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Cloud Computing: Article

Recessionary Recitations: Reducing the Cost and Complexity of Application Delivery

Virtualization and cloud computing give shelter from the storm

Let's face it - 2008 was a real slog. Even the most wide-eyed optimist would agree that this was one year whose end was long overdue. Of course, ringing in the New Year doesn't somehow wash away what has become a fairly deep recession, but it does symbolize the fresh start that I think we're all looking for right about now.

Doom and gloom may be the currency of trade these days, but I would argue that there are important lessons to be learned from this and any recession. Nobody enjoys a down economy, but it may be comforting to remember that recession is a natural part of the business cycle. Just as an ebbing tide always returns, so will economic prosperity. And despite the discomfort, every recession teaches us a lesson or two that informs and sometimes transforms IT practices.

In that respect, this recession is no different. The need to "do more with less" has put pressure on organizations to scrutinize spending and look for new ways to conserve. At the same time, virtualization and cloud computing have entered the scene, promising to significantly change the economics of enterprise computing. This allows organizations to significantly reduce the capital costs associated with server infrastructure. In the case of external clouds, these costs can be deferred altogether.

What is arguably quite different this time around is the fact that IT organizations are expected to fundamentally change and transform from centralized bottlenecks to self-service enablers. So, the dual mandate the CIO now faces is to cut costs while also reinventing the datacenter. That's no mean feat.

The good news is that virtualization and cloud computing have emerged as both a salve for today's cost-cutting mandates, as well as a foundation for the computing model of the future. By removing much of the cost and friction from application delivery, organizations can more effectively weather the storm of a down economy, taking the time and cost out of application delivery. The real winners on the other side of this recession will be the organizations that take both paths concurrently.

But many organizations are looking beyond infrastructure and taking cost and complexity out of application workloads themselves. Why? Because enterprise applications are becoming increasingly distributed and unthinkably complex, which only adds cost and delay to application deployment and management. This complexity results from multiple factors at work:

  • Growing use of open source and overall componentization of software
  • Proliferation of target machines, most notably due to virtualization
  • Multiple target datacenter environments, including external clouds
  • Use of disparate application frameworks, such as JBoss, Ruby and Django
  • Corporate and regulatory mandates, such as HIPPA and Sarbanes-Oxley

All of this adds up to application workloads that are harder than ever to deploy and manage. The result is an ever widening "deployment gap" that sits between application development and IT operations. If you recall from my previous musings, this air gap stands in the way of application delivery and realization of application value. After the application is unit test complete, it enters a protracted and often manual process which looks something like this: stand up a server, install the OS, spin up the application, configure, tune, tweak, optimize, and certify. At this point, months have passed and lines of business stand waiting, costs and risks accrued and business opportunities forgone.

Many organizations are looking at virtualization as a way to accelerate and simplify application delivery by changing the form factor of the application workload to become easier to deploy and manage over time. This virtualized application, or "virtual appliance," makes application workloads far easier to deploy, manage and maintain because it combines the application bits with everything it needs to run in production and delivers it as a self-contained application unit that can run in any virtualized or cloud environment. Simply put, plug it in and it works. What's more, the virtualized application is fully instrumented for streamlined and scalable maintenance, significantly reducing ongoing costs and allowing IT organizations to do more with less.

Think of it this way: the typical enterprise today faces the dual challenge of growing application complexity and flat or declining people resources. Oh, and I forgot a critical detail. The reality is that lines of business are expecting applications to be deployed more, not less, rapidly. The "Amazon effect" is the backpressure lines of business place on IT because of the instant gratification external clouds like Amazon EC2 appear to promise. "Why can't you be more like EC2?" is the question de jour and fairly cringe-inducing for the unprepared CIO.

Complexity is the enemy when resources are thin and organizations are under pressure to do more with less. Of course application complexity isn't going away since fighting that battle is like trying to hold back a rising tide. But you can manage the complexity with new approaches for enterprise application virtualization, which can dramatically reduce the time, cost and risk of deploying and managing distributed application workloads across traditional, virtualized and cloud-based environments.

More Stories By Jake Sorofman

Jake Sorofman is chief marketing officer of rPath, an innovator in system automation software for physical, virtual and cloud environments. Contact Jake at jsorofman@rpath.com.

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