Canberra is a strange little microcosm. If you live here chances are you are either working directly for the government as a member of the public service or you’re part of an organisation that’s servicing said government. This is especially true in the field of IT as anyone with a respectable amount of IT experience can make a very good living working for any of the large department’s headquarters. I have made my IT career in this place and in my time here I’ve spent all of my time lusting after the cutting edge of technology whilst dealing with the realities of what large government departments actually need to function. As long time readers will be aware I’ve been something of a cloud junkie for a while now but not once have I been able to use it at my places of work, and there’s a good reason for that.
Not that you’d know that if you heard the latest bit of rhetoric from the current government which has criticised the current AGIMO APS ICT Strategy for providing only “notional” guidelines for using cloud base services. Whilst I’ll agree that the financial implications are rather cumbersome (although this is true of any procurement activity within the government, as anyone who’s worked in one can tell you) what annoyed me was the idea that security requirements were too onerous. The simple fact of the matter is that many government departments have regulatory and legal obligations not to use overseas cloud providers due to the legislation that restricts Australian government data from travelling outside our borders.
The technical term for this is data sovereignty and for the vast majority of the large government departments of Australia they’re legally bound to keep all their services, and the data that they rely on, on Australian soil. The legislation is so strict in this regard that even data that’s not technically sensitive, like say specifications of machines or network topologies, in some cases can’t be given to external vendors and must instead only be inspected on site. The idea then that governments could take advantage of cloud providers, most of which don’t have availability zones here in Australia, is completely ludicrous and no amount of IT strategy policies can change that.
Of course cloud providers aren’t unaware of these issues, indeed I’ve met with several people behind some of the larger public clouds on this, and many of them are bringing availability zones to Australia. Indeed Amazon Web Services has already made itself available here and Microsoft’s Azure platform is expected to land on our shores sometime next year. The latter is probably the more important of the two as if the next AGIMO policy turns out the way it’s intended the Microsoft cloud will be the defacto solution for light user agencies thanks to the heavy amount of Microsoft products in use at those places.
Whilst I might be a little peeved at the rhetoric behind the review of the APS ICT Strategy I do welcome it as even though it was only written a couple years ago it’s still in need of an update due to the heavy shift towards cloud services and user centric IT that we’ve seen recently. The advent of Australian availability zones will mean that the government agencies most able to take advantage of cloud services will finally be able to, especially with AGIMO policy behind them. Still it will be up to the cloud providers to ensure their systems can meet the requirements of these agencies and there’s still every possibility that they will still not be enough for some departments to take advantage of.
We’ll have to see how that pans out, however.
The public cloud is a great solution to a wide selection of problems however there are times when its use is simply not appropriate. This is typical of organisations who have specific requirements around how their data is handled, usually due to data sovereignty or regulatory compliance. However whilst the public cloud is a great way to bolster your infrastructure on the cheap (although that’s debatable when you start ramping up your VM size) it doesn’t take advantage of the current investments in infrastructure that you’ve already made. For large, established organisations this is not insignificant and is why many of them were reluctant to transition fully to public cloud based services. This is why I believe the future of the cloud will be paved with hybrid solutions, something I’ve been saying for years now.
Microsoft has finally shown that they’ve understood this with the release of Windows Azure Pack for Server 2012R2. Sure there was beginnings of it with SCVMM 2012 allowing you to add in your Azure account and move VMs up there but that kind of thing has been available for ages through hosting partners. The Azure Pack on the other hand brings features that were hidden behind the public cloud wall down to the private level, allowing you to make full use of it without having to rely on Azure. If I’m honest I thought that Microsoft would probably be the only ones to try this given their presence in both the cloud and enterprise space but it seems other companies have begun to notice the hybrid trend.
Google has been working with the engineers at Red Hat to produce the Test Compatibility Kit for Google App Engine. Essentially this kit provides the framework for verifying the API level functionality of a private Google App Engine implementation, something which is achievable through an application called CapeDwarf. The vast majority of the App Engine functionality is contained within that application, enough so that current developers on the platform could conceivably use their code using on premises infrastructure if they so wished. There doesn’t appear to be a bridge between the two currently, like there is with Azure, as CapeDwarf utilizes its own administrative console.
