The commoditization of technology has reached its pinnacle with the advent of the recent paradigm of Cloud Computing. Infosys Cloud Computing blog is a platform to exchange thoughts, ideas and opinions with Infosys experts on Cloud Computing

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May 28, 2013

Can IT now can fully enable business? With Cloud?

In the last twenty years in this industry, I have seen quite a few faces of IT operations in many organizations. From being considered as a back room operation to leading change and business integration. But the truth is, most IT organizations in enterprises are struggling to stay in the front line and constantly battling to find ways of quantifying the "value of IT". This has not been easy to say the least. 

In my view, the two big issues that are contributing to the woes of most IT organizations. They are ..
1. Time to Market
2. Innovation

There is no doubt that IT has transformed to be the backbone of all enterprises. Most organizations IT capabilities have evolved and we have done a 'good job' in bringing  the engineering discipline, process, methodologies and more importantly,predictability, in this industry. Now, where has that left IT in any organization. It is considered more often than not a bottleneck in bringing new ideas to the market. Let's look at it from a business leaders standpoint. How many times have we heard " we do not have an environment to start the work, develop and test", " this cannot go into this release cycle", " it is too time consuming to try things out"," We need to have all requirement and design ready" etc. Truth of the matter is that it takes too long to get a business idea from a concept to production. More often than not , IT is the bottleneck. 

It is true that 85 percent of IT budgets world over are to keep the lights on. So where is the room for innovation? Most investments are engaged in keeping lights on and the other 15 to 20 percent is used up in delivering "strategic programs". There is generally no room available to try new ideas or engage in any sort of R&D activity. This has resulted in formation of shadow IT groups outside of then IT depts with limited success and most certainly resulting in a "mess" to be cleaned up. 

I am very excited about the opportunity the Cloud offers. I am also very confident that this can be as big a disruption or an opportunity to IT as the Internet was, or a phenomenon close to heart, the Global Delivery Model. The Cloud offers a bright future for the industry, one in which IT can ensure greater agility, simplicity, scalability, efficiency, innovation, and cost-effectiveness for businesses.  Boy, does it provide enough room! And lots of it. It has the power to address the issue of time to market as well as bring in significant opportunities and construct for innovation.
 
As I sign off, I would like to leave you all with one thought: The sky is the limit on the Cloud. So What would limit CIOs in leveraging it to it's potential ? More on that in my next blog..

Building a Trusted Cloud Ecosystem: Part 1

One of the barriers of cloud adoption is the element of risk perceived by the consumers of cloud services. This can also be interpreted as lack of trust on cloud service providers (IAAS, PAAS or SAAS). Cloud consumers have expressed their concern in various area such as :
 
- Vendor lock in                                     
- Stability                                          
- Availability                                    
- Security                                                        
- Compliance                                                        
- Data related                                                                         
- Multi-tenancy                                                                                                    
- Business continuity
- Continuation of service
- Customization & controls 
- Manageability
- Contracts
-  SLAs
-  Integration
-  Standards
-  Migration
-  Support
-  Cost
-  And many more... 

While they understand the benefit of cloud, these concerns are genuine. As a community of cloud providers we have an opportunity to build a trusted ecosystem, which alleviates these fears. 

If we categorize these fears, it translates to three basic categories - Controllability, Visibility, and Reliability.

• Controllability covers fears around Predictable cost, Vendor lock in, Security. 

• Visibility covers fears around "Where is my data", Multi-tenancy (who else can access my data), "Am I being charged for what I am using".

• Reliability covers fears around Availability of system, SLAs, "Will the system be supported as long as I want", "Will my application work, cloud platform is upgraded", "Will a new technology, make my investment irrelevant" etc.

There are many IT managers, CIOs who feel that what is within four walls is controlled and safe. It is well known to all, who have experienced it, that these closed walls also have their share of risks as well.

Building a Trusted Cloud Ecosystem: Part 2

Given these fears it is perceived the risk far outweighs the benefit of cloud. There is hope however on ways these can be overcome. There are lessons to be learned from different industries, which have mature practices. Let us study some of them.

