Three ways to extend your data centre with cloud services
Three ways to extend your data centre with cloud services
By Jim Buchanan | CIO US | Published: 17:00, 28 February 2012
Commodity cloud apps
"Commodity apps are those that the enterprise doesn't run any differently from anyone else," he says. "Email, SharePoint fall there. Document management in some organisations, although in many it does not. Some organisations will view accounting as a commodity, or human resources applications. And many security applications, especially at the edge of the enterprise, go there."
CRM and ERP are also good candidates for moving to the cloud. For larger companies, they can improve agility by taking over for or supplementing their older data center versions; for smaller companies, they can help level the playing field against larger competitors.
Bandwidth-intensive apps, including strategic apps, can be well suited to the cloud model, too. An organisation with periodic needs for high bandwidth analysis, such as a retailer that needs fast analysis of seasonal sales spikes, might put their Business Intelligence applications into the cloud. They could use SaaS or their own applications, built via an IaaS or PaaS platform.
An example is NetFlix. A 2011 Forrester report describes how NetFlix uses IaaS to support three demanding services: a BI service for real-time customer intelligence, video streaming for titles that may experience sudden localised demand and a "bursty" application for encoding movies into multiple formats for different devices.
Developing in the cloud
For developers using IaaS or PaaS, the cloud offers resources that can mirror their in-house servers, but may be more available and accessible than those of the corporate data centre.
For instance, The Betty Mills Company is using the Amazon Web Services IaaS platform because it lets them keep migration development on Linux. Also, the elasticity of the cloud brings better system availability, something that IT director Shalit used to worry about, even with fully redundant data centre servers.
"We strive for 100 percent availability," he says. "I might be on vacation in Mexico, but I'd always be worrying about the data centre."
On the other hand, Sony Computer Entertainment America is using IaaS for fast spin-up of video game demos. The group specialises in development of video games that run exclusively on PlayStation consoles, and that can support several hundred players at a time. With the help of OpenStack and Rackspace the Sony developers are in the process of moving to a private cloud in order to avoid resource bottlenecks when they spin up demos of new features.
The group's manager, Monique Fraser, director of global hosting services, WWS Global Platform, notes that costs for the private cloud will be about equal to the data centre. The team will benefit mainly through resource elasticity, but also through accessibility, since developers would otherwise have to go to IT to procure their resources.
The IT group likewise benefits from reducing the stress that sudden demand presents, and gains a more strategic role: overseeing procedures and governance of the private cloud resources.
Identify cloud challenges
Aside from selecting the best cloud technology for the task, the greatest challenge to cloud adoption is integrating data, workflows, business processes and even the clouds themselves. For instance, SaaS services may be compared to off-the-shelf apps, but they still need to work with your other software.
"The degree of difficulty depends on the application, of course," says Burns. "Moving to cloud email is usually pretty easy. I'm using Microsoft Office 365, with hosted email, and most people in large enterprises are already plugged into an Exchange server somewhere, so we have the same behaviours."
"But if you consider a SaaS CRM application, now it starts to get tricky because you've got all kinds of customer data in the system, and at some point you've got to synchronise and share that data with your accounting system. So you should look for a SaaS vendor that has at least basic hooks in place."
System integrators can help, as can the growing numbers of integration tools, both on-premise and cloud-based. But things get more complicated when you combine two or more clouds because data exchanges can quickly become exponential, according to Gaurav Dhillon, CEO of integration specialist SnapLogic and former head of Informatica.
Can You Hear Me Now?
"It's like telephones. With two people, you've got one connection to worry about, but with five you've got 25 connections," he says. "The more intelligence you can apply to the interconnections, the better the result. That means integrating not just through APIs, but including business rules, too."
Also critical to success is educating and preparing the people who will be asked to use the new applications.
"User education is often where IT spends the least amount of time, and where they get in the most trouble," says Forrester's Staten. "IT needs to be literal about setting expectations with the business users about the change that's taking place.
"Take a simple thing like moving a document management system from in house to the cloud, not changing the app or anything. You should set user expectations in detail. What's going to be different now? Will the Help Desk be a different phone number? Different people? Should they expect some performance latency because of the cloud? That sort of thing."
Ken Male, managing director and founder of TheInfoPro, agrees. In a recent study of large-enterprise decision makers in North America, TheInfoPro noted that their greatest inhibitor to taking on cloud projects was the challenge of change and learning, at 52%. Next on the list was complexity, at 32%.
Still, the cloud is becoming friendlier and more enticing by the day, thanks to maturing features and growing user confidence.
"We feel more confident doing it now than we did three years ago," says Betty Mills' Shalit. "Right now, everybody's talking about the cloud, and for a reason. I would compare it to something basic, like TVs. Three years ago a plasma TV cost $2,000. Now it's dropped in price and it works three times better. That's technology - keeps getting better and more affordable at the same time.