Yesterday, during their rollout conference for WebLogic Server 12c, engineers from Oracle introduced developers to a concept they called Virtual Assembly Builder. Their idea was this: When you take a Java application, with all its myriad underpinnings and dependencies, and move it into a virtualized environment such as a cloud, certain libraries that the app needed when running on a physical server will need to be substituted with VM-aware components for optimum performance. The philosophy there is, you want the virtual machine to closely approximate the characteristics of the physical one, including how it works and how it's managed.

When I ran that concept past a pair of VMware marketing managers this afternoon, they could not have disagreed any more pointedly with Oracle's basic philosophy. During a demonstration of VMware technologies including vFabric, they explained why products like AppInsight, released last month, present a more simplified dashboard for administrators of applications deployed through cloud-based IaaS services.

"We're currently seeing this bifurcation between what we call cloud providers and cloud consumers," begins Steve Henning, VMware's head of applications product marketing. "You can think of the cloud providers as the traditional infrastructure operations teams, managing the deployment and performance of infrastructure forever." Organizations have become accustomed to using these teams for managing applications in terms of the resources they consume within their physical data center infrastructure, he says.

Just the facts, ma'am

Translating that context into the cloud, he argues, doesn't make sense. Public cloud infrastructure managers should have their own tools (he suggests vSphere Operations Manager) for managing resources on their own behalf. The only information the owner of an application should require is not how the components of the cloud are performing, asserts VMware, but rather how the application is performing.

"The cloud gives the opportunity to be able to empower applications owners to be able to manage applications at the business level, independently of the underlying infrastructure," the product manager goes on. "What we're trying to do is bring together a set of tools that can allow the application owners to be able to efficiently and effectively deploy their applications, [and] manage their performance in a closed-loop way that's independent of the infrastructure."

Companies that are customers of public clouds are expecting service levels that approximate the numbers hammered out in their SLAs, or the tiers that providers often "color" with bronze, silver, and gold. So VMware says, these customers need their IaaS-based apps to report those numbers in the same formats. Performance problems within an application can be rendered in the context of such a report, so that customers can address those problems to the extent that they can: for instance, by adding storage capacity, compute power, or memory.

Maintaining the abstraction

A forthcoming version of vCenter Operations Manager, Henning tells us, will give cloud infrastructure managers an application-centric view of performance, alongside its existing VM-centric view. That way, application performance teams (should IaaS providers have them) may be dispatched to address issues at the applications level, on behalf of their customers. This has been a highly requested feature.

"If I'm an applications owner, and I'm deploying on a public cloud, why would I want to manage the performance of the infrastructure that is being given to me by that provider?" asks Henning. "I am expecting a level of service from them, and I should be able to get a measurement of that service, but I'm certainly not going to sit there and try to diagnose infrastructure problems. If I'm not getting the level of service that I'm expecting, I'll go to somebody else who can provide me that level of service."

By contrast, an application owner wants to see data points like: the relative speed of transactions, the throughput level of middleware, the operations per second for specific segments of Java or other code. "These are things that I can manage myself, independently of the infrastructure. And as long as I'm getting the green light that it's performing well, I don't need to manage the CPU and utilization on a platform I don't even own."

"A company that comes with an approach that cloud and/or virtualization is another layer, is actually missing the ability to unlock the value that cloud computing brings," adds Shahar Erez, VMware's group product manager for data center intelligence. "Cloud computing is all about abstracting the layers that you don't need to understand in order to achieve productivity and agility in the layers you own... Not knowing allows me to focus on providing more business value in the layer that I can make impact on."

Shifting abstraction from people to services

Erez gave us an example of an IaaS customer who complained that whenever he needs to scale his Web site, he has to place a request of the IaaS provider's infrastructure team, which winds its way through the help desk, and eventually acquires the necessary approval to provision a new VM with a new deployment of Apache Tomcat. The whole process could take a full three weeks. That's not the fault of cloud architecture, though; with the right tools and with less arbitrary bureaucracy, the provisioning process could instead take minutes.

How does the owner of the application know for certain that the service level reported by his IaaS provider is accurate, and not just some Perl script with a green light on it? VMware's Henning tells us that the app owner's vFabric tools will be able to spot performance problems wherever they are, and identify independently (not just through some certificate from the service provider) whether the problem is addressable on his end. "If it's not, but these guys are tellin' me I've got a green light, I'm gonna go move somewhere else. I'm not going to deploy agents with my application that are going to measure the performance of the infrastructure. If you tell me it's green, and it's really red based on everything I can see in my application performance management suite, that's looking at it at the business level, I'll go somewhere else."