Infrastructure 2.0 ≠ cloud computing ≠ IT as a Service. There is a difference between Infrastructure 2.0 and cloud. There is also a difference between cloud and IT as a Service. But they do go together, like a parfait. And everybody likes a parfait…
The introduction of the newest member of the cloud computing buzzword family is “IT as a Service.” It is understandably causing some confusion because, after all, isn’t that just another way to describe “private cloud”? No, actually it isn’t. There’s a lot more to it than that, and it’s very applicable to both private and public models. Furthermore, equating “cloud computing” to “IT as a Service” does both a big a disservice as making synonyms of “Infrastructure 2.0” and “cloud computing.” These three [ concepts | models | technologies ] are highly intertwined and in some cases even interdependent, but they are not the same.
In the simplest explanation possible: infrastructure 2.0 enables cloud computing which enables IT as a service.
Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let’s dig in.
One of the core issues seems to be the rush to equate “enable” with “equal”. There is a relationship between these three technological concepts but they are in no wise equivalent nor should be they be treated as such. Like SOA, the differences between them revolve primarily around the level of abstraction and the layers at which they operate. Not the layers of the OSI model or the technology stack, but the layers of a data center architecture.
Let’s start at the bottom, shall we?
At the very lowest layer of the architecture is Infrastructure 2.0. Infrastructure 2.0 is focused on enabling dynamism and collaboration across the network and application delivery network infrastructure. It is the way in which traditionally disconnected (from a communication and management point of view) data center foundational components are imbued with the ability to connect and collaborate. This is primarily accomplished via open, standards-based APIs that provide a granular set of operational functions that can be invoked from a variety of programmatic methods such as orchestration systems, custom applications, and via integration with traditional data center management solutions. Infrastructure 2.0 is about making the network smarter both from a management and a run-time (execution) point of view, but in the case of its relationship to cloud and IT as a Service the view is primarily focused on management.
Infrastructure 2.0 includes the service-enablement of everything from routers to switches, from load balancers to application acceleration, from firewalls to web application security components to server (physical and virtual) infrastructure. It is, distilled to its core essence, API-enabled components.
Cloud computing is the closest to SOA in that it is about enabling operational services in much the same way as SOA was about enabling business services. Cloud computing takes the infrastructure layer services and orchestrates them together to codify an operational process that provides a more efficient means by which compute, network, storage, and security resources can be provisioned and managed. This, like Infrastructure 2.0, is an enabling technology. Alone, these operational services are generally discrete and are packaged up specifically as the means to an end – on-demand provisioning of IT services.
Cloud computing is the service-enablement of operational services and also carries along the notion of an API. In the case of cloud computing, this API serves as a framework through which specific operations can be accomplished in a push-button like manner.
At the top of our technology pyramid, as it is likely obvious at this point we are building up to the “pinnacle” of IT by laying more aggressively focused layers atop one another, we have IT as a Service. IT as a Service, unlike cloud computing, is designed not only to be consumed by other IT-minded folks, but also by (allegedly) business folks. IT as a Service broadens the provisioning and management of resources and begins to include not only operational services but those services that are more, well, businessy, such as identity management and access to resources.
IT as a Service builds on the services provided by cloud computing, which is often called a “cloud framework” or a “cloud API” and provides the means by which resources can be provisioned and managed. Now that sounds an awful lot like “cloud computing” but the abstraction is a bit higher than what we expect with cloud. Even in a cloud computing API we are steal interacting more directly with operational and compute-type resources. We’re provisioning, primarily, infrastructure services but we are doing so at a much higher layer and in a way that makes it easy for both business and application developers and analysts to do so.
An example is probably in order at this point.
Let us imagine a simple “application” which itself requires only one server and which must be available at all times.
That’s the “service” IT is going to provide to the business.
In order to accomplish this seemingly simple task, there’s a lot that actually has to go on under the hood, within the bowels of IT.
Consider, if you will, what fulfilling that request means. You need at least two servers and a Load balancer, you need a server and some storage, and you need – albeit unknown to the business user – firewall rules to ensure the application is only accessible to those whom you designate. So at the bottom layer of the stack (Infrastructure 2.0) you need a set of components that match these functions and they must be all be enabled with an API (or at a minimum by able to be automated via traditional scripting methods). Now the actual task of configuring a load balancer is not just a single API call. Ask RackSpace, or GoGrid, or Terremark, or any other cloud provider. It takes multiple steps to authenticate and configure – in the right order – that component. The same is true of many components at the infrastructure layer: the APIs are necessarily granular enough to provide the flexibility necessary to be combined in a way as to be customizable for each unique environment in which they may be deployed. So what you end up with is a set of infrastructure services that comprise the appropriate API calls for each component based on the specific operational policies in place.
At the next layer up you’re providing even more abstract frameworks. The “cloud API” at this layer may provide services such as “auto-scaling” that require a great deal of configuration and registration of components with other components. There’s automation and orchestration occurring at this layer of the IT Service Stack, as it were, that is much more complex but narrowly focused than at the previous infrastructure layer. It is at this layer that the services become more customized and able to provide business and customer specific options. It is also at this layer where things become more operationally focused, with the provisioning of “application resources” comprising perhaps the provisioning of both compute and storage resources. This layer also lays the foundation for metering and monitoring (cause you want to provide visibility, right?) which essentially overlays, i.e. makes a service of, multiple infrastructure resource monitoring services.
At the top layer is IT as a Service, and this is where systems become very abstracted and get turned into the IT King “A La Carte” Menu that is the ultimate goal according to everyone who’s anyone (and a few people who aren’t). This layer offers an interface to the cloud in such a way as to make self-service possible. It may not be Infrabook or even very pretty, but as long as it gets the job done cosmetics are just enhancing the value of what exists in the first place. IT as a Service is the culmination of all the work done at the previous layers to fine-tune services until they are at the point where they are consumable – in the sense that they are easy to understand and require no real technical understanding of what’s actually going on. After all, a business user or application developer doesn’t really need to know how the server and storage resources are provisioned, just in what sizes and how much it’s going to cost.
IT as a Service ultimately enables the end-user – whomever that may be – to easily “order” IT services to fulfill the application specific requirements associated with an application deployment. That means availability, scalability, security, monitoring, and performance.
One of the first questions that should come to mind is: why does it matter? After all, one could cut out the “cloud computing” layer and go straight from infrastructure services to IT as a Service. While that’s technically true it eliminates one of the biggest benefits of a layered and highly abstracted architecture : agility. By presenting each layer to the layer above as services, we are effectively employing the principles of a service-oriented architecture and separating the implementation from the interface. This provides the ability to modify the implementation without impacting the interface, which means less down-time and very little – if any – modification in layers above the layer being modified. This translates into, at the lowest level, vender agnosticism and the ability to avoid vendor-lock in. If two components, say a Juniper switch and a Cisco switch, are enabled with the means by which they can be enabled as services, then it becomes possible to switch the two at the implementation layer without requiring the changes to trickle upward through the interface and into the higher layers of the architecture.
It’s polymorphism applied to an data center operation rather than a single object’s operations, to put it in developer’s terms. It’s SOA applied to a data center rather than an application, to put it in an architect’s terms.
It’s an architectural parfait and, as we all know, everybody loves a parfait, right?
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