They’ve done the right thing by partnering with RedHat as otherwise they’d lack the penetration in the enterprise market to make this a worthwhile endeavour. I don’t know how much presence JBoss/OpenShift has though so it might be less of using current infrastructure and more about getting Google’s platform into more places than it currently is. I can’t seem to find any solid¹ market share figures to see how Google currently rates compared to the other primary providers but I’d hazard a guess they’re similar to Azure, I.E. far behind Rackspace and Amazon. The argument could be made that such software would hurt their public cloud product but I feel these kinds of solutions are the foot in the door needed to get organisations thinking about using these services.
Whilst my preferred cloud is still Azure I’m still a firm believer that the more options we have to realise the hybrid dream the better. We’re still a long way from having truly portable applications that can move between freely between private and public platforms but the roots are starting to take hold. Given the rapid pace of IT innovation I’m confident that the next couple years will see the hybrid dream fully realised and then I’ll finally be able to stop pining for it.
¹This article suggests that Microsoft has 20% of the market which, since Microsoft has raked in $1 billion, would peg the total market at some $5 billion total which is way out of line with what Gartner says. If you know of some cloud platform figures I’d like to see them as apart from AWS being number 1 I can’t find much else.
As longtime readers will know I’m quite keen on Microsoft’s Azure platform and whilst I haven’t released anything on it I have got a couple projects running on it right now. For the most part it’s been great as previously I’d have to spend a lot of time getting my development environment right and then translate that onto another server in order to make sure everything worked as expected. Whilst this wasn’t beyond my capability it was more time burnt in activities that weren’t pushing the project forward and was often the cause behind me not wanting to bother with them anymore.
Of course as I continue down the Azure path I’ve run into the many different limitations, gotchas and ideology clashes that have caused me several headaches over the past couple years. I think most of them can be traced back to my decision to use Azure Table Storage as my first post on Azure development is how I ran up against some of the limitations I wasn’t completely aware of and this continued with several more posts dedicated to overcoming the shortcomings of Microsoft’s NOSQL storage backend. Since then I’ve delved into other aspects of the Azure platform but today I’m not going to talk about any of the technology per se, no today I’m going to tell you about what happens when you hit your subscription/spending limit, something which can happen with only a couple mouse clicks.
I’m currently on a program called Microsoft BizSpark a kind of partner program whereby Microsoft and several other companies provide resources to people looking to build their own start ups. Among the many awesome benefits I get from this (including a MSDN subscription that gives me access to most of the Microsoft catalogue of software, all for free) Microsoft also provides me with an Azure subscription that gives me access to a certain amount of resources. Probably the best part of this offer is the 1500 hours of free compute time which allows me to run 2 small instances 24/7. Additionally I’ve also got access to the upcoming Azure Websites functionality which I used for a website I developed for a friend’s wedding. However just before the wedding was about to go ahead the website suddenly became unavailable and I went to investigate why.
As it turned out I had somehow hit my compute hours limit for that month which results in all your services being suspended until the rollover period. It appears this was due to me switching the website from the free tier to the shared tier which then counts as consuming compute hours whenever someone hits the site. Removing the no-spend block on it did not immediately resolve the issue however a support query to Microsoft saw the website back online within an hour. However my other project, the one that would be chewing up the lion’s share of those compute hours, seemed to have up and disappeared even though the environment was still largely in tact.
This is in fact expected behaviour for when you hit either your subscription or spending limit for a particular month. Suspended VMs on Windows Azure don’t count as being inactive and will thus continue to cost you money even whilst they’re not in use. To get around this should you hit your spending limits those VMs will be deleted, saving you money but also causing some potential data loss. Now this might not be an issue for most people, for me all it entailed was republishing them from Visual Studio, but should you be storing anything critical on the local storage of an Azure role it will be gone forever. Whilst the nature of the cloud should make you wary of storing anything on non-permanent storage (like Azure Tables, SQL, blob storage) it’s still a gotcha that you probably wouldn’t be aware of until you ran into a situation similar to mine.
