Clouds in the 1800′s – On the Trail to the Promised Land in 2011
As Cloud expansion takes shape, many brave pioneers are starting on their journey ‘Cloudward.’ To safely and successfully make the voyage, these pioneers must carefully plan each step, anticipating the unexpected along the way. Cloud sourcing pioneers must decide are they even qualified to make the journey? If so, what route should they take? What provisions are necessary to successfully make the trip? And finally, why is the journey to the Cloud more important than the destination?
Cloud Computing is like Colorado in the 1800’s, every person is out for themselves and they will either strike it rich or die trying. Providers are already jockeying for the opportunity to define the standards of Cloud Computing, meanwhile new cloud offerings and companies are popping up at a rapidly growing pace. To further exacerbate their vagueness, existing Cloud offerings seem to have been created with a pioneer mentality, i.e. they pave the trail for future features to come.
Some vendors are selling buggy or saddle horse features to get you to the action quicker but, the trail has its perils. In addition to dodging bandits (like pop-up Cloud providers) there are no maps, no GPS and definitely no clear direction except ‘Cloudward’ – the trail dust has yet to settle.
It was an early morn’ – brisk at best, cold at least. The sky was clear…not a cloud in sight. Pioneers about to embark on their journey sat in the saloon talking about what they were going to do with their money after they strike it rich out West. Others passed by the shop windows, trying to get a feel or inclination to see if it was worth going West themselves. The smell of new paint on the walls, plush chairs, new set of cards at each table, and the chipper dealer with the twinkle in his eye gave off a good vibe and to those that wanted it -hope.
Gathering Your Supplies: What Stays and What Goes?
Before setting out on their trip, Cloud sourcing pioneers must decide:
- Where is the best place to buy my supplies?
- Who will sell me what I need based on the conditions I am going to face?
These are just some of the thoughts many CIO’s and Executives are facing daily when deciding if Cloud is the right choice for their organization. There is some assistance however; ‘trail guides’ if you will. One of these is a company called CloudSleuth, which offers buyers an opportunity to look into how common applications are performing globally across various Cloud providers. It quickly allows you to compare response times between major Cloud providers and measures content delivery networks and other various web analytics using simple applications. This is great if you are already on the trail (kind of like a weather forecast), but for those who are deciding what trail they are going to take, it does not help much.
Another place someone may look is SpotCloud which has become a quasi buyer and seller exchange market for compute power. The mechanism is based on current market conditions, user demand, and the level of resource utilization so that sellers of excess compute capacity can sell it to prospective buyers. This is an auction site for Cloud Computing and does very little for those that are not sure what they need to buy yet. As you can see, there are at least some attempts to help Cloud pioneers understand the market, but little to actually help them enter it.
Finding the right provider to purchase supplies from is not easy – there are many choices. Typically a ‘trail boss,’ someone who has made this journey many times before is needed in these cases. A good trail boss will be able to present suitable advice based on your requirements and capabilities while offering a repeatable methodology and process that has assisted others who have traveled before you.
South by Southwest, West, or North by Northwest: Finding the Right Route
One thing a trail boss will assist you with is assessing your capabilities and telling you what is possible based on those capabilities before you start shopping for supplies. Sometimes the hardest part of the job for a trail boss is telling someone they are not strong enough to make the journey due to infrastructure dependencies not available in the Cloud, complexity of applications, or an organizational readiness that is just not up to par – and yes, it’s common.
Alsbridge’s Cloud Alignment Workshop puts the reality of Cloud sourcing for your organization into perspective quicker than Doc Holiday could skin his own smoke wagon! In this collaborative workshop, you will be presented with various case studies from people who have already successfully made the Cloud journey which discuss infrastructure and application maturity assessments and how the capabilities of the providers in the market stack up against your own requirements and capabilities. If there are components that qualify, then it is a matter of setting a direction. Remember, this is just a qualification – the journey has yet to be planned.
