A good indication any new technology or business model is starting to mature is the number of certifications popping up related to that product, framework, or service.   Cloud computing is certainly no exception, with vendors such as Microsoft, Google, VMWare, Cloud Computing Certificationsand IBM offering certification training for their own products, as well as organizations such CompTIA and Architura competing for industry neutral certifications.

Is this all hype, or is it an essential part of the emerging cloud computing ecosystem?  Can we remember the days when entry level Cisco, Microsoft, or other vendor certifications were almost mocked by industry elitists?

Much like the early Internet days of eEverything, cloud computing is at the point where most have heard the term, few understand the concepts, and marketing folk are exploiting every possible combination of the words to place their products in a favorable, forward leaning light.

So, what if executive management takes a basic course in cloud computing principles, or sales and customer service people take a Cloud 101 course?  Is that bad?

Of course not.  Cloud computing has the potential of being transformational to business, governments, organization, and even individuals.  Business leaders need to understand the potential and impact of what a service-oriented cloud computing infrastructure might mean to their organization, the game-changing potential of integration and interoperability, the freedom of mobility, and the practical execution of basic cloud computing characteristics within their ICT environment.

A certification is not all about getting the test, and certificate.  As an instructor for the CompTIA course, I manage classes of 20 or more students ranging from engineers, to network operations center staff, to customer service and sales, to mid-level executives.  We’ve yet to encounter an individual who claims they have learned nothing from attending the course, and most leave the course with a very different viewpoint of cloud computing than held prior to the class.

As with most technology driven topics, cloud computing does break into different branches – including technical, operations, and business utility.

The underlying technologies of cloud computing are probably the easiest part of the challenge, as ultimately skills will develop based on time, experience, and operation of cloud-related technologies.

The more difficult challenge is understanding the impact of cloud computing may mean to an organization, both internally as well as on a global scale.  No business-related discussion of cloud computing is complete without consideration of service-oriented architectures, enterprise architectures, interoperability, big data, disaster management, and continuity of operations.

Business decisions on data center consolidation, ICT outsourcing, and other aspects of the current technology refresh or financial consideration will be more effective and structured when accompanied by a basic business and high level understanding of cloud computing underlying technologies.  As an approach to business transformation, additional complimentary capabilities in enterprise architecture, service-oriented architectures, and IT service management will certainly help senior decision makers best understand the relationship between cloud computing and their organizational planning.

While reading the news, clipping stories, and self-study may help decision makers understand the basic components of cloud computing and other supporting technologies. Taking an introduction cloud computing course, regardless if vendor training or neutral, will give enough background knowledge to at least engage in the conversation. Given the hype surrounding cloud computing, and the potential long term consequences of making an uniformed decision, the investment in cloud computing training must be considered valuable at all levels of the organization, from technical to senior management.

Throughout 2012 large organizations and governments around the world continued to struggle with the idea of consolidating inefficient data centers, server closets, and individual “rogue” servers scattered around their enterprise or government agencies.  Issues dealt with the cost of operating data centers, disaster management of information technology resources, and of course human factors centered on control, power, or retention of jobs in a rapidly evolving IT industry.

Cloud computing and virtualization continue to have an impact on all consolidation discussions, not only from the standpoint of providing a much better model for managing physical assets, but also in the potential cloud offers to solve disaster recovery shortfalls, improve standardization, and encourage or enable development of service-oriented architectures.

Our involvement in projects ranging from local, state, and national government levels in both the United States and other countries indicates a consistent need for answering the following concerns:

  • Existing IT infrastructure, including both IT and facility, is reaching the end of its operational life
  • Collaboration requirements between internal and external users are expanding quickly, driving an architectural need for interoperability
  • Decision support systems require access to both raw data, and “big data/archival data”

We would like to see an effort within the IT community to move in the following directions:

  1. Real effort at decommissioning and eliminating inefficient data centers
  2. All data and applications should be fit into an enterprise architecture framework – regardless of the size of organization or data
  3. Aggressive development of standards supporting interoperability, portability, and reuse of objects and data

Regardless of the very public failures experienced by cloud service providers over the past year, the reality is cloud computing as an IT architecture and model is gaining traction, and is not likely to go away any time soon.  As with any emerging service or technology, cloud services will continue to develop and mature, reducing the impact and frequency of failures.

Future Data CentersWhy would an organization continue to buy individual high powered workstations, individual software licenses, and device-bound storage when the same application can be delivered to a simple display, or wide variety of displays, with standardized web-enabled cloud (SaaS) applications that store mission critical data images on a secure storage system at a secure site?  Why not facilitate the transition from CAPEX to OPEX, license to subscription, infrastructure to product and service development?