Like any platform there are certain aspects of Windows Azure that you have to plan for and chief among them is your spending limits. It’s pretty easy to simply put in your credit card details and then go crazy by provisioning as many VMs as you want but sooner or later you’ll be looking to put limits on it and it’s then that you have the potential to run into these kinds of issues.
Today started out pretty much like yesterday. I did my typical thing of staying up just a tad too late thanks to DOTA 2 and my terrible addiction to watching the Discovery Channel if its on the hotel TV (you should’ve seen the gold dredging showdown I watched, it was incredible television) meant I wasn’t at 100% when I got up but the smorgasbord of breakfast stuffs and coffee are a powerful motivator. Also it seems the combination of some good old fashioned delayed onset muscle soreness coupled with what I think is a mild cold has left me in less than stellar shape. Still I made it to all the sessions I planned to today and some of them really impressed me, not least of which was PowerShell V3.0
I won’t go into terrible detail about it here as my post tomorrow on LifeHacker will give a better rundown of the features but suffice to say I’m excited to use it. It might be a long time before I get to see any of it in production (my current project is only just getting onto Windows 7) but I’ll probably be playing around with it at home as there’s an awful lot of good stuff in there that I could make use of. I’m probably going to have to sweet talk my way into a TechNet/MSDN subscription though as I don’t have access to one at the moment (nudge nudge wink wink Microsoft).
I was also very impressed by the number of value add services available from Microsoft for any kind of application. Long time readers will know of the pains I had back when I thought that I was only 2 steps away from being the next Internet success story and it seems I’m not alone if Microsoft has put this much effort into giving us plebs some amazing things for free. I’ve actually got an application in the pipeline that I’ve been working on casually for the past couple weeks and I think it’s going to be a good candidate to try some of these services out and hopefully actually launch it instead of procrastinating endlessly.
There was one particular session I was rather disappointed in (Building Cross Device Mobile Applications Powered By SQL Azure Federations if you were wondering) as the name lead me to believe there’d be a heavy focus on the challenges of cross platform development. It wasn’t unfortunately as the majority of the session was dedicated to the back end infrastructure with the cross platform part of it amounting to little more than “We used MonoTouch”. That’s cool and all but it’s nothing I didn’t learn a year ago after an hour or so of Googling the different options. I can understand that they can’t really spend the majority of their time here spruiking another company’s product but that doesn’t stop me from feeling somewhat disappointed.
Tomorrow’s my last day here and thankfully it’ll be a relatively tame affair as my current condition coupled with the potential shenanigans that I might get up to at the Hype party that’s currently raging near me could leave me as an incoherent mess. I’ll power on though because I’m crazy like that and it’d be a right shame to let an opportunity like this go to waste because I wasn’t feeling perfect on the day.
Having been given the choice of coming up here late last night or early this morning I did what any enterprising person would do and elected to spend the extra night up here at the Gold Coast so I could enjoy a leisurely start to my day. It was worth it too as instead of having to get up at 4:30 in the morning I was able to stroll out of bed at 8am, wander aimlessly around Broadbeach for a while looking for food and then casually make my way over to my hotel for the rest of the week. After wasting a couple hours on Reddit waiting for the appointed hour to arrive I headed on down to the convention centre and met up with the guys from LifeHacker, Allure Media and the other contest winners. It was great to finally meet everyone and to put names to the faces (like Terry Lynch and Craig Naumann) and of course I didn’t at all mind that I was then presented with the shiny new ASUS Zenbook and Nokia Lumia 900 to take home. Whilst I’ve given the Zenbook something of a workout already I haven’t had a chance to play with the Lumia thanks to my sim being of the large variety and it needing a micro.
Hopefully I’ll get some time spare to sort that out tomorrow.
