by October 19, 2010 0 comments

Give us an overview of what’s happening in the cloud computing space
There’s a tremendous shift happening in India as well as the rest of the world, where the old style of using IT services is being replaced by a newer level of thinking, where resources are being allocated using the utility pricing model. They’re no longer constrained in their thinking about resources, can take their products in any direction, have tremendously compressed their time to market. If they have an idea, then cloud computing allows them to quickly execute it. The Daily Telgraph, a UK based media company for instance, built a completely new site called So basically they took fashion components from the telegraph and related news and merge it with e-commerce. This way, they could monetize their existing company. The beauty of this is that they could start with something relatively simple using cloud computing, and do it purely as an experimental model, and then scale it up as it succeeds. Cloud computing makes it possible for companies to start small, and provide enormous scalability while being fast and reliable.

Internet facing companies are quickly and aggressively moving to the cloud computing model. Larger enterprises are taking a more phased approach, because they often have Internet facing problems. For instance, they may have marketing campaigns, which would be different from those of five years ago. Instead of being a simple website, it would now have streaming video, user generated content, casual gaming, integrated graphics, integration with facebook, twitter, etc. So a marketing campaign is a pretty complex operation today, often with five to ten different producers involved in generating this content. So the media houses that do these marketing campaigns have created packages. Most of these campaigns have exponential content, so in a few days you’ll go from zero to a thousand servers because you want to be snappy and fast to make it exciting for customers. Plus, they’re short-lived, say a week or a month at the most.

What should be the strategy for an organization to migrate its applications to the cloud?
For one, it has to be a migratable application. Two, it all depends upon customers. So DR for instance, is something that customers start using early as a learning point. In the short term, they do all the testing and migration for simpler things. In the longer term strategy, any new IT that CIOs buy needs to be cloud ready.

Migrating existing IT to the cloud is a different story, as it involves taking a deep dive, looking into data dependencies, other services, compliance regulations, etc. A plan is built to identify the low hanging fruit, the one that can be moved quickly. Here again, the decision may not just be the cost. For instance, if you’re running an application inhouse, and its license is about to expire in a few months, then would you buy the software again using the old license model, or would you rather leverage the cloud? In the old world, if you purchased a license, you’d be stuck with it for 5-10 years. Moreover, the pricing is so negotiable that everybody would buy it at different prices, leading to frustration (because the other guy bought it at a lower price than you!). In the new IT world of cloud computing, licensing is much more flexible and transparent. For instance, there’s a company called Lawson, which offers ERP, SCM, and talent management services on the cloud as a subscription model (per user, per seat, etc). The company offers an instant of their ERP free for three months. You can migrate all your data to it, customize it as per your requirement, and if you’re not satisfied at the end of it, you can pull out your data and walk away. There is no Lockin!

So we feel that it’s a myth that the cloud locks you in. In Amazon for instance, it’s exactly the opposite. We’ll give you any OS-OpenSolaris, Linux, Oracle Linux, RedHat, Ubuntu, Windows Server, etc. We try to make our services as simple as possible-simple storage or simple database, simple queue service, etc. Because if we make it simple, it also makes it simple for customers to walk away if we don’t don’t meet their requirement. So we try to be customer centric, and be on our toes all the time to ensure that our services deliver exactly what you want, else you could walk away.

In the consumer IT world, it’s the same model being followed. For instance, you might be using an application on your smartphone today. Tomorrow, if there’s a better application that provides more features, then you’ll get rid of your old application. There’s no loyalty there. So in the enterprise IT world, we’re trying to make the buyer in-charge instead of the vendor.

Your take on cloud security and the issues that surround it?
Whenever I have sat down with a CIO, I drill down into the actual applications and try to understand what’s being secured. I never saw a case where we were not able to satisfy the security requirements. We’ve had a very long history in securing apps on the Internet. Plus, in our cloud, we have developed a whole set of access control tools that are very rich to use. That said, security in the cloud is a shared responsibility. We do our best to build super secure services, with very competent operational standards around it. But if you start exposing your passwords of the apps that run on our cloud, then it’s all for nothing. There’s a shared responsibility model, where customers also need to meet all regulatory requirements. It’s not just the cloud piece that needs to be compliant, but the application piece as well.

In cloud, we just have to ensure that the access control mechanisms we provide work. Rest has to be the process of the customer. From Amazon’s point of view, security is our priority number one, and that will never change. Anyone that has a business that’s connected to the network, security should be priority number one. It’s also our number one investment area. We believe that we can do enormous innovation in the security area-developing tools that are not available in the enterprise space.

We’ve created much more finer grained access control tools, wherein you can say this particular object can only be accessed by developers in our Bangalore office on Friday afternoon between 3-4 PM. They can only start this virtual machine, but can’t stop it. These tools are just not available in the enterprise space. I think given that we’re going into more policy driven security mechanisms in the enterprise, we give them very rich tools to map those policy controls so that you can fully automate security.

We know from experience, as long as humans are there, they’re the weakest link not only in security, but also in scathing. e.g. if elasticity is important, it really works well if you can automate it, instead of a human sitting there to do it. We create business rules to control it.

And in that sense, the new world is very different from the old world. There’s more automation in the new world than the older one.

