Focusing on Cloud Portability and Interoperability

Cloud Computing has helped us understand both the opportunity, and the need, to decouple physical IT infrastructure from the requirements of business.  In theory cloud computing greatly enhances an organization’s ability to not only decommission inefficient data center resources, but even more importantly eases the process an organization needs to develop when moving to integration and service-orientation within supporting IT systems.

Current cloud computing standards, such as published by the US National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) have provided very good definitions, and solid reference architecture for understanding at a high level a vision of cloud computing.

image However these definitions, while good for addressing the vision of cloud computing, are not at a level of detail needed to really understand the potential impact of cloud computing within an existing organization, nor the potential of enabling data and systems resources to meet a need for interoperability of data in a 2020 or 2025 IT world.

The key to interoperability, and subsequent portability, is a clear set of standards.  The Internet emerged as a collaboration of academic, government, and private industry development which bypassed much of the normal technology vendor desire to create a proprietary product or service.  The cloud computing world, while having deep roots in mainframe computing, time-sharing, grid computing, and other web hosting services, was really thrust upon the IT community with little fanfare in the mid-2000s.

While NIST, the Open GRID Forum, OASIS, DMTF, and other organizations have developed some levels of standardization for virtualization and portability, the reality is applications, platforms, and infrastructure are still largely tightly coupled, restricting the ease most developers would need to accelerate higher levels of integration and interconnections of data and applications.

NIST’s Cloud Computing Standards Roadmap (SP 500-291 v2) states:

…the migration to cloud computing should enable various multiple cloud platforms seamless access between and among various cloud services, to optimize the cloud consumer expectations and experience.

Cloud interoperability allows seamless exchange and use of data and services among various cloud infrastructure offerings and to the the data and services exchanged to enable them to operate effectively together.”

Very easy to say, however the reality is, in particular with PaaS and SaaS libraries and services, that few fully interchangeable components exist, and any information sharing is a compromise in flexibility.

The Open Group, in their document “Cloud Computing Portability and Interoperability” simplifies the problem into a single statement:

“The cheaper and easier it is to integrate applications and systems, the closer you are getting to real interoperability.”

The alternative is of course an IT world that is restrained by proprietary interfaces, extending the pitfalls and dangers of vendor lock-in.

What Can We Do?

The first thing is, the cloud consumer world must make a stand and demand vendors produce services and applications based on interoperability and data portability standards.  No IT organization in the current IT maturity continuum should be procuring systems that do not support an open, industry-standard, service-oriented infrastructure, platform, and applications reference model (Open Group).

In addition to the need for interoperable data and services, the concept of portability is essential to developing, operating, and maintaining effective disaster management and continuity of operations procedures.  No IT infrastructure, platform, or application should be considered which does not allow and embrace portability.  This includes NIST’s guidance stating:

“Cloud portability allows two or more kinds of cloud infrastructures to seamlessly use data and services from one cloud system and be used for other cloud systems.”

The bottom line for all CIOs, CTOs, and IT managers – accept the need for service-orientation within all existing or planned IT services and systems.  Embrace Service-Oriented Architectures, Enterprise Architecture, and at all costs the potential for vendor lock-in when considering any level of infrastructure or service.

Standards are the key to portability and interoperability, and IT organizations have the power to continue forcing adoption and compliance with standards by all vendors.  Do not accept anything which does not fully support the need for data interoperability.

NexGen Cloud Conference in San Diego – Missing the Point

The NexGen Cloud Computing Conference kicked off on Thursday in San Diego with a fair amount of hype and a lot of sales people.  Granted the intent of the conference is for cloud computing vendors to find and NexGen Cloud Conference develop either sales channels, or business development opportunities within the market.

As an engineer, the conference will probably result in a fair amount of frustration, but will at least provide a level of awareness in how an organization’s sales, marketing, and business teams are approaching their vision of a cloud computing product or service delivery.

However, one presentation stood out.  Terry Hedden, from Marketopia, made some very good points.  His presentation was entitled “How to Build a Successful Cloud Practice.”  While the actual presentation is not so important, he made several points, which I’ll refer to as “Heddonisms,” which struck me as important enough, or amusing enough, to record.

Some of the following “Heddonisms” were paraphrased either due to my misunderstanding of his point, or because I thought the point was so profound it needed a bit of additional highlight.

