Cloud Computing World Forum 2011 – Insights Part 1

In between meetings on a business trip to London this week I thought I’d drop by the 3rd Cloud Computing World Forum at Olympia to see what was going on. I attended the same event last year and it would be a good opportunity to see what had changed and also to catch up with some old acquaintances.

My first impression was a good one, the event was noticeably larger and better attended than last year with most of the major cloud vendors in attendance. The event looked to be very well organised and comprised a sizeable exhibition and three seminar steams (four if you included the one dedicated to Microsoft) billed as:

  • Cloud Approach – How you might do cloud.
  • Cloud Build – The mechanics of making a switch to the cloud
  • Cloud Connect – Interaction with the social cloud and Enterprise 2.0

I had time to have a quick look around the exhibition and attend four seminars, across each stream, which was more by chance than good planning. The exhibition was comprised predominantly of Cloud vendors and Service Management companies with a few telcos. On offer was at least 50 different cloud (managed hosting) solutions. However, the seminars were of more interest and I’ll focus on these.

The first session I attended was “Cloud as a game changing business strategy” was presented by Adrian Gardiner who is the CIO of NASA’s Goddard Space Flight Centre.

This sounded like an interesting topic and my expectations were high. Adrian’s presentation was very pragmatic and was based on real life examples of where NASA had used Cloud technology (and also where they wouldn’t consider it)… some excellent takeaways from this session:

NASA probably has the most computing power on the planet available at their disposal. A huge consumer of Super Computers and it probably wasn’t such a big surprise to hear that they run their own cloud… a claim backed up by pictures of a POD on a concrete slab in the middle of nowhere.

This in itself was impressive, but this next bit was the real gem for me… “It’s not uncommon for NASA to run a development project for 10 years before it comes to fruition as a live service. If you were to provision hardware at the start of the project it would be obsolete by the time the project delivered. Instead NASA was using the cloud as a development environment, provisioning the most modern hardware (their choice is still to run critical systems in house) just in time for project launch.”

The most disappointing element of this session was environmental, the seminar rooms and the exhibition were all under the same roof and the background noise was terrible. The year before there was a separate seminar room which worked much better *** note to organisers ***

The next session I attended was “Cloud computing in large enterprises” presented by Andrew Weir, Director of Enterprise Architecture at British Petroleum. Once again here are the highlights:

Andrew opened with an interesting first question, i.e. “show of hands how many people here are buying vs. selling cloud solutions?” Most were selling!!!

I found Andrew’s presentation very informative and doused with pragmatism. He shared some insights into the sheer scale of BP’s IT operation around the world. With the exception of one or two of the largest cloud vendors in attendance BP’s server farms would dwarf the offerings of most cloud vendors.

On the back of this Andrew explained when you run a business on such a scale it is actually more cost effective for BP to host and run as opposed to paying a cloud vendor for managed services. In addition Andrew shared some insights into BP’s IT strategy:

BP envisages a private cloud environment hosted on BP infrastructure (plus some hybrid cloud) as the way forward with data confidentiality and security as key drivers on the basis that BP is very governance oriented business, especially around financial compliance and risk management.

Hybrid cloud technology is of interest but they feel it is not yet ready for enterprise scale ~ still 2-3 years away (governance and management issues rather than availability).

And the final word from Andrew… todays clouds are mostly targeted at the consumer not enterprise business and you need to look beyond the hype to find value.

More to come in part 2… here now.

The “One for all and all for one” Cloud…

I was intrigued by this story from the BBC website last night on how 70 big name firms had formed an alliance to drive Cloud standards. The story begins :

Some of the world’s biggest companies are using their market clout to demand that computer equipment makers change the way they make their machines.

The 70 firms, which includes BMW, Shell and Marriott Hotels, said systems that do not work together are holding back the spread of Cloud computing.

The companies have formed the Open Data Alliance Centre to push for unified standards for technology.

Standardisation is something that has been talked about for some time in the industry, and whilst I fully support standardisation and applaud the concept, I have some concerns.

Why do I feel this way?

Well, in my recent post when the industry is crying out for standards, why reinvent the wheel, you can see just how difficult it is to get a simple xml schema adopted for sharing transactions across heterogeneous systems.

I am pro Cloud and pro standards, and I feel a “Cloud standard” would indeed be a fantastic thing as it would remove a number of barriers blocking Cloud adoption today:

  • It would remove the vendor lock in fear and put choice back into the hands of the customer by enabling the movement of customer applications and services between Cloud vendors, should the customer need to.
  • It would allow customers to run and have interoperability between different applications and services hosted on different Clouds, i.e. it is highly improbable for all aspects of a businesses need for systems to be available from a single Cloud provider.
  • It would also help bridge the gap between the Cloud and the millions (billions) of desktop software applications.
  • If we started with a security standard then that would allay the many fears that people have about Cloud Security, almost in the same way that certification works today.

So what would prevent this, well maybe we have to look no further than the Cloud vendors themselves? What would be their competitive advantage if all were equal? What would separate the big guys from the small guys? Would it stifle innovation? And how long would it be before there was a breakaway?

We have seen this many times before in the world of technology, you only have to think back to Java and how Microsoft broke the language when they launched their own flavour … J++ .

Will the Amazons, Azure and Other major players come to the table in the spirit of altruism? Or may they not need to should “Open Source Cloud” gather significant momentum, much in the same way that Linux has become the defacto supercomputer OS.

The seeds may have been planted already… In a very interesting move earlier this year, 25 Cloud vendors including the likes of Rackspace, Dell and Citrix teamed up with NASA on the OpenStack project. The press release started:

San Antonio, TX – July 19, 2010 – Rackspace® Hosting (NYSE:RAX) today announced the launch of OpenStack™, an open-source Cloud platform designed to foster the emergence of technology standards and Cloud interoperability. Rackspace, the leading specialist in the hosting and Cloud computing industry, is donating the code that powers its Cloud Files and Cloud Servers public-Cloud offerings to the OpenStack project.  The project will also incorporate technology that powers the NASA Nebula Cloud Platform.  Rackspace and NASA plan to actively collaborate on joint technology development and leverage the efforts of open-source software developers worldwide.

And goes on to tackle the standards question by saying:

“We are founding the OpenStack initiative to help drive industry standards, prevent vendor lock-in and generally increase the velocity of innovation in Cloud technologies,” said Lew Moorman, President, Cloud and CSO at Rackspace. “We are proud to have NASA’s support in this effort.  Its Nebula Cloud Platform is a tremendous boost to the OpenStack community. We expect ongoing collaboration with NASA and the rest of the community to drive more-rapid Cloud adoption and innovation, in the private and public spheres.”

This could be exactly what’s required to move the standards argument forward, and I for one will be following it with great interest.