June 16th, 2010 Author: Hannah Hampton
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Hosting Propositions Manager Tiny Haynes looks at the current growth of cloud services and what it could mean to your business.

Firstly, I’m a cynic. I remember huge outlandish statements such as “The advent of the MP3 means all CDs will be obsolete by this time next year”. That was from some marketing manager back in 2005! I still have a vast collection of CDs, and I still buy them regularly. However I firstly listen to them on Spotify to see if I like them. So perhaps new technology doesn’t revolutionise how we use IT, but it evolves how we use it.

The next big thing?

One thing which is certain, the technology moves fast, but people’s adoption of it doesn’t. Cloud computing concept isn’t new; in fact it has been born out of the Mainframe ideas back in the 60s. We’ve seen newer iterations of this with Sun Microsystems’s grid computing, and the more recent Utility Computing push from other vendors, but now we have a new game in town called Cloud Computing, and people are listening.

What has changed recently to make this so attractive? Well, a number of factors are affecting us all, networks are getting faster with the 21CN roll out from BT amongst others making it easier to use services spread out geographically, people are becoming more used to using services in the cloud such as Salesforce.com, Spotify and Google Apps, and there is a very real need to remove capital cost from the business.

So what is the cloud?

I always get worried when people ask these definition questions, I feel like I’m about to embark on a journey of technical bamboozling and illogical arguments! For me the one thing to remember is 19%. That’s how much a current dedicated server is used supporting typical applications such as email, file and print and webservers. Wouldn’t it make sense to harness this unused capacity? But that is not even half the story – the headaches are not just the expensive hardware that isn’t being used efficiently, but also the service disruption caused by hardware failure, the cost of keeping the lights on these servers, the long lead times it takes to get new hardware in, the amount of time and effort it takes to update each server with patches, the list goes on.

So obviously this cloud thingy is the answer to my prayers, which means I cans laugh and skip down the yellow brick road with Dorothy and the gang? Well, yes and no. In the purest form cloud computing can be seen as computing resource, an application you can develop on or a fully managed service you can use, all on demand. There are offerings out there that only need your credit card details and you’re up and running – ideal to the non technical user who just wants services like email accounts for his small workforce, the so called public cloud. But what of those larger organisations who need their custom accounts package hosted, or need to demonstrate compliance with PCI, FSA Guidelines or Govt security clearance? Public clouds are too much of a risk, they need to audit their infrastructure and have that peace of mind.

There is another solution, using similar concepts as the public cloud, in a more secure, definable environment. These so called Private Clouds are based on pre defined hardware in a datacentre you can audit, supported by engineers that can be checked, while they don’t have the sort of scalability the public cloud does (you are constrained to a finite pool of resources, which can be increased, albeit in days rather than seconds) they still allow for virtualised servers with huge flexibility and reliability.

A word of caution however, the sky does have its limit. Cloud services cannot yet support resource hungry applications such as enterprise database applications or media streaming, however these clustered servers can sit within a larger cloud service in a hybrid model of dedicated and virtualised servers.

So is the cloud the revolution or evolution?

One thing is for certain, nobody is going to start throwing brand new hardware into the skip in favour of a cloud service, and this new technology will take time to be commonplace. But with new IT projects and cost cutting measures in place, companies are looking at their current infrastructure, staff, power and bandwidth costs with a view to economise. Cloud services are monthly pay as you grow with the ability to expand, so are looking more and more attractive to the CFO and CTO. When looking at the cloud, you must take into account the following:

  • What is the true cost of your IT operation – not just the hardware, but the Software licences, staff, power and growth costs. This will give you an accurate figure to compare with cloud propositions
  • What is your sensitivity about the data being stored? Does it have to comply with any external regulations? Remember the public clouds are just that, and non compliant.
  • How often does your data and server requirement grow? Do you need a flexible, scalable model, or is it fairly flat? Will you see the benefit of a scalable infrastructure, or would you prefer more static sites.
  • What applications are you running at the moment – do any of them require clustering or high performance? Remember, cloud computing is not the remedy for everything.

Is cloud computing a new fad? No. Will it revolutionise the way we do business? No. Will it allow companies to evolve their IT, become more competitive and fleet of foot? Yes, and it’s worth your time looking a bit further about how cloud computing could help your business.

Every cloud has a silver lining?4.052

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  1. barry cutts
    June 22, 2010 @ 11:37 am

    Hi Tiny. Whilst people aren’t going to start throwing away their new expensive hardware, do you think there’ll be a shift away from tin boxes in the foreseeable future? I know you said you still buy CDs but I know plenty of kids who have adopted a physical-format-free world. As they’re growing up with technology, they’re becoming fully digital simply because it’s easy and cheap to go that way. Isn’t the organisation eventually going to follow suit? Do you think companies might start to exist almost entirely in the ether?

  2. June 23, 2010 @ 9:56 am

    Hi Barry, this is an interesting question with no binary answer. If you look at server sales across Europe recently (http://www.theregister.co.uk/2010/06/02/idc_emea_q12010_server_nums/) you’ll see some growth in server sales post recession, but the over all trend is not looking to go back to the huge amount of tin shifting that we used to see due to technologies such as virtualisation making servers more efficient. Virtualisation/Cloud computing, Fixed Internet, Mobile Internet are all generational paradigms, which take years to come through to mainstream. What makes them successful? Well, primarily cost and ease of use – Internet took off with Freeserve dropping the £10 per month charge on dial up, mobile usage exploded with the pay as you go model… Make it affordable to the mainstream and you’ll see its general adoption. There will always be the IT Managers hugging their boxes, since that’s what they know and trust, however we are seeing a new generation coming through that trust the Internet to deliver. This is changing the role of the IT manager from an employer of staff to deliver service in their own data centre, to a procurement manager, manging supplier relationships to deliver the IT service (I suppose this is a paper all of its own – I’ll get my thinking cap on for that!). However there will still be those organisations that will still use their own servers internally – such as Banks and Governments, where the security implications are so tight, they need to have the accountability of their own servers in their own datacentre. But for the rest of us, I think we’ll move that way, although it will take a few years. Companies themselves won’t exist in the ether, but their IT operations will.

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