If ever there was a bandwagon, it must be cloud computing, in all its variations and guises.
The concept of the cloud has been around for sometime as a form of utility computing, though in recent years the use of the term ‘cloud’ has become prevalent as the latest buzzword.
Derek Leitch, sales director of ViFX, defines cloud computing as a web-based approach to computing that “leverages the efficient pooling of on-demand, self-managed virtual infrastructure consumed as a service.”
IBM New Zealand Cloud Specialist Phil Sheehan says cloud computing is the provisioning of dynamically scalable, virtualised resources “as a service” over the internet (public cloud) or intranet (private cloud).
“It is a new consumption and delivery model inspired by customer internet services and enabled by Virtualisation, (Service) Automation, and Standardisation,” he says.
Neil Osmond, technology strategy manager for Gen-i, says the cloud has three key characteristics. It has to be flexible, multi-tenanted and elastic.
He likens it to using a taxi, having it on demand, either as a minibus or saloon, as opposed to buying and running your own car.
Orcon CEO Scott Bartlett says simply: “cloud computing is computing done over the internet using shared resources.”
Notes Roman Paljk, relationship manager for OneNet, “there are as many definitions of cloud computing as there are flavours of ice cream.”
As a technology, the cloud is certainly flavour of the month, with many new product offerings and considerable interest in New Zealand.
In a recent survey, research company IDC noted half of respondents were now using or considering using cloud computing.
Consequently, IBM hopes to cash in with an $80 million reliability level 3+ datacentre in Auckland opening in 2011.
IBM says it is a one-stop shop for cloud computing, with offerings for the infrastructure, platform, software and business process layers.
It has products covering analytics, business services, collaboration, desktop and devices, development and test and infrastructure (for example servers and storage).
ViFX launched a cloud compute model organisation called CloudFx 15 months ago. Using IBM hardware and VMware, it offers Infrastructure as a Service to clients such as Plunket, Designertech and Computer Leasing.
OneNet notes the online nature of the cloud allows both local and global cloud sourced offerings. It offers what it calls the traditional “packaged solutions” such as Hosted Exchange, Hosted CRM, Hosted SharePoint, Hosted Blackberry. There is also a Livevault server backup, plus hosted virtual servers for other requirements.
OneNet also partners with software vendors to deliver applications, as well as completely outsourced solutions such as the ‘Hosted Desktop.”
Gen-i has offered a cloud-like security service called SafeCom for nine years. More recently it has launched ReadyCloud featuring server storage and will soon launch back up and other services, such as virtual desktop.
Appserv offers what it calls a complete outsourced and integrated solution, including hardware, saying this is what it has done for 11 years.
Appserv MD Graham Clarke says people must consider the provider, whether it is offering a tailor-made solution or a cookie-cutter vanilla ice cream offering that will be dumbed down to match your needs.
LayerX offers fully automated, instant set up of web hosting, online storage and Exchange 2010 Email Services. In July it will launch a fully automated virtual server service.
“The long-term goal of the cloud is to offer what we call ‘full spectrum cloud services’, so that is everything from basic web hosting, storage, pop email, exchange email, virtual servers and on demand computing power,” says CEO Bruce Trevarthen.
Orcon has operated cloud hosting (shared hosting) for some time based on the utility computing model.
CEO Scott Bartlett says it also allows services to be purchased hourly from six cents a minute.
Revera also offers its Homeland Cloud services, stressing its New Zealand location for easy service and regulation, for its datacentre-based storage and disaster recovery services.
Microsoft is also there with comprehensive online offerings, with small business a focus, and users including the NZ Rugby Union.
Information Worker business group New Zealand manager Anne Taylor says such collaboration and communication offerings like email, Sharepoint, and Office 2010 allow small businesses access to applications previously only used by larger organisations.
“We are getting much interest and a lot are asking the value of it,” she says.
HP meanwhile, stresses an all-encompassing IBM-like offering, saying it can supply the hardware such as servers and storage, right through to consultancy.
Fujitsu, which also offers cloud computing overseas, plans to bring some offerings here.
So what are the benefits?
HP says the cloud delivers business success faster, as money is not tied up in capital. Gen-i claims an 80 percent saving in the time it takes to develop a new offering, as venture capital is not needed to purchase hardware for the development process.
“You can rent it and give it back. This is leading to huge technical innovation as things are coming faster to market,” says Gen-i’s Neil Osmond.
LayerX confirms the elastic or scalable nature of the cloud, saying you can add or remove resources with the click of a mouse. Generally there are no fixed term contracts, with the cloud allowing less over-provisioning.
However, there are challenges and the cloud may not be right for some businesses.
Bruce Trevarthen at LayerX says adoption is still a complex journey.
“Most users don’t care or even know what CPU or RAM is required. The focus for the end user must be on the result for them, such as ‘I want a mailbox’ or ‘I want storage space’.”
Migration is a challenge, which typically requires support from consultants. The lack of bandwith, depending on your location, may also offer challenges.
Gen-i’s Neil Osmond confirms this, saying “the cloud is only as good as the (internet) pipe”.
Orcon reports a lack of understanding by clients of their own needs. Users may lock themselves into contracts that don’t let them grow their solutions.
Microsoft’s Anne Taylor says the market needs to be more educated. Its channel partners are embracing the cloud and end users need to work with these partners for best effect.
Taylor also notes bandwidth issues, particularly as Microsoft’s cloud is hosted in Singapore. However, this does allow economies of scale, plus international expertise and services to the Microsoft global standard.
However, Revera warns people might prefer easier access and control available from a local cloud, which also avoids relying on a single trans-Tasman cable.
“It is all about underpinning cloud services with the right calibre of utility infrastructure safeguarding service continuity and data,” says director Roger Cockayne.
IBM warn of issues like where is the data located, who has control, where is it backed up? Does the data meet various compliance regulations?
IBM has developed a security framework on cloud computing, publishing a Red Paper and other documents on the subject, which are available online.
IBM Security specialist John Martin says end users need to validate service level agreements to gain reassurance, as well as assess what controls they have over their own data.
He agrees with Cockayne on the issues of high availability and what might happen should the cloud fail.
Indeed, Jeff Healey, HP enterprise storage country manager, warns this is a major issue for the just-in-time models used in supply chains today.
Consequently, some firms might want to keep some on-premise services and hardware, especially as cloud-like economics can still be obtained from more traditional methods using new kit, Healey suggests.