We then headed off for lunch where I met one of their videographers and talked shop with everyone for a good couple hours over steak, wine and honeycomb bark. As an informal affair it was great and we were pretty much told that there weren’t any restrictions on what we could talk about, so long as they were at least tangentially related to Windows Server 2012. Thankfully it looks like the focus of this year’s TechEd is going to be about Server 2012 anyway so even if we were going to go off the rails we really wouldn’t have far to go. Still I was pleased to find out that our choices of sessions provided a good mix so that we were all able to go to the ones we wanted to. I’ve chosen to cover primarily Windows Azure and the cloud integration aspects of Server 2012 as whilst I’m sure there’s a lot going on below that level my interest, at least in recent times, has been focused on just how Microsoft is going to bring cloud down to all those loyal system administrators who’ve been with Microsoft for decades.
The keynote was equal parts run-of-the-mill tech announcements coupled with, dare I say it, strange forays into the lands of philosophy and technology futurism. Now I can’t claim complete innocence here as I did make a couple snarky tweets whilst Jason Silva was up on stage but in reality whilst his speeches and videos were thought provoking I struggled to see how they were relevant to the audience. TechEd, whilst being full of creative and dedicated people, isn’t exactly TED; I.E. it’s not a big ideas kind of deal. It’s a tech show, one where system administrators, architects and developers come together to get a glimpse at the latest from Microsoft. Delving into the philosophy of how technology is changing humanity is great but there are better times for presentations like that like say TEDx Canberra which was just on recently.
The technology part of the keynote was interesting even if it was your usual high level overview that lacked any gritty detail. For me the take away from the whole thing was that Microsoft is now heavily dedicated to not only being a cloud provider but becoming the cloud platform that powers enterprises in the future. Windows Server 2012 appears to be a key part of that and if what they’re alluding to turns out to be true you’ll soon have a unified development platform that will stretch all the way from your own personal cloud all the way back to a fully managed public cloud that Microsoft and its partners provide. If that promise is sounding familiar to you it should as HP said pretty much the same thing not too long ago and I’m very keen to see how their offering works in comparison.
There were also some performances from various artists like the one from Synaecide above in which he utilizes as Kinect controller to manipulate the music with his movements. It was certainly impressive, especially in comparison to the interpretive dancer who obviously had zero control over what was happening on screen, and these are the kinds of things I’d like to see more of as they show off the real innovative uses of Microsoft technology rather than just the usual PowerPoint to death followed by a highly scripted demo. After this all finished we were allowed to go off and have a look around the showcase where all the Microsoft partners had set up shop and were giving out the usual swag which was when I decided to take my leave (after raiding the buffet, of course!).
With all this being said I’m really looking forward to getting stuck into the real meat of TechEd 2012: the new technology. It’s all great to sell ideas, visions and concepts but nothing is more powerful to me than demonstrable technology that I can go home and use right away. Those of you following me on Twitter will know that I’ve already expressed scepticism at some of the claims has made during the keynote but don’t let that fool you. Whilst I might be among Microsoft’s critics I’m also one of their long time fans so you can rest assured that any amazing leaps will be reoported and missteps pointed out and ridiculed for your amusement.
Now I’d best be off, I’ve got an early start tomorrow.
With virtualization now being as much of as a pervasive idea in the datacentre as storage array networks or under floor cooling the way has been paved for the cloud to make its way there as well for quite some time now. There are now many commercial off the shelf solutions that allow you to incrementally implement the multiple levels of the cloud (IaaS -> PaaS -> SaaS) without the need for a large operational expenditure in developing the software stack at each level. The differentiation now comes from things like added services, geographical location and pricing although even that is already turning into a race to the bottom.
The big iron vendors (Dell, HP, IBM) have noticed this and whilst they could still sustain their current business quite well by providing the required tin to the cloud providers (the compute power is shifted, not necessarily reduced) they’re all starting to look to creating their own cloud solutions so that they can continue to grow their business. I covered HP’s cloud solution last week after the HP Cloud Tech day but recently there’s been a lot of news coming out regarding the other big players, both from the old big iron world and the more recently established cloud providers.