Heddonisms for the Cloud Age:

  • Entire software companies are transitioning to SaaS development.  Lose the idea of licensed software – think of subscription software.
  • Integrators and consultants have a really good future – prepare yourself.
  • The younger generation does not attend tech conferences.  Only old people who think they can sell things, get new jobs, or are trying to put some knowledge to the junk they are selling (the last couple of points are mine).
  • Companies selling hosted SaaS products and services are going to kill those who still hang out at the premise.
  • If you do not introduce cloud services to your customers. your competitor will introduce cloud to your customers.
  • If you are not aspiring to be a leader in cloud, you are not relevant.
  • There is little reason to go into the IaaS business yourself.  Let the big guys build infrastructure – you can make higher margins selling their stuff.  In general, IaaS companies are really bad sales organizations (also mine…).
  • Budgets for security at companies like Microsoft are much higher than for smaller companies.  Thus, it is likely Microsoft’s ability to design, deploy, monitor, and manage secure infrastructure is much higher than the average organization.
  • Selling cloud is easy – you are able to relieve your customers of most up front costs (like buying hardware, constructing data centers, etc.).
  • If you simply direct your customer to Microsoft or Google’s website for a solution, then you are adding no value to our customer.
  • If you hear the word “APP” come up in a conversation, just turn around and run away.
  • If you assist a company in a large SaaS implementation (successfully), they will likely be your customer for life.
  • Don’t do free work or consulting – never (this really hurt me to hear – guilty as charged…).
  • Customers have one concern, and one concern only – Peace of Mind.  Make their pains go away, and you will be successful.  Don’t give them more problems.
  • Customers don’t care what is behind the curtain (such as what kind of computers or routers you are using).  They only care about you taking the pain of stuff that doesn’t make them money away from their lives.
  • Don’t try to sell to IT guys and engineers.  Never.  Never. Never.
  • The best time to work with a company is when they are planning for their technology refresh cycles.

Heddon was great.  While he may have a bit of contempt for engineers (I have thick skin, I can live with the wounds), he provided a very logical and realistic view of how to approach selling and deploying cloud computing.

Now about missing the point.  Perhaps the biggest shortfall of the conference, in my opinion, is that most presentations and even vendor efforts solved only single silos of issues.  Nobody provided an integrated viewpoint of how cloud computing is actually just one tool an organization can use within a larger, planned, architecture.

No doubt I have become bigoted myself after several years of plodding through TOGAF, ITIL, COBIT, Risk Assessments, and many other formal IT-supporting frameworks.  Maybe a career in the military forced me into systems thinking and structured problem solving.  Maybe I lack a higher level of innovative thinking or creativity – but I crave a structured, holistic approach to IT.

Sadly, I got no joy at the NexGen Cloud Computing Conference.  But, I would have driven from LA to San Diego just for Heddon’s presentation and training session – that made the cost of conference and time a valuable investment.

Nurturing the Marriage of Cloud Computing and SOAs

In 2009 we began consulting jobs with governments in developing countries with the primary objective to consolidate data centers across government ministries and agencies into centralized, high capacity and quality data centers.  At the time, nearly all individual ministry or agency data infrastructure was built into either small computers rooms or server closets with some added “brute force” air conditioning, no backup generators, no data back up, superficial security, and lots of other ailments.

CC-SOA The vision and strategy was that if we consolidated inefficient, end of life, and high risk IT infrastructure into a standardized and professionally managed facility, national information infrastructure would not only be more secure, but through standardization, volume purchasing agreements, some server virtualization, and development of broadband infrastructure most of the IT needs of government would be easily fulfilled.

Then of course cloud computing began to mature, and the underlying technologies of Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) became feasible.  Now, not only were the governments able to decommission inefficient and high-risk IS environments, they would also be able to build virtual data centers  with levels of on-demand compute, storage, and network resources.  Basic data center replacement.

Even those remaining committed “server hugger” IT managers and fiercely independent governmental organizations cloud hardly argue the benefits of having access to disaster recovery storage capacity though the centralized data center.

As the years passed, and we entered 2014, not only did cloud computing mature as a business model, but senior management began to increase their awareness of various aspects of cloud computing, including the financial benefits, standardization of IT resources, the characteristics of cloud computing, and potential for Platform and Software as a Service (PaaS/SaaS) to improve both business agility and internal decision support systems.

At the same time, information and organizational architecture, governance, and service delivery frameworks such as TOGAF, COBIT, ITIL, and Risk Analysis training reinforced the value of both data and information within an organization, and the need for IT systems to support higher level architectures supporting decision support systems and market interactions (including Government to Government, Business, and Citizens for the public sector) .

