Ahead in the Clouds

December 14, 2015  12:58 PM

Addressing the datacentre skills gap by changing the cloud conversation

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
Business strategy, Cloud Computing, datacentre, Skills, Training

Ahead in the Clouds recently attended a tour of IO’s modular datacentre facility in Slough, along with a handful of PhD students from University College London (UCL).

The event’s aim  was to open up the datacentre to a group of people who may never have stepped inside one before to enlighten them about the important (and growing) role these facilities play in keeping the digital economy ticking over.

And, based on the reactions of some of the students on the tour, it’s a lesson that’s long overdue.

For example, all of them largely understood the concept of cloud computing, but seemed surprised to learn that it is a little more grounded in the on-premise world than its name may suggest.

Indeed, the idea that “cloud” has a physical footprint – in the form of an on-premise datacentre – seemed to come as news to almost all of them.

For most people working in the technology industry today, that’s either a realisation they made a very long time ago or can be simply filed away in a folder marked “things I’ve always sort of known”. But, if you’re an outsider, why would you?

The datacentre industry prides itself on creating and running facilities that, to most people, resemble non-descript office blocks, if they bother to cast their eye over them at all.

Given the sensitivity of the data these sites house, as well as the cost of the equipment inside, it’s not difficult to work out why providers aren’t keen on drawing attention to them.

At the same time, datacentre operators often talk about the challenges they face when trying to recruit staff with the right skills, particularly as the push towards converged infrastructure and the use of software-defined architectures gathers pace. 

On top of that is all the talk about how the growth in connected devices, The Internet of Things (IoT), big data and future megatrends look set to transform how the datacentre operates, as well as the role it will play in the enterprise in years to come.

The latter point is one of the reasons why IO is keen to broaden the profile of people, aside from sales prospects, who visit its site.

 “Getting people from different walks of life with different skillsets and different capabilities to comment on what we’re doing, why we’re doing it and what the future might look like is really important,” said Andrew Roughan, IO’s business development director, during a follow-up chat with AitC.

“We’ve got to listen to them and get involved with their line of thinking as that group will be tomorrow’s customers.”

Opening up the datacentre

The range of PhD students the company invited along to the IO open day included some from an artsy, and more creative background, whereas others were in the throes of complex research projects into the impact of the technology industry’s activities on the world’s finite resources.

It was a diverse group, but isn’t that what the datacentre industry is crying out for? A mix of mechanical and software engineers, business-minded folks, creatives, as well as sales and marketing types.

But, if these people don’t know the datacentre exists, thanks in no small part to the veil of secrecy the industry operates under, why would they ever think to work in one?

In this respect, IO could be on to something by opening up its facilities and holding open days, but – as previously touched upon – that’s not something all operators will be able or willing to do.

IO is in a better position than most to, as its customers’ IT kit is locked away in self-contained datacentre chambers that only they have access to. It’s a setup akin to a safety deposit box, and means the risk of some random passer-by on a datacentre tour tampering with the hardware is extremely low.

What might be altogether more effective is getting the entire industry to rethink how it positions the datacentre in the cloud conversation more generally, so its vital contribution is more explicitly stated.

Otherwise, there is a real risk the datacentre will continue to be overlooked by the techies and engineers that UK universities produce simply because they don’t know it’s there. 

November 26, 2015  11:50 AM

The benefits of adopting a “what if…?” approach to datacentre management

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
datacentre, Guest Post

In this guest post, Zahl Limbuwala, CEO of datacentre optimisation software supplier Romonet, explains why IT departments should be employing a more philosophical approach when solving business issues

The question “what if…?” is often used to refer to the past. What if a few hundred votes in Florida had gone the other way in 2000? What if Christopher Columbus had travelled a little further north or south? What if Einstein had concentrated on his patent clerk career?

For the IT department, the question can be equally applied to the future, as it needs to know the the decisions it makes will have the best possible impact for the business. Yet IT departments are often under financial constraints, meaning for every choice it faces, the department needs to bear in mind both the business and budgetary impact of its actions.

Asking the right questions

This need is exemplified by the datacentre – one of the most complex and cost-intensive parts of modern IT. While any organisation will want to know how datacentre decisions will affect the business, in too many cases IT teams simply don’t know what questions they should ask in the first place.

For example, an organisation might ask what servers they need to buy in order to meet a 10-year energy reduction target. Yet this won’t tell them what to do when those servers become obsolete in three years’ time. Or what proportion of their energy use will actually be reduced by choosing more efficient servers (hint: not a huge proportion). Or whether there’s a better way to reduce energy use and costs.

