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!!