>The Cloud is a Natural Evolution of IT

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Cloud computing is bringing us closer than ever to providing IT as utility, where users no longer need to know or care about how the IT services are provided, and only want to know that they are reliably there—just like turning on the light.

This rent-an-IT model of cloud computing can apply to any portion of an organization’s IT architecture, as follows:

  • Service architecture—for application systems, there is “software as a service” (SaaS) such as Google Apps suite for office-productivity or Salesforce.com for customer relationship management. And for developing those systems, there is “platform as a service” (PaaS) such as Google Apps Engine (GAE) or the Defense Information Systems Agency (DISA) Rapid Access Computing Environment (RACE).
  • Information architecture—for storing the data used in systems, there is “storage as a service” such as Amazon’s Simple Storage Service (S3).
  • Technology architecture—for hosting systems, there is “infrastructure as a service” such as Amazon’s Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2)

The big advantage to using hosted IT or cloud computing is that it provides on-demand information technology—again like your electricity usage; the juice is there when you need it. Additionally, by outsourcing to specialist IT providers, you can generally get more efficiency, economy, and agility in providing IT your organization.

Of course, there are challenges that include ownership, security, privacy, and a cultural shift from a vertical (stovepiped) to horizontal (enterprise and common services) mindset.

From my perspective, cloud computing is a natural evolution in our IT service provision:

  1. At first, we did everything in-house, ourselves—with our own employees, equipment, and facilities. This was generally very expensive in terms of finding and maintaining employees with the right skill sets, and developing and maintaining all our own systems and technology infrastructure, securing it, patching it, upgrading it, and so on.
  2. So then came, the hiring of contractors to support our in-house staff; this helped alleviate some of the hiring and training issues on the organization. But it wasn’t enough to make us cost-efficient, especially since we were still managing all our own systems and technologies for our organization as a stovepipe.
  3. Next, we moved to a managed services model, where we out-sourced vast chunks of our IT—from our helpdesk to desktop support, from data centers to applications development, and even to security and more. But apparently that didn’t go far enough, because we were still buying, building, and maintaining our own IT instances for our organization, but now employing call centers and data centers in far-flung places.
  4. And finally, the realization has emerged that we do not need to provide IT services either with our own or contracted staff, but rather we can rely on IT cloud providers who will manage our information technology and that of tens, hundreds, and thousands of others and provide it seamlessly over the Internet, so that we all benefit from a more scalable and unified service provision model.

The cloud computing model takes the CIO/CTO and their staffs out of the fire-fighting mode of IT management and into the drivers seat for managing IT strategically, innovatively, and with a focus on the specific mission needs of their organization.

>The Future of Cloud Computing

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Cloud computing—“a style of computing where IT-related capabilities are provided ‘as a service’, allowing users to access technology-enabled services ‘in the cloud’ without knowledge of, expertise with, or control over the technology infrastructure that supports them.” (Wikipedia)

In an article in InfoWorld, 7 April 2008, called What Cloud Computing Really Means, Galen Gruman states that “Cloud computing encompasses any subscription-based or pay-per use service that, in real time over the Internet, extends IT capabilities.”

What’s an example of cloud computing?

An example of cloud computing is Google Apps that provides common business applications (similar to traditional office suits) online.”

How does cloud computing work?

In cloud computing, resources–either hardware or software–are available on-demand—as needed.

In the case of on-demand software, application service providers (ASPs) offer software as a service (SaaS). And for on-demand hardware or IT infrastructure (i.e. virtual data center capabilities such as servers or storage), the offering takes the form of utility computing. In both cases, technology resources are served up on a pay-as-you-go or metered basis, similar to the way a public utility would charge for electricity, oil/gas, telephone, water, and so on.

The cloud computing model is similar to service oriented architecture where there is a service provider and consumer, and here the Internet functions the basic service broker.

Cloud computing is has a basis in technology virtualization in which service providers “hide the physical characteristics of computing resources from their users [consumers].” (Wikipedia)

What are the major advantages of cloud computing?

Cost—one of the big advantages of this computing model is that the upfront IT investment cost is little to none, since the IT assets are in essence being rented.

Scalability—customers have the ability to use more resources when they have a surge in demand and can scale back or turn off the spigot when the resources are not needed.

Flexibility—As IT capabilities get updated by the service provider, consumers in the cloud model can make immediate use of them and benefit sooner than if they had to stand up the capabilities themselves.

Mission focus—The enterprise can stay focused on core mission and mission support capabilities and in essence easily outsource business support functions, where the service provider is responsible for enabling more generic (not strategic or differentiators) business capabilities.

What are the enterprise architecture implications?

Cloud computing can play an important role in focusing IT solutions on strategic mission requirements, simplifying and standardizing our IT infrastructures by outsourcing capabilities, utilizing a services oriented architecture (SOA) model where common business services are served up by providers and consumed by the enterprise, and more effectively managing costs.

What is the future of cloud computing?

Obviously, there are security implications, but as Galen Gruman states: “as SOA and virtualization permeate the enterprise, the idea of loosely coupled services running on an agile, scalable infrastructure should make every enterprise a node in the cloud. It’s a long-running tend with a far-out horizon. But among big metatrends, cloud computing is the hardest one to argue with in the long term.