Monday, April 27, 2009

Why is IT all still Cloudy?

Those who say ‘cloud computing’ is yet another buzzword for whatever was existing earlier – Utility, Grid, SOA, <<x>>aaS and even the internet, I would say are both right and wrong. Right because it is all of the above. Wrong because the skepticism on adopting, attempting to improve something just because it exists (in pieces) already doesn’t help. Technology gets better when we find synergy between existing solutions. Cloud computing, even after being on top of the I.T hype cycles for couple of years, still not emerged as an underlying principle of enterprise architecture and I wonder why.

One of the key reasons I think is about the ambiguity on the internal versus external debate. For some, its still about resource virtualization or about using external data centers for hosting their systems, with the additional feature of ‘pay-as-you-go’. For others, anything that’s ‘internety’ is already cloud, so why waste any more time on something that’s already there.

On top of it, some of the recent analyst reports doubting whether adopting cloud environments will really benefit enterprises, as well as some attempts to define boundary/standards for the paradigm also sent out wrong messages about cloud computing. Also many (especially virtualization product vendors) projected it as a resource optimization mechanism, and not as a front-line business enabler.

Important enterprise concerns about security, ownership, regulations that protects their assets, interoperability standards are not addressed adequately as well. Also some of the key service delivery issues such as supports, network requirements and other governance aspects are not being well addressed. In my opinion(and I mentioned it here on multiple occasions), the fundamental problem here is people don’t look at the cloud of the larger spectrum of Information System services that can be provisioned on-demand by connecting a network of internal and external resources.

You may now kiss the field cricket

Another eventful week has gone past, the most important event for me during the week was that I voted - after being persuaded by the election commission, government, matinee idols(and dolls), cricketers, family and friends though none of them were sure why they wanted me to do so. Next big thing is that I’m now convinced we are inching towards becoming a ‘developed’ country. Not because we managed to develop so many big banks here (vote banks I mean), but because we now own a spy satellite and spy planes as well. You might ask how spying enhances prosperity, I say that’s because you don’t know the history of spying ,all those who currently enjoy the ‘developed’ status got one thing in common – they all had/have a very sophisticated spy network. Now with these high-tech spy doodads, we not only can spot the terrorists but even zoom to such minuscule details as the color and brand of the inner garments worn by the bollywo terrorists, according to experts.

Last week also had many other events that made us proud as a nation, apart from IPL . For me the proudest moment of the week as an Indian tech-worker(these days every professional is labeled with a ‘worker’ suffix in my part of the world, even the oldest) is that an Indian has been appointed as America’s Chief Technology Officer, once again its becoming obvious that hiring Indians can get you do things cheaper better. Moreover, governments are thinking in corporate lines, which is good. I’m waiting for their next corpo style move – mergers and acquisitions.

The week also had the most memorable day in an year for us environmentally concerned people(ECPs)- Earth day. Now if you are not an ECP, to give you an idea on how important the day is for us - it’s as ‘unforgettable’ a day as your spouse’s birthday for you. We celebrated Earth day on the 22nd by pledging to do more green marathons with more sponsors. Every year I adopt few new green initiatives on Earth day, and this year there are two resolutions that I pledge to do 1) From now on I’ll stop watching bollywood movies and music in an effort to curb global warming 2) I'll eat as much non-vegetarian stuff as possible, so that I don't contribute to cutting of plants, instead I'll help reducing the cattle population that eats up anything green that comes their way.

The week also saw many landmark court verdicts that have the potential to change the face of our violently conservative country. One is that kissing is not an offense, as long as you are married - to each other of course. It is also now official that officials who solemnize parenatally disapproved weddings will not inform the parents through a ‘notice of intended marriage’. Looks like cupid is the dog whose day has come.

Next on the key research finding of the week – a truly ground breaking one, especially for anyone who is running animal farms, families, relationships or all of the above. Biologists at UC Riverside have done an intense study on ‘field crickets’(and not on the vice versa as it would have been in India) and found for the first time that “Females commonly prefer males that provide greater material benefits, and even penalizes males that provide lower-quality benefits”. Now some of you might ask whats 'news' in this; remember, we are talking here about field crickets. Those of you who are adult field cricket males better read the said research report, might help you understand the field better before you venture out next time.

Before I go the latest recession related news here.

