Why go Cloud

I attended the VMware virtualization forum 2010, which had a slight storage focus this year, so I hoped I would gain a little more knowledge. On the whole I enjoyed it, as with all these things, some talks were better than others. That’s natural, some people are better at public speaking than others. I attended ‘The Cloud – Internal/External’ which was excellent. The title says a lot in itself, and was a clue that the presenter knew his stuff. I get a lot of sales calls, where people offer to sell me ‘cloud’. They are for the most part, utter nonsense, and when you push them it turns out they are selling you hosted. ‘Hosted’ is a different kettle of fish, it’s NOT cloud. Hosting is some datacentre somewhere where someone is selling services or space or transit etc etc. Then there is the crowd who offer to do it all for you, it’s still hosting, but in effect it’s Outsourcing. Outsourcing is where someone swoops in to manage your IT for you.

“Hosted IT – we run your mess for less!”

Cloud, is different. It’s Infrastructure as a service (IaaS), it’s also software as a service (SaaS) etc, it’s platform as a service (PaaS). More than this though, a true cloud is a virtualised system, your data doesn’t live there or there or there, well, it might be today, but perhaps not tomorrow, failover/load balancing all has policy associated and is demand driven. True virtualisation is virtualised servers, networks, storage, all flexible, never exclusively tied to 1 server/cluster/datacenter. It’s truly ‘in the cloud’. Vendors like VMWare are embracing this, but also working with industry leading partners like Cisco and NetApp to virtualise at every layer, and to this end have agreed a framework.

You could say cloud is becoming a pet project of mine, there are 2 sides to this. I want the negatives AND positives to be clear to any business before they go racing into this to save a buck. Just because it’s cloud, doesn’t mean it can’t live inside your firewall, this I feel is paramount to understanding cloud. I find people think it means sending all their data to be someone else’s problem, fire your IT team and crack on.

Cloud, as I mentioned earlier, is simply virtualisation, you don’t have to go entrusting all your data to someone else, to achieve cloud, you can do this on your own infrastructure!. A slimmed down , streamlined infrastructure, but your own none the less. This also doesn’t exclude data from also shipping to a PUBLIC cloud via some intermediary means or directly. This isn’t really brand new thinking, Cemaphore systems for instance have offered a means to take your Exchange mailboxes and replicate them to the google cloud, so when your infrastructure fails, you can revert to the cloud to keep your staff running and your business in contact. I’m not implying they were first, I just felt it was the first really practical use of private to public cloud.

Why cloud(?), what’s wrong with my server and tape backup? What matters most to you for business in traditional IT terms? The data of course! You’re not wedded to the Dell/HP/IBM/etc server on which your data resides, if it spontaneously combusted you would only care about your data. If you could drag that server out of the rack, toss it in the skip (a WEEE one – the joke never dies) and slot in a new server head, all the while knowing your users are still accessing their data, unaware of your issues, you would jump at that option, who wouldn’t. If tape and stand alone servers aren;t dead… they soon will be.

Benefits of moving to the cloud?:

  • Ease of provisioning
  • On demand
  • Lower cost (IaaS)
  • Lower internal data centre costs
  • Performance (not in all cases)
  • Self-service/Kiosk style delivery

 Drawbacks of moving to the cloud?:

  • Compliance
  • Governance (monopolies/competition)
  • Control
  • SLA
  • Accountability and Culpability
  • Associated infrastructure costs
  • Security

The benefits inevitably speak for themselves, but its the hidden drawbacks which I find worrying, and more worrying is that most people adopting the public cloud option don’t know or care (it’s working, for now). Smaller companies adopting to take IaaS, SaaS etc often don’t realise they will need decent public web connectivity to sustain their need for connectivity to the cloud. Banking/Media/Medical should all be concerned about whee their data is, who can get to it, are their competitors on ‘their’ infrastructure. Can you guarantee complete separation from your competitors, sabotage etc.

It’s my opinion that the Private cloud is the way to be pushing your infrastructure, a private cloud, which serves as a part-cloud connecting to a public cloud. It’s this glue that is crucial, and to that end VMWare are working on project redwood, an API/language that will bridge the private-public cloud, and ensure true cloud ability securely and reliably. Check out VMWare’s thinking on Cloud computing, and the vCloud API model

Virtual cloud
Project redwood

Here’s a thought, Selling Cloud as a service! (CaaS). Could we market cloud as commercial property, ie selling space and capacity to others for profit. Sell to people requiring High performance/DR/Test &Dev environments on spare compute power/storage.

So, don’t shy away from cloud, but also whn someone is selling ‘cloud’ ask questions, lots of them, find the point(s) of failure. It’s the wild cloud west out there at the moment, know the facts and know what it is you want and don’t want.

-Luke

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