Wednesday, April 8, 2009

The future of IT Infrastructure – The “Cloud”

Hey everybody,
This is something that has been building for some time, and I’m now so excited about the possibilities I couldn’t help putting pen to paper (well you know what I mean).

A while back, I
tweeted that 4 in 5 Australian companies have no plans to use cloud computing in the next 12 months, and that a large percentage are confused by the terms “cloud” and “SaaS”.

In my opinion, I believe this is because the vast majority of business executives do not fully understand these technologies, and there is no clear linkage as to what the technology can do for their business.

So – First off – Let me try and explain what both “Cloud” and “SaaS” mean, and then we can get into why I am so excited about them.

What is a Cloud?
Going back in time perhaps 5 years ago or more, network design (or topology) maps always (and still do) include the internet. As a part of these maps, the internet was always represented by a fuzzy cloud. This was represented like this because network designers do not need to know how the internet is built (in theory it is somebody else’s problem). As long as your ISP provides appropriate SLA’s it really doesn’t matter which path the data goes to get to its destination (as long as it gets there reliably and in an acceptable timeframe). A simple network
design would look like this:

Cloud Computing is exactly the same as the Cloud on a network topology map. You need to know that it is there, but you don’t need to know the nitty-gritty of how it works or physical infrastructure it is run on. A Cloud is a utility which can be turned on or off, and capacity can be increased or decreased as necessary.

YouTube is a very basic example of Cloud Computing – You can upload and stream videos in a shared web environment. You don’t need to know how the back-end works other than it just works.

What is SaaS?
Software as a Service (SaaS) is a form of a Cloud, but as the name implies, software is delivered as a service. The most common SaaS service available at the moment is the
Google Docs applications. SaaS applications are typically a pay per use item with either a once off charge or subscription based service.

So I hear you ask, what can Cloud Computing be used for? The answer is it can be used for almost anything (and this is where I start getting excited), and is probably one of the reasons so many are confused.

Microsoft’s Azure Services Platform (which is still in Beta) lets you host anything from a basic website right through to hosting a corporate database or email server.

RackSpace has similar technologies, as does Google and Amazon. You could even rent your own Virtual Server.

The beauty of these services is that anybody can use a Cloud (depending what you want out of it), and it also means because it’s hosted that there is no capital expenditure or investment in the infrastructure to run the service. All it would cost is a subscription rate where one can increase or decrease the capacity of the service on the fly. It’s that simple. Depending on standards (more on this below) organizations will be able to take their cloud service and swap providers, just like any other utility (power, gas, cable TV and cell phones as examples).

Now for the more technically savvy people – Read on

I attended the
Cisco Technology Solutions road-show last week – What got me really excited was the fact that as a Cloud provider you could purchase your own cloud directly from Cisco (all of the infrastructure required is in the kit) in the form of the Unified Computing System.

But one of the sessions literally had me on the edge of my seat ready to shout out – Imagine if you are a large company and host a cloud service using VMWare or Hyper-V. You probably know about
VMotion and Live Migration where a virtual server will move between physical hosts on the fly, but now add in the possibility of being able to VMotion or Live Migrate one or more virtual servers over to a physically different Data Center live. WOW. Now that’s a true Cloud Computing environment.

Cloud Computing interoperability will start to become an issue – Customers will start demanding ways of taking their ‘cloud’ service from one provider to another with minimal effort, which will mean the industry will need a standard or set of standards to abide by. There is currently only one emerging standard, called the
Open Cloud Manifesto (backed by IBM, Sun, VMWare, Cisco, EMC and a plethora of other vendors), however industry giant Microsoft was not involved in the process of designing the standard.

This is a technology which will change the total IT landscape in the years to come. Small to mid size businesses (even large corporations) will not need the investment in IT infrastructure like they do now, instead using Cloud services to provide for the business. We need 100% total agreement between all of the major vendors and industry bodies for this technology to be successful. If the technology is not represented by a single standard then the ‘best foot’ will not be coming forward to the consumers, and the technology will not be seen favorably and flop.

As you can tell – I am literally sitting on the edge of my seat waiting to see how the Cloud develops and transforms over the next year or so. I really believe that this could be the future for technology and am excited to see what develops.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be blogging about the specifics of Cloud Computing, including more details of why you may want to use a cloud service for your business and what you need to look out for coupled with the flip side of what is required to actually host and run a cloud service as a service provider.

Hope you are all well.

Phil P

1 comment:

capriciouscapricorn said...

Hey..Nice article. I was wondering if you had any ideas about how the network security problem could be resolved.

I feel that the security element of cloud computing must be taken care of immediately, as there is no point in coming up with new developments if it is not safe. Thoughts?