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Cloud Computing Article – Preview December 3, 2008

Posted by Glenn Irvine in Commentary, Futuring, Review, Survey.
Tags: , , , , ,
I was asked to prepare an article on the Cloud Computing phenomenon that has captured the imagination of our industry for the Eos Solutions Newsletter this month.

Thought it wouldn’t hurt providing the readers of this Blog with a sneak preview…

I’ve also added a quick survey poll at the end of the article to see if there is much use of Cloud Computing Services at this point in time.

Cloud Computing – An evolutionary step for our Industry

The ICT industry is awash with talk about Cloud Computing, and depending on who you are talking to, you will see different perceptions about what Cloud Computing actually is, from the simplest web-hosted solutions right through to virtualised processing environments (Hypervisors) with Web-Service initiated provisioning and decommissioning.

A good example of the former is Salesforce.com. Simply put, this is a generic business solution (in this case CRM) provided via the web on a subscription basis. Salesforce.com was an early adopter of this approach and has had it’s share of problems with outages. An early identified problem with hosted services like Salesforce.com was it’s lack of persistence during an outage or inability to connect to the Web. As Broadband services become more of a Critical Infrastructure Utility, redundancy of service provision should address these concerns to at least the same level as other Telco services. Initiatives like the Australian Federal Government’s NBN (National Broadband Network), in principle, are targeted at addressing the need for this.

Amazon was an early entrant in the market for the latter example of Cloud Computing, and that is a service utility that allows the user to ‘switch’ on both processing capacity, and storage as required, like any other utility. This is also paid for as a subscription, and new metrics like Giga-Hertz Hours are used for the pricing models.

It is at this level that some of the large vendors see the potential for the future of the software (and to a certain extent, hardware) industries.

Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) allows the imaging of servers and the use of web-services to provision these images on specified virtual platforms. It currently allows a range of basic, to intermediate, to high-performance spec’ed platforms and these are priced on an hourly basis.

Using the Amazon Simple Storage Service (S3) a complete application environment can be provisioned from the stored images in a short period of time, used for a defined purpose and period, and then decommissioned.

The industry has already started looking at this provisioning model for providing Development Environments on-demand, and it is looking extremely promising from a cost effective perspective. Any significant development-focused organisation is constantly challenged by the lack of infrastructure (due to cost) for all the environments required by their developers. Especially for complex Enterprise type multi-system/server developments. Organisations as large as the New York Times are already using Amazon’s Compute Cloud for archival of news stories.

Major Vendors like IBM and Microsoft see this as the next evolution of the software industry. Both have introduced hosted messaging & collaboration platforms into the market in recent times. IBM’s Bluehouse (now in Beta) will be their first main thrust into this market with a complete Collaboration offering provided in the Cloud, and Microsoft’s recent announcement of Project Azure scheduled for release in late 2010, is one of their Chief Architect’s (Ray Ozzie) Major Initiatives looking at capitalising on being one of the first to market for the operating system for Hypervisors and Cloud Computing Centres across the Globe. IBM’s Virtual Enterprise is looking at a similar initiative using the WebSphere stack.

Online User Identity Management will become an issue, but some vendors are already looking at the ability to share user credentials across separate web applications. Microsoft has Live Mesh in Beta at the moment, there is Facebook Connect , MySpace Data Availability & Google Friend Connect as well. In the Enterprise, IBM has Tivoli Federated Identity Manager.

The main challenges that remain for Cloud Computing before it is likely to enjoy wide-spread adoption are the following:

  • Persistence & Availability – The ability to continue working during outages or the ability to mitigate outages.
  • Privacy and National Security Concerns – The hosting of information outside of your country’s borders does concern Public Sector organisations. The US Patriot Act for example is a concern for some countries in adopting cloud services. It is thought that Country-siloed Clouds may be able to address this.
  • Geo-Political Information Management Concerns – The Political risk a country takes on by housing information for another country.

As this type of delivery mechanism for software services evolves, we will need to address a number of other issues, including the training of developers for Cloud environments (in Universities and Vendor Training), and new privacy, ownership, IP protection and Legal issues will arise.

Is Cloud Computing a novel current trend? The investment in this approach by some of the main players in the industry (IBM have a Cloud Computing Research Centre based at MIT), Microsoft’s Chief Architect is rejigging their complete operations around the Software + Services model, suggests that this is not so.

The Blogosphere and industry analysts like Gartner globally and Longhaus here in Australia have a firm eye on this emerging disruptive technology. Gartner’s 2008 Emerging Technology Hype-Cycle gives Cloud Computing a 2-5 year timeframe to mainstream adoption.

Gartner Emerging Technologies Hype-Cycle 2008

Gartner Emerging Technologies Hype-Cycle 2008

In a recent hypothetical hosted by local industry Analyst, Longhaus, in Brisbane, it would appear that broader adoption by the Public Sector would take longer (up to 10 years) because of the information security and political concerns.

In summary, Cloud Computing is an inevitable evolutionary step for our industry, while it will likely be around 5 years before we see mainstream adoption, it is an area of the IT World that is worth keeping a watching brief upon, and some early experimentation, particularly for development environment purposes, would be well worth considering.



Glenn Irvine