Great news for Smart421 – we have been awarded a Framework Agreement on the new UK Government G-Cloud. This adds to our stock of real-world Cloud credentials – - but I was pondering what this means for us ?

Am I confident that the G-Cloud is going to change minds about the security of Cloud deployments – so opening the flood gates of opportunities?   No, of course not, but it’s certainly another step closer to making Cloud mainstream for public sector as well as private sector.

We’re probably not going to see adverts for the G-Cloud “CloudStore” on the TV for a while either.

But watch this space.

PC Magazine, January 1989 editionThink back to the late 1980′s – the PC is pervading offices and I am running the Information Centre in Mobil Oil, developing small PC applications and running a Help Desk.

Every day a business user would come to me with a well thumbed copy of PC Magazine to show us some whiz-bang PC they had seen or some software they wanted.

My job was to ‘hold the line’ and stick to the strategy – 3 year refresh cycles. More often than not they had greater desktop processing power at home than at work – I certainly did. What we had not grasped was that the PC had become consumer technology – the IT department had to catch up.

Fast forward to late 2011 and we have the Cloud. How many IT managers are still ‘holding the line’ ? Now they face users with well thumbed iPads accessing their holiday photographs from their Cloud storage saying it’s going to revolutionise the way they work.

This time it is the 5 year outsourcing deal that stops them embracing the change.

So has Cloud become consumer technology now ?

My view is that it’s well on the way – with iCloud here and G-Cloud on the way we will be using it as consumers and citizens before we know it.

Should I be worried ? Only if I was back running my old IT Department.

(The Cloud) HeartI’ve always expected the infrastructure-as-a-service market to mature into a range of providers operating at different “layers” – with the mass market commodity end of the market providing ultra-competitive pricing but weak or pretty much non-existent SLAs (i.e. Amazon WS, Rackspace etc), and the development of more expensive, more niche higher-end players offering more robust QoS (quality of service) guarantees with SLAs including financial penalties etc.

As a BCS Consultancy specialist group event earlier this week I encountered my first UK-based IaaS provider that is specifically targeting this high-end market. Symetriq are offering a service that aims to answer the UK government-grade security challenge by offering N3 standard capabilities and guaranteeing UK-based data storage etc, and SLAs that are not completely toothless. Talking with one of their guys after the event, they’ve got two data centres currently and are hosting public sector offerings already which is interesting as it shows it can be done, i.e. the data security concerns in the public sector can be addressed (although I must admit I don’t know the details of the nature of the data/apps).

In the cloud goldrush, I’ve seen other hosting providers essentially reskinning their co-lo hosting model to offer a cloud-like veneer over it – creating a bit of an illusion of elasticity, self-provisioning and pay-as-you-go billing when in fact it’s not really that automated under the covers, i.e. it’s the data centre equivalent of the “print and rekey” data integration that we see (far too often!) in the application integration space. Unless these players invest in automating these cloud offerings they’ll never get the operational economies of scale they need to be competitive. I guess another way of saying this is that a bunch of virtual machines does not make a cloud…

Symetriq’s offering is a serious attempt to create an enterprise/government-grade IaaS offering. I guess the trick will largely be in the pricing – quite rightly they will charge a premium for higher QoS, SLAs with penalties etc, so as this market develops (and we need to see what happens with the G-Cloud initiative in the new public budget-squeezed world) we’ll see if the price points (and associated benefits of elasticity, agility, Opex not CapEx etc) are attractive enough for organisations to make the leap. I’m convinced they will, but they’ll be some winners and losers along the way.

One of the great benefits of being a member of the British Computer Society is being able to attend the very good conferences, forums and presentations they host and run, one of which I attended earlier this – “Software as a Service – Is it the right time to move services into or from the cloud?”.

The event was run by the CMA who are part of BCS from the BCS headquarters in London and was very well attended, with the likes of IBM, Shell, Sun, Fujitsu, Logica, Barron McCann, Experian, BT, Siemens, Ordnance Survey and many others sending delegates showing the rise in interest in Cloud Computing across all sectors. There were seven presentations in all, two of which were examples of companies that have embraced Cloud Computing, and a presentation from Rahoul Bhansali from Hudson & Yorke who has been heavily involved in the government’s G-Cloud initiative (which is something I am sure I / Smart421 will blog on later as the initiative matures). However for this blog entry I want to focus on the two presentations that caught my eye and overlay these with the two examples of companies embracing Cloud Computing.