2015 will bring cloud computing and architecture together at levels just becoming comprehensible to much of the business and IT world.  The open Group has a good first stab at building a standard for this marriage with their Service-Oriented Cloud Computing Infrastructure (SOCCI). According to the SOCCI standard,

“Infrastructure is a foundational element for enterprise architecture. Infrastructure has been  traditionally provisioned in a physical manner. With the evolution of virtualization technologies  and application of service-orientation to infrastructure, it can now be offered as a service.

Service-orientation principles originated in the business and application architecture arena. After  repeated, successful application of these principles to application architecture, IT has evolved to  extending these principles to the infrastructure.”

At first glance the SOCII standard appears to be a document which creates a mapping between enterprise architecture (TOGAF) and cloud computing.  At second glance the SOCCI standard really steps towards tightening the loose coupling of standard service-oriented architectures through use of cloud computing tools included with all service models (IaaS/PaaS/SaaS).

The result is an architectural vision which is easily capable of absorbing existing IT requirements, as well as incorporating emerging big data analytics models, interoperability, and enterprise architecture.

Since the early days of 2009 discussion topics with government and enterprise customers have shown a marked transition from simply justifying decommissioning of high risk data centers to how to manage data sharing, interoperability, or the potential for over standardization and other service delivery barriers which might inhibit innovation – or ability of business units to quickly respond to rapidly changing market opportunities.

2015 will be an exciting year for information and communications technologies.  For those of us in the consulting and training business, the new year is already shaping up to be the busiest we have seen.

Now that We Have Adopted IaaS…

Providing guidance or consulting to organizations on cloud computing topics can be really easy, or really tough.  In the past most of the initial engagement was dedicated to training and building awareness with your customer.  The next step was finding a high value, low risk application or service that could be moved to Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) to solve an immediate problem, normally associated with disaster recovery or data backups.

Service Buss and DSS As the years have continued, dynamics changed.  On one hand, IT professionals and CIOs began to establish better knowledge of what virtualization, cloud computing, and outsourcing could do for their organization.  CFOs became aware of the financial potential of virtualization and cloud computing, and a healthy dialog between IT, operations, business units, and the CFO.

The “Internet Age” has also driven global competition down to the local level, forcing nearly all organizations to respond more rapidly to business opportunities.  If a business unit cannot rapidly respond to the opportunity, which may require product and service development, the opportunity can be lost far more quickly than in the past.

In the old days, procurement of IT resources could require a fairly lengthy cycle.  In the Internet Age, if an IT procurement cycle takes > 6 months, there is probably little chance to effectively meet the greatly shortened development cycle competitors in other continents – or across the street may be able to fulfill.

With IaaS the procurement cycle of IT resources can be within minutes, allowing business units to spend far more time developing products, services, and solutions, rather than dealing with the frustration of being powerless to respond to short window opportunities.  This is of course addressing the essential cloud characteristics of Rapid Elasticity and On-Demand Self-Service.

In addition to on-demand and elastic resources, IaaS has offered nearly all organizations the option of moving IT resources into either public or private cloud infrastructure.  This has the benefit of allowing data center decommissioning, and re-commissioning into a virtual environment.  The cost of operating data centers, maintaining data centers and IT equipment, and staffing data centers vs. outsourcing that infrastructure into a cloud is very interesting to CFOs, and a major justification for replacing physical data centers with virtual data centers.

The second dynamic, in addition to greater professional knowledge and awareness of cloud computing, is the fact we are starting to recruit cloud-aware employees graduating from universities and making their first steps into careers and workforce.  With these “cloud savvy” young people comes deep experience with interoperable data, social media, big data, data analytics, and an intellectual separation between access devices and underlying IT infrastructure.

The Next Step in Cloud Evolution

OK, so we all are generally aware of the components of IaaS, Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Software as a Service (SaaS).  Let’s have a quick review of some standout features supported or enabled by cloud:

  • Increased standardization of applications
  • Increased standardization of data bases
  • Federation of security systems (Authentication and Authorization)
  • Service busses
  • Development of other common applications (GIS, collaboration, etc.)
  • Transparency of underlying hardware

Now let’s consider the need for better, real-time, accurate decision support systems (DSS).  Within any organization the value of a DSS is dependent on data integrity, data access (open data within/without an organization), and single-source data.