Instead, the IT team should be asking “what if…” for every potential change it could make to the datacentre to shape its strategy. In the example above, the organisation might ask what the effect would be if it replaced expensive, branded energy-efficient servers with a lower-cost commoditised alternative. It might ask what happens if it removes cooling systems. It might even ask what happens if it moves a large part of its infrastructure to the cloud. Regardless, by asking the right questions the IT team will have a much clearer idea of the options available.

Getting the right answers

Once an organisation knows the questions to ask, it needs to consider how it wants them answered. A simple question about energy usage and cost could produce answers using a variety of measurements, some of which will be more useful than others.

For instance, does the IT department benefit most from knowing the Power Usage Efficiency (PUE) of proposed data centre changes? Or the total energy used? Or the cost of that energy? While PUE can provide some indication of efficiency, it certainly doesn’t tell the entire story.

A datacentre could have an excellent PUE and still use more energy and be more expensive than a smaller (or older) data centre that better fits the organisation’s needs. A much better metric in most cases would be the total energy use or cost of any options; so that the organisation can see the precise, real-world impact of any changes.

Working it out

Once the organisation knows the right question, and the right way to answer it, the actual calculations might seem simple. However, there is still a large amount of misunderstanding around what influences datacentre costs. A single datacentre can produce hundreds of separate items of data every second, all of which may or may not be useful for answering IT teams’ questions.

This can make the calculation a catch-22 situation. Does the organisation consider every single possible piece of data, making calculations a time-consuming, complex process? Or does it aim to simplify the factors involved, making calculations faster but making any answer an approximation or guesstimate at best?

To solve this, IT teams need to look at how they answer questions for the rest of the business. We are increasingly seeing big data and data-driven decision making used to support business activity in all areas, from marketing to overall strategy.

IT should be able to turn these practices inwards; using the same data-driven approach to answer questions on its own strategy. For instance, there is actually a relatively small number of factors that can be used to predict data centre costs.

Combining these with the right calculations and big data tools, IT teams can quickly and confidently predict the precise impact of any potential decision they make. Combining this approach with the right “what if…?” questions, IT departments can see precisely what will be the best course of action to the business, whatever its goals.

November 13, 2015  10:04 AM

How green is your datacentre?

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
Apple, AWS, Cloud Computing, Google, Green energy, Guest Post, Renewable

In this guest post, Dominic Ward, vice president of corporate and business development at datacentre provider Verne Global, explains why the green power commitments of the tech giants may not be all that they seem.


The rise of the digital economy has a well-kept dirty secret. The movies we stream, the photos we store in the cloud and the entire digital world we live in means, on a global basis, the power used by datacentres now generates more polluting carbon than the aviation industry.


Perhaps to diffuse any concerns and attention with regard to their growing use of power, tech giants like Microsoft, Apple and Google, have announced plans to open datacentres supposedly run on renewably-produced electricity.


Apple, for instance, claims all of the energy used to by its US operations – including its corporate offices, retail stores and datacentres – came from renewable sources, winning the consumer tech behemoth praise from environmental lobbying group Greenpeace.


The reality is, however, a little different.


If a company sources power from a solar or wind farm, what happens when night falls or the wind drops?  The company will revert to power from the main electricity grid.


In the US, around 10% of power comes from renewable sources, while Iceland is the only country in the world with 100% green energy production. So how can Apple claim to be 100% green at its Cork facility, or at its soon-to-open Galway datacentre, when only about 20% of Ireland’s power grid is from renewable sources?


The answer is a little-publicised renewable market mechanism that is allowing companies from Silicon Valley and around the world to get away with a big green marketing scam: Renewable Energy Certificates (RECs).


This system and its sister scheme, the European Energy Certificate System (EECS), operates like airline carbon trading, allowing power users to buy ‘certificates’, which testify that their dollars have financed production of renewable electrons elsewhere.


In essence, if you use 1 kWh of coal or nuclear energy, you can buy a certificate to claim an equivalent 1kWh from renewable energy.


This is not real renewable energy, and it does not support the claims made by large tech companies about the provenance of their power.


We have known about this smokescreen for some time, but the issue gained prominence recently when Truthout, a campaigning journalism website, called the practice “misrepresentation” and “a boldfaced lie on Apple’s part“.


The problem is becoming endemic amongst tech companies, though, with the big Silicon Valley tech giants being the worst offenders.


All the major internet firms are using this strategy, many of whom now state that their new datacentres are 100% renewable.


Given their location and disclosed sources of power, this simply is not true, save for their use of purchased certificates.


Unless a datacentre generates all of its own power from renewable sources, or sources power from a national grid that uses entirely renewable energy, enterprises and consumers will continue to underestimate the true environmental impact of their computing. Google, to its credit, has at least publicly recognised this problem.


