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Posts Tagged ‘cloud computing’

serverless-computingAs recently reported in the Wall Street Journal (10-27-16), expect the next wave of computing that will be widely adopted later this decade as the cloud grows more ubiquitous to be “serverless” computing.

The word is so new, spell-checkers don’t even know about it yet.  As GE’s CTO, Chris Drumgoole commented, it’s what the “cool kids” are thinking about.

Serverless computing is the logical evolution of physical and virtual servers, where the servers used to run applications become invisible to the developers building applications.  GE’s Drumgoole expects the technology to really take off next decade.

Serverless computing “allows developers to focus only on writing code without having to manage the servers” – essentially make the process “serverless” to the customer.

As the Journal’s Sara Castellanos describes it: “The provider runs the customer’s application on its own servers or inside “containers,” where they are broken into small pieces and placed into software shells, allowing the pieces to be distributed to any sort of device, in a digitally orchestrated manner, and at lower cost.”

Speculation is that customer IT departments might then “pay the provider every time their code is triggered, instead of doling out cash upfront for machines or virtual servers that they may not need.”  This is not unlike the way Amazon (via AWS) and Microsoft (via Azure) offer up their own cloud services to users today.

It’s the logical evolution begun a few years ago as physical servers began giving way to virtual ones.

Pioneers in the area today already include IBM, Alphabet (Google) and Amazon Web Services.  The AWS offering, called Lambda, allows software developers to write applications and upload their code to its service, where Lambda manages the code and runs it on AWS servers.  It executes that code at scale and bills for every millisecond the code is triggered, thus eliminating the need for customers to buy or maintain any physical servers.

It’s all part of the continuing shift to the cloud.  The Journal concludes by pointing out that “it is particularly useful when running applications for internet-connected devices such as Amazon’s Echo, because the apps require massive amounts of requests of short duration.”

Welcome to the future.

 

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cloud_economistA recent article in The Economist (Aug 30, 2014) reminds us again that companies are embracing the cloud much more slowly than its proponents had expected.

According to research firm IDC, businesses will spend about $100 billion on cloud computing this year.  That sounds like a lot, until you put it up against the roughly $2 trillion that companies will spent overall on I.T.  That’s about 5% of computing budgets, including large companies, going to the cloud.  A bit underwhelming, considering all the press and the hype of the past few years.

To overcome this reluctance, the big cloud storage providers – like Amazon, Google and Microsoft – are slashing cloud storage prices radically.  Prices are likely to fall even further.  The article quotes marketing firm IPG Mediabrands CIO Samuel Chesterman, saying “Every cloud provider will bend over backwards to match rivals’ prices.”

The cloud promises and indeed probably presages a Cheap Revolution.  It should make storage cheaper and cheaper, while bringing down the cost of managing applications.  And indeed, for things like file storage and archiving, email and a host of web services it has.

But in other areas, inroads have been modest at best.  In one of our previous (March 27th) posts, we noted Panorama Consulting’s recent survey that indicated that cloud usage in the ERP space had suffered a severe decline (of nearly 50%) in the past year.

Meanwhile, security foibles are certainly not helping cloud’s reputation.  The recent and much ballyhooed scare over hacked celebrity photos from Apple’s iCloud, along with recent Internet outages at places like Facebook are not helping.

But in the long run, these are merely speed bumps.  I’ve long held the view that the cloud is inevitable.  More tangibly, the cloud will be to the 21st century what the grid was to the 20th: always on, ubiquitous, everywhere.  It’s just a matter of time.

And in the short run?  Probably, a hybrid-cloud solution makes the most sense.  You utilize the cloud for the uses for which it’s optimized.  Again, storage… backup… email… and an unending library of applications.

But for the business world, some things are just too valuable – and the cloud still immature and insecure – to risk it all.  For these applications – and our specialty, ERP for manufacturers, surely fits this bill – local hosting still makes sense.  If I’m a small business owner, I want to be able to walk down that hall, pat that server on its proverbial head, and know that my data and applications are right there where I can see them.  With sufficient backup and power precautions, I know I’ll rarely be down for long, and I know my data can be kept safely where it is.

To be sure, precautions are necessary.  I.T. providers exist for a reason you know.  But at the end of the day, with my business on the line, I want my data secure, my applications local, and my business away from the eyes of snoops, hacks, even the government (nowadays).

