Throughout this series of articles, we have looked at how best to move toward a virtualised data centre. However, there is one area where virtualisation promises to have far greater impact on the organisation, and that is through cloud computing. Cloud computing is, at the moment, suffering from mixed vendor messaging and a massive amount of market hype. However, analyst firm Quocirca firmly believes that cloud is a game changer, and organisations need to be able to prepare for its arrival.
So, just what is cloud computing? In its simplest form, it is the capability to create a massively shared environment where IT functions can be sourced, provisioned, run and managed in a highly flexible manner. There will be some functions that will remain running in the internal private cloud (based on the virtualised data centre that has been previously discussed), some functions will be provided through an external private cloud (essentially, co-location or functions hosted privately through an external provider), while other functions (such as mapping or use of publically available data sets) will be provided through public clouds through companies such as Google, Amazon, Microsoft and others.
The focus [with implementing cloud computing] has to be on what best fits where -- and how to move to this nirvana as soon as possible.
Clive Longbottom, Contributor,
The issue here is to carefully choose what fits where. Many vendors are talking about storage as a service, where an organisation's storage needs are met by cloud-based services. However, many organisations are spending time and money in optimising their storage internally to provide the best response times for online transaction processing (OLTP) for data searches and business intelligence.
The introduction of solid-state disk (SSD) and in-memory capabilities along with optimised I/O and high-speed core networks means that any latency in the network is minimised. Now, imagine taking all that and moving it to the cloud -- the 10 GB core network is now down to a 10 MB wide area network (WAN); this is not the right way to look at core storage needs. However, for granular backup and file-level restore, cloud-based storage can make a lot of sense.
How about if the cloud is used purely as an access mechanism, with all the business logic and storage being carried out in the public cloud and only the presentation layer being sent back to the access device? Certainly, advances in thin-client or server-based computing means that this is far more viable than it has been in the past. With the external cloud provider hopefully being able to invest in the latest technology, the basic computing equipment should be faster and more up to the job than an environment where organic growth has resulted in a heterogeneous environment.
Similarly, networks, storage and other systems should be optimised for the task in hand, and systems management should be capable of ensuring high availability and proactive fixing of possible issues. A well-architected shared external cloud platform will enable greater flexibility and possible economies of scale than an internal cloud.
But how about the public cloud?
Quocirca's impressions of the market are that the majority are still wary of using cloud in this manner, with security being quoted as the top concern. Quocirca's advice is to create a list of the top 10 or 20 security areas that you would expect an external to be able to demonstrate they can deal with, and then see how your internal environment can deal with these. Quocirca has found that many internal systems show massive security shortfalls when submitted to this sort of scrutiny, and this should then be used as the benchmark for any external offerings.
It should also be remembered that it is likely that your organisation is already using the public cloud anyway -- Google or Bing Maps are public cloud offerings, and it can well be argued that Facebook, Twitter and other social networking sites are increasingly moving from being a hosted application to being cloud services through the increased use of provided application programming interfaces (APIs). Organisations are either already using the public web or are fighting a Cnut-style rear guard action in trying to stop the tide of usage -- and so missing out on the opportunities it can provide.
The key is to apply the resources where they make most business sense. As the archetypal data centre changes into a highly virtualised environment, the cloud has to become a core part of any plans. Commodity processes and functions, such as email and calendaring, as well as other communication and collaboration technologies are best outsourced due to the way that an external can provide economies of scale in hardware support and in licencing.
Quocirca firmly believes that cloud is a game changer, and organisations need to be able to prepare for its coming.
Clive Longbottom, Contributor,
Similarly, specific functions, such as expense claims management and payroll, are best outsourced as the domain expertise is there to deal with the changing legal aspects of these tasks. Although these tasks may be viewed as business important, the underlying technologies that support the functions are now commodity -- and your organisation shouldn't be bearing the support costs for the complete stack internally.
This then enables an organisation to concentrate its resources on what is really important to it: those areas where an external provider does not make sense, where corporate intellectual property has to be created and dealt with in a fully-managed manner. By outsourcing commodity, financial resources and skills are freed up to work at optimising the existing data centre to better manage these workloads -- and with a degree of existing equipment now being made redundant, space is cleared in the existing data centre for new virtualised kit that is optimised to deal with these workloads.
The existing data centre is not dead, nor is it even at risk of beginning to die out. It has its part to play, as do external cloud services. By allocating workloads appropriately, a highly-effective platform can be built that fully supports the dynamic needs of the business. The key is not to concentrate on whether cloud is right or even which type of cloud is right for your business. The focus has to be on what best fits where -- and how to move to this nirvana as soon as possible.
Clive Longbottom is a service director at UK analyst Quocirca Ltd. and a contributor to SearchVirtualDataCentre.co.UK.