EMC Adds Some Thunder to the Cloud

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ORLANDO, Fla. — Any remaining doubts about the enterprise-readiness of the cloud were dispelled here today at EMC World during a joint press conference between EMC (NYSE: EMC) and AT&T (NYSE: T). Instead of a technology aimed at consumers looking to back up their data, the partnership between the two tech giants is aimed squarely at enterprises.

EMC considered its vision for internal and external cloud storage important enough to devote its initial press conference, the first keynote and much of its head honcho’s Q&A session to the cloud.

“It is the mission of EMC and VMware to make the cloud become just as secure as an internal data center, whether it is an internal cloud or an external one,” said Joe Tucci, chairman, president and CEO of EMC.

This vision of the virtual data center is one he sees exploding in the near future, although he admitted that not a lot of current customers have jumped onto the cloud as of yet. But a couple of big names have now climbed on board. As well as AT&T, eBay (NASDAQ: EBAY) has become an EMC customer.

“eBay and EMC have worked closely for more than a year to create a reliable, scalable cloud storage infrastructure that meets the demands of eBay’s expanding business,” said Mazen Rawashdeh, vice president of technology operations at eBay.

The enabling technology is EMC Atmos, a commodity hardware and software platform aimed at Web 2.0 and Internet providers, hosting providers, and telecom, media and entertainment companies to help them securely build cloud-based infrastructures that have a petabyte scale and centralized management.

This has come about from the melding of EMC’s information infrastructure strategy with its virtual infrastructure strategy, united in the cloud. Hence EMC has created an entirely new division known as the Cloud Infrastructure Group.

Blending Internal, External Clouds

EMC has also extended Atmos from the underlying backbone of the cloud into the cloud itself with a new offering dubbed Atmos online, a new Internet-delivered cloud storage service built on the Atmos platform. EMC also announced Atmos internal to external federation, where data can be moved from internal to external clouds. Policies can be set, for instance, to move data of a certain age or type from the internal cloud to the external cloud to enable cost efficiency or better collaboration.

“We are offering subscription and usage-based models for instant and unlimited access to online storage via the cloud,” said Mike Feinberg, senior vice president of EMC’s Cloud Infrastructure Group. “As the Internet is not appropriate for everything, it becomes important to be able to manage effectively between internal and external clouds.”

EMC also announced its Velocity Atmos Partner program to give ISVs access to Atmos APIs for application creation of cloud-based services.

“By introducing the ability to federate data from on-premise to online, EMC’s Atmos is providing a differentiated approach to cloud storage, while delivering the choice, control, flexibility and cost efficiencies of cloud that are required by today’s IT organizations,” said Feinberg.

Tucci, though, stressed that EMC is not suddenly reinventing itself as a cloud service vendor. His take on Atmos online is that it is really being done as a test case. If EMC is to provide the infrastructure that underlies the cloud, it also has to live the cloud. By making it operate in such a demanding environment, EMC aims to improve its cloud offerings for service providers and enterprise users.

AT&T Answers the Cloud’s Call

The announcement would have packed less punch had it not been for the presence of cloud heavyweight AT&T.

“We have the world’s largest cloud,” said Steve Caniano, vice president of Web hosting for AT&T’s Business Services division.

He unveiled a new service dubbed AT&T Synaptic Storage as a Service (SaaS). This is a storage-on-demand offering that gives enterprises the ability to control the storage, distribution and retrieval of data from anywhere over the Web. It is built on the AT&T network cloud, one that carries more than 17 PB a day and encompasses 38 data centers in 12 countries across four continents. It already hosts many online gaming applications, and looked after the U.S. Olympic site during the Beijing games.

“A corporate network can connect to the cloud using a virtual private service which provides plenty of security,” said Caniano. “We are calling it a virtual private storage cloud.”

Synaptic SaaS is built upon the EMC Atmos platform (but not the Atmos online service). In essence, the company uses its own cloud, which sits upon an EMC infrastructure. This is being rolled out to two AT&T data centers right now, with plans to extend it across its network.

“Services such as this are bringing more credibility to the cloud within the enterprise,” said Caniano.

VMware’s Cloudy Vision

Paul Maritz, CEO of VMware (NYSE: VMW), brought everything together by explaining that clouds such as those used by Google (NASDAQ: GOOG) and Amazon (NASDAQ: AMZN) are based upon highly customized, state-of-the-art applications and massive internal data centers. Most enterprises don’t have the resources to rewrite their old apps and put the back end in to power a massive cloud. So VMware is evolving to provide those capabilities for the cloud and marry them up with the data center.

“Some clouds are like the Hotel California,” said Maritz. “You can check in your applications any time you like, but you can never check them out.”

What he’s talking about is cloud security and openness. By introducing a new layer of software called vSphere, VMware plans to become the glue that holds the cloud together, maintains its integrity and unites it with the enterprise. He likened this to a data center OS or a cloud OS. It has interfaces that go down into hardware and upward into the application layer to provide security and management.

“vSphere is fully aware of underlying storage and can do thin provisioning,” said Maritz. “It’s a completely fluid environment that is moving management to the next level.”

Within it are management tools in the form of vCenter that can scale to large numbers of hosts and virtual machines, and take care of SLAs, priorities, provisioning and more. He gives the example of keeping a VM running, while moving its information from one SAN to another during a migration, upgrades and scheduled maintenance.

“We are building a giant software-based mainframe which is also called the cloud,” said Maritz. “We are also adding archiving, compliance and security into virtual services as part of defining their SLAs.”

This is part of a project known as Zoka (named after a café in Silicon Valley) that is aimed at making the cloud more intelligent and aware.

Analysts Remain Skeptical

While EMC and AT&T are certain of the future of cloud storage, analysts at the conference still need some convincing.

“We don’t yet know if Google or Amazon are actually making any money with the cloud, as it’s not split off on their balance sheets,” said Brian Babineau, an analyst with Enterprise Strategy Group. “So we can’t yet be sure that the cloud is viable.”

He noted that the technology is achieving a rapid rate of adoption, although he isn’t sure to what degree that critical data will actually be moved over to the cloud. Where he currently sees an obvious niche is on temporary events or demand spikes. He gives the example of the recent visit by President Obama to Mexico. A site was set up on a cloud to deal with a two hour Q&A session with the U.S. leader. The infrastructure and services were rented for a few hours and then the site was gone.

Benjamin Woo, an analyst at IDC, takes a similar view. He thinks the cloud needs to learn to crawl and then walk before it gains any real traction. While he doesn’t see the future being all cloud, neither does he dismiss the cloud as a fad.

“The cloud is still in its infancy and we need to develop best practices to deal with its deployment and its security,” said Woo. “We are not quite there yet in terms of how enterprises can really take advantage of the cloud to forward business objectives.”

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Drew Robb
Drew Robb
Drew Robb is a contributing writer for Datamation, Enterprise Storage Forum, eSecurity Planet, Channel Insider, and eWeek. He has been reporting on all areas of IT for more than 25 years. He has a degree from the University of Strathclyde UK (USUK), and lives in the Tampa Bay area of Florida.

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