Novell is so confident of the market for intelligent workload management that it is restructuring its business around the technology. But what exactly does it do and why is it needed, asks Linda Endersby
In December 2009, Novell announced a restructure of its business to facilitate its belief that intelligent workload management (IWM) will play a major role in its future.
IWM might be an unfamiliar term in the world of virtual enterprise management, but Novell believes it is a technology that will help to allay fears about the security of cloud
What is IWM?
A workload, in addition to being the total number of requests processed by an entire enterprise, has also come to mean a package of related transactions passing through the elements of a system to provide a business service to the customer.
Balancing these transactions or workloads across different storage, processing and other elements of a system is a well-known practice, with varying standards across different protocols.
So what distinguishes this solution? How do Novell and its competitors bring the intelligence to a management solution, which is being developed with specific attention to the cloud environments?
A workload and its environment become 'intelligent' by understanding the paths taken by transactions and processes. It understands security protocols and processing requirements, so it can decide where and how the work takes place. It understands capacity and therefore has the ability to optimise performance. It carries identity and access controls through the environment, while ensuring the customer experiences a seamless business service that uses all the distributed resources at its disposal.
Confidence in the cloud
According to Novell, "CIOs need a new approach to securely manage and move IT resources across all their computing environments. IWM addresses this need. It provides the tools to build, secure, manage and measure an integrated stack of application, middleware and operating system - a mix that constitutes modern workloads. These intelligent workloads incorporate security, identity awareness and demonstrable compliance and, because they are hardware and platform independent, are highly portable. IWM gives the confidence to leverage the cost and flexibility advantages offered by virtualisation and the cloud."
Novell seems keen to enhance a business process used for a number of years on single or clustered application servers by building specific variations for the wider variety of
virtual enterprises that the world is embracing in order to cut costs and improve service.
John Dragoon, chief marketing officer at Novell, explains that ensuring the challenges are met requires a broad IT ecosystem participation and co-operation. This is not unique to Novell, but the vendor is looking to lead the market by pulling together all the elements required to build the solution with integrated intelligent management, rather than layering existing workloads with elements of protection and governance.
He stresses that the company "believes in the powerful potential of intelligent workload management and that's why we are aligning our company around it".
"Making [modern workloads] intelligent, secure and portable will optimise the use of all enterprise IT resources, whether within or outside the firewall. Intelligent workloads are the new IT building blocks and they hold great promise in unlocking the powerful potential of the IT business models of today - and tomorrow," says Dragoon.
CEO Ron Hovsepian adds, "There were two motivations for looking at virtualisation and the cloud: minimising my costs as a CIO; and maximising my application and business flexibility.
"Cloud computing is a megatrend that matches the company's core competencies. There are going to be two major markets for cloud computing. First is one in which an application has already been written and the customer wants it to be hosted and managed within the cloud.
"The other is where brand new applications are being written or built for the cloud. This is the market that Google Apps and Microsoft's Windows Azure will target. We've developed our Suse appliance tool for application vendors targeting the second market. This product allows them to create a virtual appliance. They won't have to rewrite and retest the application once it is in the cloud and it allows firms to host their application on other clouds too."
Novell's website claims the vendor is the only one that can integrate security and compliance, business service management and IT service management using its current assets. The company plans to roll out eight new products this year to support the initiative.
Novell's approach is to "build, secure, manage and measure" the environment. For each of these stages, it enlists the help of the products on offer.
The build stage employs the Suse appliance program.
The secure stage lists the established security and identity offerings as well as the recently announced Novell Cloud Security Service.
Management provides the opportunity to simplify ongoing management of server workloads across the varied environment, with a mix of products, including the Platespin range.
Measure introduces Novell's suite of management and reporting tools, again incorporating Platespin.
Novell has signed several agreements with technical partners, supporting Dragoon's comments that this is not a uniquely Novell market, but that it is bringing together technologies to lead the developments in virtualisation workload management.
Last month, the vendor announced that the Ingres database will be available within Suse Studio as part of the Suse Appliance Program.
"We've long been believers in the value of software appliances and our early users reported dramatic reductions in effort and increases in speed to market," said Roger Burkhardt, CEO at Ingres. "We are pleased to be working with Novell as part of the SUSE Appliance Program to bring the benefits of software appliances to ISVs, along with our respective global support capabilities. Using SUSE Studio enabled us to quickly build the SUSE Studio Appliance template for Ingres database."
In February, Novell and Citrix Systems signed a partnership deal to push virtualisation interoperability forward for channel partners and cloud computing service providers.
"Our partnership with Citrix gives our many joint customers and partners a better way to manage their virtual infrastructures," said Joe Wagner, senior vice-president and general manager of global alliances at Novell. "We are providing a deeper and better integrated set of enterprise-class solutions that provide the tools to make intelligent decisions on datacentre virtualisation, and the world-class infrastructure to run high-performance virtual environments."
