One of the five essential attributes of cloud computing (ref. The 5-3-2 Principle of Cloud Computing) is resource pooling which is an important differentiator separating the thought process of traditional IT from that of a service-based, cloud computing approach.

Resource pooling in the context of cloud computing and from a service provider’s viewpoint denotes a set of strategies for categorizing and managing resources. For a user, resource pooling institutes an abstraction for presenting and consuming resources in a consistent and transparent fashion.

This article presents key concepts derived from resource pooling as the following:

  • Resource Pools
  • Virtualization in the Context of Cloud Computing
  • Standardization, Automation, and Optimization
  • Fabric
  • Cloud
  • Closing Thoughts

Resource Pools

Ultimately data center resources can be logically placed into three categories. They are: compute, networks, and storage. For many, this grouping may appear trivial. It is however a foundation upon which some cloud computing methodologies are developed, products designed, and solution formulated.

Compute

This is a collection of all CPU capabilities. Essentially all data center servers, either for supporting or actually running a workload, are all part of this compute group. Compute pool represents the total capacity for executing code and running instances. The process to construct a compute pool is to first inventory all servers and identify virtualization candidates followed by implementing server virtualization. And it is never too early to introduce a system management solution to facilitate the processes. Which in my view is a strategic investment and a critical component for all cloud initiatives.

Networks

The physical and logical artifacts putting in place to connect resources, segment, and isolate resources from layer 3 and below, etc. are gathered in the network pool. Networking enables resources becoming visible and hence possibly manageable. In the age of instance gratification, networks and mobility are redefining the security and system administration boundaries, and play a direct and impactful role in user productivity and customer satisfaction. Networking in cloud computing is more than just remote access, but empowerment for a user to self-serve and consume resources anytime anywhere with any device. BYOD and consumerization of IT are various expressions of these concepts.

Storage

This has long been a very specialized and sometimes mysterious part of IT. An enterprise storage solution frequently characterizes as a high cost item with a significant financial and contractual commitment, specialized hardware, proprietary API and software, a dependency on direct vendor support, etc. In cloud computing, storage has become even more noticeable since the ability to grow and shrink based on demands, i.e. elasticity, demands an enterprise-level, massive, reliable, and resilient storage solution at a global scale. While enterprise IT is consolidating resources and transforming existing establishment into a cloud computing environment, how to leverage existing storage devices from various vendors and integrate them with the next generation storage solutions are among the high priorities for modernizing a data center.

Virtualization in the Context of Cloud Computing

In the last decade, virtualization has proved its values and accelerated the realization of cloud computing. Then, virtualization was mainly server virtualization. Which in an over-simplified statement means hosting multiple server instances with the same hardware while each instance runs transparently and in isolation, as if each consumes the entire hardware and is the only instance running. Much of the customer expectations, business needs, and methodologies has since evolved. Now, we should validate virtualization in the context of cloud computing to fully address the innovations rapidly changing how IT conducts business and delivers services. As discussed below, in the context of clod computing, consumable resources are delivered in some virtualized form. Various virtualization layers collectively construct and form the so-called fabric.

Server Virtualization

The concept of server virtualization remains running multiple server instances with the same hardware while each instance runs transparently and in isolation, as if each instance is the only instance running and consuming the entire server hardware.

In addition to virtualizing and consolidating servers, server virtualization also signifies the practices of standardizing server deployment switching away from physical boxes to VMs. Server virtualization is for packaging, delivering, and consuming a compute pool.

There are a few important considerations of virtualizing servers. IT needs the ability to identify and manage bare metal such that the entire resource life-cycle management from commencing to decommissioning can be standardized and automated. To fundamentally reduce the support and training cost while increasing the productivity, a consistent platform with tools applicable across physical, virtual, on-premises, and off-premises deployments is essential. The last thing IT wants is one set of tools for physical resources and another for those virtualized; one set of tools for on-premises deployment and another for those deployed to a service provider; one set of tools for development and another for deploying applications. The requirement is one methodology for all, one skill set for all, and one set of tools for all. This advantage is obvious when developing applications and deploying Windows Server 2012 R2 on premises or off premises to Windows Azure. The Active Directory security model can work across sites, System Center can manage resources deployed off premises to Windows Azure, and Visual Studio can publish applications across platforms. Windows infrastructure architecture, security, and deployment models are all directly applicable.