Friday, April 24, 2009

Cloud and virtualization

In his Cloud Interoperability Magazine blog post title “Cloud Computing Surpasses Virtualization in Popularity”, Reuven Cohen writes

"I was recently looking at Google's trends & insights tool and noticed something very interesting has happened over the last month or so. For the first time the term "cloud computing" has surpassed "virtualization" in terms of search popularity. What is all the more interesting is it took cloud computing a little over a year and half compared to nearly 5 years for virtualization to see the same level of search volumes. Astounding growth to say the least.

I think this is no surprise. Virtualization addresses only one part of cloud computing paradigm IMO – how to realize it technically. A cloud is much more than that, covering the larger spectrum of I.T services and not just the infrastructure. As I wrote here earlier, cloud computing is multi-dimensional and should cover the presently fragmented

1. Cloud of infrastructure services(IaaS, PaaS)
2. Cloud of internal enterprise shared services (the ‘internal cloud’)
3. Cloud of externally provisioned software services (SaaS)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

If the choice is between hot chilli and election speech...

Those of you who are in the business of column writing will agree with me on one thing, becoming an established, well read commentator is not all that easy, especially when you are not backed by a strong media conglomerate or a powerful campaigning machinery like that of IPL (P could be Political or Premier, depending on where your loyalties lie this week). However, I would like to continue with my column here for one simple reason that I feel good when some things get out of my mind even if it means speaking in the woods. So here is a birds eye(and brain) view of the key events that happened in my part of the world last week.

Now that IPL is out of the country, the law enforcement agencies can peacefully fight with terrorists, naxalites and likeminded people to help us live and vote peacefully. Talking about elections, amid threats from various social and anti-social elements, we managed to complete our first phase of polling somewhat peacefully which is the greatest upside event of the week IMO. I think the week will have a place in history because this is the first time we see a nation adopting ‘shoe throwing’ as a peaceful method of protesting against their oppressors. I see a parallel here between the civil disobedience method Gandhiji adopted against the British and I wonder whether this is what some people call as the ‘Third independence movement’ in India.

Another news item that caught international acclaim was that an Indian woman has eaten the hottest chilli in the world. Now those of you who eat from the ‘Andhra Style’ restaurants in my part of the world might ask whats so great in that. Well, the uniqueness in this case is that she also ‘smeared seeds of 25 chillies in her eyes in one minute’. Now that I bet is something you and I wont prefer to do, even if we can eat vegetable kholapuri three times a day. I don’t have any report on her condition after this, but whatever it is, we are proving again and again that nobody can beat us when it comes to gulping the wackiest substances in the world, be it chillies, bombs, bollywood-dialogs or election-time promises.

Now those are on the positive side, on the negative side, inflation dipped to the lowest level in three decades . I’m no ‘economic person’ like many of my peers in office and on the street to tell what does it mean to the common woman and her man, all I know is that it’s time for those in the Reserve Bank to start talking about some cuts that they will be doing to the ‘basis points’, which ultimately will result in banks forcing us to take more loans so that the economy grows and you and I will end up being life-time debtors (which we are already anyway).

Before I end this short column due to lack of availability of time, screen real-estate and content, here is the latest recession related catastrophe, and I don’t consider this funny, though whoever titled it that way might think so.

Friday, April 17, 2009

We need Cloud - of services; not of server racks

In this Forbes article, Andy Greenberg quotes McKinsey analyst William Forrest, stating that cloud computing in its present form could turn out costlier for (large) enterprise users. Now my question is what is the ‘present form’ of cloud computing? If your answer is a ‘completely externally hosted I.T infrastructure, provisioned on-demand, charged on a pay-as-you-use basis’, I agree, the benefits are not much beyond SMEs, risk is high as well. But if it’s about ‘Provisioning and consuming I.T capabilities as shared, distributed, on-demand services spread across a cloud of computing infrastructure that include external and internal environments’, I would say the result will be very positive.

Firstly I think we should get away with this ‘Amazon and Amazon only’ mindset when talking about cloud computing. Cloud is a ‘cloud of IT capabilities’ and not a ‘cloud of server racks’ IMO. Now these I.T capabilities could come from your internal shared services environments, it could come from the externally hosted high capacity systems or it could come from externally hosted shared business services. I think then only it forms a true ‘cloud’.

So even if you are a cautious enterprise user who would not want to completely trust an external vendor to take care of your information technology needs and still want to manage it all in a cost effective way, I say a hybrid cloud approach sure will help you. Firstly, by having internal, shared services, you have achieved a level of normalization and streamlining of your I.T environments (Let me not use SOA here). Secondly by using external environments for high intensity processing jobs (on which I’ve written on multiple occasions here), you get rid of a large cost factor. Thirdly, by consuming relevant external business services (Yes, from SaaS providers), you further reduce investment and maintenance requirements.