Banking - "Do you ever wonder when you deposit your savings at the bank that the bank will not give it back"? Until the financial crisis hit us, we did believe the bank would honor its commitments. We had our doubts for some time. But we have not stopped using banks.

The reason we are doing this is because there a governance over the and above the financial institution. The financial institutions are reviewed, audited, measured and rated by independent agencies. This has led you to believe that what you deposit is in safe hands (this is assuming you have not taken undue risk for high returns). [example borrowed from Vishnu]

The same applies for cloud. Common standards and stringent certification requirements, are needed to ensure that cloud is interoperable, secure, audited and vendor independent. These certifications will give a sense of indirect control and visibility.

Building a Trusted Cloud Ecosystem: Part-3

Utilities - "Do you ever wonder how and where the power is produced"? While the systems behind getting it to the end customer are complex, for the user, it is a simple flick of a switch to consume. We need to get the cloud services to the same level of maturity.

We also must recognize that the power does fail sometimes, even though it is rare. In some countries it more frequent than others. As users we learnt to adapt. We have generators as backup; we have UPS for continuity of power. We also carry flash light in emergency. 

Hybrid cloud architecture in a way is comparable to this. When you need bulk computing needs, public cloud is always cost effective. You will have private cloud to maintain critical operations. You will also have dedicated systems for lights on operations. Maturity is in how you consume cloud and reduce your overall risk. A well architected cloud consumption model can offer the same level of reliability which internal data center offer today.

Building a Trusted Cloud Ecosystem: Part-4

Having a cloud service brokerage is a way of establishing control.

Cloud Service Brokerage - helps in procuring and provisioning the cloud services for your organization consumption. Having a platform helps in maintaining standards, manage consumption of authorized cloud services within the organization. This controls unstructured cloud service proliferation across the organization.

Having a central catalogue also helps in ensuring that there is no duplication across the organization. "Buy before you build" makes your organization more agile, in its ability to respond to business.

May 27, 2013

When will PAAS mature?

While IAAS is quite mature (as the supporting technology is quite stable), it is a different story with PAAS platforms. We do not have any clear leaders yet in PAAS platforms. There are many options like Microsoft - Azure, AWS - Elastic bean stock, VMWare - Cloud foundry, Redhat - openshift, Salesforce - Force.com, etc. All of them have their USPs and sweet spots. But for a Enterprise grade PAAS we should look with a different lens.

PAAS platforms can be broken into several levels of services. The foundation PAAS services could be Data management services (Storage with a context), Processing services (compute with a logic), Integration Services (Network with a memory) and Security (at every level). The next level of services could be build using the foundation services and these services can be Configuration management, Content management, Policy and access management, Identify management, Project management, Management and monitoring, Billing and metering, Workflow, API Management, Portals, VDI, Cloud services brokerage etc.

It is not important that I got the levels right or the service right. What is important to understand is that, this needs to be defined so that a private cloud implementation of PAAS seamlessly works with the public cloud implementation. I believe for an enterprise class PAAS, every provider must provide an on-premise model and a public cloud model. If there are many public PAAS providers for a given PAAS, then it is all the more better.

Like IAAS gave vendor independence, PAAS also must provide that level of vendor independence for greater adoption. An ideal PAAS must provide a framework for
      - Delivering the service on-premise
      - Delivering the service on any public cloud
      - All applications developed on the PAAS will natively support elasticity and cloud burst to supported public cloud
      - All applications developed will be testable, manageable & recoverable
      - Only one version of application code should be required, regardless of where it is deployed
      - Existing apps written in Java or .net can by default work on the PAAS without changes (this is dream), and still provide elasticity.

Do remember, once the PAAS becomes mature, SAAS offering will flourish. This means more choices for consumers of cloud services.

Cloud and Big Data: Is there a Relation between the two

As Rodney Brown mentioned in his latest post "Nonprofit May Help Ease Big-Data Talent Shortage" that Big Data is one of the most hyped and least known areas of the Cloud Ecosystem.  Big Data and Cloud, isn't these 2 different areas all together? How do they really come together?

