That’s because, like real clouds, “the cloud” lets the speaker find in it whatever he needs or sees. To vendors, the cloud’s definition is often that which will storm markets and suck in sales. To IT, the cloud is the latest, greatest, next “best thing” that will either further strap them to the hot-seat or finally let them out of that chair. To C-level decision-makers on the business end of things – the cloud’s virtue is that it is cheap, cheap, cheap.
It doesn’t take an Einstein-level intellect to see the storm brewing from that mix.
The cloud is coming… the cloud is inevitable… the future is in the cloud. You hear these bits of prophetic wisdom all day, everyday. Sure, there are variations on the theme but they all mean the same thing: “Resistance is futile.”
It’s not that any of these people are wrong; it’s just that they are not entirely correct. Thus the undefined cloud continues to obscure the conversation.
The Cloud as Minion (and its names are many)
“There is a continuous debate surrounding the definition of cloud computing,” says GigaSpaces’ CTO, Nati Shalom. “Is it just another name for virtualization? Is it a ‘re-packaging’ of grid computing? Or, is it just the familiar hosting services we know and love with an additional and more sophisticated layer of automation?”
Despite this ongoing — and as yet to be settled — debate, some tacitly accepted terms describe the cloud and thus allow the concept to move forward.
“In general, think of cloud computing as a utility, such as electricity in your home or business,” explains David Cottingham, senior director of hosted and managed services at CDW. “It is computing and storage capacity available upon demand, allowing organizations to run applications, house storage, etc., in a pay-per-use format,” he added. “In other words, there is no minimum periodic charge. The pay-per-use structure allows organizations to easily scale their capacity up or down as needed to meet sudden spikes or dips in their needs.”
There is one other, often overlooked, aspect to the cloud: crowdsourcing labor. This is a new staffing model, something of an evolution of the freelancer and independent contractor models. The cloud enables companies to seek and employ talent around the globe without regard to the individuals’ location or the need for moving them or housing them in a central office space. Unlike sporadic freelancer and independent contractor hires, this model allows for large employment waves that can easily scale to fit changes in demand.
To Crowd or Not to Crowd the Cloud
Somewhere at the end of the rainbow are golden kernels of reason that can be used to rationalize a move to the cloud – or to help determine that the cloud is not the right choice. There is information unencumbered by wishful thinking and free of hyperbole that one can assemble into a thoughtful decision. But where is this mythical pot of reason and how can one cash it in?
Ah, therein lies the rub that chafes us all and potentially leaves us bereft of profit….
“Despite the hype, there are no cloud offerings that take all the complexity out of IT,” explains Mike Martin, director of Cloud Computing at Logicalis. “Make no mistake about it: The complexity of applications and managing IT is not going away. Whether your computing systems are running in your own data center or somewhere in the cloud, you still have to run them, patch them, upgrade them, and manage them — or pay someone else to do it.”
Which, to state the situation clearly, means that the cloud can fog existing IT issues. However, that is not to say the cloud is a bad thing, for it certainly isn’t. The cloud is merely a different way to do many of the same things you are doing (or plan to do) already.
That distinction is crucial, for only then can you weigh your choices intelligently in the full light of the goals you have already set for your team or company. Now, and only now, can you see the rainbow, the promises the cloud holds, and the path it takes.
When you weigh the cloud as a means to achieve a well-defined, unrelated end (as opposed to an end in and of itself) you may quickly find it a faster, easier, and often cheaper way to travel the distance. The cloud is not entirely benevolent, however; this airy beast has its scary moments. If you are prepared for this before you take flight, you can tame many of its wilder aspects and forgo many a painful spill.
Cloud Formations and Foibles
Yes, nearly everyone can stare at the cloud and discern a different shape. While that trait proves maddening when you’re seeking to describe the thing, it is also the very aspect that makes it so wonderfully versatile.
“Yahoo! sees cloud computing as a platform for agility and stability, enabling faster product innovation for companies that take full advantage of what the cloud can accomplish,” says Shelton Shugar, vice president of Cloud Computing at Yahoo!
“Yahoo! uses cloud services to accelerate the pace of innovation and improve its global offering of consumer and advertiser experiences,” adds Shugar. “Examples include faster content access around the globe, real-time sports updates, a personalized homepage, targeted news feeds, geo-specific ads, and much more.”
However, not everyone is comfortable with the cloud as a shifty, shapeless servant. In fact, that scares a few folks.
“This FUD (fear, uncertainty and doubt) of the public cloud has led some large enterprises to create their own private cloud,” explains Nico Popp, vice president of product development at VeriSign.
“Private clouds have some of the same characteristics but they are run within an enterprise’s private network and offer shared services to departments, business units, and divisions,” adds Popp. The private cloud can address concerns around control, compliance, and security, he says, since IT information, data, and infrastructure stays within the company. “However, the economies of scale that can be realized are obviously more limited,” he says.
And that is how public clouds birthed private clouds. Shortly thereafter, a third cloud formation appeared on the scene: the hybrid cloud, which lives somewhere in between, but in the end shifts too, for it is also only a shape made of misty cloud.
