IT Forecast: Cloudy!

Cloud computing is picking up steam (and moist). I already covered the essentials of cloud computing in two separate posts (start here). Like I did mention in my earlier posts, it is not a new technology or anything innovative. Cloud computing concepts were employed in academia and research for many years. It was used mainly to make the most out of commodity computers. The enterprise started to pay attention since the start of the post-Y2K, money-saving, lean-seeking era. I attribute the reason for that speedy adoption to three main factors:

1. Increasing cost of ever-expanding data centers, and purchasing new servers and cooling them.
2. Advancement of virtualization and associated management tools (VMware, Citrix, Microsoft, etc.)
3. Amazon’s EC2 (around 2002).

During the economic slow down this past decade, businesses looked for opportunities to reduce hardware, cooling and energy, as well as data center and their maintenance costs. Hardware manufacturers poured hundreds of millions of dollars to invest in greener and more power-efficient machines. It is evident from the newer and newer chip generations that a newer generation chip by AMD or Intel means more computing power and less power consumption. That wasn’t nearly enough in reducing costs. Companies still had to deal with ever increasing data center sizes. They moved to consolidate servers, which proved to be harder than they had anticipated as legacy applications weren’t as easy to migrate to newer servers with less available resources. Advancement in virtualization technology and its associated management tools allowed IT to consolidate servers and compact applications into smaller physical machines (still using those powerful machines, but more efficiently now) as CPU utilization increased from under 15% to much higher rates. This allowed a major reduction in size by a factor of 10 on average.

Companies jumped on the virtualization bandwagon as a way to reduce cost per physical machine, and lower power consumption by those idle servers. Virtualization also helped contain rapidly ballooning data centers. But that is not enough. Companies still have to buy expensive servers, maintain them, manage the overhead (IT staff overhead as well as physical management overhead), etc. That, along with the initial major push by Amazon that got the cloud computing engine started in the enterprise, allowed businesses to take advantage of a new face of old technology. With cloud computing, companies are able to outsource major parts of their data centers to an outside cloud service provider. They save IT overhead (cloud service providers provide their own staff), software management (security patches, upgrades, updates, etc.), hardware management (allocating physical spaces, cabling the server, rack space, etc.), and hardware cost, as companies did not need to over stack their data centers in order to manage future spikes by client requests, to only go back to a normal request cycle by their clients after those spikes.

With cloud computing, companies can concentrate on their own core business without consuming their time and effort managing this overhead that does not contribute to company’s IP or bottom line. Businesses can take advantage of a hybrid cloud to outsource their scalable-hungry applications, while keeping in-house those elephant applications (that do not change much and do not require run-time scalability). With cloud computing, companies do not need to buy powerful servers. Gone are the days when servers kept getting more and more powerful. With cloud computing, commodity computers are kings. I expect many of server manufacturers to shift their resources to building either internal (private) cloud ready servers (that replace software solutions for building and maintaining cloud-ready infrastructure) or have features and properties to allow them to plug into an existing cloud servers rack (servers with much functionality stripped out to the bare-minimum to allow lightweight-like computing machine that is green and cost-effective). The reason why cloud computing mark the beginning of the end of high-end servers is because as companies move their infrastructure to the cloud, cloud service providers will realize that to stay competitive in the per-hour resource renting space, they will need to lower their per physical server cost. To be able to do that, they will need to utilize virtualization (to maximize income per physical server), and lower physical server cost and its associated power costs. To be able to lower the cost of those servers and their power-consumption, cloud service providers will use commodity computers that are cheaper and require less energy. In the world of unlimited CPU and memory resource pools, there is no need to buy this expensive 64 GB server anymore that costs a lot more than a pool of commodity computers with the same total size of memory. Furthermore, commodity computers are stripped down to the bare-minimum features that they do not require much software management or overhead resource burning. That is why Google is building their own commodity computers instead of buying them.