Several firms including Google and Apple this summer allowed their various initiatives to be highlighted by the White House as indication of a US commitment to the upcoming United Nations Climate Change Conference in December. Their commitments to increased generation of renewable power are welcome. But, until they abandon this certification charade, these commitments will continue to appear as hollow claims.


So, what needs to happen?

1. Increased transparency on power sources

The RECs and EECS schemes currently allow tech companies and datacentre operators to hide the truth about their power cleanliness. Companies should be obliged by law to disclose the true nature of their power sources, including an explicit disclosure on the purchase of energy certificates. Only then will enterprise customers and consumers know the truth about their energy consumption from computing.


2. Upgrade the RECs and EECS schemes

The current systems are massively flawed. What began as a well-intended mechanism to promote new generation of renewable power has been poorly executed. It is time to upgrade the system to guarantee that every dollar, euro and pound spent on an energy certificate is truly invested in the installation of new renewable power generation.


3. Go green for real

Most renewable energy is not naturally suited to the tech industry: wind drops and the sun sets. Yet, the technology industry needs constant energy. The easy marketing ‘win’ is that it is easier for tech companies to simply pay for an energy certificate rather than shift to an entirely renewable energy source.


However, as we enter an era in which the technology and datacentre industry now has a carbon footprint in excess of the airline industry, surely this is not the right attitude.


Take the time to understand the finer points of your own energy contract and where the power you are using really comes from. Is it truly ‘green’? And if you haven’t taken the time to do so before, put some research into green datacentre options. The reality is that the only way to move the tech industry to 100% true clean energy is to clean up the power grids or move the tech industry to grids that are already clean.

November 5, 2015  1:37 PM

G-Cloud 7: Could the 20% contract variance cap end up harming the framework?

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
Cloud Computing, G-Cloud, Government IT

When the G-Cloud framework was introduced back in spring 2012, its core aim was to shake-up government IT procurement, so that high-value, multi-year hardware contracts awarded to the same old big-name enterprise suppliers became a thing of the past.    

Backed by a Central Government-wide cloud-first mandate, the public sector was actively encouraged to use the framework to source cloud-based alternatives to on-premise technologies via the Digital Marketplace (formerly known as CloudStore) and a much larger pool of suppliers.

Initially, supplier contracts were only allowed to last 12-months, to prevent the public sector from falling back into buying habits synonymous with the old way of doing things, but this was later extended to two years.

It was a move that was warmly welcomed by users at the time, as it meant buyers could avoid having to retender for services so frequently, which some suppliers had flagged as a barrier to G-Cloud adoption within certain quarters of the public sector.

Against this backdrop, it’s not difficult to see why the Crown Commercial Service’s (CCS) new 20% rule around G-Cloud contract extensions seems to have caused so much upset within supplier circles.

The regulation, which is set to be introduced when the seventh iteration of G-Cloud goes live on 23 November, means framework users will be forced to retender if they want to use more of a certain service if their proposed contract extension looks set to exceed 20% of their original procurement’s value.

To avoid this, buyers would have to work out in advance how their use of a particular cloud service is likely to take off within their department over the course of the two-year contract, which could lead to over-provisioning and surplus IT being procured, it is feared.

This, suppliers argue, is at direct odds with the pay-as-you-go ethos of both G-Cloud and cloud computing, more generally, and harks back to the dark days of government IT procurement.

“As part of a G-Cloud procurement, buyers should always work out the ‘cost of success’ when they are shortlisting and selecting their cloud providers,” John Glover, sales and marketing director at G-Cloud provider Kahootz told Ahead In the Cloud (AitC).

“For example, if a project team initially only need to consume 100 users, but expect to expand that to 2,000 over the contract term, that should be factored in.

“But, to ask them to now order and pay for 2,000 users upfront takes us back to the bad old days when public sector organisations committed large sums of capital on ‘shelfware’,” he added.

Why is it being introduced?

When pressed as to why the measure is being introduced, the Cabinet Office fed Computer Weekly a wooly line about how the government is “always improving the framework to make it easier for suppliers and buyers,” before confirming that it will be carefully considering any feedback it receives on the matter.

The insinuation, though, that the 20% cap could be considered an “improvement” would undoubtedly be contested by Kahootz, and many others within the G-Cloud community who have already taken steps to make the Cabinet Office aware of their disapproval.

For example, G-Cloud suppliers Skyscape Cloud Services and EduServ have both put their misgivings about the rule change in writing to the Cabinet Office, while the G-Cloud working group inside trade association EuroCloud UK issued a statement this week, expressing its concerns.

It is a shame the Cabinet Office hasn’t revealed more at this time about the motivation for the move, as every supplier AitC has spoken to seems at a loss to explain it, although they have their theories.

