It's hard to avoid reading about cloud, whether you are travelling through an airport, surfing web news services or watching the TV. Everyone in the IT industry has something to say on the topic. I guess the question is why now and what’s so different today from what the IT industry has been doing over the past years.
There is simple and singular reason for this – the cloud represents a sweeping change not only in how data centre resources are delivered, but how we scale data centre compute capacity to meet the need of the explosion of devices we'll be using in a few years. One of the problems of understanding the cloud is that when people try and explain what it is, they tend to use vague language that obscures rather than reveals. It's a now clichéd joke that this phenomenon has become rather 'cloudy' to most users, and the marketing blitz has at times added to this.
The cloud concept itself is quite simple and has in fact been around for a long time and is a natural evolution of many exiting IT practices – hosting, outsourcing, grid etc. Google mail, Amazon.com and salesforce.com are all examples of existing cloud technologies. That is, they are externally hosted applications that the user accesses over the public internet delivered as users require them and available in an instant.
Today, many enterprise applications continue to be delivered through traditional IT processes. However, this is rapidly changing with large companies leading the charge to evaluate moving corporate workloads to cloud based solutions, either using internally hosted private clouds or utilising the the growing public cloud infrastructure available over the internet.. Telefónica, one of the world's largest telco operators, is launching a raft of new services to customers, ranging from cloud-based storage to software-as-a-service, desktops and virtual data centres.
The point is that anything that IT does today – whether it's hardware, infrastructure, operating systems, platforms, compute power or applications – can all be delivered via the cloud 'as a service'.
This makes IT more cost effective and also allows IT to essentially turn on a penny. For example, imagine a company that is launching a new product or service. To support this it will need IT operations to enable business processes through the provision of hardware and software resources. Within normal time frames it could typically take many months – some people cite 18 months – to get these services installed and provisioned with traditional enterprise practices. Moving to cloud models gives IT a whole new basis for delivering value to the business.
Of course there are still issues surrounding use of cloud based services; it’s far from being a mature phenomenon. Security and interoperability top the list of many IT managers concerns. In regards to security, significant steps have been made on both the software and hardware level. Intel’s latest Xeon servers have advanced security technologies built right in to help solutions providers protect systems and data both in the cloud and in transit to the cloud. Indeed, the need for cloud security is in the forefront of mind across the computing ecosystem.
And standards are still being ironed out. The Open Data Center Alliance (ODCA) consists of a large number of organisations that are defining IT requirements for the new class of data centres that will host cloud-based services based on a principle of open, interoperable solution requirements. In addition, Intel’s Cloud Builders programme is delivering proven, tested solutions through a rapidly growing number of reference architectures delivered in collaboration with leading cloud hardware and software vendors.
The point is that the cloud is not just marketing hype. The value of cloud topologies is so rich that this time the reality might ultimately be a richer experience than early marketing promise. In fact, if we peek into the future I’d put money on it that there will be a point when this type of ‘utility’ computing will be so accepted that for the majority of typical usage models, anything else will seem archaic.