Honestly, it gets a little tiresome to see all the predictions in the IT industry at this time of year, especially since many predictions amount to nothing more than safely drawn conclusions of trends already in full swing.
So I will spare you the prognostications and, instead, invite you to dream a little. Clearly, 2012 will see an acceleration of the adoption of cloud computing and virtualization, and users will continue bringing personal mobile devices to work, putting pressure on IT departments to figure out how to manage and secure all those smartphones and tablets.
But if you look beyond 2012, the main question becomes, “How much cloud?”
Short of a catastrophic event that derails the adoption of cloud computing, the cloud ultimately will dominate the IT landscape. Sure, there will be plenty of fits and starts, but as companies get comfortable with cloud-based resources, eventually those resources will become the norm.
So for the holdouts out there, what I’m saying is, resistance is futile.
Short of a catastrophic event that derails the adoption of cloud computing, the cloud ultimately will dominate the IT landscape.
However, it’s important to stress all clouds are not created equal. A good deal of cloud-like or cloud-aware resources will be deployed in-house in hybrid private/public cloud environments.
With such big names as Microsoft making a big push into the cloud with things like Windows Azure and Office 365, and Google trying to push back Microsoft with its own cloud offerings, it’s hard to imagine a future where the cloud isn’t at the center of it all.
If the public cloud infrastructure is stable enough – and that’s a big if because, let’s face it, serious continuous investment will be needed to keep it so – we will see companies that have made a name for themselves with on-premise solutions replace those solutions with a strictly cloud-based approach.
Or at the very least, you’ll have offerings designed to be “cloud-aware,” which means they will be developed to play with cloud-based resources through easy integration.
Lenovo, for instance, has a hosted applications service that detects laptops hardware capabilities such as processing power, memory and battery life, to optimize the services delivered to those laptops. Hewlett-Packard, meanwhile, has introduced cloud-aware printing solutions designed to allow devices to use printers in the cloud without all the usual configuration steps.
[OK, here I must throw in an aside because printers are usually the biggest pain in the neck a computer user will deal with. I don’t care who makes it, a printer will act up sooner or later and frustrate the hell out of you.]
But let’s say this stuff works – remember, I invited you to dream – we are looking at a world down the road where computing becomes more useful, flexible and efficient. If your iPhone can access a cloud-based printer to print something or the technology does all the hard work for you when configuring a laptop, you will enjoy new levels of IT usefulness and flexibility.
Hell, one could say you’ll be floating on clouds.
Technology is supposed to make your life better. It makes you more efficient and productive, and allows you to do things your way.
That’s the theory, anyway. And for a long time, before the advent of cloud computing, IT companies didn’t always deliver on that promise. At times, they didn’t even come close.
Operating systems often were clunky and just short of intuitive, desktops were poorly organized and the technology didn’t always work as promised. While PCs were still the new thing, tech companies could get away with this because, well, users didn’t know any better.
But that’s in the past. With stability achieved for the most part, IT companies have to work a little harder to deliver new improvements.
As such, cloud computing is proving a gift from the heavens for the IT user. Once you’re in the cloud, dropping technology that stinks is as easy as getting it in the first place. You don’t have to be stuck with a faulty piece of equipment or temperamental application because you paid for it upfront.
This forces IT companies to innovate.
Once you’re in the cloud, dropping technology that stinks is as easy as getting it in the first place.
Take, for instance, OS33, a vendor making a name for itself with a fresh approach to desktop computing. OS33 offers a cloud-based customizable IT platform that essentially lets you replace your desktop with a “webtop.”
The platform spares you the intricacies of integrating technology from multiple vendors and the physical infrastructure that has been the bane of many an IT administrator. OS33 takes pretty much everything you use, from servers to operating systems to security and storage, and turns it into a hosted cloud platform.
Assuming you have a stable Internet connection, this is an ideal approach for a user or business that doesn’t want to waste time figuring out which IT piece does what and how, as long as it just works.
From a user standpoint, the most powerful thing OS33 does is to allow you to organize applications, documents, email and Web links however you want. Your webtop becomes a true reflection of how you do your work. You can add tabs and panels at will that take you to the computing resources you use. So instead of cluttering your desktop with a hodgepodge of icons and links, you can set up your webtop neatly.
Beyond that, OS33 is working with its service partners to deliver cloud services that take complexity out of IT administration. Among those services is Cloud Drive, which allows the company’s service partners to unify storage capabilities from Amazon and Microsoft into a single solution.
