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Seeing through the cloud.

It's the most talked about subject in information technology, but what is cloud computing, how is it best utilised and what needs to happen for it to catch on? It could change the way businesses consume IT, but what does cloud mean and what do CIOs really think of its potential? At last month's ACN 100 Forum, Paul O'Kirwan, IT director, Dubai Mercantile Exchange; Nigel Hattersley, regional IT director, Starwood Hotels & Resorts; and Travers Nicholas, vSpecialist manager, EMC, debated these issues in a session moderated by Mohamed Jamal-Eddine, systems engineer, Abu Dhabi Ports & Customs. Mohamed Jamal-Eddine (MJE): Gartner defines cloud computing as 'a style of computing in which scalable and elastic IT-enabled capabilities are delivered as a service to external customers using Internet technologies'. Do you agree with this definition? Nigel Hattersley (NH): I think the definition is sound; however, cloud then needs to be broken up into what is private and public and the definition itself is extremely broad. It's open for a lot of discussion on what the actual definition means. Paul O'Kirwan (POK): When I started looking at it I realised there's a lot of resemblance to the old timeshare model of the 70s and early 80s where you outsourced your IT and a bunch of people shared the same hardware. Essentially, the industry has just rebranded it. It should be part of your strategy: Do I want to outsource? Do I want to stay in house? But it isn't really a new concept; it's just a new label as far as I'm concerned. Travers Nicholas (TN): We think of three different attributes. You operate a pool of resources that can be shared and you can leverage the resources for any of your different applications and workloads; you operate it as a service; and you pay for your consumption, rather than paying for something that you may not consume, or at the opposite extreme, not paying enough. MJE: In your opinion, which companies will most benefit and which will least benefit? TN: I believe all businesses can benefit. From a small business perspective, what we're seeing in the United States at the moment is that most technology startups are not investing in any infrastructure, they're going straight into the cloud. They're buying services where all their servers can be hosted in the cloud and if they need a CRM systems they'll got to salesforce. From the small business perspective, operating in the cloud is a big benefit. From an enterprise perspective, we're seeing the emergence of hybrids, where customers are building their own internal clouds and then leveraging external clouds such as salesforce.com. EMC is a customer of salesforce.com and we also operate a large private cloud in Durham, North Carolina where around 90% of our infrastructure is virtualised and operating as a service. MJE: Nigel, yours is a large business. Do you benefit in the same way as a small business? NH: It depends on the application or data that you are looking at putting into the cloud. From a technology perspective, in the hotel industry today we are governed quite strongly by PCI compliance requirements, which relate to credit card data, and for that type of data, we still need to own it. But, we can still put it into a private cloud, so we own space in a data centre. There are other things like e-mail or procurement systems, HR systems that can go into a much more public environment where we can buy a service directly from a vendor who hosts that themselves. We use both components, whereas I would understand that startups could just give their entire business to a single company. MJE: What is the main driver that pushes you towards the cloud? POK: One of the main drivers is that it's not having to maintain that entire infrastructure, in terms of data centre technology. Having servers is one thing, it's all the support and particularly in this region all the cooling and the other stuff you need to maintain a proper data centre. If you look at your costs, that's the really expensive bit; servers are not that expensive. If you could outsource that to somebody where you're sharing that cost with lots of other companies, it does make sense -- if you can do it, if it's part of your strategy and you're allowed to by regulation. I think one of the key driving factors is the environmental cost, not necessarily the processing and CPU cost. NH: When we do a big project for cloud, over five years there's not a lot of financial gain in going for the cloud. But there is definitely a productivity gain and I think a risk gain in giving those services away for somebody else to manage. If I buy a server and maintain it, and pay the licenses for all the software that resides on that server, compared to how much you pay for another company to host it and provide the service over the internet, it's still comparable. There's not a huge amount of difference, but giving away the pain of doing all that work adds a lot of productivity within the business. TN: I think it depends on which phase of migration you're in. For example, from an EMC internal IT perspective, we went through a transition starting six or seven years ago where we migrated our physical servers into a virtualised environment, we migrated from a Unix architecture to an x86 architecture, we built our own private cloud. The majority of our cost savings were realised in the first phase of virtualisation. As soon as we added business processes, chargeback, self service and automation, that wasn't necessarily about a capex or opex reduction. That was, as you say, about business agility. We can now respond faster with new applications, if someone has an idea, that idea can now be realised quicker. We can build things faster as a result of this transition. MJE: If someone's starting a new business, do you recommend they go 100% cloud? TN: Coming from a technical