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Cloud Computing A Perspective

Author: Nirmallya Mukherjee
Director of Solutions Development, Technology Innovation Center, Perot Systems.
Cloud Computing A Perspective -By-Nirmallya Mukherjee
Overview

Cloud computing as a concept glues together several other, often independent, concepts in a complimentary way to open up new operating models and opportunities for the IT industry. Cloud Computing has evolved from, and extends into, several concepts that have been around for some time, such as SaaS, utility computing, grid computing, virtualization, realtime infrastructure, Web platforms, and SOA.

Gartner defines cloud computing as ‘a style of computing where massively scalable IT enabled capabilities are delivered as a service to external customers using Internet technologies’. Cloud computing basically has three layers, and using these layers mainly following services can be provided:

1. Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)
* Physical infrastructure as a service - traditional data center services offered using utility pricing models.
* Virtual infrastructure as a service - virtual servers, logical disks, VLAN networks, and so on.

2. Platform as a Service (PaaS) – runs on top of the infrastructure layer
* Web based development tools (aka IDE) - could more accurately be referred to as Tools-as-a-Service (TaaS).
* A run-time application platform that enables running applications in the cloud, typically on top of an IaaS and delivered as SaaS.

3 Applications or Software as a Service (SaaS) – runs on top of infrastructure and platform
* Application components as a service (can be argued that it is part of PaaS)
* Software as a Service (SaaS)

Looking at the above, one is inclined to agree with Gartner when they describe it as ‘XaaS’ or ‘Everything as a Service’. The cloud based delivery of capabilities demands that a variety of vendors and providers come together in a cohesive manner and, therefore, it is naturally a complex ecosystem. The following diagram, though not comprehensive (in terms of vendor coverage), provides a good overview of the current vendor inter-play:

Cloud computing provides several benefits to the consumers:

* It allows them to convert their fixed costs related to IT to a variable utility pricing model.
* It provides freedeom from bothering about how the IT behind their business works, and allows focusing on just their business.
* It allows them the flexibility to scaling their operations (elasticity) with ease, while offering higher reliability and performance.

Components of Cloud Computing
Like a jigsaw puzzle, delivering applications and services on the cloud requires integration of various pieces. The Cloud Delivery Cycle (CDC) attempts to provide the overall picture of these components working together.

Hardware Machine Pool
The first key component is the hardware machine pool. It can also be referred to as the ‘Cloud Infrastructure’. This pool could have commodity class machines – racks and racks of them. On the other hand, we could have server class machines and then use virtualization to chop them up into smaller pieces and offer each piece as an independent machine.

Application Machine Image (AMI)
In order for the machine to be useful, we need a software platform and a business application sitting on it. Application Machine Image (AMI) is the process of bundling of applications in a standardized manner so that it can be deployed on a specific cloud platform. The process of provisioning a machine and deploying an AMI automatically can also be referred to as elasticity.

Governance
The whole process of provisioning with other business rules can also be termed as ‘cloud governance’. Governance is essential because elasticity has cost and SLA implications. A governance model that will satisfy a diverse set of customers with varied operating parameters. The following two models are only indicative and do not represent the complete suite of possible solutions:
*Elasticity Subscription model – Platinum, Gold, or Silver. In this model the aspects like size and revenue of an organization will be immaterial. The elasticity model is associated to the subscription. A platinum subscription will offer customers self-service, customer support, and near realtime on-demand elasticity benefits. This model is targeted for large-scale enterprise customers.

*Elasticity Insurance model – In other words, every customer may choose to have entitlements for a set of buffer boxes (predefined upper limit) that can be made available when the customer’s application needs it. The buffer percentage can be derived from the average size of the infrastructure for a customer (subject to the upper limit). This model will be commercially viable for small to medium sized customers.

While the models attempt to offer a solution to the problem of governance, the complexity of support systems such as monitoring, triggering, elasticity, and billing will remain or perhaps increase. Another form of governance is around physical hardware. The rigor needed to establish rules around getting the physical machines ready to be provisioned are critical.

Integration Gateway
Although proponents of cloud visualize everything as moving to the cloud, the reality will probably be a mix of on-premise model extending into the cloud where possible. It will be a judicious amalgamation of commodity services on the cloud and core business processes residing within the enterprise that will yield the best return on IT investments. Every function of IT should not be, or cannot be, put on the cloud and that means that there is a significant opportunity waiting to be leveraged - ‘integrating’ cloud services with in-house IT systems. This is where SOA can play a critical role and it is important that a services based secure handshake is needed between the cloud components of an application and the rest of the application residing in an enterprise.

Public or Private?
As always, with any technology there are multiple choices, and with cloud computing it is public as against private. There is no silver bullet that can help take a decision, but here are some pointers that can help in arriving at a consensus:
* If there is a sizable investment in hardware that is relatively unused, then it can be used as a means to establish your own private cloud to service various business units within the organization.
* For a small to medium business, a public cloud is certainly a viable option to manage IT expenses.
* Data security can be of paramount concern for many financial institutions; therefore, a private cloud can be the obvious choice.
* The other side of public cloud is that the availability of the service, hardware, and software is not directly in control of the organization and hence an element of risk comes into play.
* IT can leverage computational power as needed. This dynamic expansion and contraction of the IT infrastructure is perhaps one of the most powerful capabilities of cloud computing if done right. A public cloud will typically deliver this better.

