Buyers Guide: Infrastructure as a cloud best practices

It seems as if every CIO comes back from a conference cocktail party demanding IT "move to the cloud". While this can mean many things, including using software-as-a-service, managed hosting, or application service providers, the demand often centres on moving applications out of your own budget-sucking data centre and up to an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) cloud platform.

It seems as if every CIO comes back from a conference cocktail party demanding IT "move to the cloud". While this can mean many things, including using software-as-a-service, managed hosting, or application service providers, the demand often centres on moving applications out of your own budget-sucking data centre and up to an infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) cloud platform. Can you leverage IaaS cloud? While the answer is certainly "yes" in many cases, the real question is how should you do it and when.

Forrester interviewed more than 60 organizations that are leveraging IaaS clouds. They have found that it's best to leverage cloud platforms as temporary capacity, because the teaser rates of $0.08 per CPU per hour may look enticing but can add up fast. The best places to start are with test and development of new applications, Web applications, and high-performance computing. We advise clients to get their feet wet with these application classes first, but plan to move on to more advanced uses, such as cloud bursting and leveraging cloud-resident services and management tools, and then progress to cloud-native services such as Hadoop and Microsoft SQL Azure.

Infrastructure costs are under fire with the global recession now entering its second year, infrastructure and operations professionals, like all other corporate leaders, are being squeezed to drive down costs even further and to drive up efficiencies. If you can do both, you stand to be a hero. This imperative has created renewed opportunities for outsourcing options that differ enough from the offerings of the late 1990s to promise dramatically greater efficiencies.

There are several outsourcing options available:

  • Renting multi-tenant applications via software-as-a-service (SaaS): A range of enterprise applications from customer relationship management, human resources, accounting, and security can now simply be rented rather than deployed and administered. While the maturity of these offerings varies, many claim a stable of enterprise customers and proven means of corporate systems integration. SaaS offers economies of scale through multi-tenancy and standardized functions, while providing enterprises with customisation options to suit these services to their business processes.
  • Passing commodity services to an application service provider (ASP): When a multi-tenant SaaS alternative is not available, a second option is to outsource a single application or service to a provider with specialised or optimised skills in this area. Good candidates are applications your business consumes but doesn't specialise in or customise greatly.
  • Replacing in-house services with remote-managed services: If there are functions inside your IT shop that you just aren't that good at, you may find service providers that can deliver these services to you as a remote service. Managed security services, data protection, disaster recovery, and desktop management are all common candidates here.
  • Pushing new application development up to an IaaS cloud platform: Few outsourcing options have garnered nearly the attention IaaS cloud computing has received in the past 12 months. These new hosting options let you sign up for virtual machine resources with the click of a mouse, with no long-term commitment, and pay only for the resources you consume. A lot of the credit for this attention goes to Amazon Web Services (AWS), the first to deliver compute capacity for as low as $0.10 08 per CPU per hour.
  • Public cloud: Public IaaS cloud computing is the delivery of compute (virtualised servers, storage, and networking) on demand as a shared service and per the above definition. IaaS clouds promise a new type of compute capacity that seems too good to be true.

Remember what your mother told you: "If it sounds too good to be true . . ." They promise real flexibility with instant capacity, no long-term contract, and on-demand use. They also promise compelling economics with pay-only-for-what-you-use and pay-nothing-when-you-aren't-using-it. Enterprises can't match economics like $0.10 per CPU per hour. But not so fast. While the economics are true, they are a tease, and this is where the costs begin, not end.

Over the past seven months, Forrester interviewed more than 60 organizations - enterprises like yourselves, consultants with cloud practices, and independent software suppliers - that are building for and living in the cloud to determine the realities of IaaS cloud computing. Some of the key findings show that cloud, while truly compelling, should not be viewed as a replacement for the data centre, but rather as yet another portfolio option in your IT quiver. Cloud permanence is more expensive than traditional hosting. Where a small virtual server in

Amazon Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) may cost just $0.10 per CPU per hour, once you turn it on you start consuming storage and bandwidth as well, which carry $0.10 per GB per month and $0.10 to $0.17 per GB costs respectively. Convert these into typical monthly charges and you can ring up bills well above $100 per month, which exceeds many traditional VM hosting offerings. Then you have to look at the costs of migrating your data to the cloud. "If you have to load a ton of data and have a unique format it could take 10 days to upload," said Ed Goldberg, who runs and uses RightScale to simplify deployment and management of the more than 100 cloud implementations he has completed in the past two years.

"Sometimes it's cheaper to just ship disks to [the cloud provider]." But the value of IaaS clouds lies in developer productivity and time-to-market more than cost, as IaaS clouds let developers entirely control the provisioning, configuration, and deployment of the VM themselves. And since they don't have to commit to more than an hour or so at a time, they can tap into these platforms truly on demand. But what's the best way to leverage such a platform, given the high costs of permanency? The key is deploying the right kinds of applications, for the right types of uses, with the right business model behind this practice.

Since public IaaS clouds are still a very new concept, we hesitate to declare best practices in its use yet but have an early view into what are quickly becoming the more common uses. "Perhaps 25% of your enterprise applications today could fit in the cloud," said Kim Shipley, an enterprise technical architect in Capgemini's cloud practice. "Any Web architected application is what the cloud was built for, but now we're starting to see other types of applications that fit. Those with a fatter front end or apps that don't have a front end at all, data conversion, raw compute tasks, and even quarter-end financial processing in batch mode."

The most common practice we found among enterprise users of IaaS cloud platforms was to build and validate new applications. Cloud platforms provide relief for in-house test-and-development teams who face resource constraints that one enterprise client said makes up only 10% of his IT assets but 90% of his headaches. Moving these actions to the cloud relieves a significant IT burden, but only for applications that are suited to the cloud - those that can fit within the confines of a virtual server and don't require highly sensitive data access to test.

Before you push your developers out to EC2, keep in mind that not all applications will fit in this environment. Nor can the whole test and quality assurance process happen up there. There are significant pitfalls to be avoided in using IaaS cloud for development.

This is an excerpt from "Best Practices: Infrastructure-As-A-Service (IaaS)" by James Staten principal analyst at Forrester Research serving Infrastructure and Operations professionals. To find out more, visit the Forrester website.


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