Roundtable: The cloud's silver lining

Roundtable: The cloud's silver lining

Cloud computing is the latest IT industry buzzword, but what does it really mean, and how will it effect customer procurement today and tomorrow? ARN recently brought together a panel of industry representatives to discuss the opportunities and challenges.

“Cloud is a buzzword – it’s just about how people enable that service. It’s service-oriented business delivery.” Shadi Haddad, Ethan Group

“Cloud is a buzzword – it’s just about how people enable that service. It’s service-oriented business delivery.” Shadi Haddad, Ethan Group

TW: Cloud is so wide – something like software-as-a-service, which is pretty mature, has the engagement models and SLAs around it. When it comes to wanting to have my network in the cloud and as an extension of my environment, it’s very immature.

DM: I think some of those hurdles are getting addressed. When you think about the Internet in its early days, it didn’t have security or the far reach it has today. From Cisco’s perspective, it’s how you connect, secure and manage it and have visibility around what’s going on as we start to add in SLAs and other services.

AK: Until the systems standards are extended across some basic things, there will be a lot of these private cloud/external cloud issues. Generally, you’re going to have these little islands of interoperability. That’s why I like the power and phone company analogies. Essentially, you have lots of different standards for the home country – 1-10 in the US, 240V in Hong Kong – but physics and power works in exactly the same way around the world. How you implement a power plant in one country is one thing, but you can connect all those different entities together because you have a common standard. You have to have a common standard with cloud. All email for example, has sent, receive, reply and calendaring. Once you get to that level, where you have commonality of API set and applications, the value feature will be how you deliver that, not what’s behind that service. That’s what will really make all this cloud talk actually work. Until that happens, there’s going to be marketing hype, there will be some implementations and a series of proof of concepts with customers, and it will be in that isolated realm. You need to get some really good commonality standards around networking, storage, computing, but more importantly, the applications.

NC: It sounds like Utopia – is this really realistic?

LL: Look at the power companies: How long did it take for them to allow customers to choose companies?

RA: The difference is, there are only so many ways you can deliver power, generate it, and push it to an endpoint. With email, you can have 15 different ways of delivering and presenting email. So there are no standards. The other thing about power is it started from a standards base and built on that. IT started on a standard base with mainframes, but as soon as we went distributed, it became very un-standardised. People got worried and wanted to start standardising, but we really haven’t – we’ve got bodies of standards. Cisco does things its way, Nortel likewise. We don’t have ubiquitous standards of IT.

DM: But we have. A classic example is IP: I can plug in a Cisco switch to a HP switch to a Nortel switch and it’s standard. That’s how we communicate over the Internet. Because everyone is starting to collaborate at a broader level, you have more people trying to drive this thing, and it’s going at a faster pace than the power utility company side. People were too isolated in the early days. You’re right, but many companies have been working on the background of cloud for a while and are trying to get consistency of how you do this at an applications layer, a networking layer, and using common building blocks.

LL: What we’re all talking about is technology industry standards, but I think we are missing one big point: Data-portability agreements between all the governments. Every government has different requirements and rules. And that is the biggest showstopper.

AK: You won’t have true international cloud computing until you have an agreed standard on sharing data.

TW: It comes down to service environments – for example, what’s your provider’s agreement on data backup? If you want to move the data out there, you want to make sure the data is all taken out. You also have to look at what country the data is sitting in, and what are the state and national restrictions on that.

Shadi Haddad, Ethan Group (SHa): The utopia extends beyond the server room as well. If you look at cloud, it comes out of the server room, but behind that is power, cooling and all sorts of efficiencies people strive towards just to make these services available. If you’re going to go nirvana, you can’t just look at the servers. Cloud is a buzzword – it’s just about service-oriented business delivery. It’s beyond architecture and infrastructure. Virtualisation just made it easy for us to make our infrastructure more flexible and efficient.

Tertius Bezuidenhout, Ingram Micro (TB): Software-as-a-service, platform-as-a-service, infrastructure-as-a-service – all of that can build into cloud. We started talking about cloud with ATM networking, and it was about accessing computing over a network or cloud. The example of that is virtual private networks – in the 1990s, nobody wanted to share networks because we didn’t trust it and wanted quality of service. But VPN slowly became adopted. I see cloud computing as virtual private computing, and underpinning that is software-as-a-service, and so on. But I think we have a long way to go before we get there because of federated identity. How do we identify people across this cloud? How do we do encryption of data and make sure, that if we want to get the data back from whoever has been delivering this cloud for me, that I can read it or use it?

AK: It’s the same from a consumer point of view – essentially, you want to access a personality, no matter where you are around the world, which allows you to access a set of services.

DM: It’s like a banking system. If I go to an ATM, I pull out my money in any place, through any vendor’s machine.

Rabih Maarbani, Manage Net (RM): I come from a telco background, and witnessed that push a few years back around why you need your own private network or frame/ATM, where it’s dynamic and plugging into shared infrastructure. That’s now moving into the desktop, and it’s about the ‘what’: What does a customer need, and how is it delivered. It’s about allowing them to worry about their core business, as opposed to worrying about how to deliver the core infrastructure underpinning the business.

TW: I really think the opportunity right now is to help customers understand the roadmap and technologies to abstract that from the current infrastructure they have. Cloud is still not there, but everyone needs to be prepared to head down that road.

David Lenz, Ingram Micro (DL): We also shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that cloud computing today is being driven by people innovating around applications specifically designed for cloud computing. As we start to see that suite mature, develop and deliver real business applications, then the market itself will start driving demand. The infrastructure then comes into play. Look at the ATM example: We started with the teller, and everyone liked that, then we moved to Eftpos. The application, which is being able to buy via a credit card, was the driving force behind that change in the market. Innovation will drive how fast cloud computing becomes a standard.

RA: If you extend that thought, none of us care if you’re NAB, or ANZ, or what switch technology they’re using, or storage. It’s the fee we worry about. We just do the transaction and go ‘click’, so long as I’m comfortable the data is secure, and my identity is protected.

TW: The big issues are what’s the contract, what’s the SLA, what’s the charging model and how does the end user interact with that infrastructure.

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