Clouds in 2010: Will Yours Be Lined With Silver or Filled with Coal Dust?

Will 2010 be the first meaningful stage of cloud computing's rocket ride of growth and enterprise usage?

by Todd Abrams

Although there's still debate on defining cloud computing, several emerging trends will undeniably accelerate this year -- including the business drivers that have convinced Gartner to estimate that cloud computing will be a $150 billion industry by 2013. That's 300 percent growth in just a few years.

The advanced infrastructure, components, and technologies needed to create, sustain, and grow enterprise-class cloud computing environments now exists, and large businesses are coupling those capabilities to develop new business models that leverage virtualization and other elements of this intensely glorified technology. Ultimately, the benefits enterprises are seeking from cloud computing include lower costs, higher productivity, greater speed to market, and near-instantaneous scalability of computing resources.

I believe 2010 will be the first meaningful stage of cloud computing's rocket ride of growth and enterprise usage, all fueled by the need for further operational and financial improvement.

Stepping into the Cloud: It's Evolution, Not Revolution

One thing is certain -- cloud computing has been and continues to be one of the most hyped technology offerings, and all of the glorification has led to varying levels of enthusiasm (and even confusion). However, cloud computing is much more widely used on a day-to-day basis than many realize, and the business benefits have evolved to create a clear-cut use case for the enterprise. Underneath all the hype is the simple evolution of a technology that until now has been deemed the next part of the Internet revolution.

CIOs now have an easier time showing their CEOs and CFOs the value of migrating to cloud computing and virtualized environments, especially considering the competitive advantages they create. The investment required to migrate to the cloud alone generates immediate short-term value while delivering long-term upside. However, enterprises that delay cloud adoption, primarily because of concerns surrounding security and control, risk falling behind as the evolution of cloud computing continues -- and falling behind means that competitors are getting ahead.

Get Off My Cloud

Controlling one's own data is a common denominator that will bind enterprise CIOs when it comes to cloud computing in 2010. No one wants their mission-critical or proprietary data floating around in a public cloud where neither access to the data nor the integrity of the cloud can be guaranteed. It's been a major sticking point in enterprise cloud adoption … until now.

In 2010, not only will enterprises increasingly adopt cloud computing -- they will control their cloud environments by leveraging private clouds versus public cloud offerings. Whether it's an "internal private cloud" (created and maintained by the enterprise's IT staff and housed within its onsite data center) or an "external private cloud" (where the enterprise engages with a third-party hosting provider to develop and operate a private cloud within one or more of the hosting company's data centers), enterprises want to have their own cloud infrastructure. In other words, enterprises will not want clouds with shared resources like those that exist in purely public cloud environments.

Managed cloud services provided by external private cloud providers (e.g., hosting companies) will play a much larger role in enterprise IT throughout 2010, especially as enterprises continue to look for ways to lower costs. In an outsourced relationship, the hosting company takes on the detailed up-front planning, deployment of the cloud environment, and ongoing system maintenance and updates. In addition, hosting companies shoulder the capital spending required for hardware and other key cloud components, thereby lifting that financial burden from enterprises and their IT budget. Operationally, these managed services enable CIOs to redirect their staff's focus on high-value IT projects that directly benefit their business rather than on the inner-makings of the cloud.

Clouds Have Nuts and Bolts, Too

Tiny details, down to correct cabling and connectivity of components, are the bane of any CIO's existence, and although moving into the cloud creates opportunities, it also brings new challenges. Increased security risks and internal data-center issues such as "VM creep" (the rapid multiplication of virtual machines that can occur easily within a cloud environment) are legitimate concerns for CIOs.

However, in 2010, enterprises will increasingly find relief from highly qualified hosting providers that can offer managed private cloud services in a turnkey fashion. The data center staff at these hosting companies are engineers experienced in administering hundreds of virtual machines and other elements of cloud computing, whereas most companies' IT staff do not have as much familiarity managing the cloud's "nuts and bolts."

By leveraging managed private cloud services, enterprises will also realize the added value in mapping staffing plans to their business plans to further improve operations and the bottom line. The most productive cloud computing and virtualization platforms in 2010 will belong to enterprises that emphasize refining IT staffing to complement their evolving IT infrastructure. Migrating IT infrastructure to a qualified hosting provider lets CIOs focus their most skilled people on high-value projects and other activities that are closer to their company's revenue stream.

Hybrid Clouds Get Better Mileage

As cloud adoption evolved, a crucial discovery was made: there's no such thing as a silver-bullet solution, so enterprises are being more strategic about their cloud computing deployments. For instance, few phrases are as unsettling to CIOs as "forklift upgrade," and even more important, it's an approach that simply won't work for cloud computing. Unlike a small business with a handful of servers, it's neither practical nor wise for an enterprise to suddenly relocate all of its servers and computing infrastructure to an external cloud provider.

Developing a custom migration plan and taking a more holistic approach to cloud computing will emerge as a trend in 2010. Enterprises will evaluate business drivers and align technology solutions to their corporate needs more closely than ever before. The result will be the growing adoption of a hybrid approach, where a portion of the IT infrastructure stays in the physical, dedicated server world and the remainder will be migrated into the cloud.

For example, enterprises typically should keep large Oracle or SAP databases on physical, dedicated servers -- whether in the onsite data center or with a hosting provider -- while other services, such as e-mail and CRM solutions, can be moved to an external cloud provider. Some or all of cloud computing's benefits will accelerate enterprises' migration in 2010, and with a hybrid approach, enterprises will get the most mileage out of their IT infrastructure.

Shaping the Cloud in 2010 and Beyond

As cloud computing becomes more grounded within enterprises in 2010, exciting developments that will be market-ready in 2011 are already on the rise. Two such examples are consolidated management and unified computing.

Consolidated management creates the ability to manage the cloud and its components, wherever they physically reside, from one interface. Enterprises will no longer need to use an independent Web portal or other interface to manage each computing environment and infrastructure. Consolidated management's "single pane of glass" approach creates the one-to-many relationship that enterprises truly want. This allows the private cloud to grow and shrink in response to business needs with no impact on IT management systems.

With unified computing, enterprises will no longer need to worry about the brand of server they're using, its set-up, or the components within their cloud. A discrete console can be created for each enterprise, creating high availability of their on-demand resources so that virtual machines can be spun-up and decommissioned quickly to accomplish a variety of needs, especially in heavy development work, whether that's application development or heavy CAD usage.

With such high availability, many projects can be simultaneously developed, giving companies an accelerated speed-to-market that previously wasn't possible. Because every unified-computing solution will be customized to the enterprise, it can consist of SANs, servers, a variety of virtualization elements and operating systems, and disaster recovery solutions.

Todd Abrams is the president and founder of Layered Technologies, a global provider of managed dedicated hosting, on-demand virtualization/cloud computing and Web services. He can be reached at todda@layeredtech.com
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