Public, Private and Hybrid Clouds

February 28, 2012

So, what is the difference between Public, Private and Hybrid Clouds?

The terms get mixed up frequentlyImage and many people I speak with still are confusing and using them inaccurately.

In its current form, cloud computing has been around for a few years now, yet many are still confused by the terminology used to describe the various types of clouds. This has not been helped by private software and hardware vendors inventing terms to attempt to appeal to corporate IT departments everywhere. As they saw cloud computing taking off, they attempted to exploit fears as to its security by offering solutions that really don’t have anything to do with the cloud except for a made-up name. Here, we’ll attempt to cut through the noise and give a basic primer as to the types of clouds and their potential uses.

Public Cloud

When most people speak of cloud computing, this is what they mean. A public cloud is formed when a provider, someone like Amazon, Google or a smaller company, makes computing resources, such as processing power, memory or storage, publicly available over the Internet. In a public cloud environment, the user pays no bandwidth or hardware costs and setup is usually quick and easy. Although the user does not pay these costs, they usually do pay for the resources they use. Think of it like paying for only the amount of electricity you use or the amount of minutes you use per month on your cell phone. Some providers also charge a subscription fee as well. If you need more resources, the cloud can instantly provide them. There’s no need to install additional hardware or software.

Public clouds typically run on open-source software to facilitate the movement of such vast amounts of data. However, as an increasing number of software companies, such as Microsoft and Oracle, have attempted to enter the cloud computing arena, they have started to provide cloud infrastructures that utilize proprietary software. This has been a sticking point with cloud computing purists, who don’t regard public clouds running proprietary software as truly public.

From its inception, the major vulnerability of the public cloud has been security. Once your data enters the cloud, it can circulate through dozens, hundreds or even thousands of systems. This is truly frightening for anyone running applications that involve highly secure data such as financial information or corporate intelligence. And this, more than anything else, is what brought on the other types of cloud computing that are in use today.

The Private Cloud

The term “private cloud” started when hardware and software companies were looking for ways to jump on the cloud computing bandwagon while maintaining usage of their existing systems. Knowing that IT departments were nervous about using public clouds due to security reasons, these companies hit upon the term “private cloud” as a buzzword to describe a computing infrastructure privately held by a corporation that had capabilities similar to a cloud but was completely internal and thus more secure.

Cloud computing enthusiasts point out that private clouds consist of privately held devices, such as storage arrays and servers, which needed to be built and configured by the organization. This mitigates most of the benefits of cloud computing. However, companies can use virtualization to simulate some of the resource allocation features of the cloud and thus save on costs. In general, a private cloud is not really a cloud at all but simply a farm of internal resources that can be used only by the organization in which they are installed.

The Hybrid Cloud

The hybrid cloud is the happy medium of cloud computing. If an organization has varying needs regarding computational resources and also has both sensitive and non-sensitive applications, it can use a hybrid cloud to get the best of both worlds. In most cases, the database servers, which generally contain sensitive information, are kept on a private cloud, and a public cloud is used for everything else. This solves the security problems of public clouds and lets an organization take advantage of all that public cloud has to offer when it comes to general computing resources.

As cloud computing is refined, the public cloud will become increasingly secure, allowing corporations to gradually transition their services to the more cost-effective alternative. Until then, however, hybrid clouds are likely to be the most common form of corporate cloud computing.

Effective Cloud disaster recovery

December 12, 2011

As the cloud gains steam and expands, disaster recovery has become more effective. Creative ideas involving replication have evolved as it pertains to recovery solutions for disasters.  Not always inexpensive, the best solutions provide almost instant recovery times.

Continuous data protection (CDP) using virtual machines for data replication in the cloud is probably the most reliable solution to date.

(For the purposes of this discussion, bandwidth is plentiful and security procedures have been established.)

There are two very good solutions for CDP disaster recovery on virtual machines:

1. Pure cloud  

This solution is straight forward. If you’re running your applications purely on the cloud, with nothing local, then the managed service provider (MSP) can be responsible for disaster recovery. If the primary cloud site fails, a secondary cloud site will take over with a “flick of the switch” of duplicate data and virtual machines running the applications. After recent outages at Amazon’s AWS, MSPs are ensuring they have more reliable disaster recovery solutions.

