A brewing storm?

It’s heralded as the saviour, the revolution and the most significant technology of the past 30 years.

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A brewing storm?
By  Piers Ford Published  October 10, 2010

It’s heralded as the saviour, the revolution and the most significant technology of the past 30 years. But while confusion reigns about the differences of public and private cloud computing, and issues around bandwidth costs dog adoption in the Middle East, Arabian Computer News investigates whether or not the technology will ever find its feet in the region.

Some things are probably best kept private: corporate data, for example. Which is why many CIOs are naturally resistant to the concept of public cloud computing. But particularly for SMBs in the Middle East, the prospect of having an IT operation that is practically free of infrastructure, and pares staff overheads back to a minimum, while affording access to all the applications and technology innovations they need to take their business forward, has an economic appeal.

At the same time, larger enterprises in the region, encouraged by the arrival of new datacentres that have helped to allay the fears associated with farming the management of corporate systems out to a remote corner of the world, are showing signs of embracing the private cloud model – giving them a degree of control over their data, applications and systems that the public model doesn’t.

“At the core of cloud computing, virtualisation can help to standardise, streamline and reduce datacentre footprints,” says Akram Assaff, chief technical officer at one of the Middle East’s largest online job sites, Bayt.com.

“Private clouds can serve as a stepping stone for large organisations concerned about compliance and security, who can benefit from the resource utilisation, efficiencies and quick deployment, although they might be missing the opportunity to capitalise on the economies of scale that public clouds can offer.

“Clearly, private clouds provide a higher level of compliance and can easily cover lost of security concerns, although public clouds are the only ones that can provide the required economies of scale on the hardware, operational and human resources level to make them economical,” he adds.

It is easy to polarise the differences between the private and public approaches around the two main protagonists: Microsoft, with its mix and match approach that allows the customer to segment its own hosting strategy inside and outside the organisation, and Google, which keeps the hosting in its own datacentres.

In reality, there is a growing grey area between the two that is making such definitions much more blurred, a complexity compounded by the diverse solutions that come under the cloud umbrella: software-as-a-service (SaaS), which focuses on applications access without involving the user in the underlying infrastructure; infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), in which the user retains control of systems and applications that run across a managed, hosted infrastructure; and communications-as-a-service (CaaS), which provides a utility-style model for delivering hosted comms services.

At infrastructure vendor Cisco, systems engineering manager Paulo Pereira says that most companies in the region already use some sort of cloud computing. It allows SMBs to focus on their business, handing the complexities of IT over to the their service provider, and it gives enterprises the chance to revamp their datacentres, while essentially retaining control of their assets.

“While large enterprises also see tangible benefits in using public clouds, we expect private and hybrid cloud models to be more common,” he says.

“Large enterprises may use public clouds for burst or peak capacity and for select services. However, these organisations often require a higher degree of control over their data, applications and systems than current public clouds allow. At scale, a private cloud offers the efficiency and agility of a public cloud, without the loss of control.

“Still, the IT services a pure private cloud can offer are limited to what internal IT can develop or deploy. Hybrid clouds will come in many flavours, including the virtual private cloud model in which an organisation has access to dedicated resources in a public cloud. An increasing percentage of total IT spend will move to hybrid clouds as technology matures and corporate cultures and governance adapt.”

Some of the genuine benefits of cloud computing – rapid system implementation and reduced hardware maintenance - are often obscured by a marketing focus on the streamlining of IT costs: generally seen as a euphemism for lower headcounts, and therefore understandably alarming to IT professionals who might worry they are talking themselves out of a job if they sell the cloud model too rigorously.

But Cisco’s Pereira says qualified staff will always be needed to run the infrastructure – whether it’s the private cloud at an enterprise or at a public cloud provider.

“The main difference is that with the use of cloud services, we’ll have very specialised people running the pieces that make out the cloud, and we’ll have generalist IT professionals that have the basics covered from their cloud providers and can spare more time to work on specific tasks that contribute to the bottom line of their company,” he says.

Yarob Sakhnini, systems engineering manager, CEMA, at another infrastructure vendor Brocade Communications, says that cloud computing can allow the CIO to set aside maintenance and patch-working, manage the network at arm’s length and focus on operating the IT department as a core business unit in line with enterprise goals.

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