Whither Cloud Gateways?


Farm tractors and military tanks share an intertwined history that started when some smart person proposed the tracks on some farming equipment as the cross-country tool that tanks needed to get across a rubble and shell-hole strewn World War One battlefield. For the ensuing sixty years, improvements in one set of tracks spurred improvements in the other. Early on it was the farm vehicles developing improvements, but through World War Two and even some today, tanks did most of the developing. That is simply a case of experience. Farmers and farm tractor manufacturers had more experience when tanks were first invented, but the second world war and the variety of terrain, climate, and usage gave tanks the edge. After World War Two, the Cold War drove much more research money into tank improvements than commercial tractors received, so the trend continued. In fact, construction equipment eventually picked up where farming equipment dropped off. This is no coincidence, bulldozers received a lot of usage in the same wildly varying terrain as tanks during the second world war. Today, nearly all tracked construction equipment can trace their track and/or road wheel arrangements back to a specific tank (one bulldozer brand, for example, uses a slightly modified LT vz. 35  - Panzer 35(t) in German service - wheel system, invented in Czechoslovakia in the 1930s. That suspension was a modification of an even earlier Vickers tank design).

Bradley AFV tug-o-war with a Farm Tractor

What does all this have to do with cloud gateways? Well, technology follows somewhat predictable patterns, be it cloud and cloud communications or track and suspension systems. Originally, cloud gateways came out a few years back as the solution to making the cloud work for you. Not too long after cloud storage came along, some smart people thought the cloud gateway idea was a good one, and adopted a modified version called Cloud Storage Gateways. The driving difference between the two from the perspective of users was that Cloud Storage was practically useless without a gateway, while the Cloud could be used for application deployment in a much more broad sense without a gateway. So Cloud Storage Gateways like F5’s ARX Cloud Extender are a fact of life. Without them, Cloud Storage is just a blob that does not communicate with the rest of your storage infrastructure – including the servers that need to access said storage. With a Cloud Storage Gateway, storage looks and acts like all of the other IT products out there expect it to work.

In the rush, Cloud Gateways largely fell by the wayside. Citrix sells one, and CloudSwitch is making a good business of it (there are more startups than just CloudSwitch, but they seem to be leading the pack), but the uptake seems to be nothing like the Cloud Storage Gateway uptake. And I think that’s a mistake. A cloud gateway is the key to cloud interoperability, and every organization needs at least a bare-minimum level of cloud portability, simply so they can point out to their cloud vendor that there are other players in the cloud space should the relationship become unprofitable for the customer. Add to that the ability to secure data on its way to the cloud and back, and Cloud Gateways are hugely important.

What I don’t know is why uptake and competition in the space seems so slight. My guess would be that organizations aren’t attempting to integrate Cloud deployed applications into their architecture in the manner that Cloud Storage must be in order to be used. Which would scream that Cloud has not yet begun actual adoption yet. Though it doesn’t indicate whether that’s because Cloud is being dismissed by decision-makers as a place to host core applications, or just that uptake is slow.

I’d be interested in hearing from you if you have more data that I’m somehow missing. It just seems incongruous to me that uptake isn’t closer to Cloud usage uptake claims. Meanwhile, security (encryption, tunneling, etc) can be had from your BIG-IP… But no, I don’t think BIG-IP is the reason Cloud Gateway uptake seems so low, or I wouldn’t have written this blog. I know some people are using it that way, with LTM-VE on the Cloud side and LTM on the datacenter side, but have no reason to suspect it is a large percentage of our customer base (I haven’t asked, this is pure conjecture).

I’d like to see the two “gateway” products move in cooperative fits and starts until they are what is needed to secure, utilize, and access portable cloud-deployed applications and storage. You decide which is tank and which is tractor though…

And since we’re talking about tanks, at least a little bit, proof that ever-smaller technology is not new in the computer age - The Nazi Goliath tank -  Courtesy of militaryphotos.net

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Published Aug 18, 2011
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