2. Replication to virtual machines from local systems

This solution works well for companies that want their data on the premises, as well as in the cloud. There are a few steps:

a.   Service provider installs an on-premise device that replicates all local data.

b.   On-premise system replicates with virtual machines in the cloud.

c.   In the event of an on-premise disaster, the “switch is flipped,” and the virtual machines in the cloud take over.

Cloud software capable of replication include CommVault Continuous Data Replicator, EMC Atmos and the Hitachi Content Platform (HCP). IBM, AppAssure, Iron Mountain, and Simply Continuous also provide these disaster recovery cloud services.

Remember, these solutions must be clearly identified in any service-level agreement (SLA) with the MSP. A key element will be the recovery time objectives (RTO). How long can the system be down before the business is impacted?  There are some key areas you want to make sure are covered, and that you fully understand, to make sure they meet your business needs and that no surprises come up should disaster strike.

1. Read the Service Level Agreement (SLA)

Read and understand the SLA being offered by your cloud service provider. Understand what constitutes a disaster, ask questions and walk through scenarios to be sure you fully understand what constitutes a disaster and the specifics around a DR event. Who declares a disaster, what processes and technologies are in place to minimize the impact to customers, and how long will it take to restore service. If a few hours of downtime seems like an eternity, and if your business cannot survive it, a cloud service may not be right for you.

2. Recovery Point Objective

The word disaster implies that bad things have happened, and when it comes to an IT service, that usually implies data loss. Make sure you understand the recovery point objective of the service so you know just how much data loss is possible in the event disaster strikes.

3. Recovery Time Objective

Communicate to all stakeholders the time that has been agreed to in your Service Level agreement for recovering from the disaster.  Make sure that all stakeholders have agreed to the recovery time before signing up with the cloud service.

Agile Commerce – Unlocking a Mobile Applications Strategy that works

October 18, 2011

One common misconception in creating an Agile Commerce strategy, especially in Retailing, is to think that the strategy is purely centered on technology.

Retailers must “operationalize” customer intelligence across channels from existing systems such as customer relationship management, web analytics, business intelligence, data warehousing and mobile applications.

Agile Commerce is not a solution looking for a problem to solve but a process for enhancing the customer experience and driving additional revenue and profit to the organization.  An Agile Commerce strategy and business strategy need to be developed in parallel.

Mobile Applications play an important role in an agile commerce strategy.  If implemented properly in accordance with the business/retailing strategy, Mobile Applications can improve the customer experience.

  • Mobile Barcodes: Mobile barcodes are a powerful way to drive in-store transactions. For example, retailers can provide a mobile application that enables customers to use the camera in their mobile phone to snap a picture of a barcode, which then brings up a special landing page for that product or group of products. This can provide customers with instant product and pricing information and create opportunities for cross selling or up selling. These same capabilities would also provide the ability to generate coupons or vouchers that encourage impulse buying in the store.
  • Location-Based Services: Mobile store-locator applications can guide customers to the nearest store, or the nearest store that has a specific product in inventory, and provide coupons for use in the store.
  • In-Store Shopping Applications: Mobile devices can become “virtual salespeople” by providing applications that enable customers to check product availability (both in-store and online), compare prices with other outlets and access reliable product information. (Enabling price comparisons with other outlets seems counterintuitive, but it actually is beneficial because it helps keep the customer in the store to negotiate pricing rather than having them leave to investigate pricing elsewhere.)
  • Multichannel Engagement: Mobile can become the first point of contact with a potential customer, who can then be transferred to other online or offline channels. For example, a coupon could be used as an incentive to download a mobile application, with the coupon redeemable at the online or offline store. Mobile is also an excellent channel for customer updates. SMS messages, email or automated phone calls can be used to notify customers to product availability or special promotions, driving them to online and offline stores, and providing them with vouchers while in-store to encourage impulse buying.
  • Closing the Sale: Actual mobile transactions have been slow to evolve since those initial Coca-Cola machine rollouts, due primarily to technical and security considerations. Most of those issues have been overcome today, making mobile a suitable mechanism for capturing customer information and executing transactions.

Mobile application technology should provide the flexibility to adapt to emerging business requirements, so it can support mobile commerce operations both today and in the future–even if future requirements are not yet known.