Give cloud its due.  Hybrid too.  And local hosting.  For everything there is a season.

In the meantime, try to keep your nude selfies to a minimum.

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cloud concernsCustomers often look to us for preliminary guidance about cloud solutions.  That makes a recent Wall Street Journal article discussing new concerns over the cloud timely.

Our stock answer of course is: it depends.  At our own company, we have completely outsourced our Outlook email needs to a cloud based provider.  For a minimal fee we have company wide access on multiple devices with pretty much 100% uptime.  It’s saved our IT guy countless hours of updates and patches and futzing that would otherwise be required (and were required before) with a self-hosted Outlook.  I can’t think of a single problem related to email cloud hosting that we’ve had.  It’s a reasonable application for the cloud, and a mature one.  It works.  And frankly, even if it didn’t – for awhile – it wouldn’t be the end of the world or the downfall of the firm.

So for email, for backup, and for any number of non-mission-critical applications, it just makes good sense.  Besides, as we’ve often noted, cloud will become to this century what the grid was to the last: ubiquitous and permanent.  Just use it wisely.

But as the Journal article points out, for a business, there are issues you must think about.  Nearly half of all small businesses today reported using the cloud.  And about three-fourths of those manage that internally.  But owners still need, notes the Journal, “to oversee a host of everyday IT operations around their own offices.  And it introduces technical considerations they may never have thought of.”

The big one: speed.  You’ll generally need more bandwidth.  And not just download speeds, but upload speeds as well, especially if you’re storing lots of data online.  There is a risk of significant lost productivity due to poor performance.  One expert points out that a business needs “at least 3 MB of synchronous upload/download for every 10 users.”  A conservative estimate at that, we’d say.

And you’re still going to be running a lot of in-house computers regardless, each with its own requisite support and hardware requirements.  Just keeping up with the required security profiles alone may be enough to cause balding in a business owner. 

Also worth noting is what protections the cloud company has in place, whether the data is mined for marketing, and how data is encrypted.  And if a cloud provider suddenly folds its business due to economic pressures… well, let’s not even go there.  Even if you wish to switch cloud providers, how exactly does your company data go from Point A to Point B?

For these and a host of other reasons, we find very few small business owners, once they’re informed of the perils, willing to risk putting everything in the cloud – like accounting, manufacturing and the like.  Most cloud vendors offering such solutions today have proven to be challenged just to break even, though admittedly, it’s still early in the game.  Eventually, we think, some of the connectivity and security issues will be surmounted, and one day (just not this one), the world of ERP will be ready to embrace the cloud more fully. It’s coming, to be sure.  It’s just not here today, fully formed.

 

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cloud pic8In our prior two posts (here and here) we described the fundamentals of cloud computing, and looked at today’s three modes of deployment (public, private, hybrid) and three modes of service (SaaS, PaaS, IasS).  Right after we wrote those two posts, we came across an article in the Jan. 10th issue of the Wall Street Journal that we think puts all this into pretty good perspective.  We’ll recap highlights from that article here today…

According to the Journal report, in 2011 cloud spending in the U.S. accounted for around 7% of the $53 billion spent on all IT (Information Technology) expenditures.  That’s a pretty small, though growing, share.  Some businesses can save substantially by outsourcing various aspects of their infrastructure to cloud providers. 

But business owners and managers also need to be aware of the downsides, which to most small business owners include concerns over security and lack of control over their own data. There is still a measure of confidence to be gained by the knowledge that an owner can walk down the hall to his own servers, on his own premises, under his own power, and know that the software and the data that he runs his business on is a very tangible, controllable asset.  And while cloud data centers can rightfully boast of “five nines” (99.999%) data backup and redundancy, there’s nothing like being able to see it and touch it. 

That sense is if anything heightened the first time you’re running a cloud app and “the Internet goes down.”  (We know the feeling.)  Whether it’s a router problem in house, or a provider issue at a link in Chicago, or a power issue… it matters little when it’s your company that’s down.  And it does happen.  Witness Amazon’s scare last summer when electrical storms cut power to ten data centers around Washington, D.C. and the generators they shut down left thousands ‘off the grid’.

This leads one to the same conclusion as the Journal points out: “Operating servers both on-site and in the cloud is a very effective way of reducing risk… Business owners should make the decision based on the support they have available.”

