PUBLICATION:  IWEEK ONLINE
DATE:  19 AUGUST 2009
The future of computing
Author:
Mia Andric
Issued:
19 Aug 2009
The mobile world turns to cloud computing
DEFINITIONS of cloud computing vary, with different vendors and service providers offering assorted solutions dependent on their definitions of the concept. One thing the industry agrees on, however, is that cloud computing is the future of computing.

Barry Gill, chief product development manager at MimeCast South Africa

iWeek spoke to industry experts Graeme Dendy, operations manager at Faritec’s IBM division; Barry Gill, chief product development manager at Mimecast South Africa; Frank Kenney, research director, application strategy and governance, Gartner; Alex Russell, MD of Smart Axess; Justin Coetsee, IBM IT Architect; Richard Firth, CEO of MIP; Fred Strauss, technical manager at Obsidian Systems; Ermano Quartero, managing executive, Vodacom Business; Danie Steyn, sub-Saharan regional business manager at Intel; Nick Keene, country manager of Citrix Systems South Africa; Rob Sussman, co-CEO of Integr8IT; Fabio Torlini, marketing director at Rackspace UK; Hayden Lamberti, business unit manager for Application Solutions at IS; and Steven Cohen, managing director of Softline Pastel to get their views.
Q: IS CLOUD COMPUTING A REALITY, OR IS IT STILL A DREAM?
Dendy: In South Africa, we need to overcome the challenges of bandwidth restrictions, general acceptance of the technology and related data security before public cloud computing is likely to be taken up on a large scale. However, local organisations are starting to recognise the ability of cloud computing to meet specific requirements. At present, both public and private clouds are accessible through an internet connection. From a global perspective, companies are embracing both public and private cloud computing, and are often integrating a combination of the two (hybrid cloud) to meet specific requirements.

Richard Firth, CEO Of MIP

Gill: Businesses are not necessarily ready to move entire IT resources to the cloud just yet, but augmenting the infrastructure to mitigate risk and provide high availability processing is already proving appealing.
Kenney: Cloud computing has already made a tremendous impact in most consumers’ lives. Many of us have embraced e-mail delivered as a service from companies like Google, Microsoft and Yahoo. We’re also leveraging other services via the cloud such as productivity suites for word processing, spreadsheets and databases. Companies have embraced storage delivered as a service and the new pushes are for application platforms delivered as a service.
Russell: It is a reality in that the technology vendors have released products to “enable” the cloud. Strategically all the major software vendors have being playing in this space since the ASP days, but without the necessary ecosystem of products to support the realisation of the cloud, its adoption has been slow.
Q: WHERE DOES SOFTWARE AS A SERVICE (SAAS) FIT INTO THE CLOUD?

Fred Strauss, technical manager at Obsidian Systems

Coetsee: Saas is made more realistic and practical today because of cloud computing. We see Saas as part of the evolutionary journey that has enabled cloud computing. Many of the cloud offerings available on the internet today started as Saas offerings.
Firth: Saas is fundamental to the cloud. Unless you are delivering your software as a service, you simply cannot have cloud computing, by any definition
Gill: Software as a service can be delivered via a cloud computing platform, but typically true Saas is in itself a form of cloud computing. A cloud computing platform can deliver standard applications where Saas provided applications are themselves designed to service many customers off of the same common codeset.
Strauss: Cloud computing is a good way to implement SaaS because you can dynamically change the computing resources used by a service. Your service can be using minimal resources in off-peak times, but under high usage it can use more resources from the cloud, as needed.
Quartero: Saas is the foundation of cloud computing – the ability to deliver a software solution as a service across an Internet connection or a private network cloud without the need to purchase any software that resides on the client end PC.
Q: WILL SAAS BECOME OBSOLETE WITH IMPROVEMENTS IN THE CLOUD?

Ermano Quartero, Managing Executive, Vodacom Business

Coetsee: The term Saas might become obsolete as it might become interchangeable with the term cloud computing, but the concept of an individual or organisation being able to access an application via the internet, or even intranet, and only pay based on their usage will continue to grow with the proliferation of cloud computing.
Gill: Saas is a form of cloud computing and organisations will always choose the tools most appropriate for their requirements, be it a shared infrastructure processing resource, or a shared software application resource or even a combination of both. As cloud improvements occur, Saas will in fact grow even further. We will see business being able to self provision more and more services across all disciplines and paying for these on a per user model.

