Monday, September 20, 2010

The Future of Virtualization

According to data from International Data Corporation (IDC) an increasing number of applications are now becoming deployed on virtual servers. That is a clear indication that operating systems such as Windows or Linux are no longer as important as they were. In a virtual environment traditional operating systems do not see the underlying hardware directly. The task of mediating access to the hardware in a data center is largely being taken over by a new layer of software, which is the hypervisor through which virtualization is taking over not only the management of processing resources but also the management of storage pools as well as the organization of networking resources.

Operating systems are by no means dead. But they are gradually becoming less relevant when it comes to orchestrating server hardware while providing added services such as the management of security. For legacy applications Operating Systems will still remain, but will be placed on top of the Hypervisor that will take over a number of functions previously performed by Windows.

Meanwhile, end users are slowly moving to applications that run from online services and not as a locally hosted application on “fat” clients. The end user operating system is less likely to be Windows. Increasingly, users depend on devices such as Thin Clients, Apple iPads or a variety of smart phones that do not run on Microsoft's once-ubiquitous operating system.

With the advent of a new architecture customers will be served not only from public clouds but also from private clouds, which will be operated as a hybrid environment where you can build applications that operate from either the public or from private data centers that are redundant and highly reliable. In such a setting tools will be available that allow instant portability of applications to wherever they can deliver the most economical services.

When planning the evolution to new directions of how to organize DoD enterprise computing, the following steps should be taken:

First, migrate server-side applications, which rely on a legacy Windows OS (such as Microsoft Exchange). These servers are used to operate many applications today and will continue to do so for many years. These servers should be virtualized and should move into IaaS (infrastructure as a service) clouds to gain savings from improved hardware utilization and reductions in energy consumption. 

Each of the migrated applications will continue operating with one or more standard components (such as an Oracle database or an Apache web server). Each of the applications will also runs its own separate Windows OS, usually on a single physical machine, though the applications will be virtualized. The problem with such an arrangement is that it still requires much of the overhead as before. To make 500 physical machines virtual still requires the management of 500 virtual machines because each still has its own OS, which needs to be patched, maintained and monitored for viruses. For this stage of evolution the OS maintenance costs will not be reduced to the maximum level that is attainable.

As a second step start migrating to a PaaS (platform as a service) cloud environment. Google App Engine and Salesforce.com are good examples of PaaS though DoD will have to structure on its own unique and proprietary platform to support cyber operations. All DoD applications will run on an extensible and secure infrastructure. It will not matter whether the DoD applications are running with Windows, Red Hat, or Solaris. Instead, all applications’ OS will run on either on an open system VMware Hypervisor or on a proprietary platform (such as Google App Engine or Salesforce.com) provided it can become secure. In this environment the DoD PaaS the operating system will remain invisible to the applications. The problem is that PaaS will ultimately require the re-writing of portions of the code so the majority of legacy enterprise systems will not be able to take advantage of all PaaS features. However, all new DoD web applications (such as those organized as a Service Oriented Architecture SOA) can be written with PaaS in mind in order to start realizing large reductions in development and operating costs.

Summary
Organizations should start migration from client-server designs to IaaS cloud computing and then to the PaaS cloud. Along the way short-term cost reductions will become available to fund the entire migration. It will take laying out at least a ten-year evolutionary path to accomplish the transformation of DoD computing from where it is now until it can operate in a cloud environment. The burdens of the existing legacy applications as well as the technical and managerial risks are just too large to overcome the obstacles on the path to an architecture, which is cheaper, more robust and more secure to cope with cyber warfare. 

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