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The lowdown on cloud computing

The lowdown on cloud computing

Intel’s own journey to the cloud was ‘painless and seamless’ but there were lessons learned along the way.

“The benefits of cloud are real,” says Dr Liam Keating, Intel APAC IT director and China IT country manager, as he outlines the lessons learned from the company’s internal cloud deployment. Intel is now halfway through its five-year cloud journey, and the business sees two main benefits from the move, he says. These are the agility of the IT organisation to rapidly respond to customer requirements, as well as cost savings.

“Over the past two years we have seen US$17 million dollars in cost savings from our cloud computing journey,” says Keating at the Intel APAC Cloud Summit in Penang, Malaysia.

The savings is from “pure business value” of being agile, he says. “There is less bureaucracy in the system, you can move faster.”

Up to two years ago, Keating says that an order for a server from Intel’s IT team would take around three months – from filling up the form, getting it approved and having it tested and delivered. Today, the process takes three hours.

“Cloud computing is a wonderful way to align IT strategy to business strategy because business strategy is all about agility,” he says.

While Keating describes the internal cloud deployment as “pretty painless and pretty seamless”, there were nevertheless, three challenges they faced: Asset management and utilisation; demand forecasting and capacity planning; and IT workforce ‘transformation’.

He says the complexity of the new environment is different. “You are sharing resources among many different applications,” he explains. “Your bottleneck before might have been obvious, today it is not so obvious.”

There is a need to skill up and educate your IT workforce to understand these complexities, he says. ”You need to develop new skills and better diagnostics; you need an integrated approach to understanding how all of these factors work together.”

The second challenge involves demand forecasting and capacity planning. The fact the provisioning time has been reduced from 90 days to three days requires a new awareness of what kind of capacity, including reserve capacity, is needed. “You don’t have that three month window,” he says.“You need to plan for the future, not just the next day.”

The third challenge involves ”transformation” of the workforce. Keating says a lot of IT employees are concerned - mainly about job security - when they hear about cloud computing.

Intel’s experience was different, he says. The shift did not involve reducing staff count in the datacentres, but “a transformation from your datacentre force from working relatively low level bureaucratic tasks in the datacentre to much higher value add tasks".

“This was something that emerged only after we realised the huge increase in agility that we could deliver,” he says. “We needed to engage with the datacentre employees to address their concerns and to facilitate them with the type of training in the new capabilities that will be required in a virtualised environment.”

Whether that is in diagnostics or in monitoring a much more complex environment that is virtualised, the experience of the IT employees has been positive, he says. “It is up-skilling, it is new technology, and quite honestly, more interesting than the lower level bureaucratic role they have been [doing].”

Pointers for success

Keating’s pointers for success in the cloud include the importance of setting up a baseline for what is meant by cloud computing and how it will impact the organisation. “It is about trying to get everybody aligned with what we meant.”

Leadership support and business partnership are also critical, he says. “You need a very strong business partnership to explain this is good for the company, it gives much more agility and saves a lot of money.”

As well, when working with providers, Keating says, “understand where your data is, who has access to it, how is [it] controlled and are their systems administrators vetted for security?”

Implementing a cloud strategy is a “multi-year journey”, he concludes. “Don’t expect results overnight. It will deliver the results in time, and you will get the business value.”

The biggest driver

Another speaker at the summit, Avneesh Saxena, group vice president, Domain Research Group, IDC Asia Pacific, says saving money is not the biggest driver for cloud take-up in the region.

“Most of the time, the investment is driven by the time to market advantage that customers are getting," says Saxena, based on interviews with executives across the region. "There is also the pay as you go advantage. You don’t stock all your IT dollars in this one big investment that is underutilised.”

Reliability, availability and security, meanwhile, are some of the reasons why customers feel they are not ready for the cloud. They would like to see SLAs and some issues addressed before they take that big step, says Saxena. “All of these give urgency to the point [that] there is a critical need for vendors to come out and start talking about, how do you make this a more secure experience?”

Meanwhile, internal IT is listening and understands the need to act to be in step with what business really needs. He says some of the questions IT teams are asking today are, “Should I be building my own IT? Should I look at new ways of sourcing it”?

The new frontier of insight

Another speaker at the event, Allyson Klein, director of leadership marketing, Data Center Group at Intel, points out the impact of the connected world as it becomes larger and more diverse.

In four years, there will be another billion users online, and some 15 billion connected devices. “We are witnessing a sea of new devices [that are] limited only by our creativity,” says Klein.

“These billion users are going to create new levels of diversity and new levels of requirements [on] how they want to utilise technology in their lives,” she says. “We are delivering different form factors to people who want to use technologies in ways that today’s form factors won’t let them.”

She sees one of the goals of technology is making lives better through better communications, in what she describes as “creating a new frontier of insight through device to device communication”.

“We are getting to the ability of the devices to talk to one another and not just talk to us, collecting data to provide insights that were impossible to measure,” she says.

An example is a farmer planning the use of water for his crops. Today, there are device sensors in the field connected to a datacentre that has real-time weather updates. The devices send not only the right information about when to water but how much water to use daily.

Water conservation is a huge issue, she says, and this is an example of how devices talking to one another can drive a more sustainable world and better utilisation of resources.

But all this communication needs something to connect together and process, and the cloud becomes the performance engine for this. This makes sense from a user standpoint. “I don’t want to be carrying around computing capacity in every sensor,” she says, “but I want the ability to tap it when I want and I want that device to get smarter and intuit what I want when I need it.”

Divina Paredes attended the APAC Cloud Summit in Penang as a guest of Intel.

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