The trail boss kicked the wheels on the buggy then pried each box open and checked the supplies with an intensity that could only come from someone with his experience. He untied his blue bandanna and wiped the sweat from his brow before slowly stuffing it into his left back pocket. As he jumped down off the buggy, the trail boss he looked at the client and said “you’re ready now.” Gasps could be heard from the naysayers in the crowd that had gathered. It was determined, the route was selected.
Which Route is Best for My Organization? (IaaS vs. PaaS)
There is no such thing as the ‘best route’ in Cloud Computing. It is a matter of aligning your capabilities and requirements with a set of provider characteristics and delivery models that are either a match or not.
Provider selection can be the difference between success and failure in the Cloud. While each provider is unique in their own right, no one provider can meet everyone’s needs – although some will try to lead you into believing so. In the case of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), let’s take a look at Amazon and Joyent. Amazon AWS EC2 (at a basic level) is a replication of your infrastructure in the Cloud. Joyent offers the same service claims but their technology stack is better designed for high intensity applications. What does this all mean? It means one thing; the language in itself is worth asking your trail boss about. Joyent is a great fit for some (like gaming and social media companies), whereas Amazon may be better suited for others who have more common requirements. It’s the small things that matter here.
Each provider has their own definition of compute. As an example, Rackspace offers a 512MB RAM setup whereas Joyent and AWS do not. It is worth asking your trail boss about before buying – after all you are only wanting to pay for what you need right? Another bullet to watch out for on the trail is the constant touting of HIPPA, PCI/DSS, and SAS70 compliance by some Cloud providers. Just because someone made them compliant does not mean your auditor will see them the same way. Your trail boss should guide you gently down this path as well.
IaaS is an easy one to get once you are past the ‘what is it I am getting for the money I am spending’ part however, Platform as a Service (PaaS) is not easy to understand. In fact, people often mix PaaS and IaaS just to keep the conversation simple but the reality is that these are two very distinct components within Cloud. A PaaS provider can sometimes offer both IaaS and PaaS. When you intend to buy a platform that an application runs on (often called a technology stack) then you are entering the PaaS realm. PaaS can be good and bad. Take the case with Microsoft Azure. They are a .NET environment (a commodity in the IT community and readily easy to find), but what would happen if you choose to move to Google App Engine whose preferred language is Java and Python? As you can see, it is important to plan these little things before you embark on your Cloud journey.
Life in the Cloud will be a lot easier in the future when IaaS and PaaS are standardized. Unfortunately, we are a long way away from that, but until then, choose your route and your trail boss equally carefully.
It was getting dark. The constant sound of the wheels grinding over the rocks reminded the client of when she was a child in school, the scratching of fingernails on the black board by the other kids – she never quite cared for that. The ruts in the trail where many have set out before them often edged the cliff. As she looked over the edge, she saw an upside down wagon that appeared to have rolled down the mountain and crashed violently at the bottom. As she looked closer she asked “what caused that?” The trail boss answered, “They chose the wrong trail boss.” They all sighed in relief and quickly fell asleep.
Focus on the Journey not the Destination: What We Learn from Cloud
Dawn approached faster than any others in recent memory. As the sun was breaking through the clouds most stood there facing it. The chill from the night was gone now and the warmth of the sun was better than the camp fire. There were others as well, as they slowly scanned the hillside they could make out more camps with each passing moment. Miners, stores, assay offices…it was industry at its finest. They had arrived! It was as if the entire journey only happened yesterday although it was the toughest journey any of them had ever made.
Advances in Cloud Computing are occurring at such a rapid rate that it is almost impossible for any one person to keep up while holding a day job at the same time.
However, the one thing Cloud is teaching us is how dependent we have become on our current platforms, infrastructure, and various other IT systems and how much of an impediment these things can be to change. The reality is that some will never be able to take full advantage of Cloud Computing because dependencies in their own infrastructure outweigh the benefits.
Transformation into Cloud Computing will require a journey that is planned, mapped, and realistic. To enter this environment on your own without the proper research or help you are literally rolling the dice, crossing your fingers, betting on red, or whatever analogy you choose. The last thing you want to do is go sign up for services before knowing what you need. Or to put it another way, hitting the trail without any planning, supplies, or trail boss.
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