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Making Sense of the Cloud for Science: Part 2

Posted by cagramont on Feb 26, 2010 12:08:54 PM

In the first part of this series, we discussed the basic collection of cloud offerings and what type of value they provide to IT, Developers, and Customers.  In this post, we’ll focus more on the business issues when leveraging the cloud.


One of the biggest hurdles leveraging Cloud Services is around securing and transporting of the data.  There’s no single answer or solution to resolve these issues, and there is no shortage of webinars, papers, conferences, etc. that focus on this so I don’t think I need to dig into that (just yet).  But what’s important to recognize is that all of the Cloud vendors, security experts, and network providers are working to both provide an answer that meets your business and technical requirements but also earns your trust.  The best way to get over that hump is to learn more and try it out.


First try the cloud on non-critical but impactful tasks.  Then start to increase your usage of critical data, connect directly to internal data, and perform tasks that provide real business value.  This isn’t an original approach since it’s pretty much the typically evaluation or Proof of Concept (POC), but that’s exactly the point!  Driving a project like this is more than just technology based, as you’ll most likely involve many people within your organization, such as Legal, Finance, IT, and Security in order to plan and complete the project.  There will be lots of concerns from these various groups, many reasonable and some that just requires lots of education.  So make sure you invest in educating them on the basics of the Cloud first.  This will make the rest of the process much smoother, but not easier.


Second, you’ll need to consider network bandwidth usage and data storage costs.  All of the cloud vendors have some sort of fee when uploading, downloading, and storing your data.  When you first look at this, its penny’s per GB, but when dealing with large data volumes and data transactions (e.g. Read and Writing across the network) those costs can get pretty high.  So your first thought will be that cloud pricing is extremely high, but what you may not be factoring in is all the things the cloud vendor is doing for you that’s beyond just the price of the disk, network, cooling, and power.  The cloud vendors typically offer a high SLA, so that includes data replication, de-duplication, resiliency, continuity, and more.  And not to mention the staff, planning, and operations to make all of that happen.  If you compared that to your own infrastructure and added that to your internal per-GB cost of storage, you’ll most likely see that the Cloud is more affordable but that assumes your meeting the same level of SLA and process as the Cloud vendors which most are not.  That said, there are some applications and data that may not be a good fit for many of the cloud vendors because of the special nature of the application, massive data size with high volume transactions, high throughput requirements, legal requirements, and more.  But this is starting to be the exception versus the rule.


Many organizations are making the leap of putting their most trusted data into the cloud, and some are doing it without realizing the significance. Email and Sales force automation having been leading the charge in hosted applications and Software as a Service (SaaS) deployments.  Now think of it this way, if you can store all of your communications and customer records on the cloud, why can’t you do more?  By businesses taking this leap, they start to build trust in external parties maintaining and operating their business critical services.  In a recent report by Goldman Sachs, they note that customers see a “shift towards cloud unstoppable”. The trend towards cloud services and applications won’t be a complete rip and replace, business will look to the cloud as an extension of their overall enterprise architecture and infrastructure.


When comparing the many Cloud/IaaS vendors in the market today, it’s already moving towards mass commodity price points and common functionality.  And that’s great if you want to take a piece of existing traditional on-premise software and simply deploy it to the cloud.  What you have to look out for are pitfalls in the software license, security, deployment architectures, and the fact that you’re still responsible for managing that software in the “Cloud”.  So the next layer to look for is a Services vendor that can deliver you the application.  This can at times come from the vendor directly or through partner network supported by the vendor.  Each has their own value proposition and differences in how flexible they can be delivering additional custom services.   Again, this type of application + service model isn’t new as the Application Service Provider (ASP) model has been around for years.  What’s new is that these ASP’s can still provide lots of value and cost reduction to the customer but now leveraging computing and storage that provided by a “Cloud” offering (e.g. AWS).


In the next part of this blog series, we’ll focus more on the various services models that will be available to customers based on a cloud version of Pipeline Pilot.


To view all Conrad's Cloud Series posts, please visit:

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