Issues with Traditional Data Centers
For many years, traditional IT operations infrastructure involved rapidly growing data centers with a great deal of server and operational inefficiency. Typically, physical infrastructure was required for new applications or services and single instance workloads were deployed on servers. This would result in the use of only a fraction of their available resources. This meant that many servers in a data center consumed large amounts of space and power, with low overall use.
Services and applications would generally be run on local infrastructure resulting the creation of complex systems to ensure availability and backup in the event of down time or data loss. Also, in the event of new services or applications being required, the procurement and provisioning of that physical infrastructure would first need to take place thus reducing the ability of IT to react quickly to business needs.
With the introduction of virtualization technologies, data centers were able to isolate workloads and applications inside individual virtual machines. This allowed for the consolidation of these virtual machines, requiring less hardware and leading to a significant increase in resource use with reduced costs and power consumption.
The Rise of Cloud Computing
The next significant evolution for Data Center infrastructure has been cloud computing. Cloud computing builds upon virtualization to make the infrastructure much more agile and flexible. You can think of cloud computing as the pooling of not simply virtual machines but resources such as storage, networking and compute, while providing services and applications to consumers with reduced administrative or management overhead. The services can be spun up and spun down as needed.
Ultimately this provides greater elasticity for the services, efficiency and agility for the business, and accountability for the actual resource.
Organizations today are facing new realities about how they operate based on trends, which include Cloud Computing, the Consumerization of IT, the explosion of data, and the development of new social and app patterns.
What is a Cloud?
Cloud computing, or “the cloud”, has become a leading trend in IT. However, its definition is ambiguous and some of the terminology related to it is confusing. Trying to define the cloud in purely technological terms is difficult—it is best to think of it as being an abstract concept that encapsulates techniques used to provide computing services from a pool of shared resources.
Cloud solutions abstract the physical hardware and present them as virtualized resources to be used for processing, memory, storage, and networking. Many cloud solutions add further layers of abstraction to define specific services that can be provisioned and used.
The cloud can mean different things to different people depending on how they use it, whether they’re accessing email, using online software, storing files online, and so on.
On the next page, we’ll look at a scenario based on running an application in the cloud and what that involves.
Cloud Benefits Agility
Business and market opportunities can emerge and change very quickly. A viable business opportunity today may no longer be relevant tomorrow. Modern IT operations needs to be agile and able to respond quickly and easily to business changes, enabling a business to remain competitive.
Operational and Management Efficiency
Also becoming more prominent is something called Shadow IT. Shadow IT is a term that refers to Information Technology (IT) applications and infrastructure that are managed and operated without the knowledge of the organization’s IT department. Where IT is not able to respond quickly enough to meet business needs, an increasing trend has been the engaging of third party solutions by employees and departments to provide the IT requirements that will meet the need. This can result in increased risk for the business in terms of reduced control, security and compliance concerns, as well as lack of visibility. Therefore, a significant driver is the need for IT departments to position themselves as empowering businesses as opposed to being perceived as an inhibiter.
Economics are also a major driver for the cloud. In many instances it is simply much cheaper to utilize a cloud service rather than building, managing and maintaining the services yourself. This leads to a more efficient use of resources and clear and concise reporting, which helps reduce overall costs.
View the video on the next page to learn more about some of the key benefits that cloud computing provides to organizations.
Cloud Solutions: Essential Characteristics
Regardless of the specific technologies that organizations use to implement cloud computing solutions, the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST), the official US based standards and technology definitions body, has identified five essential characteristics that are part of a cloud computing solution.
- On-demand self-service. The ability to allocate required resources by the end user themselves as needed without involvement from the cloud service provider.
- Broad network access. Being accessible via standard network access mechanisms, without the need for any specialized infrastructure.
- Resource pooling. The pooling of the various resources to be allocated from and returned to as needed.
- Rapid elasticity. The ability to scale up and scale down as required, whether automatically or manually, without lead times being required.
- Measured service. The ability to measure exactly what resources are being used, to monitor and control those services and to be able to present that data to the service provider or end user.
Types of Cloud Services
There are different models for cloud services depending on how a service is actually being used or provided. In terms of service types, these effectively can be broken into three categories.
Software as a Service (SaaS
Platform as a Service (PaaS)
Cloud Service Usage
You can configure and access these different service types through three different implementation models. These are Public Cloud, Private Cloud or a mixture of both using a Hybrid Cloud model. We’ll talk about each model in more detail in subsequent topics.
Definition of a Public Cloud
A public cloud is owned by the cloud service provider (also known as a hosting provider). The cloud service provider provides cloud resources for an organization, which the end user connects to via a secure network connection, typically over the internet. The cloud vendor may share its resources with multiple organizations, or with the public. The main feature of a public cloud is that the resources that the organization uses, such as storage, processing power, various web-based applications, and other components, do not belong to the organization that is utilizing the resources, but rather to the cloud vendor. There are many cloud service providers and business can use multiple companies of varying scale.
Public Cloud Considerations
If you are a startup or have limited data, infrastructure or services to manage and maintain, the move to a cloud based service could be relatively straight forward, depending on the model and services you choose. However for companies who already have significant infrastructure moving to a cloud based model is not a trivial matter and requires a lot of upfront planning and analysis. There are also legitimate concerns about data integrity, security, management and compliance. These are real and valid concerns which end users need to satisfy themselves about before taking that step.
Pros and Cons of a Public Cloud
With public cloud services, the tenant organization has less management overhead than organizations that use private clouds. This means the renting organizations are not responsible for maintaining or supporting those resources, they just use them. However, this also means that control of the public infrastructure and services is greatly reduced because the service provider manages this for the tenant organization. In addition, the public cloud hosts the infrastructure and services for multiple organizations (multitenant), which introduces security implications that you need to review. In most cases, the cloud vendor will provide the renting organization with a service level agreement (SLA). The SLA specifies the following items:
- What resources are being made available.
- What failure rate or downtime is acceptable.
- The escalation procedures if any of the resources fail.
- The fees for different resources and services.
A private cloud operates only within one organization on a private network and is highly secure. It provides cloud functionality to external customers or specific internal departments, such as Accounting or Human Resources. By creating a private cloud, you can provide a pool of resources for the infrastructure and the applications to be shared to each end user as a tenant with the respective resources that they need.
When considering a private cloud implementation, an organization should evaluate carefully whether building its own private cloud is the right strategy. Depending on various factors, such as cost, availability of in-house skills, compliance, and the SLA, it may be better to outsource the hosting of the infrastructure. Business decision makers should ask themselves such questions as “what will our business look like in 3 to 5 years?” and “will our current infrastructure provide the services we need for the business to grow and survive?”
Depending on the level of control and customization you require and on the cost of implementation and management of the model, for the private cloud, there are a couple of options: