June 2014 Archives

The super world of supercomputers

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Last Thursday, I met AWS to learn how users are building supercomputers in the cloud and also to see one being created right in front of me!

Unfortunately, the demo didn't succeed. I don't know if it was a buggy code or what but Ian Massingham, technology evangelist at AWS wasn't able to create a supercomputer and he was as disappointed about it as I was if not more.

But Ian had created one the previous evening -- "Just ran up my first HPC cluster on AWS using the newly released cfncluster demo," read Ian's tweet from the previous day. The link to a demo video AWS sent me subsequently also showed how to get started on cfncluster in 5 minutes.

Amazon cfncluster is a sample code framework, available for free - - to help users run high performance computing (HPC) clusters on AWS infrastructure.

I got to hear how enterprise customers, pharmaceutical companies, scientists, engineers and researchers are build cluster computers on AWS to do some pretty serious tasks such as research on medicine, assessing financial standing of the companies etc, all while saving money (My feature article on how enterprises are exploiting public cloud capabilities for HPC will appear on ComputerWeekly site soon).

And having spent the last two days at the International Supercomputing conference (ISC 2014) in Leipzig, I feel that high-performance computing, hyperscale computing and supercomputers are the fastest growing sub-set of IT. HPC is no more restricted to just science labs but even enterprises such as Rolls Royce and Pfizer are building supercomputers - to analyse jet engine compressors and to research around diseases respectively.


tianhe-2 (Photo credit: sam_churchill)

Take Tianhe-2, a supercomputer developed by China's National University of Defense Technology for research which retained its position as the world's biggest supercomputer.  It has 3120000 cores, runs a performance of 33.86 petaflops/s (quadrillions of calculations per second) and uses 17808kW of power. Or the US DoE's Titan - a Cray XK7 system running more than 560,000 cores or any of the UK's top 30 supercomputers. They are all mind-boggling in their size, compute performance and uses.

Whether on the cloud or on-premises, I didn't hear a single HPC use-case in the last two days that wasn't cool or awe-inspiring. Imperial College London, Tromso University, Norway, US Department of Energy, Edinburgh University and AWE all use supercomputers to do research and computation around things that matter to you and me. As one analyst told me, "From safer cars to shinier hair, supercomputers are used to solve real-life problems".

Now I know why Ian was having a hard time to pick his favourite cloud HPC project - they're all cool.

What Cloud World Forum 2014 tells us about cloud

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The sixth annual Cloud World Forum wrapped up yesterday and here's what the event tells us about the state of cloud IT in the enterprise world.

OpenStack is gaining serious traction

OpenStack's big users and providers claimed the cloud technology is truly enterprise-ready because of its freedom from vendor lock-in and portability features. Big internet companies such as eBay are running mission-critical workloads on OpenStack cloud.  Even smaller players such as German company Centralway is using open source cloud to power its infrastructure when TV adverts create load peaks.

HP says it is "all in" when it comes to OpenStack. It is investing over $1bn in cloud-related products and services, including an investment in the open-source cloud. RedHat has just acquired eNovance, a leader in the OpenStack integration services for $95m. Rackspace and VMware are ramping up their OpenStack services and IBM has built its cloud strategy around OpenStack.

Skills shortage around developing OpenStack APIs into a cloud infrastructure seems to be the only big barrier hindering its widescale adoption.

Rise of the cloud marketplace

Cloud marketplace is fast becoming an important channel for cloud transactions. According to Ovum analyst Laurent Lachal, company JasperSoft gained 500 new customers in just six months with AWS marketplace. Oracle, Rackspace, Cisco, Microsoft and IBM have all recently launched cloud services marketplaces. 

What it means to the users? Browsing the full spectrum of cloud services will become as easy for customers as browsing apps in the Apple App Store or Google Play. "As cloud matures, established marketplace seems like a logical evolution. It is a new trend but it gives users a wealth of options in a one-stop-shop kind of way," said Lachal.

Vendor skepticism on the rise

Bank of England CIO John Finch, in his keynote, warned users of "pesky vendors" and cloud providers' promises around "financial upside of using the cloud". Legal experts and top enterprise users urged delegates to understand the SLAs and contract terms very clearly before shaking hands with the cloud providers.

Changing role of CIOs

Cloud is leading to the rise of Shadow IT and CIOs must don the role of becoming the broker of technologies and educating enterprise users on compliance and security, it became apparent at the event. Technology integration, IT innovation and service brokerage are some of the skills CIOs need to develop in the cloud era.

Questions around compliance, data protection, security on the cloud remain unanswered

Most speakers focusing on the challenges around cloud adoption mentioned security, data sovereignty, privacy, compliance and vendor-friendly SLAs as its biggest barriers

Not all enterprises using cloud are putting mission-critical apps on public cloud

Lack of trust seems to be the main reason why enterprises are not putting mission critical workloads on public cloud. Bank of England's Finch just stopped short of saying "never" to public cloud. Take Coca Cola bottling company CIO Onyeke Nchege for instance - he's planning to put mission critical ERP systems on the cloud but private cloud. EBay runs its website on the OpenStack cloud - but a private version it built for itself. One reason customers cite is that mission critical apps seem to be more static and don't need fast-provisioning or high scalability.