Along with OS33, a host of cloud service vendors is out there coming up with innovations that will forever change how you use technology. And most importantly, you don’t have to stick with an application or solution if it doesn’t fit your needs because, in the cloud, you have the power.
All right, folks, expect to see a ton more bad cloud-related puns in coming months, as the trend toward moving IT assets to the cloud accelerates. You might say cloud business is about to soar. (See, I warned you!)
Cisco Systems, the networking giant, has released a study predicting that global traffic generated by cloud services will reach 1.6 zetabytes by 2015. That would represent a 12-fold increase from the traffic generated in 2010.
What’s a zetabyte, you say? Glad you asked. One zetabyte is roughly 1,000 exabytes, 1 million petabytes, or about 1 billion gigabytes. Let’s say your laptop has a 500-GB hard drive – it would take some 320,000 laptops to handle 1.6 zetabytes.
Considering the world’s population of 6.8 billion souls, 320,000 laptops isn’t that impressive, I grant you. But what if I tell you that 1.6 ZBs is only one third of the 4.8 ZBs of traffic Cisco predicts data centers will generate globally by 2015? And what if I tell you that number is still only part of the amount of data floating around the digital world? Suffice it to say that by 2020, the total volume of data generated in the digital world is expected to reach 35 zetabytes.
Between email, databases and business, media and collaboration applications, a whole lot of information is being created every second.
It would take way too many zeros to tell you how much that is in gigabytes. The point is it’s a lot.
What does it mean to you, though? For starters, you need to understand that data volumes are growing exponentially. Between email, databases and business, media and collaboration applications, a whole lot of information is being created every second. And don’t forget the smartphones and tablets that are increasingly finding their way into corporate environments.
All of that puts pressure on businesses to get a handle on who is using the data, where and for what. There are security, privacy and management implications that a business ignores at its own peril.
And don’t forget cost. You reach a point at which adding physical servers and storage becomes prohibitive, and that’s when you really need to start thinking about cloud-based resources if you haven’t already.
Interestingly enough, one of the main reasons data volumes are growing so fast is the transition to cloud services. Every time you send a file into the ether, it generates traffic data several times the size of the file itself. So it’s a self-feeding thing. As the cloud generates more traffic, in many cases you’ll be better off using the cloud for management and cost reasons.
And what all that means is that if you don’t have a cloud strategy yet, it’s time to sit down and get serious about it.]]>
Remember when we didn’t use cell phones or email? It’s like wondering what we did before the ATM. Did people go around with big wads of cash in their pockets because they couldn’t get a quick hundred whenever they wanted?
As cloud computing asserts itself in our lives, try to imagine what we’ll be looking back on years from now, wondering how we ever got by without this or that. If you think we’re dependent on technology at home and in the office, you ain’t seen nothing yet.
Like it or not, more and more of our lives will become dependent on the public cloud – to the point that virtually everything we do will have something to do with the cloud.
Take a second or two to absorb that thought.
Got it? OK, now let’s continue. Accept the cloud is here to stay, privacy and security concerns notwithstanding. It will affect us in ways we can only start to imagine, so you might as well get ready.
Like it or not, more and more of our lives will become dependent on the public cloud – to the point that virtually everything we do will have something to do with the cloud.
It’s no longer impossible to image using your smartphone to control the lights, heat and air conditioning. You can turn your TV on and off with it, flip through channels and schedule recordings of your favorite shows. A few months ago, I was at a family function when one of my cousins whipped out his Blackberry to turn on the lights at his place of work – 70 miles away.
I remember scoffing at LG’s refrigerator with a built-in TV some years back, but now I see the company was simply ahead of its time. You can find those units at Overstock.com now, but they seem to be discontinued. Ah, the price you pay for being ahead of your time!
Now I see the introduction of the Nest thermostat, designed by Tony Fadell, who also designed the iPod. Rather than scoff, I marvel at it. Here you have an iPod-like device that learns your habits to adjust temperatures throughout the day to your liking.
Siri, the iPhone’s new voice-command technology, gives us a glimpse at the possibilities. You can tell Siri to give you reminders throughout the day. So long as you keep your iPhone close, you’ll never have an excuse to forget anything again. You can tell Siri to call your mother or text your business partner. Someone already has figured out how to get Siri to control a thermostat. (Hey, it gets cold in New England this time of year, so forgive my thermostat obsession!)