In reality, unless an organization is in the hardware or software development business, there is very little technical justification for building and managing a data center.  This includes secure facilities supporting military or other sensitive sites.

The cost of building and maintaining a data center, compared with either outsourcing into a commercial colocation site – or virtualizing data, applications, and network access requirements has gained the attention of CFOs and CEOs, requiring IT managers to more explicitly justify the cost of building internal infrastructure vs. outsourcing.  This is quickly becoming a very difficult task.

Money spent on a data center infrastructure is lost to the organization.  The cost of labor is high, the cost of energy, space, and maintenance is high.  Mooney that could be better applied to product and service development, customer service capacity, or other revenue and customer-facing activities.

The Bandwidth Factor

The one major limitation the IT community will need to overcome as data center consolidation continues and cloud services become the ‘norm, is bandwidth.  Applications, such as streaming video, unified communications, and data intensive applications will need more bandwidth.  The telecom companies are making progress, having deployed 100gbps backbone capacity in many markets.  However this capacity will need to continue growing quickly to meet the needs of organizations needing to access data and applications stored or hosted within a virtual or cloud computing environment.

Consider a national government’s IT requirements.  If the government, like most, are based within a metro area.  The agencies and departments consolidate their individual data centers and server closets into a central or reduced number of facilities.   Government interoperability frameworks begin to make small steps allowing cross-agency data sharing, and individual users need access to a variety of applications and data sources needed to fulfill their decision support requirements.

For example, a GIS (Geospatial/Geographic Information System) with multiple demographic or other overlays.  Individual users will need to display data that may be drawn from several data sources, through GIS applications, and display a large amount of complex data on individual display screens.  Without broadband access between both the user and application, as well as application and data sources, the result will be a very poor user experience.

Another example is using the capabilities of video conferencing, desktop sharing, and interactive persistent-state application sharing.  Without adequate bandwidth this is simply not possible.

Revisiting the “4th Utility” for 2013

The final vision on the 2013 “wishlist” is that we, as an IT industry, continue to acknowledge the need for developing the 4th Utility.  This is the idea that broadband communications, processing capacity (including SaaS applications), and storage is the right of all citizens.  Much like the first three utilities, roads, water, and electricity, the 4th Utility must be a basic part of all discussions related to national, state, or local infrastructure discussions.  As we move into the next millennium, Internet-enabled, or something like Internet-enabled communications will be an essential part of all our lives.

The 4th Utility requires high capacity fiber optic infrastructure and broadband wireless be delivered to any location within the country which supports a community or individual connected to a community.   We’ll have to [pay a fee to access the utility (same as other utilities), but it is our right and obligation to deliver the utility.

2013 will be a lot of fun for us in the IT industry.  Cloud computing is going to impact everybody – one way or the other.  Individual data centers will continue to close.  Service-oriented architectures, enterprise architecture, process modeling, and design efficiency will drive a lot of innovation.   – We’ll lose some players, gain players, and and we’ll be in a better position at the end of 2013 than today.

LV-2Day two of the Gartner Data Center Conference in Las Vegas continued reinforcing old topics, appearing at times to be either enlist attendees in contributing to Gartner research, or simply providing conference content directed to promoting conference sponsors.

For example, sessions “To the Point:  When Open Meets Cloud” and “Backup/Recovery: Backing Up the Future” included a series of audience surveys.  Those surveys were apparently the same as presented, in the same sessions, for several years.  Thus the speaker immediately referenced this year’s results vs. results from the same survey questions from the past two years.  This would lead a casual attendee to believe nothing radically new is being presented in the above topics, and the attendees are generally contributing to further trend analysis research that will eventually show up in a commercial Gartner Research Note.

Gartner analyst and speaker on the topic of “When Open Meets Clouds,” Aneel Lakhani, did make a couple useful, if not obvious points in his presentation.

  • We cannot secure complete freedom from vendors, regardless of how much you adopt open source
  • Open source can actually be more expensive than commercial products
  • Interoperability is easy to say, but a heck of a lot more complicated to implement
  • Enterprise users have a very low threshold for “test” environments (sorry DevOps guys)
  • If your organization has the time and staff, test, test, and test a bit more to ensure your open source product will perform as expected or designed

However analyst Dave Russell, speaker on the topic of “Backup/Recovery” was a bit more cut and paste in his approach.  Lots of questions to match against last year’s conference, and a strong emphasis on using tape as a continuing, if not growing media for disaster recovery.