Frameworks for developing an effective DSS are certainly available, whether it is TOGAF, the US Federal Enterprise Architecture Framework (FEAF), interoperability frameworks, and service-oriented architectures (SOA).  All are fully compatible with the tools made available within the basic cloud service delivery models (IaaS, PaaS, SaaS).

The Open Group (same organization which developed TOGAF) has responded with their model of a Cloud Computing Service Oriented Infrastructure (SOCCI) Framework.  The SOCCI is identified as the marriage of a Service-Oriented Infrastructure and cloud computing.  The SOCCI also incorporates aspects of TOGAF into the framework, which may drive more credibility into a SOCCI architectural development process.

The expected result of this effort is for existing organizations dealing with departmental “silos” of IT infrastructure, data, and applications, a level of interoperability and DSS development based on service-orientation, using a well-designed underlying cloud infrastructure.  This data sharing can be extended beyond the (virtual) firewall to others in an organization’s trading or governmental community, resulting in  DSS which will become closer and closer to an architecture vision based on the true value of data produced, or made available to an organization.

While we most certainly need IaaS, and the value of moving to virtual data centers is justified by itself, we will not truly benefit from the potential of cloud computing until we understand the potential of data produced and available to decision makers.

The opportunity will need a broad spectrum of contributors and participants with awareness and training in disciplines ranging from technical capabilities, to enterprise architecture, to service delivery, and governance acceptable to a cloud-enabled IT world.

For those who are eagerly consuming training and knowledge in the above skills and knowledge, the future is anything but cloudy.  For those who believe in status quo, let’s hope you are close to pension and retirement, as this is your future.

A Communications Revolution is Happening – Will your business survive?

NOTE: Pacific-Tier Communications invites guest bloggers to provide articles that would be of interest, and benefit to our readers. This week we are happy to introduce Mr. Andy Slater, CMO, Presence Networks.

‘‘The ‘Command and Control’ management style enjoyed by many CEOs in the past has gone. Today teamwork and collaboration are the norm. Leadership the accepted management style, people orientated collaboration the culture, people centric technology the facilitator.’’

Andy Slater from Presence NetworksWe stand at a transition point in business. As the global economy starts to work its way out of recession CEO’s and management teams around the world are beginning to plan for growth. But they won’t do that by simply taking back into their businesses the bottom line costs they just spent 18 painful months getting rid of. The enlightened are looking for a new ways of working, how to unlock the people power in their organization in a secure and focused manner, to accelerate speed of decision making, reduce costs, and drive productivity.

Technology has been at the centre of social and industrial change since the printing press. Through history there have been transition points. The invention of the flying shuttle by John Kay heralded the start of the industrial revolution. The spread of democracy around the world can be traced to the invention of the telephone by Graham Bell and its adoption around the world. Suddenly totalitarian states could no longer constrain the flow of people’s ideas, information, and aspirations.

More recently mobile devices and the internet has accelerated the flow of information with images and video, so now international public opinion can be formed and galvanized by what were once isolated events. The video of student Neda Agha-Soltan’s shooting in Iran caught on a mobile phone started an outcry around the world which is still vocal today.

Social networking has become the norm for many who ‘tweet’ their way through the day sharing thoughts on everything, from the mildly interesting to the creative. The need to communicate is infectious and has a profound effect on the way we live – and work. Given a common cause, people power is unstoppable.

The ability of these new people networks has been recognized by business where the more enlightened maintain Online Brand protection programmes, write blogs, tweet, and endeavour to instigate viral campaigns to manipulate networks to their own advantage.

But is this relevant to business ?

A ‘company’ is called that simply because it is made up of people. How many companies say that their most valuable asset is their people? How true it is. Try running a railway without drivers or signal men, or running software development without programmers. People matter and leading managers recognize what’s happening in social networking can be harnessed to drive their businesses – people power, or business collaboration. Indeed, some would say it can’t be stopped – adapt or die.

The nature and culture of management in business has changed already. The ‘Command and Control’ management style enjoyed by many CEOs in the past has gone. Today teamwork and collaboration are the norm. Leadership the accepted management style, people orientated collaboration the culture, people centric technology the facilitator.

IT has to step up to this challenge to enable these new strategies – only if it can deliver business solutions, not just fancy names for the same technology, will it meet the true business need. Collaboration in the business environment is recognised as being one of the key tools CEO’s are looking at to drive productivity for the next decade – particularly if it can be delivered without complexity or capital investment.