Will Siri be able to remotely start your car or unlock your office doors? Using the Internet of Things, will Google give us technology to turn on coffee pots remotely? Will your car eventually drive itself and take orders from a GPS system that processes information in real time from traffic lights and highway sensors for optimal routing?
I’m going to guess yes on all of the above, though some of these things will take a while. But when they happen, we’ll look back on decisions like whether we should replace our Exchange server with a cloud-based service and think them quaint. As painstaking as these decisions are today, we’ll look back and say, “Times were simpler then.”
With the economy stuck in a rut, planning for business growth may feel like wishful thinking. Even the 2.5 percent GDP growth the government reported for the third quarter isn’t good enough to start solving our economy’s persistent unemployment problem.
Still, it makes sense for companies to be thinking about the future and ensure their IT infrastructures can support business growth. You have to believe that at some point the economy will start to improve in a meaningful way – hopefully sooner than later.
And when that happens, from an IT perspective, there is no good reason anymore to allow aging equipment and obsolescent software to hinder growth, as was often the case with legacy environments.
From an IT perspective, there is no good reason anymore to allow aging equipment and obsolescent software to hinder growth.
With cloud computing, you are always ready for growth. Cloud services are elastic, allowing companies to quickly add or reduce capacity as needed. In other words, your organization is not restricted by the size or performance of physical servers, or by the need to add data management systems or new business applications.
For your cloud services provider, adding a virtual server to meet business growth requirements is a simple matter. Depending on the provider and the setup, it could take minutes to hours to, at most, a day or two. Deploying an application, or adding users to an existing cloud service, could be as simple as flipping a light switch.
Whether you are adopting a new cloud service or adding capacity, you don’t have to build or expand your IT infrastructure. It already exists, be it in the Internet-based public cloud or your own private cloud environment. In a private cloud environment, adding capacity could be a simple matter of turning on previously unused nodes.
Rapid deployment and provisioning are among the most attractive benefits of cloud services adoption. Of course pricing also typically is very attractive, but decisions made strictly on price aren’t always the best. That’s a big topic, though, and we will explore it in a future blog.
As any successful business decision maker knows, you always have to keep an eye on current day-to-day operations and the other on the future of the business. And since the future of the business is intricately linked with a company’s IT strategy, it makes infinite sense to make cloud computing an integral plank in that strategy. With the cloud, managing IT to accommodate business expansion has never been easier.
Depending on where you look, you’ll read that business decision makers are either scared stiff of adopting cloud-based solutions or they can’t dig deeply enough into their pockets to fund cloud projects.
Analyst firm IDC predicts cloud spending will reach $72.9 billion by 2015, more than three times as much as in 2010. That isn’t exactly a drop in the bucket, but putting aside macroeconomic swings for a moment, you have to wonder how much more could be spent if fear of the cloud could be eliminated.
Most of that fear has to do with security and privacy. With a host of regulations coming out of Washington and state capitols to protect privacy, concerns over running afoul of the law are justified. Exposure of certain types of data, such as medical, finance and HR records, can lead to severe penalties. So decision makers should be concerned.
By that, I’m not suggesting you should avoid the cloud – just that understanding the risks associated with adoption of cloud solutions is imperative. Doing due research about solutions you are considering could spare a whole lot of trouble.
You’ll never have a 100 percent foolproof solution, no matter what anyone tells you.
In the cloud, there are new layers that have to be protected, and hackers will exploit every opportunity to get at private data for nefarious purposes.
Hosted, shared environments, for instance, potentially can make secured virtual machines vulnerable when connected to others that are less secure. A hacker could exploit the vulnerabilities of one machine and use it as a bridge to another that he or she would otherwise not be able to access. Attackers theoretically also can find ways to break into a virtualized environment to mess with data while still making it look normal.
Even though there have been disputes as to how undetectable certain attacks can be in practice, you don’t want to leave anything to chance if you are going to trust some, or even all, of your computing environment to a provider of cloud solutions. That means learning as much as possible about a solution’s security capabilities, implementing well-defined security policies in your organization and signing a contract with your provider that clearly defines both parties’ responsibilities.
Let’s be realistic: You’ll never have a 100 percent foolproof solution, no matter what anyone tells you. Even if you could prevent breaches, there’s always a very real chance that a leak could occur as a result of inadvertent user action.
Nearly 80 percent of businesses suffered data loss last year, according to a Ponemon Institute report. Chances are you could be part of that statistic this year or next. It’s up to you to minimize the severity when it happens.