background, I think it's hard to say you should definitely do this or that. What I would say is that if you're putting your infrastructure in a cloud, make sure it's an open cloud; make sure it's something you can get out of if you need to. One of the big challenges the industry has today is there are so many people building these uber-clouds that provide all sorts of great technology for application development, or server hosting, or private VPNs, but once your applications and information are in them you can't get back out. The second thing is information protection and information latency. If you need a certain level of governance over information, keeping it private might be the answer. MJE: If you go towards public cloud, do you recommend that all services are hosted with the same cloud provider or split? POK: I don't think that makes a great deal of difference in my decision making. You're essentially assuming that these big vendors doing this know what they're doing in terms of redundancy, resiliency and the rest. So, having finance in one application and sales somewhere else, for me it wouldn't a big factor. The question for me would simply be 'Do I put this application in the cloud, or don't I? and for me that's more of a regulatory thing -- am I allowed to in the first place? I would simply look at who's doing best in terms of that particular application and put it with them. MJE: What are the main risks in going to the cloud? POK: The main risk you are facing these days is you are assuming that the internet is going to be available to get to your cloud. Not that long ago, we've seen it fail. What are you going to do? Your core business applications are on the cloud. Here, you've only got one service provider. It's one thing that people tend to overlook: How do I get to the cloud if the internet's not there? NH: Read your contract very, very closely. It's one of the things that we discovered when we started doing this in Europe. That initial negotiation that you have over service levels, it is vital that you get it right. If you're putting everything into a cloud, it's very likely that you're going to be signing a three to five year contract and you need to make sure there are terms for an exit, if necessary, and also to make sure that you're getting the service you're paying for as often as you need it. MJE: Is public cloud always less secure than private cloud? NH: Private cloud is probably more secure than public cloud. That assumes you're managing your own private cloud's security. It depends on what level of security and encryption you've put in place. TN: From a security perspective, it depends on your approach to security. The perimeter security model doesn't work any more. The new perimeter is the end user and that end user needs to be protected in such a way that not only are you defending them from attacks, you're also analysing what they're doing to ensure that you detect an anomaly when it occurs. MJE: Does the end user experience differ with the cloud? TN: I think it can definitely have a big impact on the end user experience and it comes back to the business model. Operating this as a business means you get what you pay for and if you pay a significant amount of money for a significant amount of resources you can have a great experience. What too many of us have not got a grasp on is how we interface between the end user and our infrastructure group who are either building a cloud or determining which public cloud provider we host our service with. That relationship is critical because that is how we determine what service level is required. If we build it wrong and we buy it wrong, we will have a worse experience. POK: In the very first session this morning they were talking about bring your own device. You've got DropBox, you've got SkyDrive. The challenge from an IT perspective is that your employees are starting to use this technology anyway and company data is filtering our of your organisation into these end user clouds that you have no control over. It is a challenge to manage that going forward. From an end user perspective, whether my e-mail is in the cloud or physically on a server in the office isn't going to make a great deal of difference, but you do run the risk of losing information to the cloud that maybe you don't want to. You need to consider blocking access to these third party services. NH: We see services provided over cloud that we can prove have a much higher uptime than a locally hosted service. But whether or not the perception of the user is the same is debatable. In ten years, they'll forget what it was like to have things hosted on premise. I firmly believe that cloud computing is being adopted very fast, everywhere, and there is no avoiding it. We can guess what the future will bring, and very rarely are we right these days, but my guess would be that in ten years time there will be very few locally hosted applications in any business. TN: The EMC view on this is that there will be hundreds of thousands of private clouds and thousands of public clouds. Our customers and general users of technology want choice; they want to be able to choose where they put their applications and if they have an issue with a particular provider they want to have the freedom to move. NH: The other thing to bring into this is that as we sit in Dubai and talk about availability of cloud computing, we need to take into consideration the enhancements from the ISP perspective. Etisalat and du have brought in huge change in the way they deliver internet services and maybe that's not still quite there in the other GCC countries, but there's been a vast improvement. I think that will continue, which will continue to provide opportunities for cloud computing in this part of the world.

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Date:Jul 16, 2012
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