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The Age of Abstraction in the Cloud Computing Era

We live in interesting times when it comes to technology. That much is certain. Interesting times because so much change is being introduced to the traditional way we did computing. Virtualization revolutionized the way we do computing, and changed it forever and for better.

The most important thing that virtualization introduces is the abstraction layer. Some of you may not have thought about this profoundly, but there are several layers of abstraction, some we have already achieved and some we hope to achieve in the future. The different abstraction layers are the fundamental building blocks of what we call "cloud computing."

So what are the different layers of abstraction? Here, I have listed some:

Abstraction of hardware from software This type of abstraction is commonly known as the hypervisor and serves as an intermediary layer between hardware and the software that installs immediately on it. This type of abstraction layer is available for servers and desktops.

Abstraction of applications from operating systems This type of abstraction is more commonly known as application virtualization and occurs anytime you are able to run an application on an operating system without actually having to install it on that operating system, or have it modify that operating system in any way -- it is simply layered on top of it.

Abstraction of user workspace This is more commonly known as user workspace virtualization. In earlier days it was known as profile management. The technology and software vendors have advanced so much that it would not be fair to just label them profile managers, since the technology does so much more. With user workspace virtualization, you abstract the user settings, files and preferences from the reliance on the local operating system by virtualizing them and making them available to the user regardless of device or access method. The user consistently gets the same user experience.

Abstraction of network This is commonly known as virtual networking, which allows virtual machines to connect to virtual networks. VMs are completely abtracted from the physical network while providing seamless integration.

I/O abstraction One of my favorite topics in the IT world today is the abstraction of I/O, more commonly known as I/O virtualization or converged networking. The idea behind I/O virtualization is to standardize the transport mechanism and eliminate moving parts.

For example, if you use an Infiniband card or a 10GE card, you are capable of transporting regular Ethernet traffic, 10GE, Fiber Channel Traffic and with some technologies, even FCoE traffic. Furthermore, based on the technology you deploy, you can take this farther by carving out virtual cards that take advantage of the same transport. If you place an InfiniBand card in your server that has a 20GB connection back to the top of rack switch, you can then carve out this 20GB of bandwidth into 3x1GB Ethernet, 1x10GE etc., without changing the cabling or the card in the server. When new technology comes out tomorrow, it can easily be added to the top of rack switch and transported using the same cable. Yes, it's future-proof.

Abstraction of storage This type of abstraction is interesting and depending on who you ask, you will get a different answer. Certainly, technologies are out there that can do storage virtualization in the form of abstracting different storage platforms behind a single array and managing it that way. But the abstraction I am looking for is one that eliminates the need for LUNs, for RAID, and is true storage virtualization, where things like VMware datastores are not reliant on an underlying LUN for instance, where a VM is not tied to a LUN, etc. While this form of abstraction is not here yet, it is within reach and a matter of time.

All these abstraction layers independently are great technologies. Collectively, they're the foundation for cloud computing. Some of these technologies have existed for a while, others are new and a few are yet to be developed, but one thing is for certain: We live in the age of abstraction.

What do you think? Have I missed an abstraction layer?

Posted by Elias Khnaser on 04/19/2011 at 12:49 PM


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