The first presentation I want to focus on was from Nick Coleman of IBM (author of the Coleman report) who delivered a presentation on “The future directions of the Cloud Computing”. The presentation focussed on the message that “Cloud Computing is evolutionally and not revolutionary”, something which I wholeheartedly agree with; managed services have been around for years, virtualisation is not new and many companies have run / hosted applications on hardware hosted by a third party – Cloud Computing is about pulling these together and enabling different combinations of SaaS, PaaS and IaaS to be put together to meet the specific and individual needs of a company. Cloud Computing is transformative; it offers businesses, especially SMEs, a lot of benefits such as a reduction in costs, agility in deliveries, quicker time to market, easy to scale solutions etc, but there are still a number of considerations that need to be taken into account – security is still the main concern with the Cloud – in 2009 just under 50% of vulnerabilities found in web apps were not patchable, with Cloud based solutions you are not aware of what else is being hosted with your application, and where is your app being hosted? – these are all answerable but you will most likely have to dig down to get these answers and may even end up having to pay extra to resolve them. As Nick alluded to during his presentation, Cloud Computing is transformative, businesses and people need to adapt and be willing to relinquish control over some key aspects that have traditionally been kept in house. It was these considerations that featured heavily in the presentations from the companies that had embraced Cloud Computing – Ordnance Survey and EasyNet Connect.

Richard Britton who was up until recently IT Director for EasyNet Connect, presented on how they migrated their complex 50+ applications into a SalesForce Cloud based solution. They also surveyed their customers and:

  • 73% of their customers said they would be using Cloud based solutions within 5 years
  • 37% of their customers said they would be using Cloud based solutions within 1 years
  • 66% of their large SME (50+ staff) customers are already using Cloud based solutions or plan to do so within a year

EasyNet have definitely embraced Cloud based solutions and plan to press forward with this as they grow.

Tim Martin and Ian Hoult from Ordnance Survey presented on how the OS OpenSpace product had been migrated to the Cloud; The OpenSpace application is used by many companies, including many local councils that seek the level of detail in the maps they provide. The application has between 5,00 and 10,000 updates on a daily basis that were shipped to all of the app consumers on a 6 weekly cycle, this equated to about 60GB worth of information so had to be loaded onto multiple DVD’s so was a very expensive process and a prime candidate to be converted to SaaS. In addition to the expense of shipping all of the updates, the demand for information on the local council web sites can flux quite a bit, the example they used was the recent increase in volume (around 80% above and beyond normal use) during the cold weather of people looking for salt bins. With this is in mind, it would have being very expensive for them to build the extra capacity that would be required to deal with a huge serge in requests. They decided to push OpenSpace into the Cloud to deal with these issues and can now serve 7 million tiles as opposed to 500,000 and for a third of the cost for delivering and now have a scalable and economical solution with reduced support costs – they can now add an additional server into an environment within 5 minutes if the need arises. With that said it wasn’t all plain sailing, they had to switch their database as the licensing with their existing DB was not “Cloud Friendly”, also the data has been split, so all personal data is held locally within Ordnance Survey and only the public data is hosted within the Cloud within the EU. All in all they have seen this as a huge success and will be delivering 2 more of their products into the Cloud, but will spend more time in looking into the contracts and licensing aspects which leads me nicely into the 2nd presentation I wanted to focus on that was delivered by Richard Kemp from Kemp Little who specialise in IT litigation on the differences between cloud services and outsourcing.

