Prepare to enter the cloud

Given the growing interest in cloud computing, I thought I would share some recent insights from a conversation with David Senf, director of the Infrastructure Solutions Group at IDC Canada.

According to an IDC survey on cloud computing, over half of enterprises now have adopted some form of cloud and, of the companies that use it, 73 per cent report a reduction in infrastructure costs. Firms surveyed also report overall annual savings of 25 per cent from server virtualization and, along with it, annual average savings of 30 per cent due to hardware consolidation and 18 per cent from reduced power and cooling.

All of which brings to mind the fact that, while a growing number of our own xwave clients are expressing interest in cloud and are keen to reap its benefits (more flexible access to IT; centralized management; easier, faster deployment), many still have questions about it and wonder whether it’s right for their organization.

In Senf’s opinion, the simplest answer is that cloud computing is a logical next step for most organizations if they plan properly for it, keeping in mind the fact that:

* There are different versions of the cloud model. The two most distinct are the internal or private cloud, whereby IT services are managed within the enterprise; and the external or public cloud, where services are obtained from an external host via the Internet in formats better-known by their acronyms: SaaS (software as a service), IaaS (infrastructure as a service), and PaaS (platform as a service).

* Most organizations adopt cloud in a modular fashion; they introduce a few cloud-based services and gradually integrate more.

Chances are if you’re contemplating cloud computing, you’re virtualized to some degree; virtualization is the infrastructure foundation for cloud, and while the two are not synonymous (as is sometimes thought), the former is a prerequisite for the latter.

Working with that understanding, the following are some key cloud considerations:

* To what extent does virtualization fit into your organization now? IDC research finds that server virtualization is used by more than 60 per cent of Canadian companies with more than 100 employees. Taking your current level of virtualization into account, how might a cloud rollout look from a cost-benefit or enterprise-architecture point of view?

* In the same vein, where and how do storage and desktop virtualization deliver the most value for your firm?

* How will the shift to cloud affect:
Desktop, server, network and storage capacity?
Energy consumption?
Administration time?
Security? As an additional aside, security has tended to be the key concern when, and greatest obstacle to, adopting cloud; however, the general consensus among providers and users alike is that it’s improving.

* How in turn will these changes affect compliance with regulations pertaining to:
Customer or cardholder data?

* Which applications and data might best be supported using a public cloud as an extension of a private one?

* Who is responsible for provisioning virtual machines and on which parts of your internal network – or, as the case may be, externally beyond it?

* Which are the most appropriate tools and processes for monitoring performance, backup/recovery, patch management, configuration management, and so on?

* How will the consequent changes in contracts and service level agreements (SLAs) be handled?

These are big questions, and they underscore the reality that migrating to cloud is a big step. Again, planning is key.

“To some, ‘plan’ is a four-letter word, but is sorely needed to avoid pitfalls,” said Senf.

In the same vein, he points out, “the best-laid plans still do require a check along the way.” These checks, he said, should come in the form of periodic proof-of-concepts that enable you to “justify returns and ferret out problems” in areas such as total cost of ownership (TCO), application compatibility, security, capacity, and input/output performance.

Finally, it’s important to recognize that there probably are as many ways to adopt cloud as there are companies using it. “There is no typical rollout pattern for cloud, and the mix of public and private is unique for each firm,” said Senf. He adds, “Companies that understand virtualization and have completed the foundational work required to cloud-enable their business-critical/core infrastructure will be in the best position to capitalize on cloud.”

Anthony Wright is vice-president of advanced technology solutions at xwave, a division of Bell Aliant. Ranked among Canada’s top 10 green solution providers by CDN in 2008 and 2009, the company offers a complete portfolio of virtualization and consolidation services.. For more information:

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