In this post, I will describe somewhat of a revised set of architecture characteristics that define Cloud Computing.
A key characteristic of the Cloud is to provide an abstraction layer for the lower level resources, including compute, network and storage components. Users are strongly discouraged, or disallowed, to think in terms of the physical hardware, but instead consider in terms of the resources required. The users don’t need to worry about whether the underlying hardware is from IBM, HP, Cisco, Juniper, NetApp or EMC. What’s presented to them is a homogenous set of resources. This removes the users from having to worry about the differences in hardware or software configuration. The resources may be shared amongst many different users, or dedicated to a single user; and maybe presented as a set of virtual machines or a set of APIs.
The set of resources presented by the Cloud can be provision or de-provisioned as needed by the users. The term “on-demand” also conveys a notion of speed. When resources are requested, they are provisioned within minutes, not days, weeks or even months. In most enterprises today, hardware procurement is a multi-month long process that can slow down projects and frustrate employees. One large system integrator has recently trimmed the process of provisioning environments from 8 weeks to 3 days. However, to truly meet the business needs, they must go from 3 days to hours, if not minutes.
Elasticity is probably the most defining characteristic for Cloud Computing. In addition to the need to provision on demand, enterprises are increasingly required to scale for anticipated or unanticipated resource requirements. For example, one top university that we recently talked had a housing application that gets HAMMERED two weeks before the start of the school year, EVERY year. Traffic dies down and there’s very little activity after the initial period. A large financial services firm has 30 servers dedicated to handling a 15-minute job every day. These are examples of anticipated resource requirements. Enterprises know when they will need the additional resources, how much resources are required and the duration of time they will need the resources for.
An example of unanticipated resource requirement is when the market department rolls out a huge campaign and drove 10 times the traffic to the enterprise website, and the IT department was never informed. This is a real life scenario that I am sure many of you have experienced. The question at that point is not to point fingers, but to figure out how to rapidly provision 10 times the resources to handle that traffic. Another example that we have heard from a large software vendor is their need to periodically spin up anywhere from 50 to 500 servers for software testing, and then quickly spin down when finished.
Elasticity, or the ability to rapidly provision and quickly scale up and down the resources, is an architecture model that affects not just infrastructure, but also the application design. In addition, given that most of these scenarios, whether anticipated or unanticipated, do not happen often, so it’s unrealistic financially for enterprises to provision enough resource to handle these spikes. The Cloud would allow enterprises to rent the additional resources in any quantity at any time.
The traditional process of application owners or developer asking IT to procure and provision resources is arduous and long. Consider the software vendor scenario we described earlier where developers need to spin up 50 to 500 servers for software testing. The developers need to modify this environment often to test different configurations and application architectures, and they need to have these modifications done in real-time so they don’t miss their delivery schedule. IT organizations are not resourced to handle this type of scenarios. The best resolution would be to provide the developers a pool of resources that they can do their own configurations. The self-service model not only works for these developers, but more and more business users are asking for similar capabilities as they are asked to be more efficient.
Ubiquitous access, or the ability to access from anywhere, using any device, is one of the great promises of the Web. This promise will become real as smart phones, netbooks and laptops become the prevalent way of access information. Ray Ozzie, Micrisoft’s Chief Software Architect, described his vision of “3 Windows in the Cloud,” where the 3 Windows included Windows on PC, Windows on mobile devices, and Windows on TVs. As you can see, one of key messages in this vision is ubiquitous access.
Where the Cloud Architecture camp is focused on how to create the best architecture to handle the business needs, the Cloud Business camp is zeroed in on translating the architectural benefits into financial terms. It’s great that enterprises can have ubiquitous access and elasticity, but if it costs them 10x more in investment for a 2x return, that’s not going to fly. In this section we will look at some of the business benefits of Cloud Computing:
- Reduce Cost
- Minimize Risk
- Increase Agility
- Maintain Focus
One large enterprise has outsourced their test and development environments to an outsourcer, and paying approximately $10,000 per environment per year, regardless of whether the resources are virtual or physical. They have 3000 such environments, so they are essentially paying $30 million per year on just test and development environments. They did a user survey to find out the utilization of these environments, and all the developers responded saying that these environments are heavily utilized and there’s tight handoff from one team to another. An audit, however, revealed that overall, the environments are utilized < 10%, and that 70% of the environments are logged into once per year by developers.