"Working with Novell to offer a best-of-breed, open approach to virtualisation and management provides customers with not only the best technology, but the greatest flexibility in running and managing virtual infrastructures, regardless of operating system," said N. Louis Shipley, group vice-president and general manager, XenServer Product Group at Citrix Systems. "Enabling the large Suse Linux Enterprise customer base to be certified on XenServer significantly furthers our efforts to deliver XenServer as the best and most cost-effective virtualisation platform."
In December 2009, Novell announced advancements in its joint development agreement with SAP. As part of the ongoing initiative, SAP has integrated Platespin Orchestrate, part of Novell's virtualisation and workload management suite, within the SAP Netweaver technology
SAP has also chosen Suse Linux Enterprise as the operating system for the latest version of the SAP Discovery system, available for the first time as a virtual appliance. According to SAP, these advances will enable customers to increase the manageability and portability of SAP applications and simplify the installation of SAP Discovery system, thereby reducing cost, complexity and risk.
These technical alliances demonstrate that cloud computing vendors and support organisations are keen to use the existing tools in Novell's portfolio to advance their own offerings and secure a stake in the emerging market.
Rajesh Gupta, associate vice-president at Infosys, says, "Enterprises worldwide are rapidly expanding their IT infrastructure to include private, public or hybrid clouds, which adds complexity and security challenges. Forward-thinking customers are addressing these challenges by leveraging the concepts of intelligent workload management to integrate identity and security into every aspect of their IT infrastructure during their journey to cloud computing.
"Infosys, in partnership with Novell under its go-to-market offerings, is proactively engaging customers to develop their own intelligent workload management strategies, which will help them to reduce cost, complexity and security risks in their IT operations."
Steve Osborn, service line manager for client technologies at Gen-I, highlights the compliance advantages: "Our customers are tasked with remaining compliant in an increasingly complex IT and regulatory environment. While many companies regard compliance as an obligation, we view it as an opportunity to create successful compliance outcomes for their business. With intelligent workload management, we can not only eliminate IT infrastructure silos that heighten risk, but also help our customers to achieve a competitive edge and drive revenue."
The largest IWM deal publicised so far this year is the agreement between the NHS and Novell to cover security and workload management for cloud applications. Under the deal, which is worth about £6m and will run for up to five years, Novell will provide the NHS with its Open Enterprise Server 2 and Storage and Access Manager. This will act as the operating system backbone to support more than 300,000 users.
Mark Ferrar, strategy director at the NHS, says that using an open source-based system "not only reduces costs, but will also underpin two key strategic initiatives for the NHS: reducing our environmental impact; and moving towards a cloud computing environment".
Analysts too are looking favourably at the initiative. Frank Gens, senior vice-president and chief analyst at IDC, says, "Organisations today are grappling with maximising their existing and legacy infrastructures, proving compliance and managing their identity framework, and they are dealing with this while shifting to newer computing models.
"These challenges have created the need for strategies to provide customers with greater levels of flexibility for securely administering resources, providing holistic views of business services and workloads in the datacentre, and maintaining security and compliance. Intelligent workload management is a tremendous market opportunity as it addresses customer demands to securely manage their IT assets and capitalise on virtualisation, cloud computing and pay-as-you-go consumption models."
Thomas Mendel, vice-president and research director at Forrester, concurs. "IWM is a big market opportunity. The technology answers customers' needs to manage and optimise IT resources across all physical, virtual and cloud environments."
He urges us to watch this space as Forrester introduces process and workload automation as a "particularly exciting new category" in its updated five-year software market outlook and forecast.
However, some analysts are more critical, saying that vendors are not allowing for the behaviour of applications within the enterprise, which will be a stumbling block for many customers. Only those applications built specifically for the cloud with the correct tools will contribute to and benefit from the intelligence within the workload.
Dan Woods of Evolved Technologist, speaking on Forbes.com, says, "The point I'm trying to make is not that the intelligent workload vision is not possible, but that it will have to be selectively pursued. The most valuable and important workloads may be worth all the effort required. The hard work of managing the complexity of application configuration has barely begun. Until some sort of breakthrough occurs - perhaps all applications will need to be rewritten for a cloud infrastructure - the expansion and benefits of virtualisation will have some hard limits."
Admittedly, Novell's Hovsepian did stress that the targeted market was those building applications specifically for the cloud, but this does mean that IWM and its equivalents as currently marketed do not answer the concerns of those investigating the migration of existing applications.
It appears that IWM in its holistic form, as marketed by Novell and in its tenets marketed by others, promises to answer some of the concerns over cloud computing. Although many companies are still marketing workload balancing in the traditional sense, without the identity, compliance and security built in, those offering to build and support virtual environments seem to be turning to the IWM way of thinking.
The Novell-sponsored website www.intelligentworkloadmanagement.com invites us to "come join the conversation about how intelligent workload management is making the world of enterprise computing more secure, compliant and portable". The conversation so far seems to be discussing this as a future technology. As Novell and its partners continue to collaborate and roll out products, clients will watch and wait for the excited anticipation of analysts and supporters to be converted into results.
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