Network Virtualization

Similar idea of Server Virtualization applies here. Network virtualization is the ability to run multiple networks on the same network device while each network runs transparently and in isolation, as if each network is the only network running and consuming the entire network hardware.

Conceptually since each network instance is running in isolation, one tenant’s 192.168.x network is not aware of another tenant’s and identical192.168.x network running with the same network device. Network virtualization provides the translation between physical network characteristics and the representation of and a resource identity in a virtualized network. Consequently, above the network virtualization layer, various tenants while running in isolation can have identical network configurations.

A great example of network virtualization is Windows Azure virtual networking. At any given time, there can be multiple Windows Azure subscribers all allocate the same 192.168.x address space and with identical subnet scheme, 192.168.1.x/16, for deploying VMs. Those VMs belongs to one subscriber will however not be aware of or visible to these deployed by others, despite the network configuration, IP scheme, and IP address assignments may all be identical. Network virtualization in Windows Azure isolate on subscriber from the others such that each subscriber operates as if the subscription is the only one employing 192.168.x address space.

Storage Virtualization

I believe this is where the next wave of drastic cost reduction of IT post server virtualization happens. Historically, storage has been a high cost item in IT budget in each and every aspects including hardware, software, staffing, maintenance, SLA, etc. Since the introduction of Windows Server 2012, there is a clear direction where storage virtualization is built into OS and becoming a commodity. New capabilities like Storage Pool, Hyper-V over SMB, Scale-Out Fire Share, etc. are now part of Windows Server OS and making storage virtualization part of server administration routines and easily manageable with tools and utilities like PowerShell familiar to many IT professionals.

The concept of storage virtualization remains consistent with the idea of logically separating a computing object from its hardware, in this case the storage capacity. Storage virtualization is the ability to integrate multiple and heterogeneous storage devices, aggregate the storage capacities, and present/manage as one logical storage device with a continuous storage space. JBOD is a technology to realize this concept.

Standardization, Automation, and Optimization

Each of the three resource pools has an abstraction to logically present itself with characteristics and work patterns. A compute pool is a collection of physical (virtualization and infrastructure) hosts and VMs. A virtualization host hosts VMs which run workloads deployed by service owners and consumed by authorized users. A network pool encompasses network resources including physical devices, logical switches, address spaces, and site configurations. Network virtualization as enabled/defined in configurations can identify and translate a logical/virtual IP address into a physical one, such that tenants with the same network hardware can implement identical network scheme without a concern. A storage pool is based on storage virtualization which is a concept of presenting an aggregated storage capacity as one continuous storage space as if provided from one logical storage device.

In other words, the three resource pools are wrapped with server virtualization, network virtualization, and storage virtualization, respectively. Each virtualization presents a set of methodologies on which work patterns are derived and common practices are developed. These virtualization layers provides opportunities to standardize, automate, and optimize deployments and considerably facilitates the adoption of cloud computing.

Standardization

Virtualizing resources decouples the dependency between instances and the underlying hardware. This offers an opportunity to simplify and standardize the logical representation of a resource. For instance, a VM is defined and deployed with a VM template which provides a level of consistency with a standardized configuration.

Automation

Once a VM characteristics are identified and standardized, we can now generate an instance by providing only instance-based information or that depending on run-time such as the VM machine name which must be validated at run-time to prevent duplicated names. This requirements for providing only minimal information at deployment can significantly simplify and streamline operations for automation. And with automation, resources can then be deployed, instantiated, relocated, taken off-line, brought back online, or removed rapidly and automatically based on set criteria. Standardization and automation are essential mechanisms so that workload can be scale on demand, i.e. become elastic.