One of the best things about cloud computing is the elimination of unused capacity. Cloud solutions, however, don’t inherently address a common problem – unused capability. That one is up to you.
First, let’s deal with how the cloud addresses wasted capacity. Most servers operate at anywhere between 5 percent to 30 percent, which means businesses have tended to get way more computing power than they needed. The Green Grid, a consortium of users, policy makers, IT providers and utility companies working to improve computing efficiency, found in 2009 that 10 percent of servers in datacenters were going unused. The organization estimated those machines added up to 4.4 million servers worldwide collecting dust.
That is a staggering amount of budget-busting waste. By and large it went unnoticed by decision makers until cloud computing started to show people a better way. A growing number of IT vendors now offer computing resources in the cloud that can be turned on and off based on customer needs.
Most servers operate at anywhere between 5 percent to 30 percent, which means businesses have tended to get way more computing power than they needed.
While they are turned on, there should be no reasonable excuse for any capacity to go unused because cloud solutions are elastic, letting you add or remove capacity depending on current requirements. If you need to add users to a cloud-based accounting application, you can do so. You’ll see a small increase on your monthly bill, which is still better than paying for unused equipment. Conversely, if you’ve downsized your sales staff and you need to reduce the number of users of your cloud-based CRM application, you may do so – and save some money.
Regardless of how many users leverage that CRM application to do their jobs, you may not be getting all the use you should out of the software. The application could have more functionality than your users realize. And that’s where unused capability comes in.
Companies often buy an application to solve a single business problem but don’t bother to learn what else the software can do. They actually may be aware of other features they don’t need just yet but figure those functions will come in handy later. In many cases, that never happens.
So you end up with a lot of unused capability, which while not quite as wasteful as unused server capacity, carries the hidden costs of arrested efficiency. The software may have a function or two that, if in use, could spare your workers from mundane day-to-day tasks and allow them to focus on more strategic endeavors.
But you will be able to accomplish this only if you learn as much as you can about the application, so be sure you have the right discussions with your cloud services provider. If there are features in a solution that you don’t need, you might be able to just not buy them. But if they are embedded and you have to buy them anyway, at least find out if or how they can benefit your business.
In his wonderful book, “Collapse: How Societies Choose to Fail or Succeed,” Jared Diamond wonders what the people on Eastern Island were thinking when they cut down their last tree. Diamond posits that environmental causes such as deforestation led to the collapse of the island’s society.
What is it about human nature that prevents us from seeing what should be the obvious consequences of our actions? Is disaster simply too much for our perhaps unduly optimistic natures to contemplate?
Well, that’s a question for the philosophers. But one decidedly more modest question we can address here is the need to prepare for disasters involving data loss. Anybody who has ever used a computer knows you can lose your work for any number of reasons: An application quits unexpectedly. A server fails. A browser session goes poof.
Any one of these situations – and lots more that I won’t scare you with just now – can cause data loss. And data loss is potentially devastating, depending on the magnitude of the loss. A survey released in June by the Ponemon Institute revealed that 80 percent of businesses had lost data within the past year.
Hardly anyone is immune to data loss. And while you may have been among the fortunate 20 percent last year, this year there is an 8 in 10 chance you won’t be.
Eighty percent! So, you see, hardly anyone is immune to data loss. And while you may have been among the fortunate 20 percent last year, this year there is an 8 in 10 chance you won’t be.
But that’s OK, because you’re ready for any sort of data-loss disaster. Right? Well, not according to study after study and anecdotal evidence from IT service providers. Too many companies still play fast and loose when it comes to backing up and storing their data so that they can restore it if the need ever arises. The thinking seems to be, “It won’t happen to me.”
But that’s dangerous thinking, and it speaks to human nature’s refusal to contemplate disaster.
Of course, it also has something to do with budgets. But even as cloud computing has made reliable backup and disaster recovery solutions accessible to even the smallest businesses out there, excuses for not properly backing up your data start to ring hollow.
Let’s face it, there is no excuse. And companies that still neglect this extremely important piece in running a secure, reliable IT environment are putting their own future at risk. I won’t bother you with the statistics of how many companies go out of business after a catastrophic data loss because I suspect you’ve seen them. Let’s just say most businesses don’t make it.
So what’s holding you back? Take the time to investigate available cloud-based backup and disaster recovery solutions, determine which vendor has the best fit for your needs, and get busy developing and implementing a business continuity plan that will keep your company going should the unthinkable ever happen.
As the folks in Eastern Island certainly discovered, the unthinkable can and will happen.