EuroCloud UK, for instance, floated the idea that the rule could be the result of people unfamiliar with the origins of G-Cloud, but with a stake in government procurement, getting involved.

While others have apportioned blame to the recent tightening up of the EU Procurement Regulations around how much variance is permitted within contracts once they’ve been agreed.

Where this theory falls down slightly is around the fact these regulations permit contract variations of up to 50%, which raises further questions about why CCS is intent on enforcing a cap of 20%?

 Whatever the reason, given the furore the move has caused so far, there’s every chance CCS and The Cabinet Office will backtrack, given their willingness in the past to tweak the workings of the framework in response to supplier and buyer feedback.

Whether or not they would be able to revoke the 20% rule before G-Cloud 7 goes live is doubtful, but if they choose not to now or in any future version iterations, they might have something of a revolt on their hands.

AitC has already heard from several suppliers who’ve said, while G-Cloud 6 continues to run, they’ll be pushing that to buyers as their preferred framework until it ceases to exist in February 2016. Admittedly, that hardly constitutes a long-term solution to the problem. 

What’s at stake?

A lot of those who’ve voiced their opposition to the changes have shared the same concern that the introduction of the 20% cap could end up undoing all of the good work the Cabinet Office has achieved with G-Cloud to-date, and ultimately put the public sector off using the framework at all.

The amount of money spent via the framework since its creation now stands at £806m, with £53m of that attributable to the volume of transactions that took place in September alone. And it would be a shame if all the momentum it’s generated so far were to go to waste.  

Particularly when the success G-Cloud has had to date seems to be gaining wider industry recognition, and reports continue to circulate about how other European countries are looking to emulate the model for their own public sector IT procurement needs.

So, here’s hoping the Cabinet Office is taking notice of what suppliers have to say on this matter, as The Digital Marketplace won’t work without them.


October 22, 2015  2:49 PM

Has end user computing made an enemy of the state?

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
cloudcomputing, Mobile, Scalability

In this guest post, J. Tyler Rohrer, co-founder of Liquidware Labs, explains how the use of cloud apps can help user solve end user computing scalability issues.

We are about to enter the golden age of end-user computing (EUC), with the concept now blossoming out of the legacy client-server model and into one that is mobile, cloud, and application-centric.

The explosive growth of mobile tablets, phablets, smartphones, ultra-books, laptops, semi-reliable wireless, mobile networks and cheaper, more intelligent storage (coupled with a rise in cloud services and modern apps) is incredible.

There are some niche offerings, like application virtualisation, application layering, VDI, Desktops-as-a-Service, Storage-as-a-Service, and Enterprise Mobility Management (EMM) – but these are incremental.

These still, for certain use cases, bump up against the limits of the laws of physics like that nasty speed of light latency constraint. And not just in network performance terms, but application response times, storage retrieval times but also the very nature of Moore’s law itself.

What’s the problem?

In the past, Moore’s law was an incredible benefit to most modern desktop administrators. We could rest assured that computing power would nearly double every 18 months, while the cost of that compute would be halved.

However, in our rush to throw progressively less expensive yet powerful hardware at most problems, we created an even larger web of intricacy. We created a topology that – while logical – lacked scale.

The tentacles of our client-server networks sprawled. Most user devices were (and still are) incredibly “stateful” – with proprietary configurations, sensitive data, and tuned applications delicately installed on commodity-class hardware.

In a thought, scale got away from us. The larger our deployments got, the more acutely painful the weight of this scale on our operations and systems management became.

Sure, we bought tools that patched the holes, rather than filled them.  While somewhat tenable in the campus environment – laptops and mobile “off network” computing was a target for both accidental and malicious data (IP) loss and risk.

Because we had varying user types with different machines, images, applications, printers, and policies, we tended to have a one-to-one relationship with each desktop – or better yet, something that automated remedial tasks.

While these tools boosted productivity somewhat, the lag to buy, image, provision, and deploy a new laptop, desktop or whatever, was still measured in days or hours at best.

And while we mention security above in the context of risks and attacks, the fact the majority of our corporate IP rests on commodity-class hard drives today, that are not backed up upon each write, could be catastrophic.

What we need to work out is how to create and deliver productive and secure workspaces for our end users, while getting scale to work for and not against us.

Stateful computing was a worst-case scenario in the past. A user might need an app, large storage, lots of memory, and – so – we gave it to them. It was cheap and promised to get cheaper. But all that “state” is what we are fighting now.

With the rise cloud apps, very little “state” now resides on devices, particularly where smartphones and tablets are concerned.

For that reason, I think what we shall soon find is the operating system – whether it’s Windows, Android, OS X, iOS, or Linux doesn’t really matter when you reach a truly stateless workspaces.

The “cloud” however ushers in an entirely new way of thinking about client-server computing. Instead of long distance connections, we have a fabric.

