In spite of the absence of a rock-solid definition of cloud computing, there are three key technology elements of any internal cloud computing initiative, according to Andrew Greenway, a senior executive who leads Accenture's cloud computing program: virtualization, provisioning and charge-backs.
Virtualization (most often provided by Palo Alto, Calif.-based VMware these days) provides the abstraction of hardware from software so that servers, operating systems and processors can serve many users. This is what enables the flexibility of a cloud, allowing IT to carve up its server and storage resources in different ways, Greenway explains.
Provisioning or task automation software provides for the automatic provisioning of resources -- for instance, if a quant needs to hop onto a high-performance computer for a few hours to perform simulations, a provisioning solution would assign him a section of a server or a group of servers for that time. Greenway reports that banks are turning to traditional data center vendors, such as EMC, CA and HP, for this cloud-facilitating software. According to Greenway, one bank provides a front-end portal through which users can easily request the IT resources they need (i.e., CPU speed and storage capacity), and an automation engine builds that custom environment.
Another critical element of clouds is the ability to meter who's using what and then charge the business units for what they actually use, rather than assigning them blocks of servers and software licenses, Greenway adds. Houston-based BMC is one vendor that offers cloud tracking and billing software.