Tuesday, November 3, 2009

What Should a Cloud Provide

To me the single most important question I have never been asked is "What Should a Cloud Provide." I've been asked what do Cloud providers provide, and at what cost, and what solutions are available. But nobody has taken the question up a notch which to me means the focus is on application instead of understanding. We shouldn't limit our discussion to what's available. In such a nascent market we should define what we need, then tell the providers who can in turn react and build the services deemed most valuable to the market. So what should a cloud provide?

Nearly Unlimitted Bandwidth
It may sound impossible however cloud computing is predicated on having bandwidth available on demand. Workloads and data need to be shifted around the infrastructure at a moment's notice which means the network cannot be a constraint. This is a tremendous opportunity for the telco's to build out additional network bandwidth. More so this is a tremendous opportunity for telco's to deliver cloud services themselves out of their existing data centers.

Storage without Backup
Storage on a large scale is cheap. Amazon S3 provides 50TB of storage for $90k/yr. At those costs I can keep three copies of every file and eliminate ALL the costs of backup and recovery for less than the fully loaded cost of three administrators. And costs go down as volume increases.

Resources On Demand
This is the easy one but when additional processors are required they must be available, fully provisioned, within minutes if not seconds. From bare metal to fully loaded with application and all shouldn't take more than 15min. And although today we are bound by the limitations of processor type or operating system, now that technologists see them as barriers new solutions will evolve to minimize their impact.

On Demand Management Tools
Four important tools to learn and love are provisioning engines, orchestrators, schedulers, and service level managers. Provisioning engines which grab extra resources and put them into the correct pool when demand is high, and move resources out of the pool when demand subsides. Orchestrators observe the changes in traffic and determine when resources should be added or removed by the provisioning engine. Schedulers determine where jobs should run within the cloud and communicate with the orchestrators to ensure the required footprint is available. Finally the service level manager watches over all the applications and intercedes whenever an application threatens to miss its service level targets. At times this may require ramping down usage of non-critical applications in preference of critical applications.

Metering and Chargebacks/Billing
Cloud only makes sense with the economic model of paying by consumption when consumption and its associated cost are communicated. Usage must be metered and the costs must reflect the consumption. Although some costs will still make sense to allocate, the majority of costs must move to a chargeback model.

Interoperability
Clouds are clouds and as such the barriers between them are security based. Clouds must be able to share data, services, and infrastructure otherwise instead of cloud one ends up with a larger silo. The future value of cloud will be the new capabilities which are unlocked in such areas as collaboration, supply chain integration, business intelligence, and federated control. Security checkpoints will be important but should be the only barrier to integrating clouds.

Business Rules
Since a cloud is a consumption driven model there need to be business rules which govern consumption. Looking at healthcare today, what drove the high cost was the elimination of barriers to access. We made healthcare easy through co-pays and low deductibles. The easier something is, the more people will use it which results in a tilting of the supply and demand scale. In response either supply increase or prices will rise. So in the cloud we need business rules to govern consumption so it doesn't outstrip supply. What rights are required to execute an application? Who has the necessary rights? Who can grant rights? When will external resources be used? I believe that just as we did in the mobile telecommunications industry, at some point tiered pricing will enter cloud computing and rates will be higher during the day than overnight. When this change occurs it could have a dramatic impact on the costs of a cloud solution.

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