The things we need are, or can be, a click away so the idea of having them installed becomes archaic. All this “state” being removed from the device now lives as a service, distributed across this cloud fabric, for use when, where, and as needed.

So it’s the availability of a potential service I might one day need that is the solution.

And with global replication via cloud services, web-scale file systems, and hybrid models – the latency that punished the client-server architectures of old is minimised and architected around.

We see projects like Citrix Workspace Cloud, VMware Project Enzo, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure, metadata rich file systems like Nutanix Medusa, and workspace tools by my company Liquidware Labs all tackling this challenge of wrangling scale back into Pandora’s box on both large and individual user levels.

We are all very, very close. While the combination of these technologies will be relegated to specific use cases for the next few years – we will see convergence of x86, cloud, and mobile into single platforms.

And while we will continue to have rich and robust local processing, graphics, input, and display technologies at our fingertips our “state” will live in clouds.

October 16, 2015  10:53 AM

VMworld 2015: How VMware stopped the Dell-EMC merger overshadowing the show

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
cloud, Dell, EMC, M&A, Virtualisation, VMUG, VMware, VMworld 2015

The proposed Dell-EMC merger was always going to be a major talking point at VMworld in Barcelona, given news of the deal was confirmed on the eve of this year’s show. 

What was unclear, as attendees filed into the conference centre for the opening day keynote on Tuesday morning, was whether VMware’s senior management team would be joining the discussion or not. 
As it turned out, delegates didn’t have to wait long to find out if EMC-owned VMware would make reference to (what is currently billed as) the biggest merger in enterprise IT history. 
Around six minutes in there were on-stage assurances from COO Carl Eschenbach about how the acquisition would have little impact on the way VMware operates, as it would remain a publicly-listed, independent entity, while the rest of EMC joins Dell in going private. 
Then Michael Dell appeared, albeit via a pre-recorded segment, to reinforce this message, before briefly addressing how the combination of EMC and Dell’s product portfolios should open up new opportunities for the firms in the hybrid cloud and software-defined datacentre era. 
During a post-keynote press Q&A, VMware’s EMEA CTO Joe Baguley continued the discussion, inviting questions from the press on the topic too, with the assembled execs going into as much detail as they probably could, while the deal’s T&Cs are being hammered out somewhere between Texas and Massachusetts. 
Opening up 
The firm’s willingness to reference the merger was kind of surprising, though, given how quick most vendors are to shoot down M&A talk when faced with even the smallest whiff of them becoming a takeover target. 
But things would have got hugely awkward over the course of the week if no-one acknowledged the $67bn elephant in the room, and it was refreshing to see. 
That was certainly the view of the VMware User Group (VMUG), who told Ahead in the Clouds (AitC) that VMware CEO Pat Gelsinger popped into their annual VMworld Europe luncheon to personally assure them that – pre/post-merger – it is still very much business as usual for the vendor’s customers. 
“Having someone like Pat attend and have an open, unscripted dialogue like that is a huge testament to the commitment from VMware to VMUG and that they consider us to be a vital part of their organisation,” VMUG president Mariano Maluf told us at VMworld. 
“It speaks volumes about his commitment and gives us confidence that VMware will continue down the path it’s been going through,” he said. 
All in all, he added, the group’s 121,000 members are feeling confident about what the future holds for VMware once Dell gets his hands on its parent company. 
“The fact VMware will remain a publicly traded company and independent signals a confidence on the part of the investors involved that VMware adds value to the industry and the technologies and solutions will continue that,” he added. 
Maluf’s comments were echoed by nearly everyone AitC spoke to at the show, with the general consensus being the deal is unlikely to cause much upheaval for those who’ve pitched their tents in the VMware camp, while those with closer ties to EMC might want to consider attaching a few guy ropes. 
The fact is, by taking steps pre-empt what users were most likely to ask, and giving them a forum to air their views, VMware succeeded in ensuring the Dell-EMC merger didn’t detract from everything else it announced at the show
Singing from a different hymn sheet 
Before we sign off, however, it would be remiss of AitC not to reference one of the other big talking points of the show – aside from VMware’s hybrid cloud and end user computing plans, of course. 
Sanjay Poonen, VMware’s general manager of end user computing, treated the 10,000-strong crowd to not one, but two separate sing-alongs during his second day keynote. 
The first saw Poonen break into an impromptu and acapella rendition of Let It Go from Disney’s Frozen, after a handful of attendees responded to his question about who in the audience owned a BlackBerry, during his talk about VMware’s enterprise mobile device management strategy. 
He then went on to lead the crowd in a re-jig of Queen’s 1977 hit We Will Rock You, which saw the lyrics changed to “End User Computing Will Rock You” instead. 
We know those lyrics don’t really scan well, but Poonen looked pleased with the results, so far be it for us to rain (no pun intended) on his parade. 
For anyone who hadn’t managed to grab a coffee on the way to his 9am keynote, it was certainly a display that served to sharpen the senses far more than any caffeine fix could.

