I have jokingly said on many occasions that I have banned myself from using the C-word (Cloud just in case that was unclear from the title).
The reasons behind that statement boiled down to one simple fact. I had, and still, have no idea exactly what a cloud looks like. Yes, I have read about clouds and seen the evolution of “cloud computing” roll out in front of my eyes. I guess you could say I am cloud-agnostic, I believe in the cloud and how it can benefit business, but I don’t feel I have the knowledge of exactly what a cloud is to back that up.
Once you start to scratch at the surface it soon becomes very apparent that Cloud is a fantastic way of describing something that in fact we have been doing for years in the world of outsourced managed services to one degree or another.
Moreover, the following acronyms that have recently come to fore have helped enormously in breaking down the cloud into bite-size chunks and brought me closer to the real truth behind what cloud means.
PaaS-Platform as a Service
SaaS-Software as a Service
A ‘Private Cloud’ can offer out all of the above services to a customer. Platform as a Service (PaaS) or Software as a Service (SaaS) are the current favourites. Every IT services company from Big Blue to Cisco have their spin and flavour of what is now in common parlance ‘Private Cloud’. To examine this further let’s examine the building blocks of a ‘Private Cloud’.
1) Server Landscape: These are servers that one pays for as a service. Remove the Capital Expenditure move to Operational Expenditure for the server resources you need to run your business. OK. Many service providers have been doing this for years. All of the big server manufacturers are effectively banks. Procure the hardware on a lease and the customer pays monthly until the end of the contract. The evolution rather than the revolution here is that it is now possible to virtualise most of this and to have more granular controls over how much and when resources are used. The fundamental model has just evolved with technology. X86 architecture lends itself very well to this model. However, what about all those other servers in the estate? P series platforms, I series Platforms, Open VMS servers, Solaris boxes and dare I mention even mainframe systems (System Z)? Just how do these find their way into the cloud? Currently Blue Chip has a unique proposition in this space. Not only the X86, Blue Chip also offer IBM® P series and I series as part of a hybrid Platform as a Service (PaaS) portfolio. And who knows maybe even Z one day!
2) Storage: Blue Chip has been able to slice up large Storage Area Networks (SAN) and disk in a multi-tenanted environment for years. Many service providers shied away from this and for a reason. Customers didn’t like it, especially security personnel. However suddenly, and for no technical reason, the thinking has shifted and this is now (with the correct controls) perfectly acceptable. I cannot put my finger on exactly when this mood swing occurred but swung it has.
3) Networking: Undoubtedly one of the evolutions that border on revolution is the dramatic change in networking technologies over the last 10-15 years. I can remember not so long ago when I worked for a large ISP and business customers that had a 1 or 2 Mbps circuit where the top dogs. With the ability now to stretch not only Local Area Network (LAN) technologies over 10, 40 and soon 100 Gigabit circuits between sites and to also deliver Native Fibre Channel via optical services extending Storage Area Networks (SAN), the virtual data centre is now within the reach of many organisations for whom previously it was commercially impossible. The optical services now available to service providers from their local Telco suppliers are akin to the very technologies that only the Telcos themselves could afford. But like everything else in the technology world eventually, even that has now become a commodity.
4) Service Provider Licencing Agreements (SPLA) or Managed Service Provider (MSP) models for Software and Hardware have been around for a number of years now, well before the Cloud bandwagon came along. No upfront costs just pay as you go.
So what has the cloud brought us?
From an IT perspective, we now have a more complete way to serve the needs of any business. Enabling them to get on with running their businesses without worrying about the annoying elements that an internally managed IT department brings. Backups, hardware, patching, monitoring and – dare I say – even security.
Teams of specialist do this for you whilst freeing up your IT department to get on with adding value to the business, developing applications, streamlining business processes. With slicker IT systems that integrate fully into the business, IT is empowered to deliver tangible, measurable and competitive benefits to an organisation.
We (Service Providers) can add value around Data Availability, which is the cornerstone of any private or public enterprise. Is my data there for my users when they need it? Where and how can they access it when something has gone wrong? These are the most important questions any IT department needs to be able to answer.
All of this with low entry costs and no nasty surprises with flexible monthly charges rolling throughout the lifetime of the contract.
Are all of these benefits available because we all woke up one day and suddenly the Cloud appeared and solved all of these problems?
I would go as far as to say the clouds have actually lifted and we can now see a clear way to transform IT and the way businesses look at IT. From an ever-increasing complex nightmare to being a utility that needs to be procured just like all other utilities a business needs to function effectively
We all need electricity but we don’t all have a power station in the cupboard under the stairs.