Hosted is Cloud-ly, Only Grounded
By contrast to the cloud, hosted services are tethered to a place. “There’s a lot of confusion between ‘cloud’ and simply ‘hosted services’ in the marketplace and many hosting providers are trying to jump on the bandwagon of cloud,” says Florian Becker, director of Citrix Consulting Solutions.
“Hosted services are tied to specific, physical pieces of equipment that reside at a service provider’s data center but are dedicated to the client’s exclusive use, including servers, storage, networking, and other components,” explains CDW’s Cottingham.
The service provider usually performs basic support and maintenance as part of their service. “In most cases, hosted service providers support multiple clients in a single data center, because economies of scale are part of the core value proposition,” Cottingham says. “Unlike the pay-per-use pricing of cloud computing, hosted services generally have a contractual structure with a monthly minimum fee determined by the level of service assured to the client.” However, as with cloud computing, a hosted services client can quickly add capacity as necessary, without the administrative or technical burden of purchasing and installing new equipment on their own.
“The most common point of confusion between cloud computing and hosted services is the visibility or transparency of physical equipment,” points out Cottingham. Both require physical data centers housed and maintained by someone other than the client organization, he says. But where they differ is that hosted services dedicate specific equipment to specific users for a set period of time.”
To boil the point to further clarity: “A hosting service is a type of Internet hosting in which a customer leases a server,” says Satish Hemachandran, director of product management, managed services at SunGard Availability Services. “Cloud Computing is a pool of hardware resources using virtualization technologies to allow computing, storage, applications, and network resources to be easily provisioned and managed over public or private networks,” he explains. “One big advantage that all types of cloud computing offer is that, by its nature, cloud computing removes single points of failure.”
Public and Private and Hybrid, Oh my!
The public cloud is the best understood cloud computing model. “Utilizing the public cloud means leveraging service providers on the global Internet to provide computing, storage, and management services for your enterprise computing needs,” says Ben Grubin, solution marketing manager at Novell. For example, he points at Terremark, Rackspace, and other hosting providers who can operate and manage a company’s enterprise workloads completely independently from the enterprise infrastructure.
Grubin too says it is important to understand the difference between a hosting provider and a cloud provider. “Three criteria stand out: self-service, use-based metering, and portability,” he says. ] In Grubin’s eyes, portability is also a major impediment to adoption; the ability to move your workloads between clouds — or even back to your own enterprise — is critical to avoid lock-in, or at least the fear of lock-in.
The private cloud seeks to replicate the public cloud “experience” within the enterprise network. “A major driver of this are the security and compliance concerns of running workloads outside of the firewall,” explains Grubin. “A private cloud allows enterprises to reap some of the benefits of a cloud architecture while they build the internal processes, procedures, and skill sets to deal with workload mobility.”
“Once an enterprise has gained experience with workload mobility inside the firewall, they are much better positioned to take advantage of the incredible potential of public cloud computing,” adds Grubin.
Not everyone agrees with this approach, however. “People are now talking about ‘personal or private’ clouds,” says Vaughn Bunch, partner at the Oaks Technology Law Group,a corporate law firm that focuses on technology transactions. “I feel like saying, ‘Look, if you want everyone to get off of your cloud, you’ll go out of business.’ My rule of thumb is that you can’t make your own cloud. Who makes the clouds? God does. Of course, the biggest of the cloud gods is Amazon.”
“The whole point of the cloud is that we’re sharing space, sharing resources, in the delivery of software services, and third party applications, and not just servers, are involved,” he explains. “Our software services may be secure, but that doesn’t make them ‘personal.’ At the same time, if a client wants to tell people that their hosted SaaS product operates ‘in a cloud,’ that’s fine with me. I’ve never seen anyone ask for a warranty to that fact in a license agreement.”
The hybrid cloud is a combination of both the public and private architectures. “Instead of a fully-public cloud which allows all comers to purchase and use the capacity of the service provider, a hybrid cloud is a cloud that is private from the perspective of the enterprise, but is run and managed outside of the firewall by a service provider that offers cloud computing to multiple customers,” explains Grubin.
“This has some of the benefits of both models, since the external provider can gain the economies of scale of managing a much larger cloud environment, while also mitigating the compliance and security concerns by adhering to the enterprise policies of their customers,” he adds.
Once you determine to venture into the cloud, all you have to do is figure out which model serves you best. The answer depends entirely on your situation and goals.
“There is no clear winner here: All of these models have their place in the evolution of virtualization and cloud computing,” says Grubin. “While a natural progression might be from a private or hybrid cloud to a public cloud, there will always be workloads that are not appropriate to run outside the firewall.”
“It takes a keen strategic eye and some rigorous assessment of the needs and constraints of an enterprise workload to spot the best way to run each,” he says.
There is no doubt that cloud computing is taking IT by storm; the question of whether you should batten the hatches or raise your sails remains an individual call. In all probability, you’ll need to do a little of both.
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