In addition to being fully integrated with a broader commerce platform, mobile commerce technology should have the following core capabilities that will enable a truly rich mobile commerce strategy:

  • Integrated Content Management: This will enable easy development of mobile-optimized websites and ensure content consistency across different sites and channels. The solution should have a single interface for content creation, and advanced search and navigation capabilities to make content access simple and intuitive. It should also integrate with promotions functionality, to facilitate the rapid creation and deployment of promotional content.
  • Mobile Barcode Generation: As detailed earlier in this blog, mobile barcodes open a broad range of opportunities to influence customer behavior – from driving them to online and offline stores, to encouraging impulse purchasing, to promoting up-selling and cross-selling opportunities.
  • Standards-Based APIs: These APIs – most often based on Web services standards – will enable seamless integration with other systems and support for all varieties of mobile platforms. This enables mobile and commerce platforms to integrate with back-end systems, and all major mobile platforms.

In order for the agile commerce strategy to be implemented effectively two primary tenets need to be adhered to:

  1. Make agility and speed a corporate imperative. In order to win in the new era of agile commerce, organizations must overcome the IT bottleneck that comes with making e-commerce changes. It’s essential to be able to inject customized content into customer interactions seamlessly, throughout the sales cycle.
  2. Create a multifaceted/cross-functional team structure. You need to optimize more than your technology. The right people and processes must deliver the same level of continuity, engagement, and relevance across all touch points. No longer can a few members of the organization dictate the impact of digital marketing. Through a “cross-pollination of expertise” you can leverage the new technologies to create an army of margin makers at all levels of the organization, a business culture where all employees are empowered to influence revenue based on the ability to carry out great ideas quickly, with measurable and actionable results.

The role of today’s CIO is changing—why it’s imperative for the success of the organization

October 7, 2011

The CIO role is changing–it must continue to change so that IT organizations can become and remain successful. In her article for Bloomberg Business Week, Rachael King quotes Rebecca Jacoby, CIO at Cisco Systems (CSCO), on the changing role of today’s CIO:  “As technology plays a more central role in products and employees do more work on a broader range of devices, CIOs need experience running businesses and spurring innovation—not just keeping computers running.”

Read Rachel’s full post. Here’s my observation on why the role of the CIO should continue to change and why it makes sense.

The focus of the CIO role is now much more about the purpose of leadership.  Whether or not a CIO has come up through a technical track or not will not necessarily make that CIO become a successful business leader.  Technical experience alone does not give anyone the ability to lead an IT organization.

It has been my experience that many people within IT organizations may sometimes feel threatened by a non-technologically trained CIO taking the reins of a company that was once a technology dominated. Think about it. A successful non-technical CIO has no choice but to build an organization of great technicians that will help the organization to develop technical solutions for business issues.

The days of a CIO coming up through a technical track are quickly coming to an end.  IT organizations “stuck in the silo” and not working within the business community are doing a disservice to the organization and more than likely hampering the growth of the business. Nowadays a CIO must be very conversant in marketing, finance and accounting–really most of the core business leadership functions in my opinion.

It is myopic to think that a non-technical CIO cannot successfully run an IT organization just as it is myopic to think that a person that is technically competent cannot become a CEO, COO or CFO.

Be sure to read Rachel King’s Bloomberg post.

Customer Centricity on Steroids with Agile Commerce

August 10, 2011

Over the years the term of “Customer Centricity” has been the buzz word for retail organizations. Retailers are now focusing on operations to optimize the customer relationship.  This includes setting up as many touch points within the store and via web and print media as possible.  However, as we move into a social networking paradigm the term of “Agile Commerce” is taking hold and it has a lot to offer retailers on how they take “Customer Centricity” to the next level.

Many retailers recognize the need for visibility everywhere their customers are, but most don’t really know how to do this yet.  As a result, far too many retailers attempt to fit old-school marketing tactics to these new touch points. Display ads on social networks, non-conversational Twitter streams full of nothing but brand announcements, one-time deals attempting to buy fans–are (simply put) square pegs, and hammer as marketers might otherwise think, these types of online marketing programs just cannot fit  in round hole

The key to Agile Commerce is to deliver targeted content effortlessly and seamlessly across multiple touch points such as email, smartphones, social media, websites, print media, and within the four walls of the store.

But how is that accomplished when the constant spread of social means the number of these touch points increases every day?

One rudimentary answer would be to deeply understanding a customer’s needs, and proactively delivering content that meets those needs. Retailers must now “operationalize” customer intelligence across channels from existing systems such as customer relationship management, web analytics, business intelligence, and data warehouses. 

Forward thinking retailing CIO’s are beginning to tackle this issue and those that are not will place their organizations at a competitive disadvantage. 

