The Force Of The Cloud Is Strong

For some businesses moving into the Cloud is still treated as something akin to joining the Dark Side….something that’s full of promise but potentially fatal because of the constant evil omens about stability and security.

My company decided to tackle this head on by unleashing its inner Rebel Force and bring together some of the best minds in IT at the London Film Museum, complete with its Star Wars memorabilia, to explain to an audience of invited guests why cloud computing has a vital role to play in business.

With lightsabers at the ready, here’s what they imparted:

Daniel Beazer, European analyst for Tier 1 Research

Daniel described the cloud as ‘outsourcing the IT functions that could be done in-house’ and said that despite the hype we’re still in the early stages as only 1% of enterprise budgets are being allocated to the cloud. He described the cloud as an important and useful tool in the IT arsenal for a business but said that public cloud – the pay as you, credit card model – was less popular than private.

Private cloud – whether on-premise or off-premise – was seen as much more secure and reliable by enterprise because of the ability to provision extra resources quickly, the need to eliminate manual administration and also its usefulness for testing. Technology, media, retail, financial services, telecommunications and banking are the biggest users of hosting, he said. While Amazon dominates in terms of the public cloud, the Enterprise space is still wide open.

Phil Dalbeck, Infrastructure Architect for Skyscanner

Phil has direct experience of private Cloud having designed and implemented a large private dedicated VMware platform with the help of iomart Hosting. Phil said Skyscanner had turned to private Cloud to cope with the company’s rapid expansion and explained how using the Cloud had allowed Skyscanner to solve control and cost prediction issues. Skyscanner’s IT infrastructure was now more responsive to marketing requests, it could support the business more responsively and costs could now be attributed more specifically to the IT.

He said the Cloud wasn’t something you do because it’s cheap. You do it, he said, because it allows you to make best use of your resources. He explained that by going into a private cloud, Skyscanner had so far reduced its costs per server by over 40% – that is the costs of maintaining the servers to support the growing number of customers (over 14 million per month) using the cheap flights website. He expected that figure to reduce even further in the coming months.

Peter Robertson, Founder and Director of Chapter Media

Peter’s agency worked with ecommerce provider Intershop to deliver the Pottermore Shop, the recently launched online store for JK Rowling’s Harry Potter digital ebooks and audiobooks. Peter said that the cloud is already accepted and adopted by the majority of his clients on their projects, and has already moved beyond a buzzword – it is already a major component of a sensible and adaptable way to operating a digital business.

He explained that the cloud – in all its varieties – can be used both tactically and strategically during development and in production/operations, and that architecting ecommerce applications in a cloud-compatible fashion allows businesses to better adapt to (sometimes extreme) consumer demand as well as allowing a more agile approach to development and product lifecycles.

Peter offered up a few challenges: firstly for delivery agencies to become more skilled in architecting for the cloud, and in using the cloud throughout their development lifecycles; secondly, for ecommerce providers to ensure that their solutions are tried and tested in common cloud configurations, and that their security posture and “install” process is equally well aligned “out of the box”; thirdly, for cloud providers to become clearer on pricing and terminology, and become skilful at being a trusted operational partner and go beyond the rate-card; and lastly for brands/product-owners to be more focused on choosing the “right partner”, rather than the “right cloud”, and to engage a trusted architect to help set clear targets for key architectural goals such as security, resilience, performance and scalability.

Whilst commenting that he did not believe that security was a particular issue in the cloud, he did warn we all need to do more to create truly secure products, and take it more seriously as opposed to focusing on single issues such as PCI compliance, which are often minor complications that consume the majority of thinking time.

Then it was the turn of our vendors to grasp their lightsabers.

Bob McEwan, HP’s Chief Technologist ESSN, UK&I

Bob said that for him behind the Cloud was a set of astounding facts and figures. He explained that by 2020 we will have created 35 zettabytes of data of which 70% will have been created by individuals not businesses. Of that data, 85% will be unstructured because of the use of portable internet-connected devices such as smartphones and tablets. The rise of this so-called ‘Digital Native’ means that business demands are now running faster than IT can respond. So, how to keep up?

There is a need to speed up both business innovation and business processes and the way that HP was supporting businesses to do this, said Bob, was with its Converged Cloud offerings, whereby businesses and IT managers can create portfolios of hosting services spanning colocation, managed hosting and private and public cloud – with one common information applications architecture delivering services across a business.

This was the future as he saw it – developing and testing applications in the public cloud, deploying them in the private cloud, bursting workloads to the public or private cloud when necessary and managing and securing applications and services across hybrid environments via higher performing lower latency servers.

Rob Campbell, CTO North Enterprise UK&I for EMC2 …

… continued the theme, explaining that while Big Data had the power to transform business, the Cloud was transforming the IT needed to both store and analyse it. Laptops, smartphones and tablets were providing so much data in the form of music files, social media, video clips and applications, that enterprise and data applications needed to sit on Cloud-based infrastructures which combined public, private and hybrid.

These platforms were leading to reduced costs, greater efficiency and agility and resulting in faster analysis, faster decisions and new business opportunities. The need to address the creation of these enormous amounts of Big Data, Rob explained, had led to EMC buying Greenplum the database software company that specialises in enterprise data cloud solutions for large-scale data warehousing and analytics.

Rob posed a question: If there was a race around a supermarket between Usain Bolt and the Von Trapp family, he asked, which one would come back with the groceries first? The answer was the Von Trapp Family because they would have a backup person if one of the team tripped and fell. And that, he said, was the key to Big Data. Protection of data, reliable storage and analytical tools, so that each business could get the ‘big bang’ out of the data that it needs.

Bill Strain, CTO of iomart Group plc (iomart Hosting’s parent company) …

… summed up the issues from a Cloud provider’s point of view. The argument about the Cloud was over, he said. It was just a question now of how fast the cloud was being adopted. He said all of us, businesses and individuals, were now locked into using the cloud in some shape or form and that the exponential rise of Big Data was creating increased demand for cloud storage. He stressed that the delivery model would indeed run across combinations of managed, private, physical and public hosting models and the challenge for business was to find the combination that worked best to meet its critical needs.

Everything iomart Hosting did as a provider of cloud hosting, he explained, was ‘engineered for failure’ – meaning that every solution was delivered with built-in management layers to ensure that there could be no single point of failure . Connectivity would be key going forward, he explained, saying that iomart was continually investing in its network. He described this as the need for ‘Big Fat Pipes’ to both consume and deliver data via the highest speeds and with the biggest capacity for storage.

From a hosting point of view he said, systems had to be architected to take advantage of the Cloud by being what he described as ‘stateless’ so they can work across all the different combinations of solutions that businesses could choose from. The key take out from the day was that ‘cloud’ is here and it’s here to stay.

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Phil Worms is the director of corporate communications for iomart Group, one of Europe’s largest providers of managed hosting, cloud computing and business continuity services. Having spent 25 years working in the IT industry he is recognised as one of its brightest thinkers. He regularly contributes internet and "new media" related features for trade publications and national newspapers and is a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts. He is an advocate of social media using it for both business and charitable causes. Phil has sat on several national advisory committees ranging from the provision of broadband access to online safety initiatives. He is now heavily involved in the debate surrounding the greening of IT with energy efficiency and carbon emission reduction a particular topic of interest. In his spare time Phil is dedicated to raising money in an attempt to bring a new arts and music centre to his hometown of Helensburgh. It is this venture that has given him his finest moment – being mentioned on David Bowie’s official website when he organised a mass community recording of the classic song Heroes!