To make the successful transition their vision has to be converted into a strategy. A strategy that addresses the three pillars of change – Culture, Technology and Process.

You can’t identify at the start of a shift in business culture all the business aspects that will be impacted, but you can describe the vision; a culture where information travels to the right people, any time, in any place, on any device. Where virtual teams form rapidly to solve business problems then dissolve just as quickly, without management intervention. No more ‘I sent an e-mail’ excuses but effective communication between empowered people.

The process of creating this culture needs to be led by a management that believes and demonstrates it through the way they act and how they communicate. The benefits are business processes that will be changed, new ones invented, and many scrapped. This is long term business development, a journey, not a light-switch change – but a revolution when looked back on from the future.

The technology to achieve this has to be invisible. People centric technology is intuitive, adopted because it engages its users, inspires and opens up new horizons. You know its right when your people can’t function without it.

Cloud Computing, Software-as-a-Service, and Unified Communications are all technical developments which alone do not deliver cultural change (except maybe in the IT department). These will be part of the solution, but are not the ‘end game’.

The application that runs in the world of the users, that gives them a real-time window on their business world, enables them to interact with people based on their availability, skills, interests and knowledge in a secure way, will be the deliverer of cultural change. This will be the application that grows productivity for businesses, for the next decade.

Andy Slater

You can contact Andy at andy.slater@pnglobal.net or visit Presence Network’s website at http://www.presence-networks.net

Selecting Your Data Center Part 1 – Understanding the Market

The data center industry continues to evolve with mergers, acquisitions, and a healthy crop of emerging companies. New data center products and services Old Data Centerare hitting the street, an aggressive debate on the model of selling space vs. power, and alternatives to physical data center space in the cloud are giving us a confusing maze of alternatives to meet our outsourcing needs.

The data center market is not unique. For example, in Southern California we have a wide variety of supermarkets and grocery stores including VONs, Ralphs, Albertsons, Jons, Trader Joes, Whole Foods, and lots of others. All grocery stores basically sell the same kinds of products, with very few exceptions.

What makes you go to VONs, rather than Whole Foods? Is it location? Prices? Image? A social issue?

The data center industry is not significantly different. In a city such as Los Angeles you have Equinix, Switch and Data, Savvis, BT Infonet, CoreSite, US Colo, Digital Realty, Level 3 – just to name a few. What makes one facility more attractive than another to fulfill your collocation needs?

Data centers, at the most common denominator, have traditionally offered:

  • Concrete (space for cabinets, racks, cages, suites, etc)
  • Power
  • Air conditioning
  • Interconnections

If all data centers offer the basic components listed above, then what discriminates the data centers from one another?

Now we can add additional alternatives to the basic data center model – the public cloud services provider/CSP and Software as a Service/SaaS.

As a potential data center tenant (this includes “virtual” data center tenants living in a CSP infrastructure) we have to evaluate all the above components, and determine which collocation or data center provider will best meet our facility, budget, and connectivity needs.

The Sense of Urgency

The CIO of the United States, Vivek Kundra, recently pressed the case for data center consolidation within the US government, as well as offering a strong recommendation that the US data industry strongly consider moving their operations into either consolidated data centers or virtualize within a cloud provider.

It is clear that data centers used by small and medium companies, as well as most content delivery companies, find better efficiencies in bringing their eCommerce and Internet-facing parts of their business into the data center, and locally interconnect with the Internet service provider community.

The cost of building a data center, providing staffing to manage the data center, and ensuring the efficiency of power and cooling usage is beyond the core competence of most companies. The need for disaster recovery plans, offsite storage, and other business continuity planning are just a few of the long list of items we need to consider as part of an overall information technology/IT or general business plan.

The potential waste of operational expenses, capital budgets, and resulting market “opportunity cost” justifies all companies at least consider outsourcing all or some of their IT operations – particularly as data center and CSPs increase their capabilities.

With the availability of netbooks, online applications (SaaS), and server-based office automation products, all companies should put this on their annual review list. Even the Los Angeles Police Department (LAPD) recently announced their decision to outsource the email to Google. This model does not appear to be going away anytime soon.

The “Selecting Your Data Center” Series

This series will walk through the process of identifying the need for outsourcing, identifying the best location for your data center, discriminating between the alternatives, and finally getting to your decision.

We welcome all comments, experiences, and discussions related to the data center community that would provide productive feedback for a potential data center or CSP tenant.

John Savageau, Long Beach

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