VBCA: Big Risks, Big Rewards in the Cloud

“VBCA” (virtualization of business-critical applications) is an unlikely-looking initialism which a few companies and analysts want you to recognize. Start here:

EMC Corporation’s software subsidiary VMware brands VBCA most aggressively, with “VBCA Competency” an aspiration VMware frequently urges on channel partners as well as customers. VMware’s pitch is that VBCA not only is “an important step in your Journey to the Cloud“, but it intrinsically promotes Quality of Service (QoS), increases availability, and reduces time-to-market.

Nominal competitors Dell and Microsoft use much the same language in promotion of, for instance, their joint webcast “Virtualizing Business Critical Applications: Why, When, and How”.

At least three distinct ideas come together within VBCA:

  • virtualization and/or a move to cloud are desirable;
  • different applications benefit in different ways from virtualization; and
  • an identifiable body of technique applies to migration of many different programs, whatever benefits are anticipated.

Bernd Harzog, founder of APM Experts, has written repeatedly on VBCA, most recently in “Virtualized Business Critical Applications–In Your Private Cloud“. He accurately explains there,

The first generation of private cloud management software vendors focused primarily upon providing Infrastructure as a Service on an automated and on-demand basis. This was great for transient use cases and/or use cases that needed automated elasticity.

The analysis becomes different, though, when we turn to hosting “business-critical” applications, such as a financial system, enterprise-resource planning (ERP), customer-relations management (CRM), or so on. For these, the emphasis is much less on rapid configuration and dynamic range, and far more on availability, security, and QoS.

Experience with “first-generation” virtualization is an imperfect guide to what happens when organizations move enterprise-class applications into the cloud. Harzog emphasizes that only a sufficiently-sophisticated virtualization infrastructure, like that VMware offers, “… is fully capable of supporting heterogeneous enterprise class clouds.”

I’m not in a position to judge vSphere‘s adequacy for construction of enterprise-class private clouds, nor to compare it in such uses to competing products from Microsoft or other vendors. What I do know is that Harzog is absolutely on-target in his emphasis on careful analysis of real requirements. Just as with application performance management, the “APM” of Harzog’s company and the central topic of “IT Ops“, not everything should be virtualized or sent to the cloud. One decision does not fit all: organizations need to identify what they want from virtualization, and plan carefully how to achieve it.

Harzog himself outlined more of what goes into such a plan in his “vSphere 5–Virtualize Business Critical Applications with Confidence” from last summer. Among the high points there are a few more parallels with wise APM practice:

  • it’s useful to distinguish developer- or code-focused solutions which help identify problems in custom applications, from infrastructure- or ops-focused tools which examine end-to-end experience of all applications;
  • “Zero Config refers to the ability of the [tool] to work out of the box and discover up front and then continuously [monitor] what it needs to discover in order to work” effectively; and
  • other dimensions including “Deployment Method” and “Cloud Ready” shape analysis of APM just as much as they do virtualization management.

Next week I’ll return with more of the quantifiable details of the VBCA story. For now, keep in mind that VBCA is like APM in one more way: the true end of a move to the cloud is not so much simplification as management of complexity. There are few free lunches in the cloud or elsewhere. What’s possible, though, for those with discipline and insight, is a more nimble and manageable information technology (IT) infrastructure, one that more closely aligns with the larger goals of its organization.