An active escrow agreement ensures access to your data – at all times
If your ‘computer cloud’ were to evaporate, would your business dry up too or would you be able to continue trading? This is one of the key questions companies intending to make use of cloud computing services need to answer before investing their time and effort into this increasingly popular IT model.
While there are many benefits to cloud computing, including cost efficiencies, there are criticisms too. Since cloud computing does not allow users to physically possess the storage of their data (the exception being the possibility that data can be backed up to a user-owned storage device), responsibility for data storage and control is in the hands of the provider.
The crucial issue is this: If the cloud provider loses the data or stops supporting the applications that have been paid for and which support mission-critical operations, what happens to the user’s business?
Escrow Europe director, Andrew Stekhoven, says that only an active escrow agreement between your vendor, yourself and a neutral and independent escrow agent will enable you to take the exact same code that was running your platform-as-a-service (Paas) and install it in an alternative hosting environment (whether on your own servers or other), install the exported code and data and update your DNS. Without the code you simply can’t do that.
“Without an escrow arrangement in place, access to your own data may be severely limited and certainly, as you do not own your own application you have no control over this vital portion of your business – it belongs to your service provider,” he adds. “Active escrow remains one of the most elegant solutions for managing the multifaceted risks within the Saas and Paas domains and it fulfils the due diligence obligations facing directors and/or officers in line with the recently released King III.”
Stekhoven says that on the service provider/vendor’s side, having a professional escrow arrangement in place for clients gives the company a tangible advantage over competitors of any size. “Active escrow eliminates business continuity risk for your clients and encourages the client to use your licensed products or service in preference to those of even the largest software vendors and developers.”
Keene: Saas is an integral part of cloud computing and will not become obsolete as cloud computing improves. The same can be said of cloud computing, which will not become obsolete due to developments in software as a service.
Steyn: Cloud computing and Saas is here to stay, but will not be the panacea many vendors and media have positioned it to be over the past 12 months.
Strauss: I believe cloud computing will just make Saas more feasible and easier to implement.
Sussman: I believe that SaaS will become more relevant with improvements in the cloud.  Environments will become more virtualised, with increase in access and availability of applications.
Q: WHERE DO MANAGED SERVICE PROVIDERS FIT IN TO THE CLOUD?

Nick Keene, country manager of Citrix Systems South Africa
Dendy: These companies will drive the acceptance and usage of cloud computing and force the cost efficiencies that cloud computing promises to offer. As the primary interface to users of cloud computing, it will be up to these organisations to define and evolve cloud computing into the future. Organisations that are looking to use cloud computing should be choosing a reputable service provider who will work according to a service level agreement that defines the availability and security of the service.
Firth: Managed service providers have much to offer in the way of infrastructure; in this vein, it can be said that there can be no cloud computing without them.
Keene: Managed service providers are important because they provide enterprise cloud services to organisations that do not have the expertise or budget to set up and run their own internal enterprise cloud systems.
Lamberti: Managed service providers need to drive adoption by using cloud computing to solve real business problems with higher efficiency and more cost effectively then traditional computing solutions.
Quartero: The new-age managed service provider will offer large data centres, a virtualised environment and a platform to deliver Saas. Brand will play a large role in establishing and maintaining a trusted cloud computing environment.

Steven Cohen, managing director of Softline Pastel

Sussman: Managed services providers have a huge opportunity to provide and manage a single service to a global market. There is a hybrid of managed services providers that add to the cloud computing model – the telco providers to provide the last mile and interconnections. The infrastructure providers to provide, manage and maintain the physical platform. The software providers to develop and manage the software platform. The application providers to develop and continue innovating with provision of generic and customised applications.
Torlini: There are very few providers of public cloud services and they are primary technology companies such as Amazon Web Services, Google App Engine, and soon Microsoft Azure – they are not traditional managed service providers. Most managed service providers do have the capital resources or technical know-how to build their own public cloud solutions. Consequently most service providers are focusing on private cloud solutions, which require little initial speculative investment, and which can be built using off-the-shelf solutions such as VMware’s virtualisation suite.
Q: – WHAT IS THE FUTURE OF CLOUD COMPUTING?
Coetsee: We think that the future is already here. What we see in the future is the convergence of solutions, providing the ability for an organisation to employ a hybrid cloud model. A hybrid model will provide a simplified cloud management layer that enables the customer to implement a private cloud environment while also having the ability to leverage a public cloud service to address fluctuations in their computing environment or to offload non-critical applications.

Rob Sussman, Co-Ceo Of Integr8it

Cohen: I envisage that the demand for online accessibility to software will grow exponentially. The world has gone mobile and people want to access their information wherever they are. In addition, with cloud computing, users don’t have to be experts in understanding the technology infrastructure on which they operate which means that as more and more software applications move online, the internal IT department becomes less necessary. The associated cost-saving of downsizing or outsourcing that department is an attractive business case, especially for SMEs.
Gill: Cloud computing has been identified as a growth area over the next few years. Cloud computing in all its various forms will over time integrate further and further into corporate networks, enabling companies to merge cloud based and internal applications much tighter and derive greater business benefit.
Keene: Before we see cloud computing really take off, especially in South Africa, we will see a number of organisations building clouds of their own (enterprise cloud computing).

Fabio Torlini, marketing director at Rackspace UK

Lamberti: Ultimately, as more users move online in siloed solutions, I see tremendous capacity to start integrating different cloud-based solutions to deliver integrated solutions, which will provide business solutions in ways that are not available as yet.
Quartero: I believe that the future of computing is cloud computing. It shouldn’t matter what the application is or where it is hosted – as long as is can be accessed remotely via a trusted and reliable network.
Steyn: As more companies start deploying services and as the security of these applications and services are proven, more companies will adopt it and the utilisation of cloud computing will grow. But it is not an e-business revolution. Instead, the majority of businesses will always have a mixed IT environment.
Typical early adopters such as financial services, high performance computing and pharmaceutical companies are also deploying cloud architectures to support private cloud services behind the firewall. Still in its infancy, this usage is expected to grow out from virtualisation technologies already being deployed.