Big Data is all about extracting VALUE  out of "Variety, Velocity and Volume" (3V) from the Information Assets available, while Cloud focuses on On-Demand, Elastic, Scalable, Pay-Per use Self Service models. The question often asked is then what is the relationship between Cloud and Big Data. Why are these two entirely different areas discussed together?

Anyone who has used "Elastic Map Reduce" on Amazon would immediately appreciate one of the most evident aspect of this relationship. Big Data need large on-demand compute power and distributed storage to crunch the 3V data problem and Cloud seamlessly provides this elastic on-demand compute required for the same. With the "Apache Hadoop", the de-facto standard for Big Data processing, the big data processing has been more batch oriented in the current state. The burst workload nature of the Big Data Computing Infrastructure makes it a true case for the Cloud. Amazon "Elastic Map Reduce" demonstrates how Big Data processing can be done leveraging the power of Cloud Elastic Computes. But is that the only part of this relationship between Cloud and Big Data?

On a deeper look, the other patterns of this relationship emerge. 

Cloud has glorified the "As-a-Service" Model by hiding the complexity and challenges involving in building a scalable elastic self-service application. The same is the requirement for Big Data Processing. Hadoop in a similar way hides the complexity of the large scale distributed processing from the end user perspective. The user write "Map-Reduce" programs or familiar known constructs with "Hive" or "Pig" and are able to seamless do the big data crunching without worrying about the complexity of node failures, linear scalability, replication, fault-tolerance elasticity etc., where Hadoop silently provides the large scale distributed capabilities behind the scene.  Thus the simplification provided by Cloud and Big data is the prime reason for the mass adoption of Big Data and Cloud. Amazon has just demonstrated how this simplification provided by the combination of Cloud and Big Data can increase the adoption of a seemingly complex problem of large scale distributed processing. The key here is SIMPLIFICATION!!

Both Cloud and Big Data is about delivering value to enterprise by lowering the cost of ownership. Cloud brings this through the Pay-per user model turning CAPEX to OPEX while Apache open source has brought down the licensing cost of such a sophisticated solution ideally which would have cost millions to build and buy. Both Big Data and Cloud has been driving the cost down for the enterprise and bringing VALUE to enterprise. We have witnessed the early adopters of the Big Data moving away from the Traditional Licensing Models to a more open-sourced model and thus lowering the overall Cost per Terabyte (TB) processing. Both Cloud and Big Data delivers value and the key is how agile the enterprises get to break the hurdles of enterprise open source adoption and jump into the Big Data Journey. 

Cloud and Big Data brings in data security and privacy concerns. This is where System Integrators has been building solutions that marry Cloud and Big Data within the Enterprise to build Elastic Scalable Private Cloud Solution to bring in the same value which enterprises can leverage to bring a Scalable Distributed Processing in action within the enterprise. Again we could see the similarity between Cloud and Big Data with respect to Security Concerns and how innovative solutions could drive these adoptions within the enterprise.

"Analytics as a Service" is the buzz these days and providing on-demand Analytics to enterprise is the wave to follow. We explore this in aspect of the relationship between Cloud and BigData in our next post. Till then stay tuned.!!

May 24, 2013

Microsoft can extend its Windows run on the Cloud

While I am preparing my trip for Microsoft World Wide Partner Conference (WWPC) 2012 happening in Toronto during second week of July, I was referring to the notes which I captured during the previous events. What really caught my eyes were some key messages delivered during 2010 WWPC which happened at Washington DC. Steve Ballmer in his key note mentioned that Microsoft is transforming itself into a cloud services company and 70 percent of Microsoft developers are working on cloud services. This was followed by the message to partners to "Lead with cloud, Build, Tell, Sell and Support". Microsoft's big bets on cloud were clearly evident throughout the partner conference in 2010 where 70% and more of the sessions were around Microsoft cloud products be it Public or Private Cloud and SaaS or PaaS offerings. It was the first wave of Microsoft message to partners to gear up to support its Windows run on cloud. 

