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Jump on the bandwagon

01 Mar 2011

How could cloud computing not be an attractive proposition for businesses? It offers value by allowing a user to deploy its IT architecture on a pay-as-you-go basis, where the cloud provider covers the capital and administrative costs of the hardware, and in some cases, the software. It provides a reduction in capital and administrative costs, which allows for a lower barrier of entry to the cloud customer and, ultimately, greater computing power at a lower price.You can be guaranteed of two things when it comes to cloud. Firstly, the quest to harness the cloud is keeping a great number of CIOs awake at night. Secondly, it is unavoidable. Cloud computing, in one form or another, will happen in all organisations, whether it’s the formal evaluation and adoption of a new CRM platform through a formal IT process, the ad hoc use of public cloud infrastructure by developers, or the ‘bursting’ of an on-premise cloud to a public cloud to gain temporary capacity.So how do you know when it’s the right time to take a ride on the cloud bandwagon, and how do you know just how far to go? It starts with understanding the benefits of cloud – including cost and elasticity – and the barriers to wider usage, such as security and interoperability, and using the decision making process to create the best balance for your organisation.Cloud computing is fast becoming a crowded and confusing market, with a number of vendors trying to drive and control clouds, which can make it harder to get a clear view of what’s actually available and who’s offering what.Today there are public clouds, such as Amazon EC2 or the IBM Cloud, private clouds that exist within an organisation's firewall and create a unified, shared services platform, and hybrid clouds where services from both internal private and external public clouds are used in concert to provide a consistently high level of service.Across the board, open source is a ‘foundational’ element in cloud computing, in fact, 90% of early clouds are open source-based and all public clouds are built on open source. When it comes to selecting a cloud solution, it’s important to know that even within the realm of cloud computing, the core platform principles remain the same. The legacy of the proprietary era is rising costs, pricey maintenance contracts, loss of control and being locked into a single vendor’s agenda. In the world of cloud computing, the danger of being locked into a proprietary platform is the difficulty of extracting data from the cloud.The open source approach to cloud computing is known for ensuring optimal interoperability, by enabling customers to build their cloud from components they already have, whether: Microsoft Windows or Red Hat Enterprise Linux; LAMP, Java, or .Net; Red Hat Enterprise Virtualisation, VMware ESX, or Microsoft Hyper-V; Infrastructure-as-a-Service or Platform-as-a-Service; on-premise or public clouds. Users also avoid being locked in to a single vendor's stack. Google operates tens of thousands of servers, and does so economically, because they use open source technologies to run them. When starting out with cloud many organisations look to enable internal clouds, before trying their hand at external clouds when they become more experienced with the technology and overcome any teething problems. For businesses with an existing virtualised environment, cloud computing is a natural evolution, however, for first-timers starting from scratch it can be a very different process that is very much about crawling before you walk, or run.For these organisations, the first steps need to be understanding what their priorities are, and what it actually means to ‘push’ something out to the cloud. This is the time to ask the tough questions – will the cloud solution allow me the flexibility to move between clouds, should we choose to? How will our security be impacted? Can we afford downtime? What about business continuity plans and SLAs?It goes without saying that the foundation of every cloud is a robust, scalable and secure virtualisation substrate, however it also requires other key ingredients – proven enterprise technologies including operating systems, middleware and application development tools, schedulers, management tools and ISV applications. What’s missing from this list is governance. Virtualisation, dynamically moving workloads and an increased reliance on third parties for many types of IT functions mean that well thought-out and documented processes, with room for rapid review, policies and procedures tend to be more important in cloud than with a more static and manual environment.Cloud computing certainly isn’t ‘risky’ any more than IT is more broadly risky. Like all IT activities – and anything in life that has the potential to yield excellent returns – cloud projects should be undertaken in a way that both mitigates risk and that considers those projects in the context of IT as a whole. Consistency and portability are two of the most important pillars supporting well-governed cloud architectures whether on-premise, public or hybrid architecture. These concepts are closely related, but not the same thing.With all that said and done, how does a business new to the cloud proceed? Often, the best way is to dive in. Non-mission critical workloads can be good crash test dummies and give a sense of how the process differs from traditional operations. Every business is unique, and there’s certainly no silver bullet when it comes to selecting areas to push out into the cloud, but some areas of the business will lend themselves to a relatively straight forward transition to cloud – usually systems that are already online, like marketing, inventory or warehousing, for example.Cloud computing offers new levels of reliability, agility, and cost-effectiveness that businesses cannot ignore and must not ignore, if they want to remain competitive. But it’s not without its risks and liabilities, and whether you’re a cloud first-timer, or evolving further into cloud, the role of governance must be a critical part of the cloud decision making process.