Businesses will continue to outsource their infrastructure, platforms and applications to the cloud as they realize that they would become more productive if they focus on their core business functions rather than all the bells and whistles that are needed to make that happen. And as businesses outsource this overhead to a company dedicated to manage this overhead for a lot more manageable cost, IT administrators will see their jobs decaying away. IT administrators will have to find other things to do outside of their normal range of functions. They will have to acquire a new set of skills, probably in the development field as they notice the shift in IT management power from their hands to the end-user. With cloud computing, the promise of simplifying IT management is stronger than ever. An average user will be able to log on to the cloud service provider and manage their own application and infrastructure using user-friendly management pages without needing to have any prior technical background.

Cloud computing is not a revolution, but its adoption will be this coming decade. As mobile devices and notebooks market grow in size, client devices are becoming thinner and thinner, while the applications are getting richer and richer. This is only possible with hosted services that are ever-scalable, available, and fail-over ready. Those are just a few of the promises that the cloud provides. Consumers will go after smaller and cheaper devices and terminals as there would be no need for powerful laptops and desktops anymore. If I can afford to buy 5 or more dumb, thin, and very small terminals and distribute them around the house, and then buy monitors and attach them to those terminals, then I can use a VDI solution, hosted on a popular cloud service provider to load my desktop (along with my session) on any of the terminals in my house! My remotely hosted applications will be running on the supercomputer-like grid of commodity computers with all the resources they need. I can create custom-made desktop VMs for my children with high levels of control. They can destroy their VM and I can get a new one from the host service in no time! No slow computers, and no dropped and broken computers. No 10 wires per machine (just one for the terminal). This is going to be the new generation of personal computing within the next few years. I may be able to hook a 17 inch LCD to my iPhone, and be able to see my VM hosted on RackSpace.com on the LCD as if it was connected to a very powerful desktop!! How about eliminating the need for an LCD and using a projector screen? Maybe my smartphone will allow for such a project, which will allow me to take a very powerful computer wherever I go without losing speed, sacrificing battery power or even giving up screen size!

No one will benefit more from cloud computing than government, small budget businesses and non-for-profit organizations. Buying small and thin terminals (perhaps the size of one’s palm, or even a finger-size terminal) and investing much of the money on the data center (private clouds) or purchasing more and more services by the public cloud, would allow for less cost. No more worrying about back up, scalability, compliance, licensing, clustering, fail-over, high availability, bandwidth, memory, replication, disaster recovery, security, software upgrades, re-location, etc. Those are all given as promises outlined in detail in a service line agreement (SLA). Even better, those institutions and businesses will be able to deliver the same consistent service across campuses and locations.

Additionally, interoperability and integration (standards are being laid out, but will hopefully solidify and become industry-wide accepted standards within a few years) will allow companies to utilize new software and applications with a switch of a few check box selections from the cloud management page for their data center. A company can switch from using SQL Server 2008 to MySQL Enterprise with a check box selection. Users can switch their email clients from one site to another, etc. Even beyond that, a consumer can switch a whole platform from Windows 7 to Linux Ubuntu and back in a few seconds. Platforms and applications become tools and roads rather than destinations. This is only good for consumers because the ease of transitioning in and out of platforms and applications will allow for opportunity as well as caution and fear of losing customers for all businesses alike. This will result in a booming period for open source software (difficult installation and set up processes kept most open source software from the public hand), as management becomes transparent and standard.

The next decade will allow for some exciting opportunities to unfold as businesses start sprinting in a fast-pace race, after going a long decade of dieting (they became leaner) and adopting new technologies that will allow them to concentrate on their core business rather than all the extra fat (overhead).

I will write another post that will be dedicated to talk about some of the available cloud services and applications that people and small business can use immediately, in order to manage their start up or maintenance cost, without falling behind to competition that uses better software and services.

It is hard to forecast what will come next, but one thing for sure, it will definitely be cloudy!

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2 Responses to “IT Forecast: Cloudy!”

  1. Blythe Route Says:

    Good website! I reallydo love how it is easy on my eyes as well as the details are well composed. I am wondering how I could be notified whenever a new post has been made. I have subscribed to your rss feed which really should do the trick! Have a nice day!

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