Forrester Research has best described Agile Commerce as “... not just an incremental change; it’s a metamorphosis to a new form of operations and technology orientation. While the pieces and capabilities of an agile commerce operation may look similar to those focused for years on multichannel commerce, it’s how they come together and how the organization responds to the customer that represents the significant change. With the advent of agile commerce, organizations need to reconfigure resources and capabilities to stay ahead of the rate of change as consumer technology adoption and behaviors change. The customer is now at the center, and delivering relevant content, commerce, and service is the key to delivering on the new reality.”

So the big question is: How do you begin to develop and execute a strategy to better meet the needs of this new paradigm? 

Stay tuned, in my next post I will start to lay out the foundation that needs to be established and the tools that are now available to maximize the relationship with your customer.

Finally, RIM Playbook can get email…

July 6, 2011

Last week U.S. wireless carrier AT&T finally put its stamp of approval on Research In Motion’s (RIM) BlackBerry Bridge app, which lets BlackBerry smart phone users access their BlackBerry mail, contacts, and calendar.  The BlackBerry PlayBook does not currently support native e-mail or PIM, so BlackBerry users on AT&T have thus far been unable to access their BlackBerry e-mail and PIM via PlayBook. However, email and online calendars are accessible via the PlayBook browser—and crafty users can also download the app “unofficially” from other websites. RIM did promise native PlayBook e-mail and PIM apps, but it already failed to keep its word that the apps would be released within two months after launch.

The BlackBerry PlayBook was initially released in April, and AT&T is the only major U.S. carrier that did not support Bridge at launch.  AT&T said it wanted more time to test the app before approving it, and it looks as though on July 1st they issued its official okay.

AT&T will reportedly allow users to access BlackBerry e-mail and PIM free via PlayBook using a secure Bluetooth connection, but users looking to employ their BlackBerry smartphones’ Internet connections to access the Web via PlayBook will need to shell out $20 a month extra for a tethering plan. The BlackBerry PlayBook is only available in Wi-Fi versions now, so it needs a separate Internet connection for Web access.

PlayBook sales so far have been less than impressive, and AT&T’s hesitancy to support the Bridge app no doubt played some role in this equation. RIM said it sold some 500,000 PlayBooks in the first quarter following its release (not a terribly low number), but it also recently cut sales forecasts for the PlayBook by more than 50% due to an expected decrease in consumer interest around the tablet.

Toshiba releases new hard drive that erases itself when removed from a PC

April 15, 2011

Toshiba has come up with a type of self-encrypting hard drive (SED) that can automatically wipe data if it is removed from a paired computer by an attacker.

Available in capacities up to 640GB, the new MKxx61GSYG drive upgrades the capabilities of an identically named drive announced last December, which launched the company’s family of drives complying with the Trusted Computing Group’s Opal SSC specification.

The new version adds new feature to the mix for OEMs, including the ability to cause either part or all of the drive to become crypto-erased if the drive detects that it is not operating inside a particular PC.

According to Toshiba, this is useful for point-of-sale terminals as well as some laptops to protect against drive data being accessed when it is at the end of its life or being re-provisioned.

The company is also pushing the case of this type of drive in niche applications such as multi-function printers that cache and retain images of faxes and printed documents. Undoubtedly, however, the technology could herald a move towards drives that are designed to wipe themselves out when removed from paired computers or devices.

It’s important to also note that data can also be set to erase from sections of the drive based on remote commands.

SAS and EMC push High Performance Analytics technology

April 14, 2011

On Tuesday, EMC added three new models to its Greenplum Data Computing Appliance (DCA) line of products, including a system optimized for high-capacity and another optimized for high performance. The company also rolled out version 4.1 of the Greenplum Database.

Separately on Tuesday, SAS Institute said its SAS High-Performance Analytics technology will be added to EMC’s DCA products.

By adding the SAS technology, Greenplum users will soon be able to perform complex analytical computations on their data without having to first move it to a SAS environment.

James Kobielus of Forrester Research said, “The SAS integration is very important for EMC Greenplum at a number of levels. Customers of data warehousing solutions are looking more and more to run advanced analytics without necessarily having to move their data to specialized platform such as SAS.”

The integration of the two environments will let Greenplum users take advantage of their massively parallel, high-performance data warehouse appliances to run SAS analytics significantly faster.

Greenplum customers can now select SAS more easily because they don’t have to move their data out from one environment to another. Greenplum customers are clearly getting some analytics capabilities they didn’t have previously.