Optimization

Standardization provides a set of common criteria. Automation executes operations based on set criteria with volumes, consistency, and expediency. With standardization and automation, instances can be instantiated with consistency, efficiency, and predictability. In other words, resources can be operated in bulk with consistency and predictability. The next logical step is then to optimize the usage based on SLA.

The presented progression are what resource pooling and virtualizations can provide and facilitate. These methodologies are now built into products and solutions. Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012 and later integrate server virtualization, network virtualization, and storage virtualization into one consistent solution platform with standardization, automation, and optimization for building and managing clouds.

Fabric

A significant abstraction in cloud computing this is. Fabric implies the accessibility and discoverability, and denotes the ability to discover, identify, and manage a resource. Conceptually fabric is an umbrella term encompassing all the underlying infrastructure supporting a cloud computing environment. At the same time, a fabric controller represents the system management solution which manages, i.e. owns, fabric.

In cloud architecture, fabric consists the three resource pools: compute, networks, and storage. Compute provides the computing capabilities, executes code, and runs instances. Networks glues the resources based on requirements. And storage is where VMs, configurations, data, and resources are kept. Fabric shields the physical complexities of the three resource pools presented with server virtualization, network virtualization, and storage virtualization. All operations are eventually directed by the fabric controller of a data center. Above fabric, there are logical views of consumable resources including VMs, virtual networks, and logical storage drives. By deploying VMs, configuring virtual networks, or acquire storage, a user consume resources. Under fabric, there are virtualization and infrastructure hosts, Active Directory, DNS, clusters, load balancers, address pools, network sites, library shares, storage arrays, topology, racks, cables, etc. all under the fabric controller’s command to collectively present and support fabric.

For a service provider, building a cloud computing environment is essentially to establish a fabric controller and construct fabric. Namely institute a comprehensive management solution, build the three resource pools, and integrate server virtualization, network virtualization, and storage virtualization to form fabric. Form a user’s point of view, how and where a resource is physically provided is not a concern, but the accessibility, readiness, scalability, and fulfillment of SLA are.

Cloud

This is a well-defined term and we should not be confused with it. (ref. NIST SP 800-145 and the 5-3-2 Principle of Cloud Computing) We need to be very clear on: what a cloud must exhibit (the five essential attributes), how to consume it (with SaaS, PaaS, or IaaS), and the model a service is deployed in (like private cloud, public cloud, and hybrid cloud). Cloud is a concept, a state, a set of capabilities such that a business can be delivered as a service, i.e. available on demand.

The architecture of a cloud computing environment is presented with three resource pools: compute, networks, and storage. Each is abstraction provided by a virtualization layer. Server virtualization presents a compute pool with VMs which supplies the computing, i.e. CPUs, power to execute code and run instances. Network virtualization offers a network pool and is the mechanism to allow multiple tenants with identical network configurations on the same virtualization hosts while connecting, segmenting, isolating network traffic with virtual NICs, logical switches, address space, network sites, IP pools, etc. Storage virtualization provide a logical storage device with the capacity appeared continuous and aggregated with a pool of storage devices behind the scene. The three resource pools together constitute the fabric (of a cloud) while the three virtualization layers collectively form the abstraction, such that despite the underlying physical infrastructure may be intricate, the user experience above fabric remains logical and consistent. Deploying a VM, configuring a virtual network, or acquiring storage is transparent with virtualization regardless where the VM actually resides, how the virtual network is physically wired, or what devices in the aggregate the requested storage is provided with.

Closing Thoughts

Cloud is a very consumer-focused approach. It is more about a customer’s ability and control based on SLA in getting resources when needed and with scale, and equally important releasing resources when no longer required. It is not about products and technologies. It is about servicing, consuming, and strengthening the bottom line.