Problem with this presentation was the discussion centered on backing up data – very little on business continuity.  In fact, in one slide he referenced a recovery point objective (RPO) of one day for backups.   What organization operating in a global market, in Internet time, can possibly design for a one day RPO?

In addition, there was no discussion on the need for compatible hardware in a disaster recovery site that would allow immediate or rapid restart of applications.  Having data on tape is fine.  Having mainframe archival data is fine.  But without a business continuity capability, it is likely any organization will suffer significant damage in their ability to function in their marketplace.  Very few organizations today can absorb an extended global presence outage or marketplace outage.

The conference continues until Thursday and we will look for more, positive approaches, to data center and cloud computing.

Gartner’s 2012 Data Center Conference in Las Vegas is noted for  not yielding any major surprise.  While having an uncanny number of attendees (*the stats are not available, however it is clear they are having a very good conference), most of the sessions appear to be simply reaffirming what everybody really knows already, serving to reinforce the reality data center consolidation, cloud computing, big data, and the move to an interoperable framework will be part of everybody’s life within a few years.

Childs at Gartner ConferenceGartner analyst Ray Paquet started the morning by drawing a line at the real value of server hardware in cloud computing.  Paquet stressed that cloud adopters should avoid integrated hardware solutions based on blade servers, which carry a high margin, and focus their CAPEX on cheaper “skinless” servers.  Paquet emphasized that integrated solutions are a “waste of money.”

Cameron Haight, another Gartner analyst, fired a volley at the process and framework world, with a comparison of the value DevOps brings versus ITIL.  Describing ITIL as a cumbersome burden to organizational agility, DevOps is a culture-changer that allows small groups to quickly respond to challenges.  Haight emphasized the frequently stressful relationship between development organizations and operations organizations, where operations demands stability and quality, and development needs freedom to move projects forward, sometimes without the comfort of baking code to the standards preferred by operations – and required by frameworks such as ITIL.

Haight’s most direct slide described De Ops as being “ITIL minus CRAP.”  Of course most of his supporting slides for moving to DevOps looked eerily like an ITIL process….

Other sessions attended (by the author) included “Shaping Private Clouds,” a WIPRO product demonstration, and a data center introduction by Raging Wire.  All valuable introductions for those who are considering making a major change in their internal IT deployments, but nothing cutting edge or radical.

The Raging Wire data center discussion did raise some questions on the overall vulnerability of large box data centers.  While it is certainly possible to build a data center up to any standard needed to fulfill a specific need, the large data center clusters in locations such as Northern Virginia are beginning to appear very vulnerable to either natural, human, or equipment failure disruptions.  In addition to fulfilling data center tier classification models as presented by the Uptime Institute, it is clear we are producing critical national infrastructure which if disrupted could cause significant damage to the US economy or even social order.

Eventually, much like the communications infrastructure in the US, data centers will need to come under the observation or review of a national agency such as Homeland Security.  While nobody wants a government officer in the data center, protection of national infrastructure is a consideration we probably will not be able to avoid for long.

Raging Wire also noted that some colocation customers, particularly social media companies, are hitting up to 8kW per cabinet.  Also scary if true, and in extended deployments.  This could result in serious operational problems if cooling systems were disrupted, as the heat generated in those cabinets will quickly become extreme.  Would also be interesting if companies like Raging Wire and other colocation companies considered developing a real time CFD monitor for their data center floors allowing better monitoring and predictability than simple zone monitoring solutions.

The best presentation of the day came at the end, “Big Data is Coming to Your Data Center.”  Gartner’s Sheila Childs brought color and enthusiasm to a topic many consider, well, boring.  Childs was able to bring the value, power, and future of big data into a human consumable format that kept the audience in their seats until the end of session at 6 p.m. in the late afternoon.

Childs hit on concepts such as “dark data” within organizations, the value of big data in decision support systems (DSS), and the need for developing and recruiting skilled staff who can actually write or build the systems needed to fully exploit the value of big data.  We cannot argue that point, and can only hope our education system is able to focus on producing graduates with the basic skills needed to fulfill that requirement.

CloudGov 2012 Highlights Government Cloud Initiatives

On February 19, 2012, in Cloud Computing, by Administrator

Federal, state, and local government agencies gathered in Washington D.C. on 16 February to participate in Cloud/Gov 2012 held at the Westin Washington D.C.  With Keynotes by David L. McLure, US General Services Administration, and Dawn Leaf, NIST, vendors and government agencies were brought up to date on federal cloud policies and initiatives.