In other words, while you can put things like file backup and email safely into the cloud – applications where a few hours or even a day of down time won’t kill you – companies are still best advised to keep the mission critical stuff (financials, order processing, etc.) on local resources where you stay in control. 

Quoting the Journal again, “Financial benefits and convenience aside, some entrepreneurs are still wary of the security risks.  The top drawback for small businesses adopting cloud services in 2012 was data security, according to IDC research.”

The prudent owner will step into the cloud gently, carefully.  That’s the essence of prudence, after all.  Start with something like off-site backup, or moving your email to the cloud, especially if you currently run Microsoft’s Exchange Server in-house.  The reduced internal IT expense, in both hardware and staff time can easily make the move cost justifiable.  We’ve found that the uptime, the remote (out of office) capabilities and the overall responsiveness are every bit as good as when we ran our email ourselves.  Except now we’ve freed up valuable IT resources for more important tasks – like client application development.

But when it comes to core operational tasks like your ERP or financial system, we advise heeding the advice of my old Slovenian grandfather (and apparent cloud expert), who said it best half a century ago: “Take it slow, keep it go.”

 

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cloud pic6In our previous post here we gave a brief description of “cloud” computing and described its three main types of deployment: Public, Private, and Hybrid.  Today we’ll finish up by describing the three major cloud service models: Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS).

The most common type of cloud service has been around for years, and is commonly known as (SaaS, pronounced sass) or software as a service.  It provides a complete software application, served up from the Internet (thus, it’s a ‘service’), normally via your standard web browser (i.e., Explorer, Chrome, Firefox, etc.).  At it’s best, SaaS reduces upfront capital costs for hardware (PCs, etc.) in the office, and can get up and running quickly.  As an example, Google Docs offers a suite of software applications from the cloud that provide a competitor to Microsoft Office (Word, Excel, Powerpoint, etc.)  Of course, Microsoft itself offers Microsoft Office 365 to exploit similar capabilities.  Utilizing this service, users can be anywhere in the world where they have an Internet connection and a browser, and tap into, edit, update and share their documents worldwide.

Platform as a Service is geared toward application developers (again, via a web browser) and provides the underlying infrastructure and development tools needed to build and deploy cloud applications that are delivered on demand.  It allows developers to stay current with the latest tools in their arena, and enables them to stay more productive.  It’s intended to shorten the time and effort required for in-house developers to develop, modify and distribute their applications across a broad base of users.

Finally, Infrastructure as a Service provides network builders and architects with computing, storage and networking resources on a foundation built for scalability and flexibility.  Companies like Amazon and Microsoft, among many others, are building out these mega-platforms that they intend to have serve the future of computing needs for thousands, even millions of users and firms worldwide.  Think of these as the next utility “grid”.  The payoff will be in terms of lowered infrastructure costs for users (it’s a pay as you go rental model) that can scale immediately: all you have to do is contract for more resources.  You no longer have to build it, or buy and manage the hardware, you simply open the spigot (and the wallet) to more service.  You don’t spend money on resources you don’t need or use, and conversely, when you do need more, those resources are there quickly. 

As readers will note, cloud is real, it’s here today, and it’s growing quickly.  Knowing which parts of the cloud paradigm are right for you, and when, is of course a much more complicated question, one best discussed with your IT provider.  It’s a technology platform that is both inevitable, and in the earliest of stages.  It took the Internet to make it possible.  And it took a couple decades to make the Internet ubiquitous.  Look for cloud computing to have just as much impact on your life and business – only probably faster.

 

 

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You can’t live in the information technology age today and not hear the constant drumbeat of “cloud”.  Today, we’ll look briefly at the major initiatives afloat in the cloud universe today, and what they mean to a small business.  Some of the information below comes courtesy of CDW, a leading provider of hardware and infrastructure products and services to the IT world.

On its simplest level of course, cloud is simply using the Internet as a computer resource.  You probably already do this today.  Your email is likely served up from the cloud, or Internet, if you’re using a service like yahoo or gmail.  When you shop at Amazon, you’re using cloud based services.  For some folks, even your phone system might be lodged in the cloud (called VOIP, or voice over internet protocol), much as we do at PSSI.  So in its simplest form, if you use a PC or mobile device, you’re already in the cloud.

