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Cloud Computing - Tomorrow’s Architecture, Saving Money Today

Sajai Krishnan
Saturday, August 1, 2009
Sajai Krishnan
Every two to three years the hi-tech industry throws up the next shiny thing. But every decade or so comes a game-changing transformational technology wave. Cloud computing is one such technological innovation. Ten years from now, cloud computing could be 20-30 percent of the architecture inside a data center. But more importantly, a generation is growing up now that is used to ubiquitous computing and communications everywhere. The applications serving this community are completely based in the cloud. This generation is going to expect nothing less than the ability to have access to their data and applications anywhere they are; in other words, this community is going to be served from the cloud, with applications specifically designed to make use of the cloud and deliver the benefits of the cloud.

Setting the clock back to the present, the early cloud applications are clearly visible in the iPhone store, in the CRM and email spaces, and with applications like Facebook and Twitter. But, while this is clearly exciting and is going to be unfolding broadly and with a tidal force in the coming years, today most compute and data are centered in the enterprise.

Cloud computing can be a significant efficiency driver in enterprises in the near term. In a recessionary environment especially infrastructure savings is at a premium. Simplistically, looking at the three key cloud components ? applications, compute, and storage ? one can see the emergent benefits. Cloud applications (SaaS) have already proved their benefits clearly by providing significant savings over custom deployment of software. Cloud compute (compute-as-a-service CaaS) benefits are becoming better understood with increasing penetration of its foundational virtualization technologies from VMWare and Citrix Xen. Cloud storage (Storage-as-a-service StaaS), on the other hand, is a relatively new phenomenon and has gained some early exposure via the services offered by Amazon Web Services and a few others. In cloud storage or StaaS, the foundational technology equivalent to that from VMWare is relatively nascent and firms like ParaScale and EMC are just starting to offer it.

Interestingly, while Caas is a bit better understood than StaaS, beyond the relatively familiar virtualization it is more difficult to gain the benefits of CaaS for a couple of reasons. Firstly, CaaS requires the use of provisioning and workload management tools and APIs that require legacy apps to go back from production into development and test (for programming with the new APIs) before redeployment. Secondly, leveraging CaaS requires careful reconfiguration (albeit not overly complex) of associated networks and storage. Taken together, CaaS requires relatively more expertise to deploy than StaaS, and enterprises and service providers have just begun to recognize this.

StaaS, on the other hand, is the low hanging fruit amongst cloud infrastructure services. Some cloud storage vendors even provide access via legacy protocols (NFS, CIFS, FTP) so that existing applications can easily benefit from the low-cost commodity hardware (not proprietary storage appliances as before) economics of this cloud architecture. One of ParaScale’s service provider partners even connected up an IBM mainframe application to a cloud store via NFS … getting StaaS economies to the most legacy of applications in a matter of one week. In many respects, enterprises can stop thinking of storage clouds as clouds per se. It is easier to think of a storage cloud as an additional tier of NAS or tier-2 or tier-3 that can offload expensive tier-1 storage. So, instead of continuing to overload the primary or tier-1 storage with files that are a little old and rarely accessed but still important enough to keep in many cases, enterprises can save a lot of money by using storage clouds composed of commodity servers to offload and supplement that expensive primary tier of storage based on proprietary appliances.

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