First cab off the rank I came across was Dell who are apparently gearing up to make a cloud play. Now if I’m honest that article, whilst it does contain a whole lot of factual information, felt a little speculative to me mostly because Dell hasn’t tried to sell me on the cloud idea when I’ve been talking to them recently. Still after doing a small bit of research I found that not only are Dell planning to build a global network of datacentres (where global usually means everywhere but Australia) they announced plans to build one in Australia just on a year ago. Combining this with their recent acquisition spree that included companies like Wyse it seems highly likely that this will be the backbone of their cloud offering. What that offering will be is still up for speculation however, but it wouldn’t surprise me if it was yet another OpenStack solution.
Mostly because RackSpace, probably the second biggest general cloud provider behind Amazon Web Services, just announced that their cloud will be compatible with the OpenStack API. This comes hot off the heels of another announcement that both IBM and RedHat would become contributers to the OpenStack initiative although no word yet on whether they have a view to implement the technology in the future. Considering that both HP and Dell have are already showing their hands with their upcoming cloud strategies it would seem like becoming OpenStack contributers will be the first step to seeing some form of IBM cloud. They’d be silly not to given their share of the current server market.
Taking all of this into consideration it seems that we’re approaching a point of convergence in the cloud computing industry. I wrote early last year that one of the biggest draw backs to the cloud was its proprietary nature and it seems like the big iron providers noticed that this was a concern. The reduction of vendor lock lowers the barriers to entry for many customers significantly and provides a whole host of other benefits like being able to take advantage of disparate cloud providers to provide service redundancy. As I said earlier the differentiation between providers will then predominately come from value-add services, much like it did for virtualization in the past.
This is the beginning of the cloud war, where all the big players throw their hats into the ring and duke it out for our business. It’s a great thing for both businesses and consumers as the quality of products will increase rapidly and the price will continue on a down hill trend. It’s quite an exciting time, one akin to the virtualization revolution that started happening almost a decade ago. Like always I’ll be following these developments keenly as the next couple years will be something of a proving ground for all cloud providers.
I’m always surprised at how many people I know use Dropbox. It’s not just because I have a lot of tech minded friends either, no a whole bunch of regular people I know use it for backup and to share large files that would be cumbersome otherwise. I personally use it (well used to) to back up my phone’s apps and configuration using Titanium Backup Pro. I don’t have as much use for it now since the integrated sync options from Google do 90% of the work without me having to think about it. Still every so often I’ll find myself needing use of some accessible-from-anywhere type storage and I’ll always come back to Dropbox.
That might all be about to change, however.
Rumors have been circulating for eons that Google would eventually launch some kind of cloud storage service, going head to head with industry heavyweight Dropbox. In fact I can remember hearing rumors about it not too long after they released Gmail all those years ago after someone figured out how to create a bastardized version of it using said service. After all that time it appears that Google is finally about to pull the trigger on providing such a service, giving all new comers to the service 5GB worth of free cloud storage with the option to purchase more should you need it. It seems even the app has made its way into some of the more enthusiastic tech writer’s hands, taking the GDrive right out of the rumor mill.
Anyone who knows something about Dropbox’s story you’ll probably find this announcement both awesome and completely hilarious. Drew Houston, the man behind Dropbox, said when applying to startup incubator YCombinator that it was a very real possibility that Google would announce GDrive early on in his product’s life and that would basically mean the end of it. However for the past 4 years as Dropbox has gained significant market share and momentum Google has been very mum on the subject, not leaking any details of whether or not they’d pursue the idea. Now Google is launching into a market that has extremely heavy competition as Dropbox isn’t the only cloud storage provider out there.