Of special note were updates on the FedRAMP program (a government-wide program that provides a standardized approach to security assessment, authorization, and continuous monitoring for cloud products and services) and NIST’s progress on standards.  “The FedRAMP process chart looks complicated” noted McLure, “however we are trying to provide support needed to accelerate the (FedRAMP vendor) approval process.

McLure also provided a roadmap for FedRAMP implementation, with FY13/Q2 targeted for full operation and FY14 planned for sustaining operations.

In a panel focusing on government case studies, David Terry from the Department of Education commented that “mobile phones are rapidly becoming the access point (to applications and data) for young people.”  Applications (SaaS) should be written to accommodate mobile devices, and “auto-adjust to user access devices.”

Tim Matson from DISA highlighted the US Department of Defense’s Forge.Mil initiative providing an open collaboration community for both the military and development community to work together in rapidly developing new applications to better support DoD activities.  While Forge.Mil has tighter controls than standard GSA (US General Services Administration)  standards, Matson emphasized “DISA wants to force the concept of change into the behavior of vendors.” Matson continued explaining that Forge.Mil will reinforce “a pipeline to support continuous delivery” of new applications.

While technology and process change topics provided a majority of  discussion points, mostly enthusiastic, David Mihalchik from Google advised “we still do not know the long term impact of global collaboration.  The culture is changing, forced on by the idea of global collaboration.”

Other areas of discussion among panel members throughout the day included the need for establishing and defining service level agreements (SLAs) for cloud services.  Daniel Burton from SalesForce.Com explained their SLAs are broken into two categories, SLAs based on subscription services, and those based on specific negotiations with government customers.   Other vendors took a stab at explaining their SLAs, without giving specific examples of their SLAs, leaving the audience without a solid answer.

NIST Takes the Leadership Role

The highlight of the day was provided by Dawn Leaf, Senior Executive for Cloud Computing with NIST.  Leaf provided very logical guidance for all cloud computing stakeholders, including vendors and users.

“US industry requires an international standard to ensure (global) competitiveness” explained Leaf.  In the past US vendors and service providers have developed standards which were not compatible with European and other standards, notably in wireless telephony, and one of NIST’s objectives is to participate in developing a global standard for cloud computing to prevent this possibility in cloud computing.

Cloud infrastructure and SaaS portability is also a high interest item for NIST.  Leaf advises that “we can force vendors into demonstrating their portability.  There are a lot of new entries in the business, and we need to force the vendors into proving their portability and interoperability.”

Leaf also reinforced the idea that standards are developed in the private sector.  NIST provides guidance and an architectural framework for vendors and the private sector to use as reference when developing those specific technical standards.  However leaf also had one caution for private industry, “industry should try to map their products to NIST references, as the government is not in a position to wait” for extended debates on the development of specific items, when the need for cloud computing development and implementation is immediate.

Further information on the conference, with agendas and participants is available at www.sia.net

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2011 was a great year for technology innovation.  The science of data center design and operations continued to improve, the move away from mixed-use buildings used as data centers continued, the watts/sqft metric took a second seat to overall kilowatts available to a facility or customer, and the idea of compute capacity and broadband as a utility began to take its place as a basic right of citizens.

However, there are 5 areas where we will see additional significant advances in 2012.

1.  Data Center Consolidation.  The US Government admits it is using only 27% of its overall available compute power.  With 2094 data centers supporting the federal government (from the CIO’s 25 Point Plan to Reform Fed IT Mgt), the government is required to close at least 800 of those data centers by 2015.

Data Center ConstructionThe lesson is not lost on state and local governments, private industry, or even internet content providers.  The economics of operating a data center or server closet, whether in costs of real estate, power, hardware, in addition to service and licensing agreements, are compelling enough to make even the most fervent server-hugger reconsider their religion.

2.  Cloud Computing.  Who doesn’t believe cloud computing will eventually replace the need for a server closets, cabinets, or even small cages in data centers?  The move to cloud computing is as certain as the move to email was in the 1980s.

Some IT managers and data owners hate the idea of cloud computing, enterprise service busses, and consolidated data.  Not so much an issue of losing control, but in many cases because it brings transparency to their operation.  If you are the owner of data in a developing country, and suddenly everything you do can be audited by a central authority – well it might make you uncomfortable…

A lesson learned while attending a  fast pitch contest during late 2009 in Irvine, CA…  An enterprising entrepreneur gave his “pitch” to a panel of investment bankers and venture capital representatives.  He stated he was looking for a $5 million investment in his startup company.