Conclusion
Cloud computing has a lot of promise as evident from the fact that software powerhouses such as IBM, Google, and Microsoft are investing in it heavily. On the other hand cloud computing, in many ways, seems to be drawing us back to the UNIX philosophy of a ‘central computer’ doing the bulk of the processing. It is said that the reincarnation of technology brings back an idea with certain augmentations. Is it true for cloud computing as well? Will it deliver the goods it promises to? Only time will tell.

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Reader's comments(6)
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3: The article leaves out many recent nuances in the infrastructure portion of the cloud computing solution 'layers' that were outlined. These recent advances have direct bearing on the virtualization models the infrastructure layer can offer. Take for example, the server consolidation using Fiber Channel over Ethernet (FCoE) that uses a completely different (top of rack) server architecture than the traditional end of row architectures. The infrastructures and their cost of implementations for these two types of deployments are significantly different from each other and hence the IaaS costs to the end user will be different as well.

Another point to note is that a lion's share of existing infrastructure is Cat6, with only some top tier data center services vendors going to the Cat6A | 10Gig. There are significant cost differences in these deployments that translates to tiered pricing models to the end user.

Yet another variable to look at is the cluster/supercomputing market that is growing significantly. There are a few companies that offer SCSaaS but the need seems to be growing. The solution as well as the pricing model for this sector is still unfolding.

The point I wanted to make is that that the first layer of infrastructure as a sevice (IaaS) is morphing to be quite a complex one. It will be interesting to see how the market dynamics will shape its pricing models.

Dr. MP Divakar
Posted by: Dr. MP Divakar - Monday 07th, December 2009
4: Thats it! Things are now getting more cloudy. Wait I prefer the other way round "Work is GOD" :P
Posted by: mick human - Thursday 03rd, December 2009
5: Its surely true that, Cloud computing has changed the era of modern data storage and computing. But there are several other cons which needs to be addressed such as Infrastructre Management in labs like Cost, time to service delivery, S.L.A thought looks simple yet they are very much critical.
Security aspect is still looking up for a governing body..
In the recent summit I've heard about Hybrid cloud, which captures my interest more, its more over the mix of Public and Private cloud.. Which is more efficient and effective in terms of usage..
One more challenge is to convince clients like Banking firms who wants there data to be in there local servers..
In an all truly agreeing with "Cloud computing has a lot of promise"....but to understand this there are still so many miles are there to be covered
Posted by: VIJAY SINGH - Thursday 12th, November 2009
6: While appreciating the excellent article on Cloud Computing by Nirmallya Mukherjee here is some more information on the subject drawn from experts in the field

Cloud computing is Internet (cloud) based development and use of computer technology (computing). In concept it is a paradigm shift whereby details are abstracted from the users who no longer need knowledge of expertise in or control over the technology infrastructure in the cloud that supports them. It typically involves the provision of dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources as a service over the Internet.

Cloud computing can be confused with : Grid computing a form of distributed computing, whereby a super and virtual computer is composed of a cluster of networked loosely coupled computers acting in concert to perform very large tasks Utility computing the packaging of computing resources such as computation and storage, as a metered service similar to a traditional public utility such as electricity Autonomic computing computer systems capable of self management.
Indeed many cloud computing deployments depend on grids have autonomic characteristics and bill like utilities but cloud computing tends to expand what is provided by grids and utilities. Some successful cloud architectures have little or no centralized infrastructure or billing systems whatsoever including peer to peer networks such as BitTorrent and Skype and volunteer computing.
Cloud computing users can avoid capital expenditure (CapEx) on hardware software and services when they pay a provider only for what they use. Consumption is usually billed on a utility (e.g. resources consumed like electricity) or subscription (e.g. time based like a newspaper) basis with little or no upfront cost. A few cloud providers are now beginning to offer the service for a flat monthly fee as opposed to on a utility billing basis. Other benefits of this time sharing-style approach are low barriers to entry, shared infrastructure and costs low management overhead and immediate access to a broad range of applications. In general users can terminate the contract at any time (thereby avoiding return on investment risk and uncertainty) and the services are often covered by service level agreements (SLAs) with financial penalties.
According to Nicholas Carr the strategic importance of information technology is diminishing as it becomes standardized and less expensive. He argues that the cloud computing paradigm shift is similar to the displacement of electricity generators by electricity grids early in the 20th century.
Although companies might be able to save on upfront capital expenditures, they might not save much and might actually pay more for operating expenses. In situations where the capital expense would be relatively small or where the organization has more flexibility in their capital budget than their operating budget the cloud model might not make great fiscal sense. Other factors impacting the scale of any potential cost savings include the efficiency of a company s data center as compared to the cloud vendor s the company s existing operating costs the level of adoption of cloud computing and the type of functionality being hosted in the cloud.

Dr.A.Jagadeesh Nellore(AP)
Posted by: Anumakonda Jagadeesh - Thursday 12th, November 2009
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