But for the benefit of our many small and midsize business customers, cloud options today can basically be best divided into two major groups: deployment (of which there are three main varieties) and service models (again, featuring three choices).  We’ll look at the deployment options first, in today’s post:

There are three main options from which to choose in a cloud model: public, private and hybrid.

Public clouds are built and managed usually by large service providers who deliver their computing resources based on agreements they negotiate with their customers.  These services cover a range of possibilities, from complete solutions that include a company’s entire IT infrastructure and development environments, to more modest offerings like email or sales force management.  The advantage of a public cloud is its scalability (ability to grow larger, fast) and the fact that it frees up an IT staff from many of the mundane tasks like managing your network and the constant upgrades and fine-tuning that come with it.

Private clouds are a cluster of shared resources that can scale well enough, but are designed and managed solely for the needs of their (private) owners.  The internal IT staff (or perhaps an outside contractor/provider) still manages this type of cloud, and the scalability is limited to the resources and investments of the organization (or company) that owns it.  On the plus side however, that company can then tailor the cloud resources and experience to its own liking and, for better and for worse, manage the underlying security directly for greater, and more private, control of those resources.

Hybrid clouds are a mix of the public and the private, intended to combine the strengths of both.  Thus, a company might put a mission critical application such as its ERP or financial system within its own data center for a heightened sense of control and security, but link itself to a public cloud to take advantage of the scalability of those other resources – again, an external email system that is based in a public cloud can provide access to all users in your company, even as you keep the financial side local and private (exactly, by the way, what we do at our company).

In the second of this two part post, we’ll look at the three “service models” available in the cloud.  Stay tuned…

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The following pros and cons were posited by Doug Henschen of TechWeb.com in the April 9, 2012 issue of InformationWeek magazine.  In it, Henschen discusses Microsoft’s plans to deliver its ERP software as cloud services.

While cloud-based demand for ERP is in its nascent stages, and by our observation very limited, cloud-based ERP does represent a long-term future strategy.  My opinion is that the cloud is to the 21st century what the (electric) grid was to the 20th.  It’s inevitable, and will be come ubiquitous, though the pace of adoption is still anyone’s guess (and thus far, slow, but accelerating).  Following are a few Pros, then Cons, postulated by Henschen in his article, which begins on page 16 of the current issue…

>Pro: Dynamics apps (like Microsoft Dynamics NAV which, by way of disclaimer, our firm has long sold, deployed and implemented for clients throughout theMidwest) look like and tightly integrate with Office and SharePoint.

>Pro: Microsoft’s could apps are the same as its on-premise apps.  While competitors may offer one (on-premise) or the other (cloud), Microsoft’s strategy is to offer both.

>Pro: Microsoft supports hybrid deployment scenarios.  Moving to the cloud need not be an either-or proposition.  Microsoft lets you use different options depending on your role or workload.  We’ll see more about this in the future.

> Pro: Microsoft vows it will support rival platforms and mobile products.  Time will tell, but the track record is already good based on CRM support for Android and other devices.  Besides, it’s just good business.

> Pro: Microsoft has picked up the pace on app development, especially cloud apps.  NAV for example will be available as services on Azure by year-end.

>Pro: Microsoft is a blue-chip company.  Deep pockets and infrastructure count for a lot with customers.

Among the Cons, on the other hand…

>Con: The “first and best on Microsoft” philosophy raises doubts.  Will Android, Apple and others be second class citizens?  Microsoft has been forced to play catch-up in the mobile device worlds, so some question whether they’ll reserve the best experience for products with miniscule market share.  Or will it make its own mobile apps available well ahead of its rivals?

>Con: Microsoft’s long-term road map isn’t terribly visible.  It lets its general intentions be known, but details go only 6 to 8 months out.  In our view, this is nothing new, nor necessarily cause for alarm.  As resellers, we’ve seen them build out NAV remarkably, and hew to the roadmap pretty well.  This is a red herring in our opinion.  And who can be blamed for giving themselves a little wiggle room in the fast-changing tech world?

>Con: Microsoft isn’t the innovator.  Nothing particularly new here either.  It’s the tortoise in the race against the hare.  Hasn’t seemed to hurt the companies fortunes a good deal so far, has it?  In the balance between vision and market expectations, Microsoft sticks very successfully to the middle of the road.  Expect few changes here.

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