Like most new and innovative IT developments, cloud computing has progressed through a number of growth and maturation phases as consumers figure out the best way to apply it to economically solve their business and IT challenges. “Cloud” still has a ways to go before becoming a mature technology, but it does seem pretty safe to classify cloud computing into three deployment models:
Internal Cloud. An internal cloud is designed and built to service just one client (business). This client owns or leases the entire IT infrastructure and typically houses the infrastructure in their own data center. The client may, however, house the infrastructure in a colocation facility. The client also typically provides their own expertise to manage the infrastructure, but this may be outsourced as well.
The special sauce that makes this infrastructure a cloud is the cloud software layer. This software layer essentially virtualizes the hardware infrastructure in the data center. For the IT administrator, this largely eliminates the granular provisioning of resources necessary to accommodate a single user or application. Instead, the IT administrator decides which underlying infrastructure resources will be included into the available pool of resources and how those resources will be configured for the pool. For the IT user, this software layer offers a shopping cart-like experience when requesting resources, essentially resulting in self-provisioning of the IT resources.
The cloud software layer includes many essential services including security, charge back, self-provisioning, usage and performance reporting, maintenance notifications and more. A cloud implementation requires a significant amount of thoughtful planning and execution. But, once implemented, it can result in a fairly quick ROI through more efficient usage of resources and much lower ongoing IT administration effort.
There are numerous advantages to a private cloud:
- Once configured, the IT administration effort will be much lower.
- User self-provisioning reduces (usually significantly) the time to market for applications.
- Because users can now self-provision very quickly, shadow IT (unauthorized self-provisioning from Google, Amazon, etc.) becomes much less of a concern for the business.
The downside of private cloud computing:
- The initial planning and setup take large amounts of effort from the IT staff.
- The initial cost of the cloud software layer is a deterrent for many companies.
External Cloud. The external, or public, cloud is what most people think of when someone mentions cloud computing or cloud storage – the ability to “rent” infrastructure such as storage or servers by the month, week, day, or even by the hour. It is even possible to access infrastructure for no cost in some cases, particularly with storage. Of course, this is typically a small capacity; and providers always hope this will lead to a larger amount of pay-for capacity space. Examples of public cloud are Amazon AWS, Google Cloud and Microsoft’s Azure.
A number of public cloud services have emerged that are specifically directed at particular business application needs such as CRM (Salesforce.com) and office applications (Microsoft Office 365). This approach allows businesses access to the entire application and hardware stack, usually on a per-seat monthly fee basis.
The advantages of utilizing a public cloud for infrastructure or for services are many:
- Avoidance of a large capital expense in favor of operating expense model.
- No more worrying about paying for datacenter space, maintaining hardware, upgrading software, etc. In other words, less IT management cost and headache.
- Improved agility. Because this is a rental model, the commitments are typically very short (as little as hours to perhaps a monthly bill with an annual contract).
There are, of course, a few possible downsides to utilizing a public cloud that need to be carefully considered:
- The security of your data. Since the data is not within your control, you must carefully consider if a public cloud solution will provide the appropriate security model for each of your datasets.
- Your IT infrastructure and/or application options are limited to what is available in the public cloud marketplace.
- What is your plan should you wish to pull your applications and data back into your private datacenter? What does that migration entail, and what happens to your data in the public cloud (does the cloud provider offer secure data deletion, etc.)?
Hybrid Cloud. Many businesses are now moving to hybrid cloud implementations. In essence, this is a combination of private and public cloud.
In a hybrid cloud, the cloud layer in the private cloud implementation creates an abstraction layer between the user and the actual hardware/software. In other words, the user is presented with the resources requested but has no idea (and really doesn’t care) where the resources originate. The user’s request may be satisfied from the internal private pool of infrastructure or the external public cloud services or a combination of both. The source of the service is determined by the private cloud administrator and since this is transparent to the user, can be modified at any time based on changing requirements and costs.
There are a number of advantages to a hybrid cloud implementation in addition to the general advantages of cloud computing:
- It provides the ability to price shop for specific services and applications.
- It allows local control over sensitive applications and data while seamlessly utilizing low cost options for commodity services.
- It increases IT elasticity by adding “bursting” capability to your IT infrastructure to accommodate peak usage periods.
The disadvantages of hybrid cloud computing are minimal:
- Additional planning and configuration of public cloud resources is required on the front end.
Cloud computing is becoming more commonplace as more companies discover the potential flexibility and potential cost advantages. Most IT analysts now agree that the longer term IT solution for most companies will look very much like today’s hybrid cloud implementations. So the question may not be “if” but “when” to get started and then, how to begin.
The first logical step of a cloud implementation is an assessment of your current computing needs and a discussion of the future needs of the business. This allows the creation of a flexible approach to cloud and can answer the question of whether to utilize public, private or hybrid cloud services. Currently on the market today are hybrid cloud products, such as HP’s Helion, available at a very low entry price and able to easily grow with the business. Utilizing this type of product can make the decision much easier.