Tuesday, March 25, 2008

Elastra emerges to make cloud computing more attainable for enterprises

Cloud computing as a concept has been gathering significant interest in the past months, but aside from developers, testers and startups, the ability to exploit the efficiencies and cost-benefits of cloud computing for average enterprises have remained hard to grasp.

Startup Elastra unveiled its approach today to making cloud computing more practical, introducing two markup languages -- one (ECML) that helps pull applications together to deploy to a cloud environment, and a second (EDML) to help define and organize the right cloud-based infrastructure to support those applications.

In general the Elastra approach provides onramps to compute clouds based on descriptive tools that help reduce complexity for IT departments. This should encourage experimentation and ultimately lead to ramp ups in the use of public clouds, as well as the build-out and use of home-grown, so-called private clouds. Less attention has been given of late to the promise of private clouds, which are really a natural extension of current datacenter consolidation, clustering, application modernization, ITIL and virtualization initiatives.

As virtualized software has become the primary layer over now-buried hardware that architects and engineers must deal with, we should expect more tools and "bridging" technologies like Elastra to emerge to help grease the skids for what can (and should?) be deployed in clouds. The software then becomes agile services that can be provisioned and consumed via innovative and highly efficient business models and use-based metering schemes.

I suppose we can coin this as "middleware for cloud computing," or maybe "APIs for cloud computing." In any event, let's hope these onramps become highly visual, automated and increasing based on widely accepted standards.

Because Elastra's approach allows applications to be deployed to public (like Amazon's EC2/S3) or private clouds (like the ones many enterprises are likely to build out as they virtualize datacenters), it aims to become a de facto standard for accessing cloud resources. Packaged under the Elastra Cloud Server, the database-driven product can help bring applications rapidly to a pay-as-you-use model. Enterprises may be able to provide more applications as services, charging internal consumers as a managed service provider.

I had a chance to sit down last week and discuss the arrival of ECML and EDMl with Kirill Sheynkman, president and CEO of Elastra. He was a major force behind integration and enterprise portal provider Plumtree Software, which was acquired by BEA in 2005. Indeed, there are a lot of former BEA folks under the hood at Elastra.

Sheynkman is obviously a fan of cloud-based infrastructures, and also has had experience on what it takes to practically define and introduce a new category to the enterprise IT mind. His vision for the cloud opportunity is compelling, but his feet seem firmly on the ground, with a strong sense of what will work in real-world use.

Part of Elastra's DNA is putting more data in the cloud, where it can be used assiduously to support apps, services and business processes. And once the data layer makes its way to the cloud (private, public or both), can the rest of the support infrastructure be far behind? We're already seeing a lot of talk around integration as a service, and infrastructure as a service. And we're also increasingly seeing tools and development as a service.

Once the IT support infrastructure is effectively abstracted to a cloud, with specific languages to manage and access those resources, then the move to Nick Carr's utility vision seems well under way. What remains is for the tools and architecture definitions to be readily described, communicated, and managed for the compelling economics of cloud-based support to take off.

I'm beginning to think the segue to the cloud could happen sooner than many think, and be very much a mainsteam enterprise endeavor after all.