If SAS did not partner with EMC they would have had hard time surviving if the only way they work is to take data out of DB2 or Teradata or Greenplum and put it into SAS.  Data volumes are getting increasingly massive and a lot of data is simply not going to be in SAS going forward.

This is a very good move for SAS and EMC.

Cloud computing can be a time saver…..

April 12, 2011

Businesses and organizations of all sizes and orientation are undergoing a massive shift in how they acquire IT services and solutions. Today, provisioning new applications and services can be a complex design and integration exercise, with the business itself having to bear the risk and burden of the deployment. More and more, CIOs are looking for simplified approaches like Cloud services and managed services relationships that enable them to focus on their core business.

On average the typical IT department spends 70% of its budget on maintaining its existing infrastructure and only 30% on innovation to generate a competitive advantage for the business. The biggest challenge CIOs face is the need to react much faster to business demands and to get ahead of the curve toward using IT as a competitive differentiator.

While cloud computing adoption has been swift among startups and small-to-midsize businesses with little or no legacy IT operations, larger enterprises have been slower to adopt cloud-related services. Selecting the right providers and services is a gamble when products, pricing and performance change daily. Also, companies that have large capital investments in custom software or infrastructure can find it difficult to make a case for scrapping it all. Then there are the issues of integration, standardization, security and control.

But when the time is right, the cloud can be the way to grow, no matter the size of the enterprise. Not only can software as a service (SaaS), infrastructure as a service (IaaS), and platform as a service (PaaS) be fast and relatively cheap enablers of corporate growth, they can enable IT groups to serve the expanding enterprise more strategically. The cloud allows IT organizations to focus its efforts on improvement and innovation.

 

Want a Successful IT Transformation Project? Try tweeting, texting and blogging…

March 10, 2011

In the not so distant past, IT Transformation efforts utilized email and communication managers to communicate updates to the employees of an organization. This was only as effective as the communications manager and leadership team ability to keep the mechanism moving. This method of communicating primarily only allowed for one way communication – normally taking the shape of progress reports, status reports or issue reports.

The introduction of Facebook has changed the way we communicate electronically from a one-way to two-way communication to the masses. The ability to get real-time feedback from a small group or from millions of people on a comment, idea, or thought has transformed the way we as a people tend to communicate. Twitter has pushed this concept even further, people now have the ability to “follow” specific people or discussions. Now when one person states their opinion, status or issue, it is heard by hundreds, thousands or even millions of people.

With the advent of social networking, an ordinary person has the ability to reach large numbers of people with minimal effort and resources. And the people you reach have an opportunity to talk back and share their opinions. The power to sway mass opinion is now available to everyone. Companies have recognized this phenomenon and have tapped into this network. At first, most companies viewed this as just another form of feedback or input on their performance. But remember, true social networking is a “two-way” communication. Smart companies have recognized this and are using social media outlets to talk directly with their end consumers, with minimal efforts and cost.

The question has always been asked as to why IT Transformation projects fail and the most common answer after all of the dust has settled is that they fail due to a lack of communication. The second reason they fail is due to a lack of communication and the third reason they fail is a due to a lack of communication. I know it’s redundant, but there is no other reason! Today’s generation are more likely to communicate via Twitter, Facebook and texting than they are by email. Companies undergoing an IT Transformation need to take a page from this generation’s playbook and establish a two-way dialog during their IT Transformation initiatives.

So the question is “How?” Most companies do not want their internal transformation initiatives on Facebook or Twitter.  A good solution is the use of Microsoft SharePoint–a platform that allows companies can create a discussion dialog that allows people to communicate with the Transformation Team and with each other. Not the same as Facebook, but users can “write on a SharePoint wall.” You can also use internal Web Pages that support Blogs or Forums that provide similar functionality.

Almost every company uses some form of internal / external Instant Messenger (IM). Although this is not the same a Twitter, you can simulate some of Twitter’s functionality. As long as your IM software will deliver messages to offline people when they log in, it will function like a “tweet.” In addition, most IM software will allow you to create “chat rooms” that will allow people to communicate with each other on-line and with your Transformation Team.

Now once the tools are in place the Transformation team MUST ALSO use them. The worst thing that can happen is that when people send questions to the team and those questions go unanswered which can also allow rumors to spread across the organization without being addressed. Remember, smart companies are already using social networking tools to reach their end consumer. And really smart companies are turning Social Networking into a mechanism to reduce risk on their mission critical IT Transformation projects.