October 12, 2015  2:42 PM

Safe Harbour: What are the alternatives for data-sharing cloud providers?

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
Business strategy, Cloud Security, Data protection, legal, safe-harbour

In this guest post, Rafi Azim-Khan, head of data privacy in Europe at legal firm Pillsbury Law, explains how the cloud provider community can side-step the European Court of Justice’s Safe Harbour verdict.

The European Court of Justice (ECJ), in response to a case brought by Austrian student, Maximilian Schrems against Ireland’s Data Protection Commissioner, has confirmed the current Safe Harbour system of data-sharing between EEA states and the US is invalid. A conclusion that looks set to have a widespread economic impact, given just how many businesses rely on Safe Harbour to transfer and handle data in the US.

The Court has ruled that Facebook should not have been allowed to save Schrems’ private data in the US and this is – essentially – a formal confirmation of what has been growing criticism of the scheme over a period of time.

 The million dollar question is now: where does this leave US companies who heavily rely on Safe Harbour? And what about US cloud providers who are yet to build a European datacentre?

The facts of the matter

To re-cap, this case has arisen from proceedings before the Irish courts brought by Schrems, in which he challenged the Irish Data Protection Commissioner’s decision not to investigate claims that his personal data should have been safeguarded against security surveillance by the US intelligence services when it was in the possession of Facebook.

The claim was brought in Ireland, as Facebook’s European operations are headquartered there, but was referred up to the ECJ.

So, given the serious question marks that loom over the future of Safe Harbour and the threat of significant new fines under the imminent General Data Protection Regulation, what should US businesses, including cloud providers, look to be doing now to avoid having to process their data in the EU?

Handily, there is another legal mechanism that they can turn to.

Binding Corporate Rules (BCRs) are designed to allow multinational companies to transfer personal data from the EEA to their affiliates located outside of the EEA in a compliant manner.

BCRs are increasingly becoming a preferred option for those who have a lot of data flowing internationally and wish to demonstrate compliance, keep regulators at bay and prepare for a world without Safe Harbour.

Companies who put BCRs in place commit to certain data security and privacy standards relating to their processing activities and, once approved, the “blessed” scheme allows a safe environment within which data transfers can take place.

BCRs also have material long-term benefits in the sense that some upfront work, via preparing and submitting the application, should reduce risk of fines and undoubtedly position an applicant in line for a privacy “seal” once the new EU Data Protection Regulation is introduced.

Model contract clauses, which can also be used to “adequately safeguard” data transfers from Europe, also present themselves as a safer route to ensuring compliance compared to Safe Harbour as things stand. 

However, they do have a number of drawbacks compared to BCRs, including inflexibility, large numbers of contracts being required in large organisations and the need for regular updates.

Post-Safe Harbour: Next steps

In short, any US companies, whether big brands or smaller enterprises, that have existing EU offices, customers, marketing or business partners, as well as those which are yet to build an EU datacentre, would be well advised to reassess their procedures, policies and documents regarding how they handle data.

The storm of new laws, much higher fines and enforcement, with more due shortly when the final draft of the new EU Data Protection Regulation is published, means it would be a false economy not to act now and seek advice.  

October 1, 2015  12:39 PM

Cloud 28+: What HP must do to win over the cloud provider sceptics

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
Cloud 28+, G-Cloud, HP, Procurement

Boosting the take-up of cloud services across Europe has been the mission statement of both public sector and commercial organisations for several years now.

From the latter point of view, HP has been actively involved in this since the formal launch of its Cloud 28+ initiative in March 2015, which aims to provide European companies of all sizes with access to a federated catalogue that they can use to buy cloud services.

If you’re thinking this sounds spookily like the UK government’s G-Cloud public sector-focused procurement initiative, you would be right. The key principles are more or less the same, except the use of Cloud 28+ isn’t limited to government departments or local authorities. It’s open to all.

That message – during the two years that HP has been talking up its efforts in this area – doesn’t seem to have reached everyone, though, particularly the providers one would assume would be a good fit for it.

Namely, the members of the G-Cloud community, who are already well-versed in how a setup like Cloud 28+ operates, and what is required to win business through it.

However, several key participants in the government procurement framework have privately expressed misgivings to Ahead In the Clouds about whether HP would welcome their involvement because they don’t use its technologies to underpin their services.

Similarly, some said they weren’t sure how they feel about hawking their cloud wares through an HP-branded catalogue, or if it would mean sharing details of the deals they do through Cloud 28+ with the firm.

