Cloud In 2015: Year Of Shake-up, Consolidation, Advance

Cloud computing showed a rapidly changing face in 2015 as many vendors altered their strategies to deal with Amazon's clear dominance. Check out these seven gains and three setbacks that prove how volatile the cloud was over the past year.

Further gain: Containers can be wrapped in a slenderized virtual machine that further isolates them from harm or interference. Intel demonstrated Clear Containers, a container with a KVM virtual machine wrapper that retained most of the advantages of a container, at the OpenStack Summit in Vancouver last May.

On Nov. 16, VMware announced that its Photon Controller, a distributor of services to containers, would get an ESX virtual machine microvisor wrapper. The microvisor limits access to the package through a gateway that consists of 30 hypervisor commands. Without the microvisor, the container's contents are accessible through the 392 commands of the Linux Syscall interface, a much broader attack surface.

At the start of 2015 there was no unanimity on what were the necessary elements of a container format. Docker had its own as a de facto standard. CoreOS had proposed a variation as a public standard. Cloud Foundry was committed to a more elemental, general-purpose "Garden" approach than either.

On the eve of DockerCon in late June, the contending parties got behind CoreOS's proposed Application Container specification, which became the centerpiece of the Open Container Initiative under the auspices of the Linux Foundation. The effort bears watching, but hopefully a shared format and specified runtime will be common to all systems in 2016.

Gain? Maybe. As fallout from the consolidation of the cloud market in 2015, many well-established, big technology companies that didn't yet have a direct stake in the cloud cast about for what to do. Cisco had already tried to gain a foothold in a general-purpose cloud market with its own distribution of OpenStack. IBM backed both Cloud Foundry PaaS and OpenStack, and acquired cloud supplier SoftLayer.

Vertical technology stacks kept getting deeper: The VMware data center virtualization was supplemented by its public vCloud Air. Amazon has its own software stack on cloud hardware increasingly built from customized Intel chips. Oracle software is often found now in hardware-based combinations. IBM can combine its software and tools with SoftLayer/Bluemix cloud centers.

These cloud-oriented stacks have left other technology vendors wondering what their future will be without a cloud component. That might explain the combination of Dell, EMC, and VMware, announced Oct. 12 in a $67 billion deal. The new grouping will focus on using EMC's acquisition of Virtustream as its cloud component. 

Virtustream, founded in 2009, has the ability to run both VMware's ESX and OpenStack's KVM workloads, giving it potentially wide appeal to enterprise hybrid cloud users. But will that be enough? What does it take to survive as a technology company in the emerging cloud era? It's too soon to say, but this merger shows what lengths traditional vendors are willing to go to avoid being left out.

Gain: The Internet of Things gets real. At GE's Minds and Machines conference in San Francisco in September, the company said it would make its Predix analytics platform for machine data generally available by the end of the year. GE sees a coming era when physical assets will be managed through their streams of data and the analytics applied to them, rather than through technicians and field repair units fixing them when they break down.

"Machine learning," or understanding the output captured in streams of machine data, became the catchword of the year. Amazon, Microsoft, and IBM each offered better ways to capture machine data in their clouds and apply machine learning to it.

IBM built an engine to run machine-learning algorithms, SystemML, to inject into the Spark analytics platform, a project in which it has invested heavily. Spark has its own MLib library of machine algorithms, but it needed a shared engine on which to run.

The IoT is still a confused picture of multiple and sometimes competing standards when it comes to collecting and handling data. But it's still young, and we may gain some new perspectives in 2016.

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