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Scenarios for Cloud Computing

June 13, 2011

Cloud technology holds the promise of delivering IT services flexibly and efficiently and billed per use much like a utility. This implies quicker and easier access to infrastructure and applications for end users in a wide range of public and private enterprises. In uncertain times this rapid adaptability may be of critical importance to the stability and success of many.

In a nutshell
The key to Cloud is the move to virtual machines rather than dedicated machines. That is where the bulk of savings can be realised. A virtualised environment makes more efficient use of the hardware estate. Cloud technology then simplifies or even automates the deployment, release and redeployment of virtual servers and related resources.

This means that resource wastage through idle processors or empty storage is minimised and machines can be deployed into service in hours and minutes rather than days and weeks. Moreover as the technology matures it offers the opportunity to “mix and match” in house facilities with outsourced resources conveniently and reliably. The efficiency potential also aligns with a “Green” or energy cost saving agenda.

Types of cloud
Cloud may be used in four main ways: Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS),Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) and Tiered Storage. Lets think about them in increasing levels of services offered.

1.Tiered storage:
This is a good option for very big suppliers who can achieve economies of scale that a normal enterprise couldn’t and it’s a bit like the “Iron Mountain” model in which archived files are stored off site. Unfortunately Iron Mountain tried to do this and learned the hard way that it isn’t necessarily straightforward to implement and make financially viable. The idea is that data eventually becomes record-based and finally archive and as it passes through those phases it goes from high performance high availability storage to low performance cheap but less accessible storage. Investing in the infrastructure to handle less accessible storage is only economical on a very large scale and Cloud creates an opportunity to integrate it effectively with enterprise systems.

2. IaaS
This is the most common manifestation of cloud. For this you buy virtual machines and storage and put your own instances of file management and operating system on them. This can be beneficial to organisations with a peaky workload where a hybrid cloud model works. In this case the core infrastructure is dedicated to the customer (and may even be owned by him and on his premises) and “bursts” out into the wider cloud when capacity demand exceeds the core capability. It’s also good for business continuity.

3. PaaS
In many ways, this is a niche offering that depends on a virtual server infrastructure both technically and economically. In this context you buy an instance of an operating system and a file system/database and use it to support an application. Typical customers would be start ups with limited capital and little knowledge of the take up of their product ,so a need for rapid deployment of capacity on demand and few resources for systems administration. Others might be enterprise IT departments needing a development or transition environment to support a system change. It’s hard to make this work economically for a long term commitment.

4. SaaS
This is simply application hosting and unlike other aspects of cloud doesn’t necessarily imply a virtual server infrastructure underneath. Salesforce.com was the pioneer of this model on a large scale. Almost all major and minor application providers will need to move in this direction to maintain revenues as the traditional client server model tied to a licensed desktop or laptop computer is becoming unacceptable to users. Users want to be able access applications from anywhere using a browser and Ipad etc . They also want to be able to pick from a menu of commercial terms either contract or PAYG much like mobile phones and entertainment packages.

Hurdles to adoption
Behind all of these is the crucial issue of trust, people won’t outsource or go to Cloud unless they can trust the supplier. In an immature market there is naivety amongst early adopters and risks taken that won’t be taken later. For instance, Amazon’s recent failure showed that not all customers had been able (or had even chosen) to use Amazon’s infrastructure in ways that made their applications resilient. And there is conflict between European law under which “Safe Harbour” meets EU data protection laws and standards, and the US Patriot Act which gives the US government access to data on demand.

Supplier and user scenarios
The big opportunity or threat for software suppliers is the move to move to SaaS. The massive investment in Microsoft Azure which implements PaaS shows that this isn’t a simple step for a traditional software supplier and begs thequestion of how data centre capacity will be acquired, how products and services should be marketed effectively and what terms and conditions and financial/pricing models will work. It is also possible to see a half way house where large scale users run SaaS in house on a “private cloud”.

Network bandwidth is a critical issue for some applications of Cloud and ways to get the user interface and data management to cope with a wide range of network infrastructure has to be considered, raising the possibility of “lite” interfaces as well as fully featured ones.

The sort of scenarios talked about so far are in many ways analogous to time sharing bureaus on mainframes in the 1970s but I think we need to try to move beyond that and look at the integration of rich content and applications within a fully integrated Cloud based supply chain “community”.

There are huge implications for enterprise IT users, software suppliers and potential or existing cloud service suppliers.

Scenario planning provides the means to help plan in an uncertain world, so it’s time to start developing some scenarios I think!

SAMI is hosting a workshop to develop scenarios for cloud computing, to help IT departments steer their way through this maze. It is to be held at the IT Livery Hall on Tuesday 26th July, from 1pm to 5pm, and a charge of £35 will be made to cover costs.

To register, please email john.milner@samiconsulting.co.uk.

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