Now I’m no MBA to tell you what are your ‘ROI’ gains by having such an approach, all I can say is if you smartly plan, architect and re-arrange your I.T environments leveraging both internal and external computing capabilities, that becomes your cloud, which becomes your cost effective I.T that we always talk about.

Friday, April 10, 2009

Amazon Elastic MapReduce(Beta)

In one of my earlier posts, I’ve mentioned some of the purposes for which enterprises can use cloud environments, even in their current ‘immature’ form. The key I think is exploring how we can use them for information processing capabilities such as performance benchmarking, fault tolerance testing etc. I think the newly released Amazon Elastic MapReduce (Beta) is a platform that exactly serves this purpose. Though I’m no expert on Map-Reduce or functional programming for that matter, from what I understand, this is the best method for crunching large amount of data and extracting key information out of it(We all know what Google does with it; don’t we).

Another key enterprise use for this platform is for business intelligence systems, as rightly mentioned in the Amazon article. Also organizations that process large amount of data in batches need not wait for doing that now at end of day; they can now be done more real-time, during business hours itself. We need no MBA to know that the faster you can process information; the better your business gains will be. I think the potential is also immense for companies that do image processing etc. Agree, programmers will have to do some work to get things done rightly, still this is a good example for demonstrating how cloud based computing will work for the enterprise, even in its present form.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Running for a cause

What do you think is the one single factor that decides the bigness of news items to choose for a weekly news analysis column? Is it the number of people affected by it? Is it the number of people involved in it? Is it the ‘weight’ of the people involved? Is it the economic repercussions that matters? Or is it all simply media conspiracy? Since I’m no journalist working in controlled environments under supervision of egoistic editors, it’s the absurdity that’s the deciding factor for me. So here is an analysis of few very important news items that I came across last week.

The biggest news for me last week was that on March 28th we proudly celebrated ‘Earth Hour’ by switching to candles for an hour – from kerosene lanterns. The move has become such a success I understand, that people in my part of the world are now asking when can we NOT observe Earth Hour. My only question here is why did they chose March 28th, notwithstanding the fact that we had April 1st falling on the same week, a more apt day for people - especially in rural India - to observe Earth Hour(s).

The biggest landmark we as a nation crossed last week was that we now have our own seven wonders to litter around. I wonder why wonders are always seven in number. Is there a global standard set for the number of wonders that you can have at a time - like the number of U.N security council members, the number of KKR captains etc. Or does it symbolize something; say the number of colors that men can recognize? Now you might say it could be symbolizing the seven days in a week, then my question will be why not 12 or 365 or even why not for the number of holes in a human head. Your week proposition hence is a weak one as well. Now the news report quoted above also says that actor Aishwarya Rai, Her F-I-L Mr Bachchan, her M-I-L Mrs.Bachchan, her S-I-L Ms.Nanda, her husband Mr.Abhishek, Mr.Amar Singh and Mr. Kamal Hassan attended the ceremony that announced the wonders. Again, seven of them! Now I wonder what that symbolizes, I mean other than the obvious ‘odd man out’ question. Anyway, we are becoming a wonderful nation, which is good.

Now those are on the ‘up’ side of news which makes us prouder than the week before, I must also mention few things on the down side as well, to complete the article in true journalistic spirit. Though we humiliate ourselves everyday with our religions, politics, casts, moral-policing etc, here is one where we really failed in front of the world – According to this report , “Chowmein beats Indian curry as Britain's favourite food”. We better do something about it I say, rather than just sitting and watching the Chinese conquering the world, after all we are the world’s largest democracy. Not that it matters when comes to culinary expertise, but we got to console ourselves with something when compared with our neighbour right?

Now to the weeks biggest recession related news – On how a French pole-vaulter is trying to attract sponsors as his present sponsor backed out due to the financial crisis. It seems sports enthusiasts are waiting for other sports personalities around the world to follow him. I think this could even open up a new era for sports sponsorships if the running sports person also holds her/his hat out and seek public contribution. I’m sure she/he can collect enough sponsorship money to fund their entire career that way. Also more people will get to sponsor their favourite sports persons and reap the benefit upfront as well, no matter whether she or he wins in the actual game.

Before I go, here are some etiquette tips - for men in business and businessmen who employ them.