You know a technology is hot when even non-IT people are talking about it. And everyone is talking about the cloud.
They may not know quite what it is, or understand what it means for infrastructure or security, said Greg Myers, vice-president of marketing at Tech Data Canada whose non-tech ski buddies were even talking cloud on the slopes, but they do understand that it’s about accessing applications over the Internet.
IDC Canada’s research director, infrastructure solutions, David Senf, agrees. “What in cloud is not hot?” he asked. “In the past year, we’ve seen the attitude towards the cloud move from pure skepticism. Today, it’s strategic. I’m amazed at how fast it has moved from ‘what the hell is that?’!”
It is, in fact, strategic enough that companies such as Aliant, Allstream, Amazon, Bell Canada, CGI, HP Canada, IBM Global Services, MTS, Peer 1 Networks, Q9 Networks, Rackspace, Savvis, and Telus are all dipping (or have dipped) their toes into the cloud services marketplace, according to a recent IDC Canada look at infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and the impact it will have on the Canadian outsourcing market, released to coincide with IBM’s announcement of its cloud strategy and offerings. In fact, IDC thinks that IBM’s move will help make IaaS one of the top stories in Canadian technology for 2011.
Of course, “the cloud” isn’t only IaaS. Like its analogue in nature, it can have several manifestations. The definition is so cloudy that the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) has released a document for public comment that, while acknowledging that the understanding of cloud is still evolving, lays out its thoughts on the subject.
NIST suggests this definition: “Cloud computing is a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction. This cloud model promotes availability and is composed of five essential characteristics, three service models, and four deployment models.”
Besides the IaaS model, NIST names Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) to round out its trio of service models, and Private, Community, Public and Hybrid as possible deployment models.
“There is no such thing as an all-encompassing cloud model,” agreed independent analyst Carmi Levy. “Companies can’t simply jump into the cloud or throw their existing infrastructure into the cloud. There are huge risks associated with pursuing an all-hands strategy without first understanding the far-reaching technology and business impact it will have, and cloud is about as impactful a technology evolution as we’ve had in recent memory.”
The hottest services, according to cloud vendor Hosting.com, include business continuity and disaster recovery. In its 2011 survey, The Current State of Cloud Computing, one in five respondents ranked business continuity and disaster recovery (BCDR) as their number one reason for moving to the cloud, and more than half rated it as one of their top three drivers. The survey reported that the cloud makes BCDR services accessible to more companies than ever, primarily due to the high availability inherent to the cloud and the ability to extend infrastructure across multiple service provider data centres.
However, the report went on, this puts a burden on the service providers. It said, “The top ranking of BCDR places a significant emphasis on cloud services companies to architect, plan and validate their ability to withstand outages, attacks and performance spikes. They must also develop cloud solutions that stretch across multiple data centres and seamlessly integrate with a client’s own data centre.”
“Shifting an application suite into the cloud can rock IT’s world on a number of levels,” added Levy. “Aside from the day-to-day changes in administration and management, mission critical workflow elements such as backups and DRP must be completely restructured.”
This may have an effect on internal staff, who may need to be retrained or rendered redundant. With this in mind, Levy notes that an especially hot area of cloud computing revolves around organizational evolution and design, and what the cloud-enabled IT shop of tomorrow needs to look like to best take advantage of the cloud revolution. Partners who can develop this expertise will be in high demand. Added Senf, “The top thing we hear from CIOs is that they have to ensure they have governance in place so they do the right thing now and in the future.”
And, he went on, IT needs to take control and have policies in place to help the business decide what should and should not be in the cloud. Levy added, “Whatever the IT department ultimately looks like, it’s clear that what works in a completely cloudless landscape will need to change radically as resources become more cloud- and virtual-friendly.”
The good news, according to Hosting.com, is that almost 90 per cent of companies that have moved into the cloud were satisfied or very satisfied with the services they’re receiving. The bad news: only just over a quarter were very satisfied, indicating significant room for improvement.
The survey also illustrated the up-and coming models for cloud usage. While, as one would expect, receiving on-demand computing resources was the top reason companies moved to the cloud, access to disaster recovery and backup ranked second.
Hosting.com pointed out that this is reflected both in the speed with which cloud providers are moving into the BCDR arena, and in the new buzzwords such as recovery-as-a-service, cloud recovery and cloud-based disaster recovery that are emerging monthly. The report says, “Cloud-based BCDR presents companies with the opportunity to adopt BCDR solutions for their mission-critical applications at a fraction of the cost of traditional BCDR offerings would cost to implement, maintain and test in a traditional model.”
Finally, for smaller companies in particular, cloud adoption was driven by the need to replace existing infrastructure, and for almost half of large companies, the need to extend it.
The cloud may be the darling of the industry today, but it’s destined, like many other technologies, to descend to the mundane before long, according to IDC Canada. Mark Schrutt, director of services and enterprise applications, said “We anticipate that in four to five years, cloud will no longer be hype or trendy, but a commonly accepted component of an IT delivery strategy.”