Cloud Computing


The central tenet of outsourcing is that you don’t know everything, others do, and that it only makes business sense to outsource what you are not good at and focus on what you are good at. Businesses of all sizes, shapes and industry have been doing this since the industrial revolution. What has changed is that the big boys have made the outsourcing practice into a religion and in the process have also made the concept expensive-sounding to implement if not sustain. Take IT outsourcing as an example, consultants use the term “proven best practices” to sell you concepts like “understanding your business requirements and aligning technology around these”. Sounds complicated right? Let’s add one more line to this: “get SLA metrics right!”

Now imagine you are a small-size business in Singapore, Hong Kong, Malaysia or the Philippines with a staff of 10 maybe 20 people. Your concept of IT is a computer connected to a printer and maybe a small network setup. Your latest technology investment is an iPad. Suddenly friends and business partners are telling you to get into e-commerce and use social media to reach out to a new audience. What do you do?

For starters, IT outsourcing, like all other outsourcing exercises, starts with knowing what you want to achieve. Simple goals like “keep the business running smoothly” or “reduce cost by automating what is practical and economical for the business” are universal needs.

Next, realize that you are not an IT expert so get someone who knows what they are talking about. There are many providers out there so ask around. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. There is no such thing as stupid question especially if you are the customer. Remember the golden rule: he who makes the gold makes the rules.

Entrepreneurs and business people often pay too much focus on money and costs. IT outsourcing is about keeping your business running so smoothly you won’t even know it’s not there.

Communicate your needs clearly so that the service provider knows and understands what you want. As in marriages, communication is key to achieving a win-win scenario.

Remember the cardinal rule? You get what you pay for! Don’t cut to close the bone lest all you get is bare bone service. IT outsourcers are not charities. They, like you, are in it to make money.

Let your service provider that you are watching him, maybe not like a hawk but close enough, so he doesn’t slack off! Remember the old adage: when the cat is away the mouse will play. Same here!

Also, just because you outsourcing something to someone else, doesn’t mean you wipe your hands clean of responsibility. It is your money, your business, so your responsibility!

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Our website is down! It takes too long for the website to get served! Why is the video playback so choppy? These are complains I hear all too often as head of the web team and the guy responsible for ensuring that our websites are up and running. As a business that has moved online in a slow but measured way, we now see the importance of staying up 24×7. But why 24×7? In the publishing world, our readers are globally located and working at local hours wherever they may be. And since one of the metrics for our success is the number of page views and unique visitors, we need to make sure that every experience readers have with our websites is flawlessly executed most of the time.

A friend suggested I consider a content delivery network (CDN) as a better way of serving our readers in a more reliable fashion. In this case reliable is not just about uptime but also about fast load times.

Wikipedia defines a content delivery network or content distribution network (CDN) as a system of computers containing copies of data, placed at various points in a network so as to maximize bandwidth for access to the data from clients throughout the network. A client accesses a copy of the data near to the client, as opposed to all clients accessing the same central server, so as to avoid bottlenecks near that server. In the context of the World Wide Web, the ‘network’ is the Internet and therefore client access is anywhere in the world.

There are many CDN service providers today. Amazon CloudFront, Microsoft Windows Azure, and Akamai Technologies are probably the most recognizable brands. It should be noted that BitTorrent (more recognized for its peer-to-peer networks) commercially sells CDN services.

The use of CDNs is not restricted to the publishing industry. CDN is ideal for businesses that require fast, accurate and reliable connection anywhere in the world with the emphasis on delivering similar service experience regardless of location.

I recently met some executives at Akamai Technologies to try and understand how the CDN business is moving forward in Asia. In a follow-up discussion, I touched based with Bruno Goveas, Head of Products for Asia Pacific at Akamai Technologies.

Are today’s network infrastructure geared to support the globally dispersed nature of customers?

Bruno Goveas, Head of Products for Asia Pacific, Akamai Technologies

Bruno Goveas, Head of Products for Asia Pacific, Akamai Technologies

Bruno Goveas: In recent years, with companies expanding into new geographies and having employees, partners and suppliers distributed across the globe, extending a company private network to support such a large user-base can be an expensive proposition, which is neither cost-effective nor scalable. Hence companies are enabling their applications to be accessible via the Internet to leverage its ubiquity and cost-effectiveness. The use of the Internet as a platform for business applications, to support the globally dispersed nature of customers, is critical for business agility and competitiveness.

Can having a cloud infrastructure setup of the scale of Google or Microsoft or Amazon be sufficient to deliver the availability/performance that customers expect from someone like Akamai? What makes Akamai different from the others?

Bruno Goveas: As Google or Microsoft or Amazon or other companies, offer public cloud solutions like Apps, Azure, BPOS, EC2 and S3, the reality of the cloud itself comes to bear. These applications are accessed over the Internet.  Without optimization services, cloud offerings are at the mercy of the Internet and its many bottlenecks — and the resulting poor performance has a direct impact on user adoption and hence the bottom line.

In order for companies to realize the potential of cloud computing, they will need to overcome the performance, reliability, and scalability challenges the Internet presents. That’s where cloud optimization services from Akamai comes in.