If you look back, this strategy from Microsoft didn't happen overnight. The preparations started way back in 2005 when Ray Ozzie released an exciting internal memo to Microsoft employees outlining the competitive landscape, the opportunities and future steps for Microsoft's strategy to deliver on a portfolio of seamless software + services. I recollect majority of us during that timeframe ignored it and continued implementing Windows XP's, Windows Server 2003, Office 2003 and kept exploring the power of .NET applications and XML web services on premises.

Later during 2008 Ray further advanced his software + services strategy and highlighted the power of choice for business while embracing cloud, which set the beginning for the enhanced set of products and services from Microsoft extending its powerful in premise story to cloud. This was followed with an announcement of Windows Live and Microsoft business productivity online services. This was the beginning of cloud being one of the mainstream focus. 

The 2011 WWPC which happened in Los Angeles highlighted Microsoft's huge investments on building data centers across the world and the product line enhancements to entice adoption. Today I believe Microsoft has become one of the largest and most influential players in the cloud for enterprise, SMB and consumer space. Windows Azure today is mature and extensive, unlike the competitors provides both IaaS and PaaS capability. Microsoft has turned its most influential Windows based business productivity application "Microsoft office" as a cloud app. Along with this Microsoft also offers its most popular collaboration and messaging suite comprising of Microsoft Exchange, SharePoint, Lync as a SaaS solution branded as O365. To add to this is its recently unveiled SaaS offering "Microsoft Dynamics" CRM online. They also have the right synergy across public and private cloud for Identity, virtualization, management and application development. Earlier this week Microsoft announced its acquisition of Yammer a social networking company to extend its cloud services with best-in-class enterprise social networking. What more do we need to believe that Microsoft will extend its run on Cloud ?

I am sure the 2012 WWPC will have more exciting announcements re iterating their strategy as a cloud services company.

My roadtrip to the South for the Windows Azure Spring Release

I am just back from a roadtrip to Chennai, the capital of the state of Tamil Nadu in South India. Chennai is one of the IT hubs in India, that houses thousands of  IT professionals. Initially, I was reluctant to leave the cool and comfortable mediteranean climate of Bangalore to go to Chennai for a day, a city that is famous for its sweltering heat and humidity. I went there because of two primary reasons - I got to speak to over 1000 Microsoft technology enthusiasts, something I always enjoy. The second reason, but more important one was that it was the occasion of the the Windows Azure Camp,  The event that happened on June 21st was the official announcement from Microsoft of their much awaited enhancement around Windows Azure (Spring Release). Microsoft has been unveiling this spring release the world over and it is an important event for developers and IT professionals and technology decision makers to discover and familiarize new services and capabilities of the Windows Azure platform. Beyond this it gave them a platform to interact with Cloud experts who work and enable these technologies across multiple use cases to address the real world scenarios. 

I was invited because Infosys is one of the top System Integrators across the world for Windows Azure. That I was the only Cloud Technology expert from any SI to have been invited and be part of this launch keynote made it more special. I just decided to share my experiences and success stories with clients on Windows Azure. I shared our views on how the enhanced platform can address broader client scenarios. With the spring release Windows Azure has become equally exciting for both developers and Infrastructure experts. Windows Azure will no longer be just a platform as a service (PaaS) which was a developers panorama, will have a new capability that will function as Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) that will run Windows and Linux instances and their related applications. There has been some major enhancements to the existing services as well new service addition. With this Windows Azure can be a preferred platform for Dev / Test environment as well as lifting and shifting Windows and Linux VM's.

The earlier PaaS capability is now known as Azure cloud service, new IaaS capability is called Azure Virtual Machine and there is one more capability for hosting websites which is known as Azure websites. Beyond this there are few new network caging capabilities like Azure connect and Azure virtual network to enable cross premise connectivity scenarios. It was an excited and packed crowd of around 1000 who turned up at the Chennai Trade Center for the event, dominated by the developer community along with infrastructure experts. The folks with whom I interacted were keen to know how enterprise clients are adopting the public platform and how the platform addresses their security and other compliance requirements. Few of them expressed that application mobility in a hybrid scenario with VM's moving across on premise and cloud will be really exciting in addressing most of the scenarios they come across with their clients. Few of them were keen to know the e commerce possibilities. The dev and test scenarios especially SharePoint and SQL servers were also highlighted. 