As business decision makers review cloud offerings to determine what fits into their IT environments and strategic plans, they should pay particular attention to what a cloud platform allows them to do.
Some of you may be familiar with Amazon’s cloud-based storage service, Google Apps or Salesforce.com’s web-based CRM application, but what if you wanted to start moving significant portions of your infrastructure, if not all of it, to the cloud? You’ll want to make sure you do it with an eye to anticipating future needs.
Most, if not all, vendors tout scalability as a key feature of their cloud-based offerings, but typically that applies only to a specific product. So if you want to add nodes later on, you’ll be able to do that, which is of course desirable but not necessarily the answer to all your needs.
Some companies offer platforms with plenty of room for expansion but you’ll have to stick with their products as you add resources.
If you are actually looking to deploy a platform on which to build a cloud infrastructure, be mindful of the freedom the platform you choose gives you to add technology as you go along. Some companies offer platforms with plenty of room for expansion but you’ll have to stick with their products as you add resources.
Other companies take a more open approach, giving you the platform and then letting you build on top of it by pulling technology from different vendors. Such vendors include Cloupia, whose Open Automation for Clouds technology allows users to automatically add resources from multiple infrastructure and cloud vendors to satisfy their datacenter needs.
The technology, Cloupia said in a recent statement, allows “users to take control of systems and applications with a minimum of engineering effort and without vendor lock-in.” IT administrators can use the platform to customize and automate tasks, while IT staffs have the ability to “build and execute repeatable physical and virtual infrastructure provisioning workflows without complex custom scripts and expensive system integration engagements.”
Companies looking to build on an open cloud environment might also consider OpenStack. Self-christened as “the open source cloud operating system,” OpenStack is a collaboration of developers who want to create freely available code and establish standards for cloud services consumption. For those of you familiar with Linux, this approach should ring a bell.
OpenStack is getting collaboration from some big names, including NASA, Dell, Citrix and Intel. It’s definitely worth keeping an eye on this collaboration because, if successful, it could have a significant impact on defining what “cloud” means.
I mention Cloupia and OpenStack not to steer you in the direction of these brands, but rather to alert you to the choices out there. You may find that a vendor with an all-in-one package may be just right for your needs, but before you make that decision, it won’t hurt to explore the possibilities.
Remember, there are plenty of clouds in this expanding sky.
Thinking about the cloud but not quite sure what to do? You are not alone. Thousands of businesses across the land have been bombarded with advertising about the cloud, how it can save you money and how you won’t be able to live without it.
The truth is cloud computing is definitely worthy of consideration by any business with an IT strategy, no matter how big or small the company. It would be negligent, bordering on criminal even, to not at least consider available cloud choices and which legacy computing resources you would be better off replacing with cloud-based applications.
However, before you start ripping out applications and equipment from your office, you should take a few things into consideration regarding cloud offerings. Chief among those considerations are the cloud vendor, its track record and whether the vendor’s offerings are a good fit for your IT needs.
It would be negligent, bordering on criminal even, to not at least consider available cloud choices
You see, everybody is a cloud vendor today. But it wasn’t long ago that some vendors that claim they are cloud leaders thought about clouds only when the sky was grey. So it’s important to do your research.
Read up on the products and consult with your IT provider to learn if the cloud-based applications you are considering have been around a while, whether they are known to cause more problems than they solve, and whether they have a good security track record. Based on the information you gather, think hard about whether the application or solution still looks like the right choice for your specific requirements.
Regarding the latter, you must take into consideration your current infrastructure and whether to invest in upgrades. Do you have enough bandwidth to handle additional Internet-based resources? Is your network architecture set up for cloud-based computing? Should you can a physical server or two and replace them with a virtual server?
What about data backup and recovery? How have you handled that essential piece of your IT environment, and should you move it to the cloud?
And, of course, there are budget considerations. While it may make sense to move most, or all, of your IT to a cloud-based environment, your budget may restrain you from doing so just yet. But you might be able to take a step now, be it deployment of a business application or backup and recovery, to be followed by others later.
The cloud looms ahead, and you’re bound to feel pressure to jump on it. And while your business likely will benefit from the cloud, you ought to make cloud computing decisions methodically and add cloud resources gradually.
In blogs to come, we’ll explore the plethora of cloud choices available out there, how virtualization fits into this whole cloud thing, and what to watch out for in terms of security. It’s going to be a good ride, so climb aboard the Clouds Ahead blog.