Heading to the clouds

CIOs and analysts stress the importance of due diligence when assessing the new delivery models for IT services.

Michael Shallcross, an engineer with the IBM Global Technology Services Asia Pacific, believes a bank branch and an ATM are apt models to demonstrate cloud computing. Speaking at the recent IDC Cloud Computing Conference in Auckland, Shallcross, said the bank branch is the “ultimate inflexible delivery model that is capital intensive”.

The branch is empty at 10am and 2pm, but is full of customers during the lunch break. “The bank is not able to scale up or down, the customers have to wait.” The advantage, however, is that the customers can talk to a teller face to face.

He then compared the customer experience with the automated teller machine. The ATM does not merely represent a device being rolled out, it opened up a new low-cost delivery channel for the banks. The processes were standardised, services expanded, and programmes were put in place to move people from the expensive bank branch to working on the ATMs’ delivery mechanisms.

The same is true of cloud computing, he said. It is setting up a new, lower-cost IT delivery platform.

Greg Bunt, APAC enterprise architect with Juniper Networks, meanwhile, presented a different, but equally interesting model to illustrate security in the cloud – in this case, the medieval castle and a hotel.

In the castle, the moat was a key security feature. Yet, Bunt says, in the hotel model, a guest gets a key card to get security access to a room. But there are shared areas like the lobby and the restaurant.

Shallcross talked about “cloud-ready” workloads for both the public and private cloud computing models. These include infrastructure, desktop and development and test.

Among the early adopters within the cloud, he says there are clear patterns pointing to a practical approach to cloud computing.

First, they plan and prepare, then define the cloud strategy and roadmap and choose an initial project, he told the conference delegates. They condition the existing infrastructure for the cloud by virtualising and automating existing systems. They then choose a low-risk workload such as test and development as a pilot project. They standardise applications and systems and deploy a self-service portal. They then extend and evolve the cloud across the enterprises.

“Start with the service in mind,” he advised. “The most successful cloud projects had a clear idea who the customer was and what their requirements are.”

Chris Morris, director, practice group, IDC Asia Pacific, suggests evaluating opportunities for “low-risk, non-mission critical applications” that could benefit from a cloud computing environment. Plan for integration of cloud management and security with existing enterprise tools and processes, he said.

He lists some of the questions organisations need to answer as they consider cloud computing services:

  • What business benefit are you looking to achieve by using a cloud-computing model?
  • What are the application characteristics and its demands for elasticity?
  • What set of cloud capabilities are required to achieve the objectives for which the solution is designed?
  • What does a risk analysis reveal?
  • Can you source the service from the Public Cloud or build a Private Cloud?
  • How will you manage the governance of the solution?
  • How will you design, develop, and test the solution?

John Holley, group manager ICT for the Auckland Regional Council, says the council has had experience with the cloud in its project management office and he shared an experience with how they implemented cloud technology to their public consultation process. They needed a solution that was not expensive, agile, secure and accessible, which meant even the blind could participate in the consultation process. He said both implementations were fast and delivered cost savings.

He said cloud technology “allows you to succeed fast, and fail as fast as well. But it is agile.”

It is important to sort out the issues in the testing period “because it can come back and bite you, he told the conference.”

Roger Cockayne, CEO of Revera, said some of the questions enterprises need to ask when evaluating their vendors were what were they before they became a cloud provider. “That will indicate what their strengths and weaknesses are.”

Chris Auld, director of strategy and innovation for Intergen, listed some of the situations that merited the use of cloud technology: If an organisation needs computing power at certain times, if it is growing fast as it takes up to 10 weeks to buy a new server, experiences “unpredictable bursting”, and “predictable bursting”. An example would be the ticketing provider for concerts.

Auld advised that if an organisation saves money in the cloud, to use that savings to improve internet connectivity.

Brendon Ford, CTO of Provoke Solutions, agreed, and said the cloud can take mundane stuff from specialist IT staff’s workload. Enterprises can redeploy key staff to do other major work.

He cites Provoke’s work with the New Zealand Rugby Union (NZRU). The organisation had a small IT team, with on-premise infrastructure. Half of its employees, however, work remotely, travelling across New Zealand and internationally, using a virtual private network to connect to the organisation’s system. The IT manager, Jeremy Burrows, received calls late at night to resolve system failures or respond to IT requests, when teams were in other parts of the world. NZRU deployed Microsoft’s Business Productivity Online Suite to serve the needs of the mobile workforce, and save on hardware, software and IT support costs. The CIO can sleep when the All Blacks are touring, says Ford.

However, he did point out some of the ‘cons’ of going into the cloud. These include ‘cloud lock in’, bandwidth issues and data sovereignty. His advice is for organisations to go with a reputable brand.

Peter McDowall, CIO of St John, says because of the nature of his organisation, it had to choose technology that was flexible and reliable, with data shared only with the right people. He says organisations must take a “good hard look at the certification of the cloud vendors”.

The final advice comes from Michael Shallcross of IBM: “The cloud is real and ready. Make sure you’re ready for it; have a cloud strategy.”