Q&A: Jason Reid, CTO, Carrenza

So what is Cloud computing? Everyone seems to be getting their businesses into or onto ‘the Cloud’, but as far as most of us can see the Cloud appears to be all things to all people. The problem is it all started out so simply with the Cloud just as a metaphor for something that the user does not need to understand (or see, hence it is obscured by a Cloud). However, people soon found lots of stuff to hide behind the Cloud and the metaphor became horribly stretched. We spoke to Jason Reid, CTO of Carrenza, to see if he can demystify.

Tell us about your role at Carrenza

Firstly, it’s worth giving a bit of background on what we do at Carrenza. We’re based in London’s East End and provide award winning Cloud computing services to a range of high profile customers including Comic Relief, Ebay, SDL, Hasbro and Cineworld. As CTO I am responsible for overseeing all the technical aspects of Carrenza’s engineering, service delivery, strategy and product development. It’s a fairly varied role, but one of my main focuses at the moment is to work closely with the marketing team on product development; looking at how we get our products out to market in terms of messaging and branding.

In less than 140 characters tell us what Cloud computing is?

A utility IT model in which businesses no longer need to own resources in order to benefit from superior agility, reliability, scalability.

Is Cloud computing right for all sizes of business and across industries, or are there some markets which are better suited?

The short answer is ‘yes’. There are so many Cloud offerings available that it’s a question of finding one that can meet your individual business needs, whatever your size or industry. The responsibility for this falls on the customer―it’s essential that anyone looking to invest in Cloud technology has a clear understanding of their business needs so that they can find a provider that meets them.

For example, businesses that have particular security or performance requirements shouldn’t assume that every provider will automatically deliver. Ensuring that clear Service Level Agreements (SLAs) are in place which include customer visibility and control levels will ensure that businesses receive the service that they want.

The enterprise market is still quiet hesitant when it comes to Cloud migration, despite being clear on the benefits that it can bring because of a lack of enterprise-class services. However, this can be overcome if enterprises take the lead and push their internal requirements onto their provider.

There’s lots of talk about the business benefits of the Cloud. Give us some examples of the real cost savings companies can make.

Cloud computing can bring real cost savings for businesses if they’re smart. Cloud technology can reduce the need to spend time and money managing infrastructures and provides the flexibility to work on a short-term basis and simply turn off the virtual server when the project is finished, rather than paying for the hardware. When eBay moved its UK hosting into our Cloud at the end of 2006 it achieved an 18 per cent reduction in its costs. It also enjoyed a significantly more agile platform that could scale to many times its original size on demand in a matter of minutes.

There are very few case studies out there about businesses using the Cloud effectively across the business. Has Carrenza got any good examples?

Earlier in 2010 Comic Relief chose Carrenza to be a core technology partner for its Sport Relief 2010 campaign and coordinate the design and delivery of its donations and Web platforms. This built on the success we had working with Comic Relief for Red Nose Day 2009, for which we built the whole hosted environment around our enterprise Cloud computing platform―which at its peak was processing over 116 transactions per second and enabling traffic throughput of 1Gbps.

We operated three core platforms for Sport Relief 2010―the donations platform, the PayPal platform and the core website platform. As a result of the Cloud technology we provided, the platforms were able to cope with the 3.15 million unique visitors throughout the campaign. An extraordinary 386,524 donations were processed during the 7 hours of the Sport Relief TV event on March 19th with a peak of 125 donations per second, marking a 4-fold increase in peak traffic compared to Sport Relief 2008 and raising a record £31.6 million.

Cineworld moved its online cinema information and ticket sales to Carrenza in 2008. Carrenza manages the platform on behalf of Cineworld to allow it to focus on providing the best experience for its cinema audiences. Due to the scalable nature of Cloud services, Cineworld is safe in the knowledge that extra resource will be available to support fluctuating demand around major film releases. Through this partnership it is expected that more than 50 million visitors will have passed through the site in 2010.

What are the most common misconceptions around Cloud technology?

The most common misconception that I come across is that ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to the Cloud. It’s true that Cloud technology can benefit everyone, but businesses should not assume that all Cloud services will automatically do what they need it to do. There needs to be a greater level of ownership and understanding of the Cloud amongst businesses. If they want specific things from the Cloud then they need to be specific about what they demand from their Cloud services. General requirements will only ever give general results.

Are fears around Cloud security justified?

Another common misconception is that you can’t deliver secure, mission critical services from the Cloud. This is possible, and again it comes down businesses needing to push their security requirements onto their Cloud service provider. This way they can be sure that they are adhering to all the security measures that they are subject to.

It’s not just computing power that can be moved into the Cloud―companies are looking at moving their apps to the Cloud too. Are there any enterprise apps that are best suited to the Cloud environment?

The initial use of Cloud technology was around Web applications, but this is changing. Put simply, any app that can benefit from increased flexibility and scalability can benefit from the Cloud. We are seeing more and more businesses move back office environments, mission critical systems and infrastructure into the Cloud and as long as businesses are careful about how they go about the transition there is no reason why it should not be a beneficial move. There is also a new focus on moving internal systems, such as HR or billing platforms into Cloud. This is all part of a general move towards more sophisticated Cloud services that can do more.

What can be done to overcome the concerns around compliance and data regulation?

The first thing to look at when it comes to regulation and compliance is what requirements your business is subject to so that you can find a Cloud provider who can help you meet them. With the right provider businesses can directly influence a number of regulatory issues in the Cloud, such as where their data is stored, how it is audited, and PCI compliance availability.

From the conversations I’ve been having recently there doesn’t appear to be much consistency in the understanding they have around their individual data security needs. The first step in overcoming concerns around data regulation and protection is finding a provider who can effectively guide them through the data protection minefield. Secondly, organisations need to take greater responsibility for the issues that impact them and how these tie into and their Cloud requirements.

What are the future goals of Carrenza?

We want to continue to develop innovative, award winning Cloud services for enterprises and have ambitious growth plans. The Cloud services market is at a very early stage at the moment, and even in a market of very big players we see a key role for companies like Carrenza. We led the way in developing Cloud technology in the UK, and plan to continue to ensure we are giving our customers the very best possible services. A key focus for us as we move into 2011 is on educating the channel about the opportunities that Cloud technology brings in terms of revenues and we’ll be making a series of announcements focussed on channel specific products in the next few months.

Christian Harris is editor and publisher of BCW. Christian has over 20 years' publishing experience and in that time has contributed to most major IT magazines and Web sites in the UK. He launched BCW in 2009 as he felt there was a need for honest and personal commentary on a wide range of business computing issues. Christian has a BA (Hons) in Publishing from the London College of Communication.