Cloud 2012 Redux

Ready for Cloud-01

You shouldn’t have to commit everything at once

This year will be remembered as the year the cloud moved beyond the realm of “Back to Time-Sharing” or a curio for greenfields and start-ups.  While Software as a Service (SaaS) is interesting, it can not be a center piece of your IT infrastructure or strategy due to its limited scope and cost/scalability metrics.  By the same token, every IT system is not a greenfield opportunity, and most require a steady evolutionary response incorporating the existing infrastructure’s DNA and standards.

Just illustrating a “private cloud” with a “public cloud” next to it does not cut it.  What does that really mean?  Ever wonder what is really in that cloud(s)?  Better yet, in safe understandable steps, explain it; cost benefit 3-5-7 year projections, organizational impact for IT and business process, procedural impact for disaster recovery, etc.  Sorry, “Just buy my product because it is what I have to sell!” does not work; I need a tested time-phased architectural plan, with contingencies, before I commit my company and job.

For the first time in the continuing cloud saga, we have been able to put together and test a “non-aligned” approach, which allows an organization to keep IT infrastructural best practice and not “sign-in-blood” to any individual vendor’s ecosystem.  With the proper design, virtual machines (VMs), can be run on multiple vendors’ platforms (Microsoft®, Amazon.com®, etc.) and on-premise, optimized to cost, performance, and security. This effectively puts control of cost and performance in the hands of the CIO and the consuming company.

In addition, credible capabilities exist in the cloud to handle disaster recovery and business continuity, regardless of whether the supporting VMs are provisioned on premise or in the cloud. Certain discreet capabilities, like email and Microsoft Office™ Automation, can be “outsourced” to the cloud and integration to consuming application systems can be maintained in the same manner many organizations have historically outsourced functions like payroll.

The greatest benefit of cloud 2012 is the ability to phase it in over time as existing servers are fully amortised and software licences roll-off and require renewal.  Now we can start to put our plans together and start to take advantage of the coming margin-cutting wars of the Cloud Titans in 2013 and beyond.

Cloud Computing Trends: Thinking Ahead (Part 3)

cloud-burstIn the first part of this series we discussed the definition of cloud computing and its various flavors. The second part focused on the offerings from three major players: Microsoft, Amazon, and Google. The third and final part discusses the issues and concerns related to the cloud as well as possible future directions.

A company may someday decide to bring the application in-house due to data security or cost related concerns. An ideal solution would allow creation of a “private in-house cloud” just like some product/ASP companies allow option of running a licensed version in-house or as a hosted service. A major rewrite of existing applications in order to run in a cloud is probably also a non-starter for most organizations. Monitoring and diagnosing applications in the cloud is a concern. Developers must be enabled to diagnose and debug in the cloud and not just in a simulation on a local desktop. Anyone who has spent enough time in the trenches coding and supporting complex applications knows that trying to diagnose complex intermittent problems in a production environment by debugging on a simulated environment on a desktop is going to be an uphill battle to say the least. A credible and sophisticated mechanism is needed to support complex applications running in the cloud. The data and meta-data ownership and security may also give companies dealing with sensitive information a pause. The laws and technology are still playing catch-up when it comes to some thorny issues around data collection, distribution rights, liability, etc.

If cloud computing is to truly fulfill its promise the technology has to evolve and the major players have to ensure that a cloud can be treated like a commodity and allow applications to move seamlessly between the clouds, without requiring a major overhaul of the code. At least some of the major players in cloud computing today don’t have a good history of allowing cross-vendor compatibility and are unlikely to jump on this bandwagon anytime soon. They will likely fight any efforts or trends to commoditize cloud computing. However, based on the history of other platform paradigm shifts they would be fighting against the market forces and the desires of their clients. Similar situations in the past have created opportunities for other vendors and startups to offer solutions that bypass the entrenched interests and offer what the market is looking for. It is not too hard to imagine an offering or a service that can abstract away the actual cloud running the application.

New design patterns and techniques may also emerge to make the transition from one cloud vendor to another easier. Not too long ago this role was played by design patterns like the DAO (data access object) and various OR (object relational) layers to reduce the database vendor lock-in. A similar trend could evolve in the cloud based applications.

All of the above is not meant to condemn cloud computing as an immature technology not ready for the prime time. The discussion above is meant to arm the organization with potential pitfalls of a leading edge technology that can still be a great asset under the right circumstances. Even today’s offerings fit the classic definition of a disruptive technology. Any organization that is creating a new application or over hauling an existing one must seriously consider architecting the application for the cloud. The benefits of instant scalability and “pay for only what you use” are too significant to ignore, especially for small to mid size companies. Not having to tie up your cash in servers and infrastructure alone warrants a serious consideration. Also not having to worry about setting up a data center that can handle the load in case your application goes viral is liberating to say the least. Any application with seasonal demand can also greatly benefit. If you are an online retailer the load on your website probably surges to several times it average volume during the holiday shopping season. Having to buy servers to handle the holiday season load which then remains idle during rest of the year can tie up your capital unnecessarily when it could have been used to grow the business. Cloud computing in its current maturity may not make sense to pursue for every enterprise. However, you should get a solid understanding of what cloud computing has to offer and adjust the way you approach IT today. This will position you to more cost effectively capitalize on what it has to offer today and tomorrow.