As I left the city in the evening, the heat and the humidity of Chennai were forgotten, what remain in my memory was the promise of this new cloud offering from Microsoft, enriching experience of interacting with over a 1000 enthusiastic cloud technologists  and how excited everybody is about what the Cloud can do for enterprises worldwide.

The Cloud is real and underway and it is not going away, let's embrace it with both hands and enjoy the benefits.

The business case for Cloud is in the opportunity for Transformation

The inevitability of the Cloud has led several enterprises to embark on their Cloud journey. However, in transforming their IT and data centers, enterprises seem to be pushing more of their IT onto private clouds than public. This trend essentially is driven by the value drawn out of IT investment maximization through the private cloud. Private clouds offer greater stability in terms of localized control, security and closer adherence standards. Additionally, private clouds make it easy for seamless cloud adoption and set the stage for setting up and managing a hybrid cloud ecosystem as the organization attains scale and is eventually prepared to make this transition. It is important to note that the private cloud is more often than not the first step in an enterprise's journey to Cloud adoption.  

So the business case for Cloud cannot be built on short-term gains of cost, but on long-term vision and opportunity of what the Cloud as a capability can deliver to the business. The value from Cloud is truly transformational in nature and an excellent example is in the case of our client Ricoh and what we are doing for them in Europe. Ricoh wanted essentially create an scalable, flexible and agile platform for themselves and wanted to rationalize their data centers across Europe while contributing to reducing carbon footprint and energy optimization. 

The Ricoh Private Cloud delivered by the project team comprising Ricoh's and Infosys' Cloud experts is a part of the company's move to centralize its IT infrastructure for all its operations across Europe, with the aim of creating a more efficient IT environment. It is a critical building block in enabling Ricoh employees and clients to access applications and data securely from wherever they are in Europe with any device. The project is another contributor to Ricoh's overall environmental strategy where by 2050 it plans to reduce energy consumption by 87.5%. It will remove more than 1000 servers across EMEA and will result in a reduction of 16.8k tonnes of Co2, the equivalent to emissions from 3350 cars. For our efforts we were awarded the Green IT award for this project.  

So while the truth is that we are helping Ricoh bring down the cost of infrastructure by almost 30%, the business impact of contributing to an environmental initiative makes the case of Cloud adoption more compelling in the case of Ricoh. Such is the way business cases of Cloud need to be built - be it for infrastructure, platform, applications or even data on the Cloud. 

Big Data for Retailers is an opportunity they can't afford to lose

I was watching one my company's clients Simon Hawkes, the COO AIMIA and Fiachra Woodman, the IT Director (you can watch the video here at "the future of retail analytics in a world of big data" ) talk about new trends emerging and how the world in the future will be driven by social and mobile channels more than anything else and how the data explosion will pave the way for a new way of consuming and applying analytics. The video is important and pertinent and has set me off on a serious contemplation of how 'data' is important to retailer and how Big Data opening up new opportunities for Retailers. 

Data in corporate entities traditionally stay in 'closet' , to be stored, protected and retrieved.  The IT function as we know today used to be known as EDP- 'electronic data processing'. With data being the center of universe of IT asset, corporations and service providers always tried to treat data as corporate capital attribute rather as a performing asset. The retail industry, distinct from others, has been dependent on several of kinds of data at every step of their business operations and planning. Until recently, forecasting, pricing analysis, business modeling required significant investments in sophisticated technology tools for data extraction, transformation and analysis. Extracting value out of data depended on how sophisticated i.e., expensive, the business planning needed to be. Therefore, there was always a tendency to put data into 'closet' as it was considered expensive and not necessarily an economic currency.