A panelist asked what the money was for, and the entrepreneur stated “.. and $2 million to build out a data center…”  The panelist responded that 90% of new companies fail within 2 years.  Why would he want to be stuck with the liability of a data center and hardware if the company failed? The gentleman further stated, “don’t waste my money on a data center – do the smart thing, use the Amazon cloud.”

3.  Virtual Desktops and Hosted Office Automation.  How many times have we lost data and files due to a failed hard drive, stolen laptop, or virus disrupting our computer?  What is the cost or burden of keeping licenses updated, versions updated, and security patches current in an organization with potentially hundreds of users?  What is the lead time when a user needs a new application loaded on a computer?

From applications as simple as Google Docs, to Microsoft 365, and other desktop replacement applications suites, users will become free from the burden of carrying a heavy laptop computer everywhere they travel.  Imagine being able to connect your 4G/LTE phone’s HDMI port to a hotel widescreen television monitor, and be able to access all the applications normally used at a desktop.  You can give a presentation off your phone, update company documents, or nearly any other IT function with the only limitation being a requirement to access broadband Internet connections (See # 5 below).

Your phone can already connect to Google Docs and Microsoft Live Office, and the flexibility of access will only improve as iPads and other mobile devices mature.

The other obvious benefit is files will be maintained on servers, much more likely to be backed up and included in a disaster recovery plan.

4.  The Science of Data Centers. It has only been a few years since small hosting companies were satisfied to go into a data center carved out of a mixed-use building, happy to have access to electricity, cooling, and a menu of available Internet network providers.  Most rooms were Data Center Power Requirementsdesigned to accommodate 2~3kW per cabinet, and users installed servers, switches, NAS boxes, and routers without regard to alignment or power usage.

That has changed.  No business or organization can survive without a 24x7x265 presence on the Internet, and most small enterprises – and large enterprises, are either consolidating their IT into professionally managed data centers, or have already washed their hands of servers and other IT infrastructure.

The Uptime Institute, BICSI, TIA, and government agencies have begun publishing guidelines on data center construction providing best practices, quality standards, design standards, and even standards for evaluation.  Power efficiency using metrics such as the PUE/DCiE provide additional guidance on power management, data center management, and design.

The days of small business technicians running into a data center at 2 a.m. to install new servers, repair broken servers, and pile their empty boxes or garbage in their cabinet or cage on the way out are gone.  The new data center religion is discipline, standards, discipline, and security.  Electricity is as valuable as platinum, just as cooling and heat are managed more closely than inmates at San Quentin.  While every other standards organization is now offering certification in cabling, data center design, and data center management, we can soon expect universities to offer an MS or Ph.D in data center sciences.

5.  The 4th Utility Gains Traction.  Orwell’s “1984” painted a picture of pervasive government surveillance, and incessant public mind control (Wikipedia).  Many people believe the Internet is the source of all evil, including identity theft, pornography, crime, over-socialization of cultures and thoughts, and a huge intellectual time sink that sucks us into the need to be wired or connected 24 hours a day.

Yes, that is pretty much true, and if we do not consider the 1000 good things about the Internet vs. each 1 negative aspect, it might be a pretty scary place to consider all future generations being exposed and indoctrinated.  The alternative is to live in a intellectual Brazilian or Papuan rain forest, one step out of the evolutionary stone age.

The Internet is not going away, unless some global repressive government, fundamentalist religion, or dictator manages to dismantle civilization as we know it.

The 4th utility identifies broadband access to the ‘net as a basic right of all citizens, with the same status as roads, water, and electricity.  All governments with a desire to have their nation survive and thrive in the next millennium will find a way to cooperate with network infrastructure providers to build out their national information infrastructure (haven’t heard that term since Al Gore, eh?).

Without a robust 4th utility, our children and their children will produce a global generation of intellectual migrant workers, intellectual refugees from a failed national information sciences vision and policy.

2012 should be a great year.  All the above predictions are positive, and if proved true, will leave the United States and other countries with stronger capacities to improve their national quality of life, and bring us all another step closer.

Happy New Year!

With dozens of public cloud service providers on the market, offering a wide variety of services, standards, SLAs, and options, how does an IT manager make an informed decision on which provider to use?  Is it time in business? Location? Cost? Performance?

Pacific-Tier Communications met up with Jason Read, owner of CloudHarmony, a company specializing in benchmarking the cloud, at Studio City, California, on 25 October.  Read understands how confusing and difficult it is to evaluate different service providers without an industry-standard benchmark.  In fact, Read started CloudHarmony based on his own frustrations as a consultant helping a client choose a public cloud service provider, while attempting to sort through vague cloud resource and service terms used by industry vendors.