For what its worth I really think that Google has launched 4 years too late here. Back when Dropbox was just taking off Google had a real chance to either launching a competing product and grabbing the market early or simply attempting to buy out Dropbox and re-branding it as their own service. Rumor has it that Apple tried to do just that some time last year but Dropbox turned down the offer and its very possible that Google attempted the same thing only to get the same response. This could be why we’re now seeing a GDrive product finally coming to fruition as they’ve been left with no choice but to compete with Dropbox on their home turf.
So does this mean that the GDrive is a fool’s gambit? Not entirely as whilst Dropbox is the market leader in this space there’s something to be said for Google services. It’s quite possible that GDrive will now become heavily integrated with all of Google’s other products and that’s where they’ll be able to garner a large user base from. If their current Android integration is anything to go by adding in a cloud storage platform that’s natively integrated with the OS will provide some pretty spectacular benefits, much like the ones Microsoft is touting with Azure and Windows 8. Whether their service will be profitable is something we’ll just have to wait to see, however.
So as you’re probably painfully aware (thanks to my torrent of tweets today) I spent all of today sitting down with a bunch of like minded bloggers for HP’s Cloud Tech Day which primarily focused on their recent announcement that they’d be getting into the cloud business. They were keen to get our input as to what the current situation was in the real world in relation to cloud services adoption and what customers were looking for with some surprising results. If I’m completely honest it was more aimed at strategic level rather than the nuts and bolts kind of tech day I’m used to, but I still got some pretty good insights out of it.
For starters HP is taking a rather unusual approach to the cloud. Whilst it will be offering something along the lines of the traditional public cloud like all other providers they’re also going to attempt to make inroads into the private cloud market whilst also creating a new kind of cloud offering they’re dubbing “managed cloud”. The kicker being that should you implement an application on any of those cloud platforms you’ll be able to move it seamlessly between them, effectively granting you the elusive cloud bursting ability that everyone wants but no one really has. All the tools between all 3 platforms are the same too, enabling you to have a clear idea of how your application is behaving no matter where its hosted.
The Managed Cloud idea is an interesting one. Basically it takes the idea of a private cloud, I.E. one you host yourself, and instead of you hosting it HP will host it for you. Basically it takes away the infrastructure management worry that a private cloud still presents whilst allowing you to have most of the benefits of a private cloud. They mentioned that they already have a customer using this kind of deployment for their email infrastructure which had the significant challenge of keeping all data on Australian shores and the IT department still wanting some level of control over it.
How they’re going to go about this is still something of a mystery but there are some little tid bits that give us insight into their larger strategy. HP isn’t going to offer a new virtualization platform to underpin this technology, it will in fact utilize whatever current virtual infrastructure you have. What HP’s solution will do is abstract that platform away so you’re given a consistent environment to implement against which is what enables HP Cloud enabled apps to work between the varying cloud platforms.
Keen readers will know that this was the kind of cloud platform I’ve been predicting (and pining for) for some time. Whilst I’m still really keen to get under the hood of this solution to see what makes it tick and how applicable it will be I have to say that HP has done their research before jumping into this. Many see cloud computing as some kind of panacea to all their IT ills when in reality cloud computing is just another solution for a specific set of IT problems. Right now that’s centred around commodity services like email, documents, ERP and CRM and of course that umbrella will continue to expand into the future but there will always be those niche apps which won’t fit well into the cloud paradigm. Well not at the price point customers would be comfortable anyway.
What really interested me was the parallels that could be easily drawn between the virtualization revolution and the burgeoning cloud industry. Back in the day there was really only one player (VMware, Amazon) but as time went on many other players came online. Initially those competitors had to play feature catch up with the number 1. The biggest player noticed they were catching up quickly (through a combination of agility, business savvy and usually snapping up a couple disgruntled employees) and reacted by providing value add services above the base functionality level. The big players in virtualization (Microsoft, VMware and CITRIX) are just all about on feature parity for base hypervisor capabilities but VMware has stayed ahead by creating a multitude of added services, but their lead is starting to shrink which I’m hoping will push for a fresh wave of innovation.
