at the core of VMware’s cloud infrastructure product; it runs on top of vSphere and ties into vCenter Suite.

Users provision workloads between on-premises and multiple off-premises clouds using VMware’s vCloud Datacenter Service Provider program. Customers can use vCloud Director and vCloud Connector to build hybrid clouds with cross-cloud security and app portability. VMware partner cloud service providers such as Terremark are building public clouds that interoperate with private clouds built using VMware cloud technologies.

Innovation. There’s not much to say with regard to innovation. VMware is recognized as the most innovative, by far, of virtualization software and cloud computing software vendors. It has managed to stay ahead of the competition with technologies such as vMotion and offered security with vShield – allowing it to grow its large market share in a buzzing landscape.   

Interoperability. While it may be a leader in innovation, one sticking point customers have with VMware’s products is that they don’t play nice with others. Sure, you can get interoperability by buying into VMware’s interoperable cloud strategy, which is built around vCloud Director and vCloud Datacenter service providers program. This means you can move workloads back and forth between on-premises and off-premises clouds.  However, customers will become locked into VMware if they build a cloud strategy around all VMware products.

Microsoft Hyper-V Cloud
More than 70% of the world’s servers are running Windows Server operating systems.  And that installed base is the target for Microsoft’s cloud offerings with few beyond the installed base clamoring for it. The company also faces considerable competition from VMware, as its virtualization technology is heavily used in many Windows Server installations.

Microsoft’s cloud strategy involves two distinct sets of cloud software offerings with little interoperability between the two:

  1. Its on-premises enterprise private cloud offering, which is built around Windows Server 2008 with Hyper-V and System Center and its components.
  2. Windows Azure, Microsoft’s Platform as a Service (PaaS) cloud platform.

Microsoft’s private cloud products. Hyper-V plus System Center Virtual Machine Manager 2008 R2 is the software giant’s entry into enabling enterprises to create private clouds.  Microsoft lags behind VMware with respect to private cloud capabilities in security, networking and storage.

A perceived weakness of Microsoft’s private cloud platform is that Hyper-V relies on Windows Server 2008 R2. Hyper-V Cloud uses Windows Server 2008 R2 with Hyper-V and System Center to build public and private clouds.

Innovation. Microsoft’s ability to bring new cloud offerings to market is architecturally tied to its multi-year Windows Server and System Center release cycles, limiting its ability to innovate in the cloud space.

Interoperability. Surprising as it may be, interoperability between Microsoft’s enterprise cloud product and Windows Azure is almost nonexistent. There is one-way workload portability from Microsoft’s enterprise cloud platform to Windows Azure. Microsoft lacks common cloud management and workload provisioning capabilities between on-premises and off-premises clouds.

IBM CloudBurst and SmartCloud
IBM boasts an impressive portfolio of products, technologies, and services, but it risks its IT leadership position with an unclear cloud computing strategy. Because IBM has a tendency to push individual products, it strays from the concept of cloud computing.

IBM has been an innovator in many technology areas; however, cloud computing is not one of them.

In developing its cloud strategy, IBM created three groups: a public cloud group, a private cloud group and an industry solutions group. Responsibilities among the three groups are not always clear, as products require integration among hardware, software and services. An important part of IBM’s cloud strategy is to sell highly customizable offerings that require customers to make a significant investment in professional services to perform actual implementations. 

IBM’s private cloud products. CloudBurst, a private cloud infrastructure product, is available as a hardware appliance or a software-only stack that runs on IBM platforms and, with some effort, non-IBM platforms. The pre-installed, pre-integrated hardware appliance runs Tivoli management software and VMware’s ESXi on IBM System X BladeCenter platforms, starting at over $200,000. The software-based version of CloudBurst is called IBM Service Delivery Manager.

SmartCloud public cloud infrastructure software can speed large end-users’ journeys to private or public clouds. It is restrictive and primarily oriented toward the development and deployment of new cloud-architected apps.

IBM also offers cloud infrastructure stacks for specific use cases that involve public IBM Smart Business Development and Test Cloud for developers and IBM HPC Management Suite for Cloud for HPC apps.

Innovation. IBM has been an innovator in many technology areas; however, cloud computing is not one of them.

Interoperability. IBM lacks a coherent hybrid cloud strategy and offers little in terms of interoperating with non-IBM clouds.

HP CloudSystem
HP intends to sell its cloud software on top of OpenStack, the open source IaaS initiative for creating and managing clouds. It’s not clear that many HP customers will go for this strategy, though, since OpenStack is an open source project with third-party support. It’s also reportedly about 18 months away from being suitable for use in production environments. Today, HP has little credibility in the cloud business; the company started late and is still trying to create a relevant cloud strategy.