The latter has been a long-held concern of cloud resellers, because – once the maker of the service you’re reselling access to knows whose buying it – what’s to stop them from cutting you out and dealing with them direct?  

HP assurance

All these points HP seemed intent on addressing during its Cloud 28+ in Action event in Brussels earlier this week, which saw the firm take steps to almost distance itself from the initiative it is supposed to be spearheading

As such, there were protestations on stage from Xavier Poisson, EMEA vice president of HP Converged Cloud,  about how Cloud 28+ belongs to the providers that populate its catalogue, not to HP, and how its future will be influenced by participants.

The attitude seems to be, while HP may have had a hand in inviting people to the Cloud 28+ party, it’s not going to dictate who should be invited, the tunes they should dance to or what food gets served. It’s simply providing a venue and directing people how to get there, before letting everyone get on with enjoying the revelry.  

From a governance point of view, it won’t be HP calling the shots. That will be the job of a new, independent Cloud 28+ board who made their debut at the event.

On the topic of billing, the firm made a point of saying users won’t be able to pay for services through Cloud 28+, and that it will – instead – rely on third-parties to handle the payment and settlement side of using the catalogue.

For those worried that being a non-user of HP technologies could preclude them from Cloud 28+, the news wasn’t so good.

As it emerged that providers will have one year from joining Cloud 28+ to ensure the applications they want to sell through the catalogue run on the Helion-flavoured version of OpenStack. A move, HP said, is designed to guard users against the risk of vendor lock-in.

Even so, given the firm spent the majority of the event trying to play down its role in the initiative, it’s a stipulation that might leave an odd taste in the mouth of some would-be participants and users. Especially in light of the uncertainty over just how open vendor-backed versions of OpenStack truly are 

HP said this is an area that could be reviewed later down the line by the Cloud 28+ governance board, but it will be interesting to see (once the initial hype around its launch dies down) if this emerges as turn-off for some potential participants.  

Opening up Europe for business

Admittedly, it would be short-sighted of them to dismiss joining Cloud 28+ out of hand on that basis, in light of the opportunities it could potentially open up for them to do business across Europe.

While the European Commission has stopped short of endorsing the initiative, it has acknowledged what Cloud 28+ is trying to do shares some common ground with its vision to create a Digital Single Market (DSM) across Europe, and might be worth paying attention to.

If Cloud 28+ emerges as the preferred method for the enterprise to procure IT, once the preparatory work to deliver the DSM is complete, for example, the Helion OpenStack requirement would pale in significance to the amount of business participants could gain through it.

Measuring the success of Cloud 28+

While Cloud 28+ is still under construction, it’s only right the focus has been on the provider side of things, because – without them – there is no service catalogue.  

But it’s what end users make of Cloud 28+ that will define its long-term success, despite HP’s repeated boasts about how many providers have signed up (110 and counting) to-date. 

HP is preparing to go-live with Cloud 28+ in early December at its Discover event in London, and Poisson said the “client-side” of it will become a bigger focus after that, so it’s likely we’ll hear some momentum announcements around end user adoption in the New Year.

But, until there is a sizeable amount of business transacted through the catalogue, or some other form of demonstrable end user interest in it, there will remain a fair few providers who won’t get why its worth their while to join.

September 25, 2015  12:06 PM

Using big data to uncover the secrets of enterprise datacentre operations

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
Big Data, Cloud Computing, Guest Post

In this guest post, Frank Denneman, chief technologist of storage management software vendor PernixData, sets out why datacentre management could soon emerge as the main use case for big data analytics.

IT departments can sometimes be slow to recognise the power they yield, and the rise of cloud computing is a great example of this.

Over the last three decades IT departments focused on assisting the wider business, through automating activities that could increase output or refine the consistency of product development processes, before turning its attention to the automation of its own operations.

The same needs to happen with big data. A lot of organisations have looked to big data analytics to discover unknown correlations, hidden patterns, market trends, customer preferences and other useful business information. 

Many have deployed big data systems, forcing end users to look for hidden patterns between the new workloads and consumed resources within their own datacentre and see how this impacts current workloads and future capabilities.

The problem is virtual datacentres are comprised of a disparate stack of components. Every system is logging and presenting data the vendor seems appropriate. 

Unfortunately, variations in the granularity of information, time frames, and output formats make it extremely difficult to correlate data and understand the dynamics of the virtual datacentre.

However, hypervisors are very context-rich information systems, and are jam-packed with data ready to be crunched and analysed to provide a well-rounded picture of the various resource consumers and providers. 

Having this information at your fingertips can help optimise current workloads and identify systems better suited to host new ones. 

