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Expensive Disaster Recovery? No thanks, we’re on Cloud nine.

An overview of Enterprise Cloud – where it is and where it’s going for business

10pm and a tape drive fires into life.  Business and customer data streams from critical systems to waiting storage.  The CIO relaxes after a hard days work, confident in the knowledge that if the company website goes down, he’ll be able to have it back up again in just a matter of days; with hopefully only a few hundred thousand pounds of business lost.  Redundant, expensive and slow; but what other option is there?  Everyone knows you need separate DR, right?  Well maybe not.  Enter the Cloud.

Cloud computing is undoubtedly the current buzzword in the IT industry.  Much discussed and little understood, according to analysts like Gartner it has yet to be made available at an Enterprise level.  But what parts of Cloud do exist today and how can it help protect your business?

The concept of Cloud is relatively straightforward.  The infrastructure you use (servers, storage, etc), the location of that infrastructure and the applications you use are either irrelevant or secondary.  Cloud computing is about defining a set of business objectives and having the right technology available and expandable, on-demand, to achieve those business objective.  IBM server fans and HP storage stalwarts switch off now – this is about business, not technology.  You no longer buy an application hosting service or a server hosting service from an IT provider, you buy a business hosting service from an IT Partner and let the IT Partner worry about what tin it sits on.

A straightforward concept then – forget about the underlying technology and start thinking about what you want to achieve for your business; so why do Gartner say it isn’t available today?  Enter the world of Shared Private Production Cloud – the holy grail of Cloud computing for Enterprises that the analysts are actually talking about.

SPPC for short, the concept is a cloud environment shared between multiple enterprises that each can buy a portion of as and when they need it on a utility basis.  Utility charging, switch it on and switch it off, scale up scale down; the world is your oyster.  This is what we’re all aiming for and yet this is what none of the big IT companies have available today.  “Hang on a minute,” you say, “what about Amazon Cloud?  That’s a shared cloud that’s been around for ages, and I can buy it today if I wanted!”  True, however that’s where the “Private” in SPPC comes in.  Amazon cloud is a public cloud, open to all and with all of the associated security compromises in its underlying architecture.  It is, simply put, not able to cope with the rigours of Enterprise security standards.  Put your customer data on a public cloud at your peril.

The trouble with SPPC, and the reason the big IT shops don’t have it today, is that it takes two things to get it up and running: 1) a big investment to buy the cloud infrastructure ; 2) faith that customers are going to want to buy it and it won’t sit there idly gathering dust!  So far, the big tech companies haven’t been willing to take the risk and make the investment.  “Buy millions of dollars worth of kit in the hope customers might buy it?  Not without a firm order I won’t!” has been the prevailing attitude.  This view seems to be changing as the realisation hits home that those companies who get their shared Cloud infrastructure set-up first will have a massive market advantage; but the delay in realising this means that as of today, SPPC is still only on the horizon – though at least it’s now in sight.

So if SPPC isn’t available yet, then what is and how can it help your business today?  Take the S out of SPPC and we’re onto something.  Private Production Cloud – a dedicated cloud environment that is designed from the bottom-up to match your long-term business requirements.  Whilst it might not provide economies of scale to the extent that a shared cloud would, don’t underestimate what it can do for your business.  By giving your IT Partner the ability to define the underlying infrastructure of your private cloud, you shift the focus from pondering IT tech specs to stating business needs.  What it means is future growth scoped-in at low or no additional cost; inbuilt disaster recovery that gets your business back online in minutes or hours rather than days and at a fraction of the costs of traditional Disaster Recovery; end-to-end Service Levels based on business measures rather than technology metrics; and a service that provides value to your business, not just your IT department.

If SPPC is the future, then Private Production Cloud is the fist big step on that journey.  The key to making it work for your business is in how you think about technology, and the answer to that is: don’t think about technology!  Your customers don’t care whether your new and improved website runs on Wintel or Midrange servers, they care whether it’s available, secure and working.  It’s here that business leaders can take a leaf out of their customer’s book.  By focusing on business requirements and using a technology-agnostic private cloud, companies can focus on the Ends and let their IT Partners take care of the technological Means.

Rob Forey

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