Cloud

A closer look at the new Intel Cloud Technology program

Above: Intel's Xeon chips will power some of its Intel Cloud Technology

Launched in 1991, Intel’s “Intel Inside” marketing slogan and accompanying advertising campaign has been famously successful. The campaign, launched two years after the introduction of the company’s 486 processor, made the company — once known only to engineers and scientists — a household name and, in the process, helped stave off commoditization by rival chipmakers, namely AMD.

This morning Intel revealed its “Intel Inside” for the cloud computing era, a new “Powered by Intel Cloud Technology” badge and the associated Intel Cloud Technology Program, designed for Cloud Service Providers (CSPs). The company also announced the initial crop of 16 CSPs to participate in the program and the Intel Cloud Finder, a portal targeted at helping end-users find cloud services built on Intel technologies.

The new program extends an alliance between the company and Amazon Web Services launched at the Intel Developer Forum in September last year. Through this collaboration, AWS began displaying processor details for its various instance types alongside the Intel Inside logo.

Tech Inside

Due to the virtualized nature of cloud environments, it is often said in the community that hardware doesn’t, or at least shouldn’t, matter. As was commented in September, Intel’s desire to extend Intel Inside to the cloud is an attempt to assert the importance of its processor hardware to cloud providers and users. This should surprise no one.

What may surprise the true hardware agnostics is that there’s a bit of technical meat on this marketing bone. Intel is working with CSPs to help them take advantage of processor capabilities in three key areas:

* Performance. Intel is offering CSPs help in optimizing the performance and density of their cloud environments, taking advantage of their latest and greatest chips, of course. In addition, the company claims that higher performing chips result in significant savings to the customer, citing a case study wherein Novartis saved up to 65% in computing costs by choosing to base cloud instances on a high performance processor.

* Security. The company is working with CSPs to integrate its latest security technologies into cloud environments. Virtustream, for example, supports Intel’s Trusted Execution Technology (TXT) in its cloud, protecting customers from attacks aimed at the hypervisor and BIOS, firmware, and other pre-launch software components. (Disclosure: Virtustream is a client of my firm.)

* Workload Optimization. Intel is further supporting CSPs in developing and delivering architectures customized to meet the needs of specific workloads. Virtustream again is an example, having recently launched a “Big Data as a Service” offering in partnership with Intel, the latter supplying not only hardware expertise but also its Intel Distribution for Apache Hadoop software.

Initial Partners

Intel’s list of initial launch partners is interesting in that it spans a broad cross-section of the CSP market, with AWS and OVH representing large commodity-oriented providers, companies like Rackspace representing the mid-tier, and firms like Virtustream and Savvis representing high-end enterprise-oriented offerings.

The company is mum on specific results of its partnership with AWS, but is quick point back to the Novartis example to illustrate the potential benefit to end-user customers.

Cloud Dating?

When I first heard about the Intel Cloud Finder feature, I was expecting to find at that site a glorified list of providers, perhaps searchable by geography and a few other profile criteria. In fact, Intel Cloud Finder brings more to the table than that. Today, it allows customers to identify suitable cloud providers by rating the importance of over 80 criteria in categories such as security, usability, quality, availability, technology, and business. Perhaps what we’re looking at is the beginnings of a Match.com for cloud computing users and providers.

End-User Impact

While this is clearly a strong, and perhaps necessary, move for Intel, it is perhaps a bit of a mixed bag for end-users. One the one hand, the program promotes transparency, and we are clearly seeing that enterprise customers value transparency in the cloud. Likewise for performance and security.

On the other hand, though, the notion that hardware doesn’t matter is a powerful one for customers, and it is not a vision they should let go of easily. Enterprises taking advantage of Intel proprietary features risk getting locked in (though the Cloud Finder helps mitigate this, at least at the cloud level), and these risks should be considered alongside the benefits they accompany.

Sam CharringtonSam Charrington is an analyst, advisor, consultant, and the principal of CloudPulse Strategies. He has been speaking and writing about cloud since “the beginning” as an industry advocate and insider. In 2008, he cofounded CloudCamp, a global series of “unconferences” where early adopters of Cloud Computing technologies exchange ideas. Sam can be found on Twitter at @samcharrington.