“Cloud is so different. Vendors describe resources using vague terminology like 1 virtual CPU, 50 GB storage. I think cloud makes it much easier for providers to mislead. Not all virtual CPUs and 50 GB storage volumes are equal, not by a long shot, but providers often talk and compare as if they are. It was this frustration that led me to create CloudHarmony” explained Read.

So, Read went to work creating a platform for not only his client, but also other consultants and IT managers that would give a single point of testing public cloud services not only within the US, but around the world.    Input to the testing platform came from aggregating more than 100 testing benchmarks and methodologies available to the public.  However CloudHarmony standardized on CentOS/RHEL Linux as an operating system  which all cloud vendors support, “to provide as close to an apples to apples comparison as possible” said Read.

Customizing a CloudHarmony Benchmark Test

Cloud harmony Configuration

Setting up a test is simple.  You go to the CloudHarmony Benchmarks page, select the benchmarks you would like to run, the service providers you would like to test, configurations of virtual options within those service providers, geographic location, and the format of your report.

Figure 1.  Benchmark Configuration shows a sample report setup.

“CloudHarmony is a starting point for narrowing the search for a public cloud provider” advised Read.  “We provide data that can facilitate and narrow the selection process. We don’t have all of the data necessary to make a decision related to vendor selection, but I think it is a really good starting point.

Read continued “for example, if a company is considering cloud for a very CPU intensive application, using the CPU performance metrics we provide, they’d quickly be able to eliminate vendors that utilize homogenous infrastructure with very little CPU scaling capabilities from small to larger sized instance.”

Cloud vendors listed in the benchmark directory are surprisingly open to CoudHarmony testing.  “We don’t require or accept payment from vendors to be listed on the site and included in the performance analysis” mentioned Read.  “We do, however, ask that vendors provide resources to allow us to conduct periodic compute benchmarking, continual uptime monitoring, and network testing.”

When asked if cloud service providers contest or object to CloudHarmony’s methodology or reports, Read replied “not frequently. We try to be open and fair about the performance analysis. We don’t recommend one vendor over another. I’d like CloudHarmony to simply be a source of reliable, objective data. The CloudHarmony performance analysis is just a piece of the puzzle, users should also consider other factors such as pricing, support, scalability, etc.”

Cloud Harmony Benchmark Report

During an independent trial of CloudHarmony’s testing tool, Pacific-Tier Communications selected the following parameters to complete a sample CPU benchmark:

  • CPU Benchmark (Single Threaded CPU)
  • GMPbench math library
  • Cloud Vendor – AirVM (MO/USA)
  • Cloud Vendor – Amazon EC2 (CA/USA)
  • Cloud Vendor – Bit Refinery Cloud Hosting (CO/USA)
  • 1/2/4 CPUs
  • Small/Medium/Large configs
  • Bar Chart and Sortable Table report

The result, shown above in Figure 2., shows a test result including performance measured against each of the above parameters.  Individual tests for each parameter are available, allowing a deeper look into the resources used and test results based on those resources.

In addition, as shown in Figure 3., CloudHarmony provides a view providing uptime statistics of dozens of cloud service providers over a period of one year.  Uptime statistics showed a range (at the time of this article) between 98.678% availability to 100% availability, with 100% current uptime (27 October).

Cloud Service Provider Status

Who Uses CloudHarmony Benchmark Testing?

While the average user today may be in the cloud computing industry, likely vendors eager to see how their product compares against competitors, Read targets CloudHarmony’s product to “persons responsible for making decisions related to cloud adoption.”  Although he admits that today most users of the site lean towards the technical side of the cloud service provider industry.

Running test reports on cloud harmony is based on a system of purchasing credits.  Read explained “we have a system in place now where the data we provide is accessible via the website or web services – both of which rely on web service credits to provide the data. Currently, the system is set up to allow 5 free requests daily. For additional requests, we sell web service credits where we provide a token that authorizes you to access the data in addition to the 5 free daily requests.”

The Bottom Line

“Cloud is in many ways a black box” noted Read.  “Vendors describe the resources they sell using sometimes similar and sometimes very different terminology. It is very difficult to compare providers and to determine performance expectations. Virtualization and multi-tenancy further complicates this issue by introducing performance variability. I decided to build CloudHarmony to provide greater transparency to the cloud.”

And to both vendors and potential cloud service customers, provide an objective, honest, transparent analysis of commercially available public cloud services.

Check out CloudHarmony and their directory of services at cloudharmony.com.

