Every cloud has a silicon lining | Part 2(b)

In this F2MKE.co.uk blog series I explore cloud computing.  What is it?  What are the advantages versus risks?  What must businesses and schools check before putting their heads in the Cloud?  Does Cloud make sense in these times of austerity?

To read parts 1 and 2 of Every cloud has a silicon lining head for:

http://www.f2mke.co.uk/2011/01/18/every-cloud-has-a-silicon-lining-part-1/

And

http://www.f2mke.co.uk/2011/01/20/every-cloud-has-a-silicon-lining-part-2a/

So we’ve already taken a look at what the cloud and cloud computing means?  We’ve tackled the issues of security and supplier lock-in.  Part 2(b) of Every cloud has a silicon lining will deal with reliability and capacity, cost and efficiency.

But first this… Your business, or school, does have data that is highly sensitive and must have an added layer of security and control; you have to deliver specialist services or functions that simply don’t have a good fit within existing cloud offerings; maybe you have core infrastructure that nestles in the midst of all of your services, gluing them together?  This is where you should consider a mixed ‘public’ and ‘private’ cloud services delivery.  The ‘private’ cloud will typically be a data centre that supports virtualisation, has Internet connectivity and allows you to host these most valuable assets with complete control whilst delivering flexibility, scalability and high availability.

Reliability is a constant concern.  In the world of cloud delivered services this is less about the availability of the cloud and the services delivered from it.  Instead it is about the perception of fragility often attached to the ability of the end-user, or customer, to connect to the cloud.

At the top of the list is the reliability and even availability of decent broadband connections.  In my experience, where reasonable to decent broadband connectivity is available, the root cause of any failure or degradation of service lies much more often than not, somewhere other than the broadband itself.  Changes to, or poorly thought out Local Area Networks;  Misbehaving, or misconfigured gateway servers – proxies, content filtering, caching, etc;  client PCs, etc., etc., are all too often to blame.

Perception is Reality

But to quote a very well respected colleague, “perception is reality.  So how do we go about changing perception – or reality?

With efficiency very much at the fore – or in the case of this article, my laziness.  My view on the solution sweeps up capacity, cost and efficiency too 😉

The more services that we move into the cloud, the more reliable the client PC becomes.  All I need to be productive is a device with a slim Operating System and a web browser.  No more installing, updating and fixing applications and bloating of registries.  I don’t even need to worry about the amount of storage on my device, whether it’s a Ferrari or second-hand ‘missed the Government’s scrappage deal’ Rover, or even whether it’s the same device I left home with in the morning!  Whoop, whoop!  From a support point of view the client device becomes almost throw-away.  I mean recyclable.

The more services we move to the cloud, the more we should question the need for locally hosted servers.

“What about the security of my local network?  I’ll need a directory server to make sure that trusted people get to trusted services!”

Really?  If everything is online and your customers and end-users have to login when they get to them, do you really need to worry about all of those extra logins – oh and the licences typically associated with them?  There’s a whole other discussion upon identity management, single sign-on and of course, open standards that’s to be had – and probably elsewhere!

So, we’ve moved out much of the hassle and expense of complex support associated with client software and servers, not to mention hardware refresh costs.

We must have made some savings then?  I doubt that I’d be motivated to be writing on this subject if not..?

I have estimated the savings to be substantial dependent upon the size or number of organisations taking part.  And that’s without considering industry estimates of between 20% and a whopping 80% savings associated with the adoption of Software as a Service – pretty much summarised as web-based applications that are paid for on a metered basis.  A bit like gas, electricity, or your telephone bill.  So we might need an Ofcloud then?

And with all of these savings?  ‘Simples’.  We have part 2 of the solution.  We invest some of these savings back into broadband.  We address the broadband ‘not-spots’.  We increase capacity and we improve resilience.

“You indicated that there would be some efficiency savings too”.

And there are…

If your organisation is made-up of many satellite sites, locally to globally, then you immediately reduce the support overhead – often specialist resources available to go out to sites, or be based on-site.  These skills are typically in short supply and can be much better utilised!

Productivity is increased with reduced potential causes of downtime.

Customers and end-users can access services from any device, at anytime and from anywhere.

Finally, it is far easier to ‘join-up’ your systems if they reside in the cloud.  Uh oh!  I’m back on the open standards soapbox again.

Single sign-on is currently far more achievable when all your apps are online.  Your customers and end-users benefit from only having to remember one username and password and it is proven that valuable resources are accessed more frequently as a consequence.

This also has positive resonance from a security point of view…  Most of us will try and use the same username and password combination across as many apps as possible.  If these details are compromised once, they are compromised awkwardly, many times across many apps.  How easy is it to get these credentials quickly changed across every app?  Let alone remember which apps!?  Perhaps there’s a market for the credit and debit card Sentinel equivalent for the web?

Schools and Local Authorities should explore Shibboleth.

Update information once and reuse many times.  This is more achievable in the online, or cloud, world.  Efficiency gains are potentially massive.  And the accuracy of information shared around multiple systems inevitably saves time.

Here I go again…  For schools and Local Authorities in the UK (and US, Australia, Norway, etc…) education sector there is the Systems Interoperability Framework (SIF).  For more information search for SIF at F2MKE.co.uk or visit http://www.sifinfo.org/uk/.

In Part 3 of Every cloud has a silicon lining we’ll look at the essential checks before schools or businesses put their heads into the cloud.

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