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Cloud Computing Special Part 2: Cloud Control

Cloud Computing Special Part 2: Cloud Control

Beyond the hype, some companies are moving cautiously to cloud computing. Meet the experimenters.

Winn's group might have done such modelling with Excel spreadsheets on a subset of BT data. But aggregates and averages are a risky way to model, he says. Abstractions can distort results. Working out pricing problems on Kognitio's servers lets BT use actual customer data -- and lots of it. "When the answer comes out, it has a lot more credibility," he says. "This isn't a few assumptions in a spreadsheet. It is truly penny perfect."

A Cloud By Any Other Name

Jim Swartz, CIO of Sybase, sees potential in cloud computing but isn't ready to give up his company's data to a third-party host. Instead, he has virtualised Sybase's servers -- essentially creating his own private cloud -- so he can study the best way to use the architecture.

At Sybase, a private cloud of virtual servers inside its data centre has saved nearly $US2 million annually since 2006, Swartz says, because the company can share computing power and storage resources across servers. The virtual setup also lets Sybase move data electronically from one physical site to another, for a more agile disaster recovery program.

Whenever you hear the term "private cloud", understand that it's "nothing more than virtualisation", notes David Linthicum, principal of Linthicum Group, a consulting firm that specialises in enterprise architecture and Web technologies. Virtualisation lets CIOs take advantage of the economics of cloud computing, he says, but within their own walls and under their own control.

Virtualisation has certainly saved money for Norton Healthcare, a nonprofit hospital system in the US, although CIO Joe DeVenuto declines to cite exact figures. Norton recently revamped its data centre with vendor Emerson Network Power, installing 160 virtual servers. The goal was to milk every drop of computing power and storage capacity from its machines. Virtual servers scale up and down fast, and new ones can be added in less time than it takes to configure a traditional server, DeVenuto notes.

Cloud vendors might be even more efficient than he is, De-Venuto says, but that extra oomph isn't worth the risk of letting go of patient data from Norton's four hospitals, 10 urgent care facilities and 60 doctor's offices. He would consider cloud for disaster recovery, he says, but not for primary computing. "I'm fairly conservative. It's a struggle for me to put patient information in the public cloud."

E-mail Options To Explore

One organisation more willing to farm out some of its data is the United States Golf Association, which governs the rules of golf and runs 13 championships every year. Daily operations at the USGA rely heavily on their own e-mail system because they are in continual contact with their constituencies, such as state and regional golf associations, USGA members, championship host clubs and the general golfing community. Even an hour of downtime would cause major disruption to this workflow, says Jessica Carroll, managing director of IT.

Carroll wanted to revise an existing e-mail backup plan that would take hours or days to recover. Under that plan, the IT department would handle the entire recovery process, including ordering new hardware to start from scratch. To take the weight off her team's shoulders and to make sure the company wouldn't lose data or productivity, she signed a deal last year with IBM to host a replication of USGA's e-mail system in IBM's data centres.

If a USGA server hits a problem, Carroll can click a button to switch to the replicated version that IBM maintains for her, she says, without USGA users noticing a thing. Then her IT department can fix the internal issues. The e-mail system carries USGA's most critical data, such as membership information and correspondences between the constituents.

Before Carroll could feel comfortable with the deal, however, she extracted stringent service-level promises from IBM. For example, in the event of a short-term outage such as a hardware failure, IBM must immediately provide a year's worth of backed-up e-mails for senior management of the USGA staff so they can continue e-mailing without waiting for repair. In the event of a full-blown crash, IBM would provide multiple years' worth of messages. The hardware and software for this kind of backup and recovery system would have cost the USGA too much to do on its own, Carroll says.

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