Always have an exit strategy when looking at cloud

Last week, Fed Cloud Blog promised to bring you more of our chat with Gunnar Hellekson, chief technology strategist for Red Hat’s U.S. Public Sector Group.

Today he starts out by explaining how Red Hat has been supporting the federal government, and also has some tips for what agency CIOs should be looking for when it comes to looking at the cloud.

GH: Red Hat has been supporting the federal government in cloud computing in a number of ways.

First, on a basic technology level, much of the innovation that’s going on in cloud computing and virtualization has been happening in the open source world, specifically, in the open source Linux project.

Red Hat is best known as a vendor of Linux services and support and our engineers have been working for many years on virtualization technology, and doing what it is that we’ve always done with the open source community, which is creating an enabling layer that sits between your hardware and your applciations and actually gives your applications access to some of the really interesting innovations that are going on down in the hardware. So, in the role as a hypervisor — in the role as a software that hosts virtual guests in a cloud computing environment, we’ve been working in that space for some time.

Second, I think it’s really interesting that if you look at some of the clouds that are being stood up now, like the RACE project over at DISA and elsewhere, you’ll see that these cloud computing environments are really offering two platforms to their end users. One is Windows and one is Linux, most often specifically Red Hat Enterprise Linux.

So that’s kind of heartening to see, in conjunction with this move toward cloud computing, we’re seeing a consolidation on to those two operating system platforms. That really, though, is just about technology and delivering low-cost, high-quality, very secure operating systems, which is something we’ve been doing for the federal government for 10 years now

I think what’s more interesting is the way in which we’re able to provide some guidance and some best practices to federal agencies, specifically through our cloud provider certification program. These programs give providers a set of best practices so that they know they will be protected against what is a very quickly moving market. Red Hat is providing them a template for success.

FCB: Is there something specific, in terms of that template, of what a CIO at agency ‘X’ should be thinking about if he or she is looking at cloud computing?

GH: There are a number of concerns, obviously.

Cloud computing is extremely disruptive. So, the CIO has a whole lot to think about.

In most cases, you won’t be providing your own cloud services. In most cases, a CIO will be a consumer of cloud services. So, as a consumer, you’re interested in ensuring that you have a supportable, standard build of you operating system so that you have a stable and predictable platform on which you can put your applications. You want the ability to post for those virtual guests — you want those to be portable.

Cloud computing isn’t just about providing cheap computing cycles, it’s also about the ability to compete the hosting of your applications with much less friction than you have today. Today, if you outsource your data center or you’re hiring another organization to host your computing workload, you have to worry about — am I going to pickup backup, and then I’ve got to take backup and go restore it to a new provider — it’s an extremely costly process.

The premise of cloud computing is to provide enough interoperability and have enough standards so that you should be able to easily move your workload from one provider to another, which creates a . . . much more competitive market than you would have before.

As you’re evaluating cloud providers, you want to be thinking about — what is their interoperability? How well would they work with another cloud provider? How easily can I move my workload from one provider to another?

For the last 10 years, Red Hat has really made its name taking folks from proprietary operating systems that were often tied to hardware . . . [and] getting them off of these proprietary hardware systems and proprietary operating systems and moving them onto commodity hardware. . . . One of the big reasons why people wanted to make that move is so that they could compete their hardware. If you had IBM, you wanted to be able to collect bids from Dell and HP, as well. That competitive market drives down the cost of your hardware.

In cloud computing now we see all of that progress of the last 10 years starting to get undone as people move onto these cloud environments. There’s a danger that you’re going to get locked into a particular hosting provider, a particular virtualization technology. So, as you’re evaluating these hosting providers, you want to be paying a lot of attention to interoperability. You want to make sure that there’s a safe exit strategy