Resource Pooling, Virtualization, Fabric, and Cloud

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 standardizing, automating, and optimizing 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 cloud computing methodologies are developed, products designed, and solution formulated.

Compute

This is a collection of all CPU-related capabilities. Essentially all datacenter physical sand virtual servers, either for supporting or actually running a workload, are all part of this compute pool. 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, segment, and isolate resources from layer 3 and below, etc. are gathered in the network pool. Networking enables resources becoming discoverable and hence possibly manageable. In this age of instant gratification, everything has to be readily available with a relatively short windows of opportunities. This is an economy driven by emotions and current events. The needs to be mobile and connected at the same time are redefining the IT security and system administration boundaries. Which plays a direct and impactful role in user productivity and customer satisfaction. Networking in cloud computing is more than just remote access, but an abstraction empowering thousands users to self-serve and consume resources anytime anywhere with any device. Bring your own device, bring your own network, and consumerization of IT are various expressions of the network and mobility requirements of cloud computing.

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 significant financial and technical commitments on specialized hardware, proprietary API and software, a dependency on direct vendor support, etc. In cloud computing, storage solutions are becoming very noticeable since the ability to grow and shrink resource capacities based on demands, i.e. elasticity, demands an enterprise-level, massive, reliable, and resilient storage solution at scale. While enterprise IT is consolidating resources and transforming existing establishments into a cloud computing environment, the ability to leverage existing storage solutions from various vendors and integrate them into an emerging cloud storage solution is a noticeable opportunity for minimizing the cost.

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 description means hosting multiple server instances with the same hardware while each instance runs transparently and in isolation, namely as if each consumes the entire hardware and is the only instance running. Now, with so many new technologies and solutions emerging, customers’ expectations and business requirements have been evolving. And 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 presented 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 as: 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 the abstraction layer 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 an employment to the decommissioning of server hardware can be 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 managing physical resources and another for working on those virtualized; one set of tools for on-premises deployment and another for those deployed to a service provider; one set of tools for infrastructure development and another for configuring applications. The essential goal is one skill set for all, namely one platform for all, one methodology for all, and one set of tools for all. This advantage is obvious when, for example, 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. IT pros can operate all based on Windows system administration skills. There is minimal operations training needed since all provides a consistent Windows user experience on a common platform and security model.

Network Virtualization

Similar idea of Server Virtualization applies here. Network virtualization is the ability to run multiple networks on the same network infrastructure 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 identical 192.168.x network running with the same network infrastructure. Network virtualization provides the translation between physical network characteristics and the representation of a logical network. Consequently, above the network virtualization layer, various tenants while running in isolation can have identical network configurations. This abstraction essentially substantiates the concept of bringing your own network.

A great example of network virtualization is Windows Azure virtual network. 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 belonging to one subscriber are however not aware of or visible to these deployed by others, despite the network configuration, IP scheme, and IP address assignments may be all identical. Network virtualization in Windows Azure isolates one subscriber from the others such that each subscriber operates as if the subscription account 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 becoming a commodity and an essential skill for IT pros since storage virtualization is now built into Windows OS. New capabilities like Storage Pool, Hyper-V over SMB, Scale-Out Fire Share, etc. are making storage virtualization part of server administration routines and easily manageable with tools and utilities like PowerShell which many IT professionals are familiar with.

The concept of storage virtualization remains consistent with the idea of logically separating a computing object from the hardware where it is running. 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. And it should be apparent that JBOD is a visualization of 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 hosts and VM instances. A virtualization host runs VMs which carry workloads deployed by service owners and consumed by authorized users. A network pool encompasses network resources including physical devices, logical switches, logical networks, address spaces, and site configurations. Network virtualization can map many identical logical/virtual IP addresses with the same physical NIC, such a service provider can host tenants implementing identical network scheme with the same network hardware 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. Together these three virtualization layers forms the cloud fabric which is presented as an architectural layer with opportunities to standardize, automate, and optimize deployments without the needs to know the physical complexities.

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 with configurations, we can now generate an instance by providing only instance-based information such as the VM machine name which must be validated at deployment time to prevent duplicated names. With a deployment template, only minimal information at deployment time us needed. Which can significantly simplify the process and facilitate automation. Standardization and automation are essential mechanisms so that a workload can scale on demand, i.e. become elastic, once a threshold is specified from a system management perspective.

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 and predictability. In other words, cloud resources can be operated in bulk with consistency and predictability by standardizing configurations and automate operations. The next logical step is then to optimize the usage based on SLA.

Optimization is essentially standardization and automation with intelligence and objectives. The intelligence is why we need to have analytics designed into a cloud solution. With self-servicing, ubiquitous access, and elasticity, technically a cloud resource can be consumed anytime, by any number of users, and with capacities changed on demand. We will need a mechanism to provide us insights of the usage including when it is used, by whom, how much, to what degree, etc. A consumption-based chargeback or show-back model is what the analytics must provide so system management can optimize resources accordingly and timely.

Integrating resource pooling and virtualization concepts into OS has happened since Windows Server 2012 R2 and System Center 2012. Server virtualization, network virtualization, and storage virtualization are now integrated into Windows platform and part of the Server OS.

Fabric

A significant abstraction in cloud computing this is. Fabric implies the discoverability and manageability. Which denotes the ability to discover, identify, and manage a datacenter resource. Conceptually fabric is an umbrella term encompassing all the datacenter physical and virtualized resources 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, networking, and storage. Compute provides the computing capabilities, executes code, and runs instances. Networking glues the resources based on requirements. And storage is where VMs, configurations, data, and resources are kept. Fabric shields a user from the physical complexities of the three resource pools. All operations are eventually managed by the fabric controller of a datacenter. 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 consumes 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 form the 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 located is not a concern. The user experience and satisfaction are much based on the accessibility, readiness, and scalability of requested resources and fulfillment of SLA.

Cloud

This is a well-defined term by 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 the capacity of a requested resource 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 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 provides a logical storage device with the capacity appearing continuous by aggregating the capacity of a pool of storage devices behind the scene. The three resource pools together form an abstraction, namely fabric, such that despite the underlying physical infrastructure may be intricate, the user experience above fabric is presented with a logical and consistent fashion. 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 are included in the aggregate the requested storage.

Closing Thoughts

Cloud is an all consumer-focused approach. It is about enabling a customer to consume resources on demand and with scale. And perhaps more significant than the need to increase capacity on demand is the ability to release resources when no longer required. Cloud is not about products and technologies. Cloud is about standardizing, automating, and optimizing the consumption of resources and ultimately strengthening the bottom line.

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