What I learned at 2011 IBM Cloud Computing Technical Symposium

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This blog post has both a private and a public objective: the private is to show to my manager that his investment in my participation to the 2011 IBM Cloud Computing Technical Symposium was worth it;-); the public is to share what I learned during the three days at the event. Because it is not possible to summarize the content of 120 parallel sessions in one blog entry, this post highlights several key messages I caught in the sessions I attended.

The Symposium was held from November 28 to 30 in Darmstadt, a nice town close to Frankfurt, Germany. Although it is not easy to find time for such events in the last quarter of the year, there was a significant number of participants (more than 200) and an acceptably balanced mix of IBMers and non-IBMers.

The event opened with a keynote session from Bowman Hall (Director of Cloud Computing Client Engagements IBM Software Group) and Christian Klezl (Vice President and Cloud Leader of IBM Northeast Europe). In their speeches, Christian and Bowman gave some highlights on IBM successes in the cloud space:

  • 200 successful private cloud projects
  • 4.5 million secure daily cloud transactions
  • 1.5 million managed SAP users
  • 80percent of Fortune 500 companies using IBM cloud capabilities

Of course they also provided a summary of IBM SmartCloud offerings (see further details here):

  • IBM SmartCloud Foundation: a set of technologies allowing you to take the first steps towards building and deploying a private cloud
  • IBM SmartCloud Services: platform and infrastructure capabilities delivered as a service on cloud
  • IBM SmartCloud Solutions: a suite of business solutions available on the cloud

However, they also mentioned several challenges preventing cloud adoption:

  • Security
  • Integration with existing legacy systems
  • Business process redesign
  • Cloud standards

Selecting the sessions to attend was very difficult: On the one side I tried to better understand how IBM addresses the challenges highlighted in the keynote session; on the other side, I decided to deepen topics on which I had limited skills or I did not have a clear vision. Let’s see some of the information I collected.

Cloud security

Most sessions, of course, recognized security as one of the main reasons preventing customers from using cloud (see an interesting survey about this subject). Most presenters also summarized the main topics regarding security in the cloud. Some of the topics, such as data security, data privacy, access management, and vulnerability management, looked fairly obvious to me. Others, such as export regulations (also discussed in the cloud standards session) and exit-management (what happens to your data when you leave your cloud service provider?) were more intriguing. Several useful recommendations to address them are provided in a white paper from the German Federal Office for Information Security. Further risks that are specific to the virtualized environment are discussed in the virtualization guidelines from PCI Security Standards Council.

Of course all sessions also discussed IBM approach to cloud security, based on IBM Security Framework, and on a large set of products and services as summarized in the following figure. Last but not least, one of the sessions mentioned an IBM Redpaper publication Cloud Security Guidance, REDP-4614, which provides very useful recommendations on cloud implementation.

Cloud standards

Have you ever heard of the Cloud Standards Customer Council? In April 2011, leaders from all over the world created the first customer-led consortium designed to shape the face of open, standards-based cloud computing. Currently, more than 230 companies around the world (50 percent of which operate outside IT) are contributing to it by:

  • Driving user requirements into standards development
  • Providing guidance to the multiple cloud standards-defining bodies
  • Establishing criteria for open, standards-based cloud computing
  • Delivering content in the form of best practices, case studies, use cases, requirements, gap analysis and recommendations for cloud standards

There are several reasons why it is worth investing in cloud standards and I am probably going to write a separate blog post about this subject. Anyway, the following statement from the CIO of a US federal agency provides a significant clue: “Until I can move my cloud-based application from one cloud provider to another in less than a week, I won’t be using any of them.”  Of course such a migration is possible only if different cloud providers use the same standards, and this regards not only technical but also legal standards. Let’s take for instance regulatory differences between EU and US:  I attended a session describing the experience of a German company that uses IBM SmartCloud Enterprise to test and develop software for financial reporting. The reason why the company chose IBM was the assurance that their data would be held in a German data center. Because of different regulations, using US data centers could have been an issue because of the possibility from the government to have access to the data without notification as part of the Patriot Act.

Cloud integration

Integration sessions focused on connecting public cloud off-premises applications with on-premises applications (hybrid cloud) to address use cases such as:

  • Synchronization for SaaS applications with on-premisse applications
  • Initial data migration into SaaS applications
  • User interface mash-ups, where data from one application is rendered in another SaaS application in real time

As highlighted in Megan Irvine’s blog post, the IBM solution includes two options:

  • WebSphere DataPower Cast Iron XH40: A self-contained physical appliance that provides everything needed to connect cloud and on-premises applications
  • WebSphere Cast Iron Hypervisor Edition: A virtual appliance that can be installed on existing servers and provide the same functionality as the physical appliance

The integrations sessions focused, of course, on Cast Iron’s benefits: rapid implementation (application integration completed in days and ROI achieved in months); simplified interface (wizard-based templates for all types of integration projects); secure access to applications available across hybrid environments. The most interesting part, anyway, was the demo (which, by the way, was run by Sebastian Rzepka, a contributor to this blog), showing how quick, easy, and powerful the tool was. You can see a ten-minute demo, if you are interested.

IBM private cloud solutions

During the event, I had several discussions with colleagues and customers regarding IBM private cloud offerings. Interestingly, even some IBMers did not have a clear idea about available offerings and differences between them. The following picture from one of the sessions provides, in my opinion, an effective summary. If you are interested in further details, do not miss my next blog posts.

What else?

The Symposium, of course, did not touch only these topics I mentioned. Several sessions regarded IBM hardware and storage offerings in the cloud space and several IBM Business Partners (some of which are even IBM competitors) contributed both with sessions regarding their offerings and with interesting expositions. Unfortunately one blog post is not enough for all this stuff. I hope to use some of the ideas I collected as starting points for new posts. Let me just mention two sessions that really impress me and that, by the way, were held by two contributors to the blog site:

  • In the “The Journey to Desktop Cloud” session, Marcus Erber provided a comprehensive summary of motivations to move the desktop to cloud, desktop cloud technologies, desktop cloud best practices and impact on operations costs. I recommend you to look at his blog posts for further information.
  • In the “IBM’s x86 Server Virtualization Strategy and Hypervisiors Comparison” session, Andreas Groth helped me to deeply understand the differences (and their likely strategies for the future) between the main providers in the virtualization landscape (VMware, Open Source providers, Microsoft).  I hope he will consider writing a post on this subject. In the meantime, I recommend you to have a look at his Virtualization Matrix, and consider his session’s closing statement “Next year is the first year of cloud war,” highlighting the market share growth of Microsoft and Open Source technologies against VMware.

I would like to close with last Bowman’s message: “Cloud is a paradigm radical shift (not just an incremental improvement) in the way we do IT.” Whether you agree or not, it is an interesting point of view.

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