08/10/2014
OCSL Editor

Technology Director Cloud Interview. OCSL's Technology Director takes part in an expert panel with The Guardian newspaper.

What are the major challenges facing the industry when it comes to cloud infrastructure?

There seems to be a common misconception that Cloud will fix everything. It is the answer to everyone’s problems, the nirvana! The reality however is that although there are some very strong use cases for cloud either in certain market verticals or with regard specific workloads the cloud market is evolving every day. It is this rapid evolution which causes significant concern. The industry as a whole does feel like it is at an inflection point with regards moving from legacy IT models to Cloud consumption models but enterprise IT customers are still concerned about the true viability of the offerings and sceptical with regard the improved economics that everyone promises.

There are the usual blockers which relate to public cloud offerings which people cite, security, location of data, lack of control, changing finance models to name a few. However, one of the strongest concerns appears to be the “stickiness” of Cloud and how can companies’ exit or move workloads from one cloud provider to another with the minimal amount of fuss.

Companies are moving more quickly to private cloud infrastructure as their foundations as this is not a huge leap of faith and immediately mitigates some of the risks. However, this does not necessarily return the savings that say a public cloud may do given the economies of scale. Private cloud infrastructure can certainly be considered a “stepping stone” to public cloud platforms/services.

In summary it appears that the technology has matured significantly to provide viable options in many areas but it is the haze which obscures the direction that enterprise IT should follow which ironically becomes the blocker now.

There are many users of Cloud who are concerned that there are more security threats than using proprietary IT, what are your thoughts?

The cloud will need to be seen to be more secure than traditional IT in order for the cynics to deem it safe. There is not a week that goes by when there is one leak or another from a Cloud platform, whether it be on a consumer cloud or an enterprise cloud. The reality is that with a new paradigm there needs to be new security methods which are developed, tested and accepted by the industry. These are happening now and although not perfect they are significantly improved on six months ago and in a further six months will have evolved that much further again. To be clear though the concerns around security are largely related to public cloud services and not private cloud services – the clue being in the name.

When we consider the security boundaries around a cloud platform the most important aspect currently under consideration is the data held by such companies and firstly what they are able to do with such data; who actually has ownership of that data? It is often overlooked as to the ”rights” of the provider in the relationship with regards the data stored in the cloud.

Any responsible Cloud provider will be ensuring that they are providing the appropriate security boundaries with regards physical and logical infrastructure. There needs to be an element of trust earned in the first place and typically the risk assessment associated in moving to a cloud platform would categorise the risks, and businesses would place different workloads and datasets into or onto the platform respectively.

Today there are very secure Cloud platforms available to organisations and there are a number of choices that organisations can make. Generally speaking it is usually a matter of cost versus perceived risk.

Over the past 3 years the Industry has dramatically expanded with a host of new service providers entering the Cloud arena, what would you say has been the greatest breakthrough in Cloud?

The greatest breakthrough was “Apple’s iCloud” and the consumerisation of IT which was underpinned by Cloud as we now recognise it. A vision of connecting Mac devices with a single tool set and log in - the iterations of which started in 2000 with a basic tool set and the first “clouded” platform taking hold with the .mac account ‘MobileMe’ in 2002. This then became iCloud in 2011. They now have circa 200M+ users and it’s continually growing.

The genius of iCloud is that before it came out very few people really understood what Cloud meant. Via iCloud, Apple taught millions of people that cloud was computing resources that weren’t in your home or your hand. Your home computer could blow up and your iPhone could be stolen, but somewhere, in the cloud, your precious data was still around.

In a nutshell, how would you explain Cloud Computing?

There are number of different definitions around Cloud. Our definitions are summarised as:

Private Cloud/Hosted Private Cloud – This is where the customer has purchased the hardware and are running a highly virtualised and automated estate with a high degree of orchestration. Most likely hosted in their own datacentres although it could be hosted in datacentres outside of their ownership.

Public Cloud /SaaS – These are true consumption services where the service/application is consumed from a large set of datacentres (undefined as to where the location is), the finance model is based on a monthly or annual OPEX and you purchase a service tied to a limited SLA; the limits are pre-defined e.g. three nines or neglibile SLA. The services are typically multi-tenanted. Examples would be; Salesforce, Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services.

Hybrid Cloud – probably the most likely platform that will win out overall. A model which means that businesses will consume some services from private dedicated environments and supplement with public environments either in the way of resources or specific applications.

What’s next for Cloud Computing, is Hybrid the future?

The maturing of cloud is an inevitability. That will be the potential of truly portable workloads and commercial models to support that; the most likely adoption of open standards and operating environments; the providers maturing to a state where the economics of cloud become a reality. Currently there is a huge wave of large vendors providing services at very low costs. These do not seem sustainable for the years to come so as the market matures so will the services and commercial models that support them.

As we move towards the end of the decade the growth in data will be the area that will be exploited. We do not yet understand the value of data that we already hold and with that data set to explode over the next 3 – 5 years the ability to monetize and store that will fall to the cloud providers. The provider that works that out first, alongside the interoperability models, will be the provider that rises to the top.

In the short-term we will see adoption of hybrid cloud become the norm. IT departments will most likely evolve their legacy virtual infrastructures to private clouds and will start to off load the mundane workloads such as backup and recovery to the cloud provider marketplace.

Thought piece