The era of cloud computing has just begun

Thursday, 28 January, 2010

According to Ovum (a global analyst and consulting company), cloud computing -  the most important trend for 2010 - has barely even started. The next three years will see cloud computing mature rapidly as vendors and enterprises come to grips with the opportunities and challenges that it represents.

Some prefer to limit cloud computing to infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS), while others (Ovum included) also consider software-as-a-service (SaaS) and private clouds part of the phenomenon. A wider perspective helps understand one of the key trends in cloud computing - cloud computing will be hybrid. “Enterprises will mix and match public and private cloud elements with traditional hosting and outsourcing services to create solutions that fit short- and long-term requirements,” comments Laurent Lachal, Senior Analyst.

“The past 18 months have seen a significant shift in focus away from public clouds towards private ones owing to a powerful mix of vendor push and user pull,” said Lachal. The private cloud is, to a large extent, a re-badging of what data centre-focused hardware, software and service vendors have been doing under different names (such as utility computing, autonomic IT, on demand data centre etc) for the past 10 years. Many users are wary of public clouds’ quality of service in areas such as reliability, availability, scalability and security but curious about the possibility of adopting some of their characteristics (eg, on demand instant provisioning of IT assets).

Private clouds are either defined as the aim of the data centre evolution journey (a long patient maturation process) or as shortcuts along the way that push parts of the data centre ahead to deliver focused return on investment (the private cloud is the part(s) of the data centre ahead of the rest). What is needed is a way to reconcile the two approaches (private-cloud-as-a-journey and as-a-shortcut) to understand when, on the road towards a next generation of data centres, should users take shortcuts. Unfortunately, most vendors currently emphasise the second approach rather than trying to reconcile the two.

“Cloud computing promises to tackles two irreconcilable (so far) IT challenges - the need to lower costs and boost innovation - but it will take a lot of effort from enterprises to actually make it work. Instead of a nimbler IT with their IT mess for less somewhere else, the ill-prepared will end up with their IT mess spread across a wider area,” said Lachal.

Lachal believes that adoption is a two-way street. “It is not just about whether cloud computing is ready for enterprises, it is, more importantly, whether or not enterprises are ready for it,” said Lachal. The fact is that many enterprises are currently not particularly ready for either private or public clouds or any type of hybrids in between. Besides the current confusion as to what exactly cloud computing is, many enterprises lack the knowledge, skills and metrics to figure out what is best for them. They need to be able figure out how to mix and match:

  • totally private and shared private clouds (to collaborate with partners on common goals);
  • public and private clouds, with public clouds used, for example, for workloads that have unpredictable spikes in their use, for application that are only occasionally used or to turn the pre-production infrastructure (used for test, migrations etc) into one production and use public clouds instead (since pre-production tasks have much lower requirements in terms of quality of service than production ones);
  • public clouds and traditional hosting/outsourcing service offerings: for example hosted offerings are usually cheaper for static websites than the Amazon IaaS service. On the other hand, for use such as application testing, where a handful of servers are required for a few weeks and a few hours per day, Amazon IaaS is the answer;
  • public clouds offerings (IaaS, PaaS and SaaS), based on their respective cost-effectiveness.

To do so, they need to improve their knowledge of the cost of each asset in public and private clouds as well as traditional hosting/outsourcing service offerings as well as their ability to monitor, meter and bill usage. Few enterprises can currently do so. Achieving all of this will take time and tears.

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