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In an online “blogger” press conference on 5 August, Erik Bansleben, Ph. D., Program Development Director, Academic Programs at the University of Washington outlined a new certificate program offered by the university in Cloud Computing.  The program is directed towards “college level and career professionals” said Bansleben, adding “all courses are practical in approach.”

Using a combination of classroom and online instruction, the certificate program will allow flexibility accommodating remote students in a virtual extension of the residence program.  While not offering formal academic credit for the program, the certificates are “well respected locally by employers, and really tend to help students a fair amount in getting  internships, getting new jobs, or advancing in their current jobs.”

The Certificate in Cloud Computing is broken into three courses, including:

  • Introduction to Cloud Computing
  • Cloud Computing in Action
  • Scalable & Data-Intensive Computing in the Cloud

The courses are taught by instructors from both the business community and the University’s Department of Computer Science & Engineering.  Topics within each course are designed to provide not only an overview of the concepts and value of cloud computing in a business sense, but also includes project work and assignments.

To bring more relevance to students, Bansleben noted “part of the courses will be based on student backgrounds and student interests.”   Dr. Bill Howe, instructor for the “Scalable & Data-Intensive Computing in the Cloud” course added “nobody is starting a company without being in the clouds.”   With the program covering topical areas such as:

  • Cloud computing models: software as a service (SaaS), platform as a service (PaaS), infrastructure as a service (laaS) and database as a service
  • Market overview of cloud providers
  • Strategic technology choices and development tools for basic cloud application building
  • Web-scale analytics and frameworks for processing large data sets
  • Database query optimization
  • Fault tolerance and disaster recovery

Students will walk away with a solid background of cloud computing and how it will impact future planning for IT infrastructure.  In addition, each course will invite guest speakers from cloud computing vendors and industry leaders to present actual case studies to further apply context to course theory.  Bansleben reinforced the plan to provide students with specific “use cases for or against using cloud services vs. using your own hosted services.”

Not designed as a simple high level overview of cloud computing concepts, the program does require students to have a  background in IT networks and protocols, as well as familiarity with file manipulation in system environments such as Linux.  Bansleben stated that “some level of programming experience is required” as a prerequisite to participate in the certificate program.

The Certificate in Cloud Computing program starts on 10 October, and will cost students around $2,577 for the entire program.  The program is limited to 40 students, including both resident and online.  For more information on University of Washington certificate programs or the Certificate in Cloud Computing contact:

Erik Bansleben, Program Development Director
ebansleben@pce.uw.edu

http://pce.uw.edu

Every week a new data center hits the news with claims of greater than 100,000 square feet at >300 watts/square foot, and levels of security rivaling that of the NSA. Hot and cold aisle containment, marketing people slinging terms such as PUE (Power Utilization Efficiency), modular data centers, containers, computational fluid dynamics, and outsourcing with such smoothness and velocity that even used car salesmen regard them in complete awe.

Don’t get me wrong, outsourcing your enterprise data center or Internet site into a commercial data center (colocation), or cloud computing-supported virtual data center, is not a bad thing. As interconnections between cities are reinforced, and sufficient levels of broadband access continues to find its way to both business and residences throughout the country – not to mention all the economic drivers such as OPEX, CAPEX, and flexibility in cloud environments, the need or requirement to maintain an internal data center or server closet makes little sense.

Small Data Centers Feel Pain

Small Data Center Cabinet LineupIn the late 1990s data center colocation started to develop roots. The Internet was becoming mature, and eCommerce, entertainment, business-to-business, academic, government IT operations found proximity to networks a necessity, and the colocation industry formed to meet the opportunity stimulated by Internet adoption.

Many of these data centers were built in “mixed use” buildings, or existing properties in city centers which were close to existing telecommunication infrastructure. In cities such as Los Angeles, the commercial property absorption in city centers was at a low, providing very available and affordable space for the emerging colocation industry.

The power densities in those early days was minimal, averaging somewhere around 70 watts/square foot. Thus, equipment installed in colocation space carved out of office buildings was manageable through over-subscribing air conditioning within the space. The main limitation in the early colocation days was floor loading within an office space, as batteries and equipment cabinets within colocation areas would stretch building structures to their limits.

As the data center industry, and Internet content hosting continued to grow, the amount of equipment being placed in mixed-use building colocation centers finally started reaching a breaking point in ~2005. The buildings simply could not support the requirement for additional power, cooling, backup generators needed to support the rapidly developing data center market.

Around that time a new generation of custom-built data center properties began construction, with very little limitation on either weight, power consumption, cooling requirements, or creativity in custom designs of space to gain greatest PUE factors and move towards “green” designs.

