Five reasons why cloud isn’t a four letter word.

This is the second post in the Federated Service Provider series, click here to go to the first post.

Growing up my parents had two aspirations for me …one, to become a doctor and two, to play the piano.

Now, I studied neuroscience in university but didn’t go to medical school …long story, with the jury still out as to whether I get partial credit or ½ a point for that aspiration …and as for playing the piano, well I can play anything brass and was … okay, still kinda am …a band geek having been in marching band, concert band, and jazz/Big Band band.  Heck, I could probably even manage film classics on the vuvuzela.  But piano?  Erm, no …I would most certainly lose a contest to Chuck Hollis no matter how many drinks you gave me.

Why?  Two primary reasons, really …first, I could never could get to coordination required with feet, hand, pedals blah blah …and second, I never practised enough.

Now, before you go castigating me for not practising enough …pianos were expensive to own when I was a kid and keyboards hadn’t really hit the mainstream.  Yeah, okay, there were these things called ‘fingerboards’ with which you could ‘practise’ playing piano but really?  Cardboard fingerboard on the dining room table?  Exactly.  No self-respecting Atari 2600 playing kid is going to pretend playing piano …sorry, ‘practise’ …when there was Tron to be played in the absence of a real piano to practise with.

I hadn’t thought of any of this very much until very recently when I saw amazing piano tutor apps for the Apple iPad.  Would having had an iPad …admittedly much cheaper than a piano and also capable of doing much more than being just a piano …have changed things for me such that I would have become a concert pianist?

This blog post is by no means about the iPad …and gosh knows the iPad does evoke interesting responses from people …I’ve heard everything from the fan boy addict ‘I’ll stand  in queue overnight to buy one’ to people expressing hatred tantamount to ‘Steve Jobs is Hitler and Chairman Mao’s love child’ …and everything in between.

Look …the iPad, just like any technology, is important only inasmuch as what you are going to do with it.  And some are taking the view that perhaps better to test in the field and form a quantitative view as opposed to an emotive qualitative view.  Indeed, Eversheds have embarked on just such a qualitative analysis with Computacenter.

What’s this got to do with Data Storage and Protection?

Coming back to the topic of this series, the Federated Service Provider model, customers have begun to take steps into understanding how cloud offerings might be able to help transform their environments by executing limited trials …the Daily Telegraph trial of Google Apps is a good example of this.  And yet the market has been somewhat ‘surprised’ that customers haven’t adopted cloud technologies further.

Frankly, I’m not that surprised as cloud offerings offer a different consumption model more analogous to say electricity or water delivery …tell me exactly how much this will cost me by metering my consumption …versus more traditional IT delivery models where the individual components are purchased, integrated, and consumed.

But cloud isn’t a Federated Service Provider model, so what is?

1. Defining and implementing a service catalogue is the key to unlocking the internal service provider.

We have been hearing since the 1970s that we need to align data to business value and that IT should be a service provider to the business.  The challenge is that as we have distributed systems away from centralised systems such as mainframes, it has become more and more difficult to accomplish this as we have developed ‘silos’ of technology …servers, storage, network, desktop …all operating more or less independently although interconnected.  The business says ‘give me reliable data storage, and make it as inexpensive as possible!’ and so we replied ‘Tier One is 300GB 15K drives!’ …we replied with a technical purchasing strategy that the business could understand and we could implement, but it doesn’t align data to business value.

Another way to accomplish this is the definition of a service catalogue; codifying what throughput is required by bands [e.g. 30K > 50K IOPS], the Recovery Time Objective, Recovery Point Objective, retention period, deduplication, and so on such that you can then give this package a name …we’ll call is SLA1 to keep things simple …and then give the business a flat price per user per annum.  We then keep going …SLA2, SLA3, SLA4 …and so on until we have enough packages to satisfy the business requirements.

The business gets SLA1 at £15 per user per annum, and IT becomes an internal service provider by ‘stocking’ against the requests made by the business per SLA package.

2. Virtualised datacentres allow you to automatically provision and deploy resources from the service catalogue, and introduce a fixed cost but fungible and elastic infrastructure.

I’m a geek, in case you haven’t noticed …be kind! …and I both need and want to know how data deduplication, thin provisioning, grid storage, fully automated storage tiering and the like work.  But to be fair, the real advantage to a virtualised datacentre, or VDC, is not the technical whizzy bits but, rather, that wastage is eliminated at each IT level from hypervisor through server, storage, network such that workloads can be automatically deployed and …perhaps most importantly increased and decreased elastically …without necessarily requiring any manual intervention.  Watch this space as we’re developing some demo videos to help describe this process more fully.

What the VDC does deliver, however, is a fungible resource …I don’t necessarily need to know what future workloads will look like, but I know they’ll be £1.35 per user per annum to deploy …capable of expanding and contracting without losing structural integrity.

3. I’m not moving my holy of holies into any cloud!

If we accept that only 20% of data stored is truly business meaningful …some call this structured data; ERP, customer databases, transaction processing, and the like …it is unlikely that any customer will ever go ‘all in’ with cloud storage, preferring instead to house the ‘holy of holies’ locally within their own datacentre.  And why not?  Storing this locally would help to mitigate many of the concerns regarding data security.

But how to stem the tide and control the bleeding of the data being created?

4. Help me connect my internal service provider to external service providers seamlessly.

Controlling cost as data grows inexorably is what VDCs will ultimately provide, in my opinion …through bridges to support the federation of internal and external service providers.

The corporate IT department will continue to be the internal service provider; looking after the corporate service catalogue, managing the corporate structured data housed in the VDC, and evaluating external service providers such as Computacenter Shared Service, Amazon EC2, Google, and the like.

The onsite corporate VDC will enable a customer to virtualise, containerise, and mobilise …effectively mobilising unstructured data created by users to external service providers where it can be housed less expensively than it can internally.  Ah, but ‘aren’t we just shifting the problem elsewhere and creating a tap which can never be closed’ I hear you ask?  Not necessarily, but I’ll save the possible answers to this query to next week’s post.

5. These aren’t the stack wars, they’re the stack battles …the real war will be on of APIs.

Some analysts have been watching the emergence of vendor VDCs such as VCE vBlock, NetApp SMT, HDS Unified Compute, IBM Dynamic Infrastructure, and HP Converged Infrastructure and stated that we are ‘in the midst of the stack wars’ as each rushes to gain dominance in the market for their particular ‘stack’.

I’m not convinced.  Rather, I believe the real ‘war’ will be one of APIs.

The founder of cloud provider Enomaly, Reuven Cohen, recently asked in a blog post ‘Do Customers Really Care About Cloud APIs?’  I believe that they absolutely do …and will …but perhaps not in the way that Reuven was thinking.

If I now have a corporate VDC, I will need something to ‘federate’ my internal and external service providers.  Something, in essence, to move the data seamlessly from my corporate VDC to my external provider …based on defined business rules …without disruption to my production business.  Why wouldn’t this be APIs coupled with policy based engines?  In other words, software which is smart enough to know how to connect to an external service provider …read ‘cloud’ …and move data from the corporate VDC to the cloud seamlessly through the use of a policy based engine.

But how do we keep this from becoming just a shift of the real issue to another source?

And, if this works and we start to move significant amounts of data …how do we move a petabyte of data from the external service provider back into the corporate VDC or to another service provider should we so desire?

Mrs. PL is giving me that look which means it’s time for dinner and we’ll need to save those for next week’s post but, until then, enjoy the sunshine and have a great weekend.

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