The perfect cloud is an open cloud

By Damien Wong

There is a good reason why the words "cloud computing" feature in most IT dialogues today. It's a hugely important evolution in the way we consume and operate computing now. More than that, it's a fundamental shift to an operational model in which applications don't live out their lives on a specific piece of hardware, and in which resources are more flexibly deployed than was the historical norm.

But, can it be that simple? With such a wide range of cloud models, which set-up is best for your organisation and is there any such thing as "the perfect cloud?"

There are two things that can be assumed when it comes to cloud computing.

Firstly, cloud computing is unavoidable. In one form or another, it is very likely to have an effect on nearly any organisation - whether it's the formal evaluation and adoption of a new CRM platform through a formal IT process, the ad-hoc use of public cloud infrastructure by developers, or the "bursting" of an on-premise cloud to a public cloud to gain temporary capacity.

A survey conducted by Goldman Sachs revealed that 90% of CIOs surveyed expect to use public clouds in the next three years. But a large number of organisations are already on the road to cloud computing, having taken the first step in their journey with the implementation of virtualisation technologies.

Secondly, the quest to build and run the perfect cloud is keeping a great number of CIOs awake at night.

This year in many parts of Asia, we have seen a general shift away from "recovery" mode to a move towards gearing up for growth, and as part of this, IT departments are becoming mainstream drivers of core business objectives and outcomes. More than ever, CIOs are being relied upon to help achieve organisational goals around productivity and growth.

In fact, according to a report by Forrester called The Asia Pacific IT Market Comes Of Age, a "substantial" portion of the market in Asia is being driven by an increase in spending on foundational infrastructure for automation as well as a need to keep up with rapid economic growth and modernisation.

Beyond this, the report suggests that "virtualisation and cloud computing are central to new solutions spending and, for many companies, are central to their direction for future IT and business investment strategies."

CIOs may have to face continued pressure, as this year takes off. The line separating business and technology agendas is diminishing, and more than ever business leaders will turn to IT to satisfy critical organisational challenges and issues.

With that comes a need for greater accountability and transparency for IT operations. As an industry, we always said that IT was moving from the server room to the boardroom and it's never been further from the truth.

Cloud computing can be the answer to a vast number of technology challenges - and can be the answer to business challenges, as already established - but not any old cloud will do.

The concept of a one-size-fits all cloud doesn't exist, although some proprietary vendors would like you to believe that an out-of-the-box approach is the best fit for your organisation and every other one.

It's certainly getting noisy in the cloud - and it is fast becoming a crowded and confusing market - with a number of vendors trying to drive and control clouds, which can make it harder to get a clear view of what's actually available and who's offering what not to mention which cloud is going to be the most valuable for your needs.

In the beginning it's all about understanding the benefits of cloud, which includes cost and elasticity, the barriers to wider usage, such as security and interoperability, and using the decision making process to create the best balance for your organisation.

Here are a few important things to know. Across the board, open source is a "foundational" element in cloud computing. In fact, 90% of early clouds are open-source-based and many of the major public clouds are built on open source.

When it comes to selecting a cloud solution, it's pertinent to know (and remember) that even within the realm of cloud computing, the core platform principles remain the same.

The legacy of the proprietary era is ever-rising costs, pricey maintenance contracts, loss of control and being locked into a single vendor's agenda.

In the world of cloud computing, the price you pay for being locked into a proprietary platform is the difficulty of extracting your data and applications from the cloud so you can run them on the platform of your choice.

On the other hand, the open source approach to cloud computing is known for offering optimal interoperability, by enabling customers to build their cloud from components they already have - whether Microsoft Windows or Red Hat Enterprise Linux; LAMP, Java, or .Net; Red Hat Enterprise Virtualization, VMware vSphere, or Microsoft Hyper-V; Infrastructure-as-a-Service or Platform-as-a-Service; on-premise or public clouds.

And here's the best part: Users also avoid being locked in to a single vendor's stack. So, the entire cloud can be built completely on open source - the platform, virtualisation, middleware and storage - or if certain platforms are already in place and cannot be changed, that's okay too! It doesn't get too much easier than that.

Certainly, Google as one of the world's most successful companies has long been estimated to be the largest open-source-based company in the world.

It efficiently operates tens of thousands of servers, all based on open source. You might not be running an operation of that scale, but I bet maximising server efficiency is something that interests you.

Taking the dive into cloud computing is exhilarating and challenging, and the potential for your organisation is exciting.

At the end of the day, making the right technology choices from the beginning will determine the long-term viability of your cloud, and open-source solutions provide a solid foundation to build on so that as your cloud investments and architecture evolve, you are in charge and not dictated to by any one vendor.

(Damien Wong is Red Hat's general manager for Asean. Red Hat provides open-source software solutions for enterprises.) Article extracted from TechCentral, The Star, (Thursday March 22, 2012)