Applying this to the cloud world it’s clear that HP has seen that there’s no reason in competing at a base level with cloud providers; it’s a fools gambit. Amazon has the cheap bulk computing services thing nailed and if all you’re doing is giving the same services then the only differentiator you’ll have is price. That’s not exactly a weapon against Amazon who could easily absorb losses for a quarter whilst it watches you squirm as your margins plunge into the red. No instead HP is positioning themselves as a value add cloud provider, having a cloud level that works at multiple levels. The fact that you can seamlessly between them is probably all the motivation most companies will need to give them a shot.
Of course I’m still a bit trepidatious about the idea because I haven’t seen much past the marketing blurb. As with all technology products there will be limitations and until I can get my hands on the software (hint hint) then I can’t get too excited about it. It’s great to see HP doing so much research and engaging with the public in this way but the final proof will be in the pudding, something I’m dying to see.
IT is one of the few services that all companies require to compete in today’s markets. IT support then is one of those rare industries where jobs are always around to be had, even for those working in entry level positions. Of course this assumes that you put in the required effort to stay current as letting your skills lapse for 2 or more years will likely leave you a generation of technology behind, making employment difficult. This is of course due to the IT industry constantly evolving and changing itself and much like other industries certain jobs can be made completely redundant by technological advancements.
For the past couple decades though the types of jobs you expect to see in IT support have remained roughly the same, save for the specializations brought on by technology. As more and more enterprises came online and technology began to develop a multitude of specializations became available, enabling then generic “IT guys” to become highly skilled workers in their targeted niche. I should I know, just on a decade ago I was one of those generic IT support guys and today I’m considered to be a specialist when it comes to hardware and virtualization. Back when I started my career the latter of those two skills wasn’t even in the vernacular of the IT community, let alone a viable career path.
Like any skilled position though specialists aren’t exactly cheap, especially for small to medium enterprises (SMEs). This leads to an entire second industry of work-for-hire specialists (usually under the term “consultants”) and companies looking to take the pain out of utilizing the technology without having to pay for the expertise to come in house. This isn’t really a surprise (any skilled industry will develop these secondary markets) but with IT there’s a lot more opportunity to automate and leverage economies of scale, more so than any other industry.
This is where Cloud Computing comes in.
The central idea behind cloud computing is that an application can be developed to run on a platform which can dynamically deliver resources to it as required. The idea is quite simple but the execution of it is extraordinarily complicated requiring vast levels of automation and streamlining of processes. It’s just an engineering problem however, one that’s been surmounted by several companies and used to great effect by many other companies who have little wish to maintain their own infrastructure. In essence this is just outsourcing taken to the next level, but following this trend to its logical conclusion leads to some interesting (and, if you’re an IT support worker, troubling) predictions.
For SMEs the cost of running their own local infrastructure, as well as the support staff that goes along with it, can be one of their largest cost centres. Cloud computing and SaaS offers the opportunity for SMEs to eliminate much of the cost whilst keeping the same level of functionality, giving them more capital to either reinvest in the business or bolster their profit margins. You would think then that this would just be a relocation of jobs from one place to another but cloud services utilize much fewer staff due to the economies of scale that they employ, leaving fewer jobs available for those who had skills in those area.
In essence cloud computing eliminates the need for the bulk of skilled jobs in the IT industry. There will still be need for most of the entry level jobs that cater to regular desktop users but the back end infrastructure could easily be handled by another company. There’s nothing fundamentally wrong with this, pushing back against such innovation never succeeds, but it does call into question those jobs that these IT admins currently hold and where their future lies.
Outside of high tech and recently established businesses the adoption rate of cloud services hasn’t been that high. Whilst many of the fundamentals of the cloud paradigm (virtualization, on-demand resourcing, infrastructure agnostic frameworks) have found their way into the datacenter the next logical step, migrating those same services into the cloud, hasn’t occurred. Primarily I believe this is due to the lack of trust and control in the services as well as companies not wanting to write off the large investments they have in infrastructure. This will change over time of course, especially as that infrastructure begins to age.
