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The Cloud Reaches the Enterprise

Development, testing, and analytics uses

BY PEGGY ALBRIGHT

Cloud computing is attracting interest in the enterprise sector, prompted in part by an expanding supply of cloud services, increased use of Web-enabled technologies, and, organizations’ need for cost efficiencies.

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“The economy is an enormous accelerator,” said Greg Papadopoulos, Sun Microsystems CTO and executive vice president for research and development, while addressing the audience at the recent GigaOm Structure 09 conference on cloud computing. “A year from now we’ll look back and say this is where it hit.”

Numerous organizations are tracking cloud computing’s emergence. Evans Data in May and June surveyed cloud computing use among more than 400 developers representing all types of roles and organizations. It found stronger acceptance in the Asia-Pacific region. Currently 11 percent of developers use cloud services, but that proportion is expected to increase to 27 percent by year’s end and 42 percent by 2010. Behind the Asia-Pacific region was North America and Europe, the Middle East, and Africa.

Evans Data CEO John Andrews said the survey confirms that cloud computing “is real and being adopted.” The firm defines cloud computing as “a style of computing in which dynamically scalable and often virtualized resources are provided as a service over the Internet.” That definition embraces clouds open to the public as well as private clouds protected by a corporate firewall.

Economic motivations, combined with ease-of-use and the benefits of dynamically provisioning infrastructure, are driving the uptake in APAC, Andrews said. He did not divulge data for North America and EMEA, except to say that in 2010, the rate of adoption will reach 29 percent and 24 percent, respectively. The leading vendors supplying cloud-based services are Google and IBM.

Taking modular approach

Because enterprises are cautious and have legacy systems that can’t and shouldn’t be switched-out imprudently, these organizations will likely take a modular approach to implementing cloud-based services, using the approach for new services or as part of a strategic change planned to coincide with an expiring software license.

Joseph Tobolski, Accenture’s director of cloud computing, said software product development and testing will likely move quickly into the cloud, given the efficiency, cost savings, and performance improvements these services will provide. Next, enterprises will adopt cloud-based services for large-scale data analytics, he believes.

“Very large data sets and number crunching in the cloud are like peanut butter and jelly [or] a match made in heaven,” he said. Regardless of which comparison you prefer, “horizontal scaling really appeals to large-scale number crunching,” he said.

Last to go to the cloud from an enterprise perspective, he believes, will be Tier 1 mission-critical applications. Some of these will eventually migrate to the cloud, others won’t. “There is probably some census of applications in an enterprise that will stay in the data center, always be in the data center, and never leave,” he said.

New skill sets

RightScale, which provides a dashboard and templates to manage cloud-based applications and services, says that its platform has been used for several hundred thousand deployments. Two years ago, most users were startups and small businesses. However, today more of its customers are coming from the enterprise sector, said Michael Crandell, RightScale CEO and founder.

Rich Wolski, a computer science professor at the University of California Santa Barbara, and CTO and co-founder of Eucalyptus Systems, said it isn’t easy to get into cloud computing, but “it does require some thinking” to use it well.

IaaS, PaaS, SaaS

For those wanting to try cloud computing techniques, Wolski breaks down the skills needed according to type of cloud service employed. A simple API can be used for Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), while platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) approaches require learning whatever abstractions the platform supports, and a practical understanding of particular features and differentiators is needed for Software-as-a-Service (SaaS).

For those wanting to pursue cloud computing as a career path, Wolski advises becoming expert in the use and development of dynamically reconfigurable distributed systems. “This is an area of programming that not many people are expert in, and it’s fairly difficult,” he said.

The cloud platform makes it possible to build applications that can dynamically acquire and release resources, but doing this well is an important new skill set that will gain increasing value in the profession in coming years.

Neither Tobolski, Crandell or Wolski are concerned that cloud computing will cause the demise of IT and jobs. On the contrary, it should free up professionals to focus on their specialties by automating some of the more unpleasant tasks, like customer service.

“I don’t see why people freak out over the idea of cloud computing,” Wolski said. “It allows greater specialization, so the IT people can really focus on what they want to do, which is manage IT.” (CW-17 August, 2009)

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