Cloud computing offers network operators an opportunity to gain new sources of revenue, but it's highly doubtful that simply hosting legacy applications on Infrastructure as a Service clouds will generate both cost advantages for users as well as revenues and profits for providers. To be successful, the cloud must have a broader base of benefits that meet everyone's expectations.
Distributed SOA: The new architecture
This new vision of cloud should represent a complete and modern IT architecture -- that is, one that displaces the application architectures of the past. This new cloud architecture design could be called "distributed software-oriented architecture " because it would combine the current notions of SOA and application componentization with cloud hosting and distributed intelligence.
This new vision of cloud should represent a modern IT architecture -- that is, one that displaces the application architectures of the past.
With distributed-SOA clouds, enterprises could host components of applications in the cloud, use the cloud to add instances of software components to improve performance in periods of critical load, and even fail over to the cloud if internal IT elements fail. Distributed-SOA clouds could also host service features, creating a modern vision of intelligent networking that enables network and cloud operators to be players in this era of smartphones and tablets.
Expand role of SDN for cloud
The second requirement for this cloud architecture design of the future relates to networking; the cloud's relationship with the network must be integration rather than overlay. Software-defined networking (SDN) is the initiative that best represents this vision in the current market, but SDN has to be expanded conceptually to embrace every application programming interface (API) the network exposes to higher software layers. SDN also has to expand beyond the data center to control the cloud experience overall -- something that's not been a high priority in current SDN activity.
How networks mesh with the cloud is perhaps the most critical issue in cloud computing because the efficiency of that connection determines just how distributed cloud resources can really be and how well they can serve various applications' needs.
Federation is non-negotiable
The future cloud must be federated by design. Common carriers successfully sustained integrated multi-operator communications services for decades based on the principles of the public switched telephone network (PSTN) and time-division multiplexing (TDM). These services, however, focus on connectivity. They were not designed for services that integrate smart computer-based components to deliver experiences.
Standards groups have struggled with federation issues for years with minimal success, and this can be attributed to the fact that their initiatives have focused on constructing mechanisms to share functionality, rather than on mechanisms to build shared functionality. The true cloud architecture design of the future must be plug-and-play for applications and resources at all levels, with full security and accountability.
While all of these issues are recognized in the cloud marketplace, there is still no single point where they're being addressed. At this point in cloud conceptual development, it may not be possible to create such a single point, and so it will be critical for cloud providers to monitor and influence independent activities in these areas to ensure that the cloud concept that evolves is compatible with the optimum vision of cloud value for the future.
→ Be sure to also watch the companion video to this article, Why providers must rethink their concept of cloud computing.
About the author:
Tom Nolle is president of CIMI Corporation, a strategic consulting firm specializing in telecom and data communications since 1982. He is the publisher of Netwatcher, a journal addressing advanced telecom strategy issues.