"It is not always about the technology though. In our case our metadata is not sophisticated enough for us to take advantage of public cloud," said Charles Ewan, IT director at the Met Office.

But there are some enterprises such as Astra Zeneca (running payroll workloads on public cloud) or News UK that manages its flagship newspaper brands on AWS cloud.

Urgent need for cloud standards in the EU

Lack of standards and regulations around cloud adoption, data protection and sovereignty and cloud exit strategies is making cloud adoption messy. Legal technology experts urged users to be "wise" in their cloud adoption until such time that regulations are developed. But regulators and industry bodies including the European Commission, the FCA and Bank of England are inching closer to developing guidelines and regulatory advice to protect cloud users.

Everyone's trying to get their stamp on the cloud

The more crowded than ever Cloud World Forum saw traditional heavyweights (IBM, HP, Dell, Cisco) rub shoulders with a slew of new, smaller entrants as well as public cloud poster-boys such as AWS, Google and Microsoft Azure. Technology players ranging from chip providers to datacentre cooling services sellers were all there to claim their place in the cloud world. 

Why some cloud projects fail?

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I was at a roundtable earlier this week discussing the findings of one enterprise cloud research. The findings are embargoed until June 24, but what struck me the most was the numbers around failed or stalled cloud projects.

And that led me to discuss it more with industry insiders. Here are a few reasons why cloud projects might fail:

  • Using cloud services but not using them to address business needs

One joke doing rounds in the industry goes a bit like this - The IT head tells his team, "You lot start coding, I'll go out and ask them what they want".

But the issue of not aligning business objectives with IT is still prevalent. The latest study by Vanson Bourne found that as many as 80% of UK CIOs admit to significant gaps between what the business wants and when the IT can deliver it. While the average gap cited was five months, it ranged between seven to 18 months.

  • Moving cloud to production without going through the SLAs again and again. And again

If one looks at the contracts of major cloud providers, it becomes apparent that the risk, is almost always pushed out on to the user and not on the provider - be it around downtime, latency, availability, and data regulations. It is one thing to test cloud services and quite another to put it out on actual production.

  • Hasty adoption

Moving cloud to production hastily without testing and piloting the technology enough and without planning management strategies will also lead to failure or disappointment with cloud services.

  • Badly written apps

If your app isn't configured correctly, it shouldn't be on the cloud. Just migrating badly written apps on to the cloud will not make them work. And if you are not a marque customer, your cloud provider will not help you with it either.

  • Being obsessed with cost savings on the cloud

One expert says - those who adopt cloud for cost savings fail; those who use it to do things they couldn't do in-house succeed. Cost-savings on the cloud comes over time as businesses get the hang of capacity management and scalability but the primary reason for cloud adoption should be to grow the business and enable newer revenue-generating opportunities. For example, News UK adopted cloud services with an aim to transform its IT and manage its paywall strategy. Its savings were a byproduct.  

  • Early adoption of cloud services... Or leaving it too late

Ironic as it may sound, if you are one of the earliest adopters of cloud, chances are that your cloud might be the earliest iteration and may not be as rich in features as the newer versions. It may even be more complex than current cloud services. For instance, there is a lot of technical difference between pre-OpenStack Rackspace cloud and its OpenStack version.

If you've left it too late, then your competitors are ahead of the curve and the other business stakeholders influence IT's cloud buying decisions.

  • Biased towards one type of cloud

Hybrid IT is the way forward. Being too obsessed with private cloud services will lead to deeper vendor lock-in and adopting too much public cloud will lead to compliance and security issues. Enterprises must not develop a private cloud or a public cloud strategy but use cloud elements that best solves their problems. Take Betfair for instance, it uses a range of different cloud services. It uses AWS Redshift warehouse service for data analytics but uses VMware vCloud for automation and orchestration.

  • Relying heavily on reference architecture

Cloud services are meant to be unique to suit individual business needs. Replicating another organisation's cloud strategies and infrastructure is likely to be less helpful.

  • Lack of skills and siloed approach

Cloud may indeed have entered mainstream computing but the success of cloud directly depends on the skills and experience of the team deploying it. Hiring engineers and cloud architects with experience on AWS to build private cloud may backfire. Experts have also called on enterprises to embrace DevOps and cut down the siloed approach to succeed in cloud. British Gas hired IT staff with the right skills for its Hive project built on the public cloud.

  • Viewing it as in-house datacentre infrastructure or traditional IT

Cloud calls for new ways of IT thinking. Just replacing internal infrastructure with cloud services but using the same IT strategies and policies to govern the cloud might result in cloud failure.

There may be other enterprise-related problems such as lack of budget or cultural challenges or legacy IT that may result in failed or stalled cloud project, but more often it is the strategy (or the lack of it) to blame than the technologies.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from June 2014 listed from newest to oldest.

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