“We created a hybrid,” says NYSE Technologies CEO Stanley Young. “It’s a cross between the public cloud and the private cloud.”
To the average English speaker, this sounds like gibberish. But in the computing world, it makes perfect sense.
No, really, it does.
NYSE Technologies is an arm of NYSE Euronext, the outfit that operates the New York Stock Exchange and various other exchanges across the world. Young’s operation provides IT services to members of these exchanges — investment banks and hedge funds and the like — and this week, the company officially unveiled an online service that offers its customers instant access to virtual servers.
Rather than set up their own physical machines in their own data centers, those banks and hedge funds can run their software applications atop the new service. The service mimics a “public cloud” such as Amazon’s EC2 service, but it’s not exactly public. It’s only available to members of the New York Stock exchange. It’s a “private cloud”. Sort of.
In the beginning, the cloud was such a nice metaphor. But then everyone started using it. For everything. Now that the private cloud has entered the IT lexicon, the metaphor is fuzzy. But whether the terminology works or not, the technology is real. Or at least, it’s getting there.
Two high-profile open source projects — OpenStack and Eucalyptus — offer platforms for mimicking EC2 in your own data center, and IT giant VMware — the undisputed king of virtual servers — has following suit. The NYSE’s “community cloud” is built atop a VMware tool known as vCloud Director. With this platform, several internet service providers are now offering EC2-like services to the world at large, but the idea is that big businesses can build similar services just for their own employees — or just for their own customers.
Cloud is not a cloud is not a cloud
Google boss Eric Schmidt floated the metaphor in August 2006, borrowing an old term from the telephone business. “It starts with the premise that the data services and architecture should be on servers. We call it cloud computing. They should be in a ‘cloud’ somewhere,” he said.
“If you have the right kind of browser or the right kind of access, it doesn’t matter whether you have a PC or a Mac or a mobile phone or a BlackBerry or what have you — or new devices still to be developed — you can get access to the cloud.”
A few weeks later, Amazon announced its Elastic Compute Cloud — aka EC2 — and the name painted the appropriate picture. The service was a sprawling collection of computing resources that somehow acted as a whole, and though it was right there in front of you — accessible from your local machine — it was also a distant thing. It didn’t run in your own data center. It ran in Amazon’s.
EC2 gave you access to servers without actually having to set them up, and it was so successful, the world’s server makers soon realized they needed a way of competing with Amazon without competing with their hardware divisions. The result is that thing now widely known as the “private cloud” — an Amazon EC2-like service that runs inside your own data center. Amazon EC2 became a “public cloud.”
EC2 is a threat to VMware’s traditional business as well. It’s built atop the open source Xen hypervisor, a competitor to VMware’s vSphere virtualization technology. In essence, with vCloud director, businesses can add an Amazon-like interface to their VMware-based infrastructure — a web console that lets employees or customers spin up new virtual machines as they need them.
“vCloud give our customers access to our infrastructure,” says Feargal O’Sullivan, vice president of platform development at NYSE Technologies and the man who oversees the creation of the service. “They can start up machines any time they want, running their own applications inside our data center.”
The 400,00-square-foot data center sits in what used to be rock quarry in Mahwah, New Jersey, across the Hudson River from Manhattan. In addition to hosting this Amazon EC2-like “community cloud”, it serves up myriad other services to stock exchange members. Currently, says O’Sullivan, a single member is using the cloud service but he anticipates that two or three others will be onboard by the end of the year.
Open to Interpretation
For Chris Wolf, an analyst with research outfit Gartner, VMware has moved out ahead of platforms like OpenStack — which is backed by several big industry names, including Cisco, Citrix, Rackspace, and HP. “OpenStack is getting a lot of noise, and there are a decent numbers of service providers moved towards OpenStack” he tells Wired. “But this pales in comparison to vCloud.”
When VMware unveiled vCloud in late 2010, it announced that several services providers would offer up public clouds based on the platform, including Verizon, Bluelock, Singtel, and Colt, and this summer, Dell announced that it too would offer such a service. The idea is that corporate operations can use these services in tandem with “private cloud” services they’ve built with vCloud Director in their own data centers.
But Dell will also offer a service based on OpenStack, and Wolf says that many businesses are attracted to OpenStack because its platform is open source. “The vCloud setup is VMware proprietary,” he says. “They don’t want to be locked into a one vendor.”
Rackspace — which founded the OpenStack project alongside NASA — is using at least part of the platform to drive its own cloud services, and it now has a services arm that will help businesses erect their own OpenStack services. Again, the idea is that applications can span both the public cloud and the private cloud.
The pitch makes sense. If not the metaphor.