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Cloud for Beginners


Do we really need another cloud primer? Hasn’t it all been written? Probably, but that was then. This is now. That’s how fast this industry and peoples’ expectations of cloud computing are changing. Stripping the cloud down to fundamentals is increasingly difficult to do in any meaningful way. So much more is omitted than included in the discussion. Nuance abounds. Exceptions are everywhere.

Still, many want and need a baseline of understanding, perhaps because things are changing so fast, because there are so many options and claims. Not to mention spurious information, like one recent article we read that said private cloud computing is just like public cloud, only inside the firewall. Really? Let’s stop right here if that’s all there is.

Topping off the “Big Three of Cloud Computing” is the hybrid cloud, the rising star on the cloud computing horizon. We used to talk about the “Big Three and a Half” being the community cloud but that seems to have fallen out of favor. (Think of it this way. If the Academy Awards/Oscars was a cloud, then the theatre audience would be the community of shared interest. We could have used Congress as the cloud example, but there’s no shared interest there.)

Whether a public cloud or private cloud, key benefits include scalability, instant provisioning, virtualized resources and the ability to expand the server base quickly. The industry consensus is that the ultimate model of choice will be hybrid cloud computing because the combination of public and private can provide a precisely tailored, yet flexible solution. So, let’s see how we get there.

One caveat: this examination will be useful only in the context of having an understanding of your business goals and growth strategies, and how the cloud, in whatever form or fashion, will help your company or organization achieve those goals.

The Public Cloud

If you have a PC, laptop or other portable device with Internet service, then all you need is a credit card to access public cloud services. They are available to everyone. The public cloud is like New Year’s Eve in Times Square (and Melbourne, Seoul and London). Gmail and Office 365 are public clouds. Amazon Web Services (AWS) is a portfolio of public cloud services. OneDrive is a public cloud storage service. Anyone can use these services, as long as they pay for what they use.

You and your device are an end-point. The entire computing and storage infrastructure – logical and physical – are elsewhere. You don’t own it, manage or maintain it. You only buy a piece of it, according to your needs. If your needs increase, you buy more, and vice versa.

This is good, right? No capital outlay, no IT staff. Electricity, cooling, back-up generators and network redundancy are all there. Availability, scalability and instant access are at your fingertips. You could actually run a business this way and many people do, especially start-ups and Internet-based businesses.

Where it can get sticky is that you are sharing this massive infrastructure with tens or hundreds of thousands of others, and potentially more. Public services tend to be constructed to serve the least common denominator at the lowest possible cost.  They are generic and uncustomizable.

Are you a priority? Do you or they know where your data is being stored (and is that a regulatory compliance concern for you)? Who do you turn to for help and advice? Can you be sure your data is safe? It’s for these reasons that many workloads in public clouds tend to be non-essential and the data non-critical.

This is also why corporate IT is worried about employees contracting directly with public cloud services and setting up shadow IT operations. It weakens the security of corporate networks and introduces non-integrated and unsupported applications into the infrastructure. The perfect segue into …

The Private Cloud

A virtualized data center does not a private cloud make. Setting up a true private cloud can be difficult and expensive. Then why do it? Enforcing security and exercising control are the primary reasons (that is, if you can also leverage the benefits that accompany cloud computing in the first place). Typically, small- to mid-size businesses would find little advantage to setting up their own internal cloud because the economies of scale simply are not there.

Like the traditional data center, the private cloud is provisioned, managed and maintained by internal staff. Unlike a traditional data center, the private cloud relies on a converged infrastructure to operate, with near-full virtualization, software-defined networks and converged storage. Automation drives systems management and software distribution.

To make that pay off, the private cloud needs to be operated much like a public cloud: maximize resource utilization, enable self-provisioning, speed time-to-market and have a system of charge backs. The users and not IT control the performance of their applications based on the resources they allocate to them. The basis for the existence of shadow IT is essentially eliminated when IT makes it easier for workers to go through them instead of around them by offering IT-approved cloud-based features and applications.

The payback will not be quick but for some companies having this capability in-house and having critical data and workloads close by, safely protected behind their own firewalls, is a preferred course of action.

The Hybrid Cloud

Like intertwined vanilla and chocolate soft-serve ice cream, public and private clouds will eventually be seamlessly joined into one waffle cone. That, at least, is the notion. According to many, it’s inevitable.

By 2017, industry research firm Gartner predicts that half of mainstream enterprises will have a hybrid cloud, which it defines as a policy-based service provisioning platform that spans internal and external cloud resources.

How might that work? A business running an application on a private cloud virtual machine (VM) suddenly sees a spike in throughput.  According to predetermined rules and policies defined for that workload, the business seamlessly adds resources from the public cloud to handle the increased load. When the spike subsides, the public cloud is de-provisioned.

The industry is hard at work creating hybrid computing platforms that it hopes will make the combination of public and private clouds exponentially better than either cloud type by itself. In cloud-speak, this is in its infancy but growing fast. After all, 2017 isn’t far away.

Watch for the Intercloud

Intercloud is sort of like Hybrid Cloud on steroids. It’s not only conceivable but a near certainty that the hybrid cloud will consist of a half-dozen, dozen or more services from multiple vendors … clouds within clouds. The trick will be to have all the component parts play nice together, a challenge that the IEEE has taken upon itself and for which it is defining standards.

Flexing its leadership muscles in this emerging space is Cisco, a Peak10 technology partner. The company recently announced its intentions to build the world’s largest global Intercloud in collaboration with key partners.  The Cisco global Intercloud “will offer an expanded suite of value-added application- and network-centric cloud services to accelerate the Internet of Everything.”

Today’s Hybrid Cloud Service Provider

The Intercloud notwithstanding, hybrid cloud is visible on the horizon today, as are services that can contribute to hybrid cloud implementations.

You won’t find this provider category in many other cloud articles. That’s because very few cloud service providers have the breath of offering and depth of skills that Peak 10 has, beginning with a range of colocation services from which a customer can easily expand

For example, its Enterprise Cloud is essentially a public cloud infrastructure-as-a-service offering (IaaS), but with the access to skilled staff, top-notch security, transparency and flexibility that’s absent among the big players. It’s also customizable.

Not all private clouds need to be hosted on premise or managed internally.  For dedicated computing power or data storage, a Dedicated Private Cloud solution can be designed to exact specifications including availability, scalability and threat prevention; it’s yours alone.  A Virtual Private Cloud, via resource pooling, combines reliable, logical segmentation and best practices with the agility and cost efficiency of multi-tenancy.

When regulatory compliance is priority one, a HIPAA-compliant cloud or PCI DSS- compliant cloud are secure cloud environments tailored to these regulatory specifications while, at the same time, easing the burden on customers subject to them.

Next Up?

In an industry that does not shy away from hyperbole, the rapidity of advancement and enablement coming from the cloud and complementary industries merit the fanfare. Is there anywhere left to go after the Intercloud? No doubt there will be and we’re likely to be reading about the next stroke of genius sooner rather than later.

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About Peak 10

"Our values are the foundation for everything we do at Peak 10, and are ultimately what enable us to earn our customers' business and their trust."
David H. Jones,
Board Member, Peak 10 + ViaWest