Another large financial services firm said that their infrastructure is utilized less than 2% overall.
Enterprises can lower CAPEX by not having to procure additional hardware and software but to use cloud providers and their pay-per-use utility pricing to handle resource spikes; they can lower OPEX by abstracting the hardware differences, and providing self-service capabilities to the end users so IT don’t always have to be the middle man; and they can lower their CAPEX and OPEX by increasing utilization of these expensive resources, or reduce the amount of resources required to accomplish the same tasks.
It still shocks me that in this age, companies are still running some of their mission critical applications on servers sitting under a IT administrator’s desk. But more often than not, when I talk to enterprises, this very scenario always comes up. IT administrators do this for different reasons. Some just don’t want to give up control; some don’t want to go through the arduous procurement process; some don’t have the time; and some simply don’t see why it’s a problem. In majority of these cases, if enterprises can provide these IT administrators the ability to quickly migrate these servers into the Cloud, they are more than willing to do so.
The Cloud, by design, is architected to be highly available and fault tolerant. Any one component going down should not affect the availability of applications. The Cloud is one way for enterprises to reduce risk of mission critical applications going down.
Another way that Cloud helps enterprises reduce risk is it can give IT more control over the resources. Imagine a large organization that allows their end users to procure their own hardware and software because IT simply doesn’t have the cycles to manage that. Soon enough there will 100 different hardware suppliers and 1000 different software suppliers. IT will have no idea how these resources are being used and what the utilization levels are. In addition, this scenario presents a huge security risk to the enterprises, as there’s no control of the procurement process.
The Cloud centralizing the procurement and management of hardware and software, IT can maintain control but at the same time provide users the resources they are looking for. It will be a win-win situation for both sides.
Joe Weinman, AT&T’s VP of Strategy, said that “an on-demand service provider typically charges a utility premium — a higher cost per unit time for a resource than if it were owned, financed or leased.” Joe is absolutely correct here, and the recent McKenzie report validates this as well. To determine whether Cloud Computing is the right approach, enterprises must look at other business benefits in addition to hard cost.
What is it worth to an enterprise when they can respond faster to business requirements and enable businesses to bring products to market quicker? For example, going from 8 weeks to 3 days to 10 minutes in provisioning of resources to run enterprise services or spinning up 500 servers in minutes to test an application.
The global economy is forcing companies to be global as well. One such company has 10’s of 1000’s of developers/consultants spread all over the world, all requiring quick access to test and development environments. It’s impractical for this company to build and operate data centers around the world, and it’s also not the company’s core competency and strategy to have all these data centers. One of the things they are looking to do is build a “cloud abstraction layer” on top of multiple clouds, and allow developers to request resources. Depending on the developer’s location and resource requirement, the software will automatically provision the right resources and inform the user when ready. The ability to distribute the workload onto multiple clouds gives this company the flexibility and speed to respond to business needs. How much does this worth?
Like the company described above, most enterprises do not consider building and operating data centers as their core competency. These enterprises consider it to be more of a distraction to their core business. By utilizing the service provider clouds, the enterprises can maintain their focus and accelerate innovation on their core business.
The classic example here is the New York Times case study, where the developers processed 4TB of data in matter of minutes to convert scans of 15 million news stories into PDFs for online distribution. Instead of worrying about taking months to procure hardware for this one time task and spending much more money, New York Times took it to the Cloud and completed the task in less than 24 hours and with much less money.
The Cloud allows allow IT organizations to focus on providing the best infrastructure possible, and developers to focus on their applications instead of the infrastructure.
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