|Europe II 2010
|Evaluating the needs and requirements for successful cloud services
|Vice President, Product Management
Kent Erickson is Vice President of Product Management at Zenoss, Inc. He previously ran product management for Operations Manager at Mission Critical Software and AppManager at NetIQ. Kent Erickson received Master’s and Bachelor’s degrees in Mathematical Sciences from Rice University, Houston, Texas, USA.
Cloud services provide a flexible IT infrastructure that can support peak business computing requirements. They can level the playing field for all businesses. But there are concerns, ranging from lack of service level agreements in the public cloud to release failures and security in the private cloud. Strategic planning that identifies projects that are well-suited for cloud computing can help to determine the critical requirements for success.
For many IT organizations, the ability to respond quickly to their customers’ changing needs sounds more like a pipe dream than a reality. The truth is most companies simply don’t have the budgets or resources to meet requirements for short-term, temporary access to significant amounts of computing capacity. But cloud computing is changing all that. Cloud services are levelling the playing field for all businesses. By providing an extremely flexible IT infrastructure where users can request the specific computing environment they need and gain immediate access to resources, all businesses now have the ability to meet their business’ unique peak computing demands, and release these resources when they no longer need them. Cloud computing is changing the capital cost structure of supporting peak business computing requirements by not having to maintain or own the infrastructure all the time. The evolving enterprise Whether we’re ready or not, enterprises are evolving in front of our very eyes. Users are proactively bringing up servers in the cloud, and as a result, enterprises are beginning to explore how they can make better use of the cloud to bootstrap projects faster and test concepts. This is also presenting companies with new options for ownership and the ability to gain more IT capacity at lower cost. While there are many ways to describe the cloud, simply put, it is computers running on the Internet. That said, there are a couple of things to keep in mind when defining what the cloud is, whether we’re talking about a public or private cloud. First, the public cloud is the original version. It’s where the whole cloud terminology came from. A good example is Amazon’s Elastic Cloud Compute (EC2): a cloud available over the Internet to which access can be purchased with a credit card. The private cloud is a more recent development. At this point, not everyone is comfortable with public cloud services. In fact, many organizations are very keen to continue managing and running services behind the firewall, something that probably isn’t going to change anytime soon. Operating concerns Keeping in mind that the cloud is an operations innovation in how IT is deployed and managed, we must remember that it’s still relatively new. While operations teams are in the best position to help organizations make the most of cloud computing, many companies have yet to embrace it, and still have concerns around both the public and private cloud. For a start, there are questions concerning the purchasing process for the public cloud. There are often no service level agreements and a limited choice of computing environments. Among other aspects is the fact that the public cloud doesn’t provide the things we all take for granted such as backup, security, monitoring, unified authentication and administrative access. While the private cloud may be a bit more complicated because of the technical requirements we’ve come to expect from the enterprise, there are similar concerns around release failures, security, configuration management, bridging old and new infrastructures, and monitoring sloppy infrastructures that are a result of releasing changes too fast. How cloud computing makes organizations better So what’s the value of cloud computing? How does it make an organization better? If it’s just about delivering Intel as a service and spinning servers up or down really fast, how is the value measured? It can be measured in many ways, but mostly it comes down to the ability to provide reliable, on-demand access to computers at affordable prices. For example, retail companies can easily add enough IT capacity to meet the needs of customers during holiday shopping periods. The cloud can also turn IT infrastructure from a fixed cost to a variable cost. For example, if a company needs 1000 computers for a week, with cloud computing they can get 1000 computers for a week for $10,000 and then they’re gone. Whereas, buying 1000 computers can cost upwards of US$10 million, along with provisioning, managing, running, testing, and locating them. Providing on-demand access to computers and then releasing them when they are no longer needed makes things possible that weren’t financially feasible before. Critical requirements for success As new technologies and practices come into play, there are many kinks that still need to be worked out. Instead of applying cloud computing across the board, it’s wiser to plan strategic projects that are well-suited for cloud computing. Companies that have successfully used the cloud as their operations framework have learned a thing or two about what’s required for success. ◦ Start out small. Cloud computing is, after all, a new bucket of technologies and practices. There are new things to figure out with new computing technologies. So, instead of applying it across the board, it’s better to start out small. Build on your successes and learn best practices to identify the best cloud technology to prioritize which workloads are the most appropriate. ◦ Unify IT disciplines. Virtualization in clouds drives the need to unify IT disciplines in the organization. Like most innovations in IT, cloud computing does not mean that there’s less skill or less discipline. Companies that use cloud as an operations framework understand that in order to be effective and get the most out of it, cloud management requires more discipline and skills than ever to deliver an overall better experience. ◦ Elastic provisioning. A company that offers limited time promotions requires flexible capacity to meet their business needs. In order to ratchet up and down very quickly, adding IT capacity when demand is high and delivering great response time requires elastic provisioning to successfully pull it off. Then, when the promotion ends, they can ratchet back down so they aren’t paying for the servers, making it very affordable to do such promotions. ◦ Homogeneous environment. In order to manage an environment successfully, you need to know all the devices that are there. This gets more complicated and difficult when an IT team is using multiple tools for specific technologies. The best way to effectively manage an environment is to look for tools that work with the environments together or create a more homogeneous environment. ◦ Pragmatic approach. In terms of monitoring and automation, there are a wide range of different cloud technologies to choose from. But, thinking about the pragmatism of operations rather than tools is a really smart way to go. A pragmatic approach that supports capability, agility and affordability provides the three components that are critical to successful cloud services, which is the capability to: 1) manage and monitor all applications and servers; 2) quickly respond to customer demands; and 3) ratchet capacity up or down when needed to keep costs down. Why bother with cloud? We continue to hear all sorts of arguments for cloud computing. Most of them boil down to: it’s better, cheaper, faster and easier. As with any new technology, the promise is greater than the initial payback. While there are truths behind the claims, it all comes down to the benefits a service provides. Let’s start with cost. Maybe an organization doesn’t actually need to own the infrastructure all of the time. Consider a retail company that does the bulk of its business at Christmas. Do they really want to buy a bunch of servers in March and keep them idle until the end of the year just to use them for a month to generate profits? Clearly, you want to generate profits but whether you want to incur that capital expenditure is a really good question; this situation is probably something that you should consider for the cloud. This is applicable to any company with seasonal or business driven spikes in computing demand. Second, looking at workloads and doing some workload triage is really important. It may well be that some workloads are very appropriate for the cloud at low cost, while others are not. And what about flexibility and getting things done quickly? That’s one of the key advantages of the cloud. Almost everyone focuses on self-service delivery. It’s a big deal. With Amazon EC2 today, you can sign on to your Amazon shopping account, add a web server, drop some content on it and have a business functioning in an hour. That’s the kind of value proposition the cloud provides. But the benefits of the cloud are not just about cost reduction. They are about enhancing IT capacity, improving management, and creating new opportunities to push into new revenue streams such as data and analytics. All this helps us to better understand our customers and our supply chain and can result in more revenue at the end of the day. The cloud can play that role. Conclusion With IT environments changing faster than the individuals who are running them, it’s becoming more difficult to provide reliable services when demands are high. Cloud services give companies the agility they need to deliver extremely responsive, on-demand IT more effectively and cheaper than has previously been the case. As a result, companies are turning those pipe dreams into reality.