Operations will also change, as users are now able to establish a fingerprint of their system. Instead of micro-managing each separate host or virtual machine, they can monitor the fingerprint of the cluster. 

For example, how have incoming workloads changed the clusters’ fingerprint over time, paving the way for a deeper trend analysis into resource usage. 

Information like this allows users to manage datacentres differently and – in turn – design them with a higher degree of accuracy. 

The beauty of having this set of data all in the same language, structure and format is that it can now start to transcend the datacentre. 

The dataset gleaned from each facility can be used to manage the IT lifecycle, improve deployment and operations, optimise existing workloads and infrastructure, leading to a better future design. But why stop there? 

Combining datasets from many virtual datacentres could generate insights that can improve the IT-lifecycle even more. 

By comparing facilities of the same size, or datacentres in the same vertical market, it might be possible to develop an understanding of the TCO of running the same VM on a particular host system, or storage system. 

Alternatively, users may also discover the TCO of running a virtual machine in a private datacentre versus a cloud offering. And that’s the type of information needed in modern datacentre management. 

September 18, 2015  4:34 PM

The enterprise benefits of making machine learning tools accessible to all

Caroline Donnelly Profile: Caroline Donnelly
AWS, Business strategy, Cloud Computing, Machine learning
In this guest post, Mike Weston, CEO of data science consultancy Profusion, discusses how Amazon’s cloud-based push to democratise machine learning sets to benefit the enterprise.
Machine learning is the creation of algorithms that can interrogate and make predictions based on the contents of big data sets without needing to be rewritten for each new set of information. In a sense, it’s a form of artificial intelligence.
The recent European launch of Amazon’s machine learning platform has garnered a lot of attention and is designed so non-techies can use these tools to create predictions based on data.
Amazon’s move follows Facebook’s launch of a ‘deep learning’ lab in France to undertake research into artificial intelligence, particularly facial recognition. Both tech giants will compete with Microsoft’s Azure computer service. 
Clearly, most major tech companies are pitching their tent in the data science camp. The reason is quite simple: demand. 
Data science is quickly moving from a niche service used by a few enterprises to a must have. Many business leaders are waking up to the fact that new technology like self-driving cars, the Internet of Things, smart cities and wearable devices are all powered or complimented by data science. 
The business case for using data science techniques in areas such as retail, logistics and marketing is also increasingly easy to prove. Consequently, data scientists are in demand like never before. Unfortunately, as many data scientists will tell you, their skills are still fairly rare – part computer scientist, part statistician. We’re all aware that there is an acute skills gap in the technology sector and in many ways data scientists are the poster child. 
With demand increasing for data science and the pool of data science talent struggling to keep up with it, tech giants like Amazon are naturally seeking to provide non-techies with the skills needed to do it themselves. 
It may sound counterintuitive for the CEO of a data science consultancy to welcome this move, but I’m a firm believer that data science has immense power to improve businesses, cities and peoples’ lives in general. 
If more people understand how to interrogate and use data to make informed decisions, the faster it will become an intrinsic part of how all businesses operate. Not only that, but the more repeatable tasks that can be undertaken by technology, the more time is freed up for data scientists to explore the information at their disposal more deeply and to innovate.
Addressing the big data skills gap
With the normalisation of data science as a business process or service, it should become more obvious and attractive for people to train in these techniques. This should eventually help plug the skills gap. 
Of course, the growth of data science platforms in Europe and the US won’t, in the short-term, create an army of do-it-yourself data scientists capable of everything. Self-service software can only bring you so far. A great data scientist adds value to the data through analysis and interpretation – through asking ‘why’ and ‘so what’. 
Highly-skilled data scientists are fundamental to the more complicated data science – uncovering profound insights from seemingly disparate data that radically change and improve how organisations relate to people. 
Nevertheless, the more data literate we all become the better we will be at both using data and asking the right questions. Businesses generally don’t suffer from a lack of data. The problem tends to be that those in decision-making positions do not understand what the data could reveal and therefore what problems could be solved. This means that a business can underestimate the knowledge it holds, fail to exploit all its source of data, or fail to share information with people who could make better use of it. 
Business that understand data science and can use self-service platforms and tools to undertake basic actions will become savvier at collecting, managing and analysing it. With experience, should come an understanding of the full potential of data science and a willingness to experiment. 
Amazon’s self-service platform is not in and of itself going to create a revolution in data science. However, it represents the growth in businesses seeking to empower themselves to make better use of the information they hold. 
Like any science, data science is at its most exciting when it is testing the limits of what is possible. By experimenting, repeating and refining techniques, data science becomes much more effective. 
Whether a business employs its own data scientists or gets outside help, the more these specialists work with a company, the more they understand, the better they become at creating insights and solutions, and the more value a business can extract from its data.

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