The “boom town” inner-city data centers then began experiencing difficulty attracting new customers and retaining their existing customer base. Many of the “dot com” customers ran out of steam during this period, going bankrupt or abandoning their cabinets and cages, while new data center customers fit into a few categories:

  • High end hosting and content delivery networks (CDNs), including cloud computing
  • Enterprise outsourcing
  • Telecom companies, Internet Service Providers, Network Service Providers

With few exceptions these customers demanded much higher power densities, physical security, redundancy, reliability, and access to large numbers of communication providers. Small data centers operating out of office building space find it very difficult to meet demands of high end users, and thus the colocation community began a migration the larger data centers. In addition, the loss of cash flow from “dot com” churn forced many data centers to shut down, leaving much of the small data center industry in ruins.

Data Center Consolidation and Cloud Computing Compounds the Problem

New companies are finding it very difficult to justify spending money on physical servers and basic software licenses. if you are able to spool up servers and storage on demand through a cloud service provider – why waste the time and money trying to build your own infrastructure – even infrastructure outsourced or colocated in a small data center? It is simply a bad investment for most companies to build data centers – particularly if the cloud service provider has inherent disaster recovery and backup utility.

Even existing small eCommerce sites hitting refresh cycles for their hardware and software find it difficult to continue one or two cabinet installations within small data centers when they can accomplish the same thing, for a lower cost, and receive higher performance refreshing in a cloud service provider.

Even the US Government, as the world’s largest IT user has turned its back on small data center installations throughout federal government agencies.

The goals of the Federal Data Center Consolidation Initiative are to assist agencies in identifying their existing data center assets and to formulate consolidation plans that include a technical roadmap and consolidation targets. The Initiative aims to address the growth of data centers and assist agencies in leveraging best practices from the public and private sector to:

  • Promote the use of Green IT by reducing the overall energy and real estate footprint of government data centers;
  • Reduce the cost of data center hardware, software and operations;
  • Increase the overall IT security posture of the government; and,
  • Shift IT investments to more efficient computing platforms and technologies.


To harness the benefits of cloud computing, we have instituted a Cloud First policy. This policy is intended to accelerate the pace at which the government will realize the value of cloud computing by requiring agencies to evaluate safe, secure cloud computing options before making any new investments. (Federal Cloud Computing Strategy)

Adding similar initiatives in the UK, Australia, Japan, Canada, and other countries to eliminate inefficient data center programs, and the level of attention being given to these initiatives in the private sector, it is a clear message that inefficient data center installations may become an exception.

Hope for Small Data Centers?

Absolutely! There will always be a compelling argument for proximity of data and applications to end users. Whether this be enterprise data, entertainment, or disaster recovery and business continuity, there is a need for well built and managed data centers outside of the “Tier 1” data center industry.

dc2However, this also means data center operators will need to upgrade their existing facilities to meet the quality and availability standard/requirements of a wired global network-enabled community.

Internet and applications/data access is no longer a value-added service, it is critical infrastructure. Even the most “shoestring” budget facility will need to meet basic standards published by BICSI (Ex BICSI 2010-002), the Telecom Industry Association (TIA-942), or even private organizations such as the Uptime Institute.

With the integration of network-enabled everything into business and social activities, investors and insurance companies are demanding audits of data centers, using audit standards such as SAS70 to provide confidence their investments are protected with satisfactory operational process and construction.

Even if a data center cannot provide 100,000 square feet of 300 watt space, but can provide the local market with adequate space and quality to meet customer needs, there will be a market.

This is particularly true for customers who require flexibility in service agreements, custom support, a large selection of telecommunications companies available within the site, and have a need for local business continuity options. Hosting a local Internet exchange point or carrier Ethernet exchange within the facility would also make the space much more attractive.

The Road Ahead

Large data centers and cloud service providers are continuing to expand, developing their options and services to meet the growing data center consolidation and virtualization trend within both enterprise and global Internet-facing community. This makes sense, and will provide a very valuable service for a large percentage of the industry.

Small data centers in Tier 1 cities (in the US that would include Los Angeles, the Northern California Bay Area, New York, Northern Virginia/DC/MD) are likely to find difficulty competing with extremely large data centers – unless they are able to provide a very compelling service such as hosting a large carrier hotel (network interconnection point), Internet Exchange Point, or Cloud Exchange.

However, there will always be a need for local content delivery, application (and storage) hosting, disaster recovery, and network interconnection. Small data centers will need to bring their facilities up to international standards to remain competitive, as their competition is not local, but large data centers in Tier 1 cities.

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