For what its worth I still believe that the ultimate end goal will be some kind of hybrid solution, especially for governments and the like. Cloud providers, whilst being very good at what they do, simply can’t satisfy the need of all customers. It is then highly likely that many companies will outsource routine things to the cloud (such as email, word processing, etc) but still rely on in house expertise for the customer applications that aren’t, and probably will never be, available in the cloud. Cloud computing then will probably see a shift in some areas of specialization but for the most part I believe us IT support guys won’t have any trouble finding work.
We’re still in the very early days of cloud computing and its effects on the industry are still hard to judge. There’s no doubt that cloud computing has the potential to fundamentally change the way the world does IT services and whatever happens those of us in IT support will have to change to accommodate it. Whether that comes in the form of reskilling, training or looking for a job in a different industry is yet to be determined but suffice to say that the next decade will see some radical changes in the way businesses approach their IT infrastructure.
Maybe it’s my corporate IT roots but I’ve always thought that the best cloud strategy would be a combination of in house resources that would have the ability to offload elsewhere when extra resources were required. Such a deployment would mean that organisations could design their systems around base loads and have the peak handled by public clouds, saving them quite a bit of cash whilst still delivering services at an acceptable level. It would also gel well with management types as not many are completely comfortable being totally reliant on a single provider for any particular service which in light of recent cloud outages is quite prudent. For someone like myself I was more interested in setting up a few Azure instances so I could test my code against the real thing rather than the emulator that comes with Visual Studio as I’ve always found there’s certain gotchas that don’t show up until you’re running on a real instance.
Now the major cloud providers: Rackspace, AWS, et. al. haven’t really expressed much interest in supporting configurations like this which makes business sense for them since doing so would more than likely eat into their sales targets. They could license the technology of course but that brings with it a whole bunch of other problems like what are supported configurations and releasing some measure of control over the platform in order to enable end users to be able to deploy their own nodes. However I had long thought Microsoft, who has a long history of letting users install stuff on their own hardware, would eventually allow Azure to run in some scaled down fashion to facilitate this hybrid cloud idea.
Indeed many developments in their Azure product seemed to support this, the strongest of which being the VM role which allowed you to build your own virtual machine then run it on their cloud. Microsoft have offered their Azure Appliance product for a while as well, allowing large scale companies and providers the opportunity to run Azure on their own premises. Taking this all into consideration you’d think that Microsoft wasn’t too far away from offering a solution for medium organisations and developers that were seeking to go to the Azure platform but also wanted to maintain some form of control over their infrastructure.
After talking with a TechEd bound mate of mine however, it seems that idea is off the table.
VMware has had their hybrid cloud product (vCloud) available for quite some time and whilst it satisfies most of the things I’ve been talking about so far it doesn’t have the sexy cloud features like an in-built scalable NoSQL database or binary object storage. Since Microsoft had their Azure product I had assumed they weren’t interested in competing with VMware on the same level but after seeing one of the TechEd classes and subsequently browsing their cloud site it looks like they’re launching SCVMM 2012 as a direct competitor to vCloud. This means that Microsoft is basically taking the same route by letting you build your own private cloud, which is basically just a large pool of shared resources, foregoing any implementation of the features that make Azure so gosh darn sexy.
Figuring that out left me a little disappointed, but I can understand why they’re doing it.
Azure, as great as I think it is, probably doesn’t make sense in a deployment scenario of anything less than a couple hundred nodes. Much of Azure’s power, like any cloud provider, comes from its large number of distributed nodes which provide redundancy, flexibility and high performance. The Hyper-V based private cloud then is more tailored to the lower end where enterprises likely want more control that what Azure would provide, not to mention that experience in deploying Azure instances is limited to Microsoft employees and precious few from the likes of Dell, Fujitsu and HP. Hyper-V then is the better solution for those looking to deploy a private cloud and should they want to burst out to a public cloud they’ll just have to code their application to be able to do that. Such a feature isn’t impossible however, but it is an additional cost that will need to be considered.