Combining Akamai cloud optimization services with cloud services from Amazon, Microsoft or Google, can help customers deliver the necessary levels of application performance and availability, that will be expected from their end-users, thus helping companies fully realize the ROI from their public cloud computing initiatives.  In addition, Akamai recently extended its cloud optimization capabilities towards security helping companies defend against network and  application-specific attacks,  further enhancing the integral need of cloud optimization services for any public cloud initiatives.

Akamai claims an SLA of 100% availability. How does the company ensure this is achieve and what performance guarantees does the company provide?

Bruno Goveas: This gets to the core of Akamai’s value proposition. Akamai has a global network of over 73,000+ servers in over 1,100 networks in 71 countries around that world. We leverage the intelligence we collect from our distributed platform, and apply a variety of proprietary and patented route, protocol and application optimization techniques to overcome inherent Internet challenges – peering/transit limitations, congestion issues, cable cuts caused by accidents and natural disasters like earth quakes and protocol inefficiencies – to accelerate the delivery of dynamic transactions, rich media content and software.

Is Akamai unique in this business? Probably not! For CDN providers like AT&T, Amazon or Microsoft Windows Azure to flourish, they must deliver comparable service quality at equal, if not better, price points.

Other CDN providers:

Free CDNs

Commercial CDNs

Commercial CDNs using P2P for delivery

On August 16, Dell announced its intention to acquire 3PAR Data, better recognized as one of the early pioneers of virtualized storage. A week HP made a counter offer that ups the bidding war for one of the few remaining storage pureplay startups in the once crowded enterprise storage marketplace.

Why is Dell interested in 3PAR? Dell’s storage business has largely depended on its OEM agreement with EMC (in force until 2013). But its storage buys of the last decade (ConvergeNet Technologies, EquaLogic, Exanet, Ocarina Networks) coupled with its Perot Systems acquisition suggests that Dell has higher ambitions than being a successful reseller of storage boxes that plug and play to its servers. The EquaLogic buy gave it iSCSI SANs (despite Dell having rights to sell EMC Celerra NX4).

For its part, HP has as much interest to keep Dell from acquiring 3PAR. Adding 3PAR to its portfolio puts Dell in the thick of the data center. A serious mid to high-end storage virtualization offering means more opportunities to sell high-end services, and possibly making a serious dent on HP’s ProLiant server and EVA/low-end XP storage business. A 3PAR solution overlaps with some of the XP and EVA so there might be a consolidation. I would not be surprised if HDS will come out the loser since it gives HP one more reason to stop the OEM relationship with the Japanese manufacturer (Rumors of HP trying to buy the system storage business of Hitachi have been playing around for well close to a decade now. So far the Japanese vendor has resisted the offer).

HP with 3PAR also puts the Palo Alto stalwart into serious contention in the cloud storage business, something EMC has been building over the last few years.The latest entrant to the cloud bandwagon is HDS.

The storage industry remains vibrant if not shrinking. The last few brands worth buying, remaining untethered to any system vendor, Brocade and Qlogic. Acquiring Brocade would give HP the ump it needs to up the ante in the storage networking space, seriously putting a rock in front of the Cisco jauggernaut. HP would also do well to buy Qlogic making further inroads into the total server-storage-networking storyline.

If Dell loses 3PAR to HP, the only other target on sight would be Compellent. Not exactly near the possibilities that 3PAR offers to the company. The next battleground is in the software space with backup and recovery solutions a consistent enterprise requirement and for which the choices are aplenty despite Symantec’s dominance. The Veritas acquisition has made Symantec vulnerable to enterprise-grade, low-cost solutions from the likes of Acronis, Commvault and BakBone.

For the moment, the storage market is not the most boring place in the tech industry.

Some credit the dotcom boom as the birth of software-as-a-service or SaaS (and all the succeeding xxxx-as-a-service offering). Back then it was called ASP or application service provision. Today, we call is SaaS and there are trends indicating it might eventually called cloud service in the very near future. Before you mis-quote me, let me be clear… ASPs are NOT SaaS vendors. There is a difference.

Around 2002 if you were to asked around the vendor community how many had any SaaS-like offering, you’ll be surprise at how few would admit to this. In fact most traditional on-premise vendors tout the importance of customization and keeping your data close to you.

Today, its hard to find any major software vendor who doesn’t have a SaaS strategy somewhere. Some even dare to say that the only future is a SaaS one?

Treb Ryan, CEO of OpSource, a provider of infrastructure for delivering cloud services, says there are lots of SaaS-wannabes and you should learn to spot these from the genuine McCoy.

Andrew Antal, senior director of Marketing in Asia Pacific Japan at MessageLabs, notes that not everyone can be a SaaS vendor. It takes more than just adding the SaaS label in the product literature.

Ask your SaaS vendor to look you straight in the eye and tell you that their SaaS offering isn’t the same old product they used to sell with but with a web UI bolted to it and served up at an ASP-style data center.

According to purists, a true SaaS applications is built for the web. Being web-ready or web-enabled does not mean SaaS. So if a vendor approaches you and tells you they have a SaaS offering just right for your business, dig very deep into their history before you commit to anything. You might just become another ASP victim.