Cloud computing vendors and service providers are increasingly making plans and announcements related to cloud federation. One of the basic objectives for this approach is to offer customers more choice by providing a related set of cloud services from multiple providers. While a single infrastructure as a service (IaaS) provider with a single data center location may have a hard time competing with national and global players, a federated group of providers offering consistent services from many locations around the world would be far better positioned.

Both Microsoft and VMware have talked about plans for federated services. However, at this time, neither has much to show for it. More recently, Cisco and HP have announced their plans for developing federated networks of cloud service providers.

Cisco

According to Cisco, “The Cisco OpenStack-enabled Intercloud is designed to allow organizations and users to combine and move workloads – including data and applications – across different public or private clouds as needed, easily and securely, while maintaining associated network and security policies.” The Cisco Intercloud will be built upon Cisco cloud technologies rather than multivendor hardware. The company also said, “We think our reseller and systems integrator partners are going to love this cloud too. We will offer open APIs to enable application and service customization by partners and customers, giving them new opportunities for service differentiation and profitability.”

Cisco lumped together a number of organizations that are planning to deliver Cisco Cloud Services or have endorsed Cisco’s global Intercloud initiative. Since “endorsement” doesn’t really mean much in the way of commitment, it is hard to tell how much backing the company really has. In any case, these are the organizations that Cisco listed: Telstra; Allstream; Canopy; Ingram Micro Inc.; Logicalis Group; MicroStrategy, Inc.; OnX Managed Services; SunGard Availability Services; and Wipro Ltd. Neovise previously examined the Cisco Intercloud in our blog, Cisco and Partners to Build Global Intercloud: Inital Thoughts.

HP

HP unveiled plans for the Helion Network, a federated ecosystem of service providers that will provide customers with an open market for hardware-agnostic cloud services. The company believes it will give customers a better way to build open and secure hybrid IT environments. While HP says the federation is hardware agnostic, a company representative also said he believes most providers in the network will want to use HP hardware. The program will also allow partners to resell solutions from other providers in the Helion Network.

HP appears to be in the very early stages of defining this program. The company also has a spotty track record in general – and with cloud computing specifically – in terms of staying focused, delivering and eventually succeeding with its plans. For background on that, read the blog – HP Helion: The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. In any case, like the Cisco Intercloud, the HP Helion Network is still in the planning stages.

Up next…OnApp

Today, OnApp takes its turn, and the company has done a number of things to demonstrate that the cloud federation model is closer to reality than to a dream.

A look at their progress and announcement provides important insight:

  • OnApp has already built a federated content delivery network (CDN) with 170 points of presence (PoP), experience they will leverage in building their computer Federation.
  • OnApp already has 900 service providers running its cloud management platform in 93 countries. Some are quite small but this still represents an order of magnitude more deployments than OpenStack clouds. This footprint positions them to offer more data center locations than Amazon and Microsoft combined.
  • This is not just an announcement of future plans. The OnApp federated cloud is in beta, with GA expected in several months.
  • The market is service provider to service provider, NOT service provider to end customers. The end customers that buy cloud services get a single service provider from which to make purchases and get support.
  • Customers get a single, federated view and control over all their cloud resources – through both a visual interface and API.
  • Their market is open and service providers using other cloud management platforms besides OnApp will be able to participate. This particular capability is still under development. It is also highly innovative and may impact how other cloud federations are designed in the future.
  • Federated cloud providers exchange meta data about the capabilities, performance and reliability of the cloud services they offer. Each cloud provider decides independently which services from which other providers they will resell.

OnApp has also announced a virtual cloud service provider model, akin to the virtual network operator (VNO) model in the mobile space. This allows service providers to resell cloud services from the OnApp network, without having any saleable infrastructure resources of their own. The first virtual service provider, cloud.net, is in beta and run by OnApp. While on the surface that could sound like a potential conflict with Federation members, note that OnApp has no infrastructure of its own to sell. Cloud.net is actually driving demand and revenue for federation members. OnApp plans to open source the underlying software so others can implement the same model.

Dream or Reality?

Every significant advance in the IT services world demands some amount of caution, and the progress made by OnApp is no different. The caveat here is that the demand side needs further validation – that is, substantial numbers of customers paying real money to consume resources from the federation.

With that said, OnApp is clearly making cloud federation a reality.

We’ll continue to keep an eye on this space.

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