Thanks to a tweet from @Archimedius, I found an insightful blog post from cloud computing provider startup Kaavo that essentially makes the case for a move to application-centric management rather than the traditional infrastructure-centric systems on which we've always relied.

We need to have an application centric approach for deploying, managing, and monitoring applications.  A software which can provisions optimal virtual servers, network, storage (storage, CPU, bandwidth, Memory, alt.) resources on-demand and provide automation and ease of use to application owners to easily and securely run and maintain their applications will be critical for the success of virtualization and cloud computing.  In short we need to start managing distributed systems for specific applications rather than managing servers and routers. [emphasis added]

This is such a simple statement that gets right to the heart of the problem: when applications are decoupled from the servers on which they are deployed and the network infrastructure that supports and delivers them, they cannot be effectively managed unless they are recognized as individual components themselves.

Traditional infrastructure and its associated management intrinsically ties applications to servers and servers to IP addresses and IP addresses to switches and routers. This is a tightly coupled model that leaves very little room to address the dynamic nature of a virtual infrastructure such as those most often seen in cloud computing models.

We've watched as SOA was rapidly adopted and organizations realized the benefits of a loosely coupled application architecture. We've watched the explosion of virtualization and the excitement of de-coupling applications from their underlying server infrastructure. But in the network infrastructure space, we still see applications tied to servers tied to IP addresses tied to switches and routers.

That model is broken in a virtual, dynamic infrastructure because applications are no longer bound to servers or IP addresses. They can be anywhere at any time, and infrastructure and management systems that insist on binding the two together are simply going to impede progress and make managing that virtual infrastructure even more painful.

It's all about the application. Finally.

And that's what makes application delivery focused solutions so important to both virtualization and cloud computing models in which virtualization plays a large enabling role. Because virtualization and cloud computing, like application delivery solution providers, is application-centric. Because these solutions are, and have been for years, focused on application awareness and on the ability of the infrastructure solutions to be adaptable; to be agile. Because they have long since moved beyond simple load balancing and into application delivery, where the application is what is delivered, not bits, bytes, and packets.

Because application delivery controllers are more platforms than they are devices; they are programmable, adaptable, and internally focused on application delivery, scalability, and security.They are capable of dealing with the demands that a virtualized application infrastructure places on the entire delivery infrastructure. Where simple load balancing fails to adapt dynamically to the ever changing internal network of applications both virtual and non-virtual, application delivery excels.

It is capable of monitoring, intelligently, the availability of applications not only in terms of whether it is up or down, but where it currently resides within the data center. Application delivery solutions are loosely coupled, and like SOA-based solutions they rely on real-time information about infrastructure and applications to determine how best to distribute requests, whether that's within the confines of a single data center or fifteen data centers.

Application delivery controllers focus on distributing requests to applications, not servers or IP addresses, and they are capable of optimizing and securing both requests and responses based on the application as well as the network.

They are the solution that bridges the gap that lies between applications and network infrastructure, and enables the agility necessary to build a scalable, dynamic delivery system suitable for virtualization and cloud computing.

There's still work to be done, but for many vendors, at least, the framework already exists for managing the complexity of a dynamic, virtual environment.

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