Richard, who has worked with Google and SalesForce on this subject, was a very captivating speaker with an interesting subject, one of which I think is the most important for those looking at Cloud Computing. As I mention earlier, Cloud Computing is evolutionary and not revolutionary, we have all been involved in outsourcing in some way, shape or form in our careers and we all know that one of the hardest aspects is the contracts that need to be drawn up to support these. The traditional approach is a transfer out of assets and in return you receive a service contract. Richard said that with the ever increasing shift to Cloud based solutions, things are not changing as much as people think; you still need to set the KPIs, SLAs and service description but now certain items are becoming critical to these agreements such as:

  • Performance – key service metrics need to be specified
  • Availability – with the services being accessed over the internet who bears the risk of an outage?
  • Data – Data Security is always a key item to any business, but when hosting that data in the Cloud you need to be sure that the data standards applied by the Cloud provider is that that you require; you should be able to access that data at any given point and most importantly, you need to be able to get your data back at any given point and in a usable format
  • Exit – an exit strategy is key – being able to regain control of the service in a quick and timely manner

As well as these key points, there are some differences in the approaches taken to draw up the agreements for either outsourcing or Cloud:

  • Outsourcing tends to be a custom / bespoke deal where as with a Cloud based deal being a one to many / generic deal
  • With outsourcing the supplier is responsible for delivery; with Cloud based solutions the customer takes on the risk of their services being served over the internet and accept the risks with that
  • Outsourcing generally work to a set up front free where as Cloud is generally pay as you use

I think the key thing is to do all of the hard thinking up front when thinking about moving to a Cloud based solution, look at the key points above, remember the criticality of your data and the fact that the customer is responsible for the data (make sure you specify where it needs to be hosted, what standards need to be adhered and make sure that the data can not be used with express consent), make sure an exit plan is agreed up front as this helps things nearer the end of any agreement and helps avoid litigation as it is always the lawyers who win!

All in all I thought the event was very good and gave some excellent insight as to what to bear in mind – in my honest opinion I think now is the time to be moving items into the Cloud, SOA is fast becoming adopted as much of a standard as OO and Cloud based solutions can be a truly cost effective, flexible and scalable solution for any business!!

BusinessCloudSummit09-ZachNelson-NetSuiteOn Wednesday last week I attended this cloud computing event in London – it was a very long but interesting day. A few key observations for me were that

  • The focus was mainly on SaaS with some discussion of PaaS – much less discussion of IaaS which surprised me, but I guess was partially due to the business-focus of the event. None of the speakers or panel contributors were from Amazon, Rackspace etc for example.
  • Also, any consulting companies were pretty invisible also (except Smart421 of course!) – but as one of the panel discussions was relating to consultancy in a cloud computing era I was surprised that the panel was made up of vendors rather than consulting companies. Having said that, the event sponsors were primarily SaaS providers (Salesforce.com, NetSuite) and so this probably skewed things somewhat.
  • The general view on the classic “data security” challenge from the vendors was that the concern has been addressed, but that the convincing customers of this still had some way to go.
  • A key recurring theme was that the success or otherwise of cloud-based implementations was largely determined by the effectiveness of the user community engagement/change management process – and that this was true before cloud computing and just as true now. My summary – regardless of the technology-du-our, get the basics right.
  • Disappointingly, there was no mention of Enterprise Architecture (EA) at all during the day – and yet really many of the sessions were about how cloud computing brings new architectural choices to the CIO/CTO’s table, and so for me this is a classic EA opportunity. This just shows how much mind-share the discipline of EA has in the wider IT and business communities – not very much I fear.

BusinessCloudSummit09-RegistrationQueueThe day started with a classic demonstration of poor elasticity and scalability – when the registration process crashed and burned under the pressure of the number of delegates, as you can see from the photo. I gave up on my free bag of goodies. This means that things started a bit behind schedule, but the organisers recovered the timing well and got things back on track during the morning sessions.

From a PaaS perspective, the only platform that really got any airtime was Force.com and from this event you’d think it was the only credible game in town.

There was a really interesting presentation on the G-cloud from Martin Bellamy (from the CIO of the Cabinet Office) – the ambition of the G-cloud project is quite breathtaking in its scale, but then also the fact that data centre consolidation in the public sector is so rare was also pretty scandalous to me (as a tax payer!). Martin explained that current public sector data centre utilisation was around 10% and gave a good justification of why this was so low (e.g. they target a 60% max utilisation for “head room”, plus the 10% figure includes DR/dev/test environments etc) – so the business case for just data centre consolidation using a cloud architecture is very compelling. One thing that encouraged me was that he was proposing incentives to the various departments for reuse, e.g. if you add a reusable asset to the base set of assets (which he referred to as an “app store”) then the department receives some kind of discount. I must admit to wondering how well a centrally funded project can deliver the G-cloud however…given the breadth of the undertaking.

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