Plotting a path to future cloud implementations

Simon Bisson Advice
14 Feb, 2012

The onset of cloud has meant a new business model as companies hurry to change - will it make IT easier to implement?

Cloud is changing rapidly and we're already seeing signs of the directions it will move. From the rise of Platform as a Service, to the renewed focus on pure component plays, there's a change in the clouds.

With businesses focused on what management consultancy McKinsey calls "the new normal", they look at managing IT infrastructure and the services they buy in a different way. Small and medium-sized organisations are concentrating on outsourcing their IT functions, while large enterprises are looking to add to their existing data centres without increasing costs. That means all sizes of businesses are developing new approaches for working with cloud services, with a focus on where cloud can help them save on operating expenses – as well as on reducing capital expenses.

The most obvious change is a shift away from Infrastructure as a Service to Platform as a Service. While there are benefits to using IaaS, especially in reducing infrastructure expenditure, organisations still need to manage virtual machines, handling the same patching and updating tasks as with physical infrastructure and local servers. While there's no need to manage the underlying hardware, self-service deployment tools have led to an explosion in the number of VMs that an IT department needs to manage, whether in local private clouds or running in the public cloud. The result is a cloud-hosted virtual infrastructure that can cost as much, or in some cases, more, to maintain as its physical equivalent.

With Platform as a Service, there's no need to worry about managing the underlying operating systems. Public cloud PaaS services handle updates and patches transparently, and all IT teams need to consider are the applications and services they're running. Deploy an application on Microsoft Azure or Google App Engine and it will carry on running, while your provider manages the platform underneath.

The same is true of private cloud solutions, where tools like OpenStack and Microsoft's latest System Center release are automating much of the VM work, leaving IT departments with their own private PaaS systems. Moving to private PaaS platforms makes a lot of sense when you consider it as a route to cloud portability. Technologies like Microsoft's AppFabric mean that applications running on local machines will run in the cloud. VMware is also developing its own open PaaS platform, with Cloud Foundry, allowing hosting providers to deploy clouds for a wide range of different clients, increasing competition between providers and lowering costs for users.

One of the biggest changes is the rise of what can best be thought of as Component as a Service. Salesforce has already started going down this route, by separating out key elements of its service and providing them for use in other applications.

Its Database.com service is a prime example of this, the same data engine that underpins the Salesforce application available with a set of easy to use APIs that let you integrate it in everything from mobile applications to your own web services. It comes with Salesforce.com's own schema, but you're able to extend it and add your own functionality. Database.com runs on the same infrastructure as Salesforce.com, and it's easy to see the company using the same concept to provide a cloud workflow service.

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