The emergence of unsolicited, (a.k.a 'unstructured data') and available freely outside of corporate domain engendered a market place for 'data'. These data as they reside outside of corporate domain do not require any corporate capital for processing and monetizing. Progressively, three key trends- relevance & growth of data in and outside of corporate domain, the distributed ownership, the viability of distributed computing led to emergence of market place for data. The market place led to raise of several players such as technology providers, valuers, processors, consumers, buyers and sellers. Like in any free market place, the underlying asset came to be valued and monetized by players in the market place. This led to look at data as 'performing asset'.

The growth of data in the retail space is exemplified by the oft repeated example of Wal-Mart's transaction volumes of 1 million/hour translating into 2.5 petabytes of data. In addition many of Wal-Mart consumers' authored blogs providing key pointers to business demand.  Simultaneously, the break- through technologies like (MPP) databases, search-based applications, data-mining grids, distributed file systems, distributed databases, cloud computing platforms, the Internet, and scalable storage systems became main stream.

A case in point in the data economy is about an intermediary who delivered a service using client loyalty data for a very large retail grocery chain. This case involved a retailer/principal owner of structured data providing meta- data regarding consumer purchases to a service provider and the service provider playing the role of an integrator. The intermediary or service provider integrated and processed, at near real time, both retailer owned structured data and publicly authored unstructured data.  The service provider then augmented the integrated data, developed analytics and made available custom demand profiles, demographics, behavioral analytics and preferences on a subscription basis. The supply chain vendors of the principal retailer found the on-demand and near time availability of integrated data profiles very valuable. This has led to complete realization by corporations to view data as a revenue asset. This case is illustrative of realization of an economy that changed data being a passive asset to a source of revenue for multiple partners. In the above case, the retailer and owner of data was the biggest beneficiary as ownership was absolute while processing, storage and distribution costs were distributed and near zero. The realized value translates to tangible improvements in both operating margins and free cash to principal owner of data.

Retailers' upstream & downstream partners, consumers, technology partners form the data market place that provide significant positive impact to retailers operations.

Information Management is changing with Big Data in the room

Big Data generated a big buzz in recent days and organizations are suddenly thinking of leveraging this as one the critical focus area for their enterprise wide overall Information Management strategy.

There is huge amount of data within an enterprise's trusted data systems, unstructured content and in public domain especially in social media. The biggest fact is that data, both individual as well as those in enterprises, is growing "Bigger and Bigger" and the old systems, software and tools are becoming or already are, redundant. Big Data as we call it now needs right set of technologies, products and solutions to - handle it, process it and get meaningful insights for the business. 

Our Traditional Data Warehouse solutions have reached near to the end of scalability and there is need for the Next Generation Information Management Strategy leveraging Big Data. With the power of distributed computing being unleashed with technologies like Hadoop, the limitations of these traditional data warehouse solutions are being looked at seriously.

As an information management practitioner for years and a solution architect who walks and talks Big Data these days, I see this as an opportunity. An opportunity to leverage the Cloud and bring all the data that into one single comprehensive strategy. 

Big Data as a capability changes the paradigm of information management completely. Extraction, Enrichment, Organization and Management of Semi, Unstructured and Multi-structured content and media is the immediate need and the Next Generation Data Warehouse solutions need to manage this ever growing unstructured content and enrich existing trusted data with information nuggets and unleash the potential of ad-hoc analytics.  

With the technologies like Hadoop taking center stage and the capabilities of distributed computing available easily, the wave has begun for the next generation of Information Management where we will see more of intelligent search and indexing, Machine learning and Natural Language Processing in action. 

The impact that it will have on Analytics is huge and what used to take hours can now take only a few minutes. With the elastic capability of Cloud and the accuracy and speed of Big Data constructs, decision makers will suddenly have actionable intelligence in a matter of seconds and minutes instead of hours and days. This has the potency to completely transform the way business plan their business growth in the future. 

Welcome to the new world of Information Management where the enterprises will define their leadership in the marketplace by the speed with which they  adapt their processes and systems to tap the power of Big Data and Analytics. Information Management has changed because Big Data has arrived!