Some large enterprises are willing to hand over tens of millions of dollars to HP (and IBM) to build private clouds with its hardware and software as well as its professional services. The problem is these companies will find themselves locked in to HP with little chance of extending their cloud to off-premises platforms.  This could change down the road if OpenStack becomes the cloud standard that many are hoping for.

HP’s private cloud products. There are three components to the HP’s cloud product strategy:

  1. CloudSystem
  2. Cloud services automation
  3. Cloud consulting services

HP CloudSystem was released in January 2011 along with financing plans designed to make it easier for businesses to embrace cloud computing. Essentially, HP buys a customer’s computing assets and then leases those assets back to the customer. The idea is that this frees up money so the customer can reinvest in cloud efforts.  

Viewed as part of CloudSystem, HP public cloud services offers compute cloud services similar to Amazon Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2). HP provides a common architectural framework across public and private clouds as well as across virtualized servers and outsourced services.

CloudSystem will make use of Services Automation software called Cloud Service Automation. With Cloud Consulting Services, HP intends to use EDS’s experience in managing computing infrastructure as the foundation for its cloud consulting services offerings.

Innovation. HP has not been an innovative cloud-computing vendor. It has provided a rehash of old software along with its professional services organization to sell existing hardware and software.

Interoperability. HP’s current cloud offerings do not place a focus on interoperability with other cloud platforms. 

CloudSwitch is a small company recently acquired by Verizon and integrated with Terremark, a subsidiary of Verizon. CloudSwitch is an independent team based in Burlington, Mass.

CloudSwitch has demonstrated that it clearly sees emerging trends in the cloud market, including the need for making interoperability between clouds simple and secure.

CloudSwitch focuses on creating a range of hybrid cloud suite products that promote workload portability and ease of management. This strategy is being used on a global scale with the ability to move workloads between various cloud platforms.

CloudSwitch’s private cloud products. CloudSwitch enables companies to run applications in a cloud and move applications between clouds securely without having to re-architect apps or change management tools and policies. CloudSwitch is an integrated feature of Terremark Enterprise Cloud services.

Innovation. CloudSwitch has demonstrated that it clearly sees emerging trends in the cloud market, including the need for making interoperability between clouds simple and secure. CloudSwitch has significant items on its roadmap that include streamlining the movement of large amounts of application data from one cloud to another.

Interoperability. CloudSwitch is highly focused on cloud interoperability. The cloud computing vendor supports multiple hypervisors and multiple cloud services (i.e., Terremark and Amazon), and is adding support for a number of other clouds in 2012.

Comparing IaaS cloud strategies
When you select a cloud infrastructure software vendor such as VMware, Microsoft, IBM, or HP, you want to choose a vendor with a clear cloud strategy, solid products that meet your needs and don’t destroy your budget. You should also look for a vendor that offers innovative products that interoperate with other vendors’ cloud platforms.

No single IaaS vendor in this tip satisfies all those requirements. Regardless which cloud computing vendor you select, building a private cloud will be expensive, and without careful consideration and product comparisons, you risk becoming locked in to one vendor.  

Microsoft’s two primary cloud offerings do not interoperate, and its cloud innovation level remains on the low end. However, if you are a big Microsoft customer with Windows servers in your data center; this may be the route for you. Besides, you’re likely locked in to Microsoft already.

HP and IBM are all about selling you retrofitted cloud offerings and then charging you large sums of money to pay them to implement your cloud platform. They have fragmented, sometimes confusing cloud strategies. If you go this route, it’s likely you will spend a lot of money, be locked-in and not always get best-of-breed cloud technologies. 

HP and IBM will garner a lot of attention from large enterprise customers that have the money and don’t want to implement private clouds themselves. While this may sound enticing, it’s important to think about alternatives before investing heavily in HP or IBM.  

If cloud interoperability is important to your enterprise, you may want to look closely at CloudSwitch. It supports various hypervisors and allows you to migrate workloads between cloud platforms without re-architecting applications or changing management tools or policies. 

Building a private cloud on VMware vSphere ESXi or Xen and using CloudSwitch, which supports both hypervisors on the data center side, might be a good solution. This option allows you to easily migrate workloads back and forth between your private cloud and Terremark and Amazon public clouds.


Bill Claybrook is a marketing research analyst with over 35 years of experience in the computer industry with the last dozen years in Linux, open source and cloud computing. Bill was research director, Linux and Open Source, at The Aberdeen Group in Boston and a competitive analyst/Linux product marketing manager at Novell. He is currently president of New River Marketing Research and Directions on Red Hat. He holds a Ph.D. in computer science.

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