The active ingredient in any cloud infrastructure is virtualisation. It is the abstraction of systems from the hardware on which they operate and the automation this allows that give cloud architecture its defining characteristic: the ability to scale those systems up and down according to demand.
The best-known way to achieve this abstraction is through a hypervisor, a thin sliver of software that fits in between a device and its operating system. But this is not the only way, and systems integrator and managed services provider Logicalis is taking a different approach in its newly launched hosted cloud computing service.
The service, hosted in a purpose-built data centre in Slough, is based on Cisco’s Unified Computing System, a server platform launched by the networking giant last year. One feature of UCS, which Logicalis UK’s chief technology officer Simon Daykin describes as a “hidden little gem”, is something called a service profile.
This profile describes in detail all the components of a given service, be it an application, a web service or any other unit of functionality. “It is a definition of everything that is unique about that service, right down to the hardware profile of the server, but abstracted into software,” explains Daykin.
This service profile can be cloned and replicated, thereby bringing some of the functionality of a virtualised environment without the need for a hypervisor. Daykin says that it can therefore bring workloads unsuitable for virtualisation into its hosted cloud environment. “Fundamentally, you cannot virtualise everything with a hypervisor,” he says. “In most data centres, somewhere between 40% and 80% of resources are virtualisable.”
The service profile feature also means that any service running on a UCS machine can be copied across to another UCS machine within minutes, Daykin explains. That is the basis for what Logicalis calls its ‘cooperative cloud’ offering, one of a number of deployment options, whereby an organisation runs UCS in its own data centre but can port a given service across to Logicalis’s Slough data centre when demand calls for extra capacity.
“We can size your onsite cloud for you based on your known capacity, and as your environment grows, you can grow into our hosted cloud while still sweating the on-site assets,” Daykin explains. Moving a service between clouds takes about three to four minutes, he says, even for such heavy workloads as enterprise applications.
Of course, that requires a customer to standardise on UCS, and the NetApp storage and CA Technologies orchestration software that complete the offering, in its own data centre. “We do mandate these platforms,” confirms Daykin.
One commonly cited benefit of hosted or public cloud computing services is that they can scale down as well as up. This means that the customer can provision systems to satisfy temporary demand without investing capital into capacity that is not needed most of the time.
This is not, however, a benefit on which Logicalis sells its cloud offering. “We can offer customers both [scale] up and [scale] down pricing models, but down models come at a greater cost.”
Instead, the company is seeking longer-term engagements. “We do not accept orders for our cloud service with a credit card over the Internet,” explains Daykin. “We operate on a contracted model.”
Some may question whether this qualifies the service as a true cloud offering, but that is not to say that it won’t have an audience. Daykin argues that Logicalis’s managed service approach to cloud appeals to enterprise customers more than what he sees as anonymous and opaque public cloud offerings.
“A lot of the large cloud providers have these big monolithic data centres, and if you ask them what kit they are running inside, they probably won’t tell you,” he says. “Our new data centre in Slough is open to customers, so if they want to come and see how it works we will show them, and point them to the disks that contain their data.
“This gives enterprise organisations the confidence that they could put a mission-critical business service into a hosted cloud,” he claims.