Need to Get off That Cloud? A Virtual Moving Van

Moving data and applications between cloud providers is a sticky problem that the industry will likely take years to solve. But a new tool from Racemi can ease some of the pain.

Cloud computing platforms aim to improve IT's ability to be agile. For instance, cloud platfoirms let you quickly build and install applications, and change the resources underneath later to make them run better.

Once the applications are up and running on a public cloud, however, they're very hard to move.

Many in the industry have likened IT's fears about this moving problem to the famous song about Hotel California: You can check in, but you can never leave.

"A lot of public-cloud providers build [their platforms] on VMware, but even moving an application from a VMware VM at Amazon to one at Rackspace would be a problem," says Gary Chen, research manager for enterprise virtualization software at IDC.

"You can move the VM, but it may depend on certain services — queuing or database services like the ones Amazon runs, or whatever — and it would still rely on those," Chen says. "To move it you'd have to figure out that dependency and add something to fill in the gap."

Disaster-recovery and business-continuity vendor Racemi is addressing that gap with a new version of its DynaCenter Image-based provisioning server, which can automate the migration of specific workloads from Amazon's EC2 cloud service to similar environments on Rackspace.

How Racemi's Tool Works

The software is designed to be built into the application or management software and identify the "personality" of the server on which a particular application or workload runs.

Racemi's tool takes into account the operating system, set of applications, storage and network configurations at hand, then wraps them all up in a single bootable image.

Users can relaunch that image on another cloud platform, within another data center, or to shift workloads from internal data centers to clouds. The tool can also move workloads from one hypervisor to another in the same way. The tool supports VMware, Xen and Hyper-V hypervisors and operating systems including Windows, Linux, Solaris, and IBM's AIX.

The ability to move from one cloud to another, or from one vendor's VM platform to another, will be increasingly useful over time, IDC's Chen says. Right now, it's a marginal function in both environments, he says.

Looking Ahead: Mixed Hypervisor Shops

IDC surveys show that 70 percent of companies are sticking with just one hypervisor for their server environments, at least for the time being, Chen says. Thirty percent of companies are open to using more than one hypervisor, but very few have done so yet. Only about 15 percent of companies have real plans to use more than one hypervisor during the next year or two, he says.

A September survey from data-center software company Zenoss showed that 79 percent of those surveyed use VMware hypervisors, but Citrix' Xen is the second most popular, named by 32.7 percent. These results imply that mixed environments may be more common that some surveys show.

Half the Zenoss respondents had no tools or virtually no tools to manage their cloud-computing environments, however, including migration and on-boarding automation software.

It's that function the Racemi software is designed for, as much as for cross-platform migration.

Not every workload or every IT service runs effectively in the cloud, or runs well when based full time in the cloud, notes Racemi CEO Lawrence Guillory. Automating the movement of workloads among hypervisors or between clouds and internal data centers gives customers another set of optimization options for both environments, he says.

Maybe, Chen says. But it's still not a common requirement.

"Adoption of cloud computing might accelerate some of that, if people want to move between a public and private cloud, the functionality will be useful," Chen says. "There's not a lot of back-and-forth between hypervisors or clouds right now, so it might be a marginal thing for a while."

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