Many CIOs feel unsecure about the location where their data will finally be stored if they move to the cloud. What’s your take on that?
If I talk to customers and look at where they’re storing their data now, it’s not very different from where they’ll be storing it in the Amazon cloud. Most companies don’t own their own data center. It’s already outsourced. They own their racks, servers, data, etc, but these are kept in a cage in an outsourced data center where the engineer who handles them has the keys to the company’s cage as well as those of its neighbors. How secure is that?

So, I feel that security is more of an emotional thing. But if you get down to explicit things and review the security practices, you’ll find that things in the cloud are just as secure, if not more.

What are some of the unique challenges being faced by Indian CIOs, and are they any different from their global counterparts?
For our customers, making sure that web pages and web services get delivered in a lower latency fashion is a challenge. There’s a travel agency, for which very rich imaging is important-that’s how they sell their hotel in Singapore. For them latency and bandwidth to Indian customers is important.

In India, broadband has not fully penetrated in a lot of areas. So customers in India are putting more emphasis in providing mobile access to their services than relying on broadband. e.g. Hungama, 8k, etc make sure their customers can access services from mobile. India is very different from other countries this way.

There’s also a wide variety of mobile devices out there, which keep changing every year. Customers hope to develop mobile services in a device independent manner. The core of the app/server/data mgmt should sit in the cloud and be independent of the different devices. So customers should be able to access data from a mobile, laptop, home PCs, or anything else.

The challenge that Indian companies are facing is how to accelerate mobile development. There’s a whole range of services that run in the Amazon cloud that can help with that-geolocation services, easy media conversion services, integration with ad-serving, premium serving, billing, integration with social networks, etc. All these are available in the Amazon cloud, allowing for rapid development of mobile apps that are pretty rich.

How much of the IT infrastructure is moving to the cloud?
The new strategy for most CIOs is that all new IT should be able to move to the cloud. A pharma company I interacted with a few days ago has two data centers, which are fully maxed out. However, they don’t want to move to a third data center, because they’re not an IT company. So any new IT that they’re developing is now being done in the cloud, and their expectation now is to bring down their data centers to one or even less than that.

Moreover, moving to the cloud also depends upon the organization. Smaller ones for instance, can move completely to the cloud-desktop as a service, applications, word processing apps, almost all their services no longer need to run on physical hardware. There are even companies that offer complete package in the cloud. So if you’re starting a new office in Chennai for instance, then you could be up and up and running in two days without having any physical infrastructure there.

In another case, I met an investment CIO, who was responsible for 4000 apps. They’re not going to move all of them to the cloud. His biggest challenge is mergers and acquisitions. He’s gone through server consolidation and made everything uniform, and is now using the cloud as a rapid intermediary strategy. If the company does a merger, then they aggressively move things over the cloud, get rid of the old hardware as quickly as possible, and start working on integrate things into the environment. In the meantime, the merged company uses the cloud till things are integrated.

There’s another interesting thing that’s happening on moving to the cloud. In the old world, IT was often considered to be a blocker for all decisions. So if you asked the IT department to do something, you could expect an answer like ‘it will take at least nine months’, or a plain and simple ‘Not Possible’. Cloud computing has enabled individual business units to come out of the ambit of the IT department and explore services from the cloud based on their own requirements. So the sales department for instance, could acquire salesforce licenses themselves, or purchase Amazon Web Services because they wanted to run their project. This happened purely because IT wasn’t listening to what their needs were.
This has brought about a change in IT, where the IT department now wants to be seen as an enabler of innovation. And that means no longer saying no. You can do that by actually embracing the cloud model, because you can make those resources available. Moreover, the cloud makes it easy to measure how much are various business units actually spending, so they can command their own budgets. The gun is no longer on IT to come up with the budgets for that. They can make decisions based on how fast they want to go to market.

What is the cloud being evaluated for most actively?
I think anything that requires high-scale, is Internet facing, requires highly reliable services, and is cost effective.

Where do you see the whole cloud computing thing moving?
In the future, a whole range of fast applications are emerging. There’s a change happening in enterprise IT, being influenced by the richness of apps in the consumer world, which make the enterprise IT world look pretty boring and old fashioned. Cloud will help drive better integration of services, with mobile devices, and with consumer apps. We see a mixing of consumer IT and enterprise IT, which will deliver a whole new set of opportunities for business, which will largely be driven by cloud computing.

Is the fear of manpower lay-offs a hindrance to an organization migrating its applications to the cloud?
It’s not necessary that people would get laid off, but re-trained. It’s a trend that’s been going on for quite some time. People can get better training and be involved in more intelligent work. I’ve not seen cases where the cloud has triggered lay-offs, but it has triggered re-education of engineers, thereby giving them more complex and more intelligent tasks.

What’s the single most successful production use of the cloud?
In the enterprise, Oracle certified all their products into the cloud. So migrating an Oracle e-Business suite that runs on a premise is relatively easy to move to the cloud. They’ve defined a whole range of conversion procedures. CapGemini and Deloitte for instance, are certified for moving SAP inhouse deployments to the cloud.
Also, most of our customers who’ve been successful are those who’ve built around standard components, because it’s relatively easy to move them to the cloud, and even their vendors have put in a lot of efforts to move them to the cloud.

Finally, there are the younger businesses that have moved to the cloud as SaaS vendors, like SugarCRM, Sage CRM, etc. All of them are number 3-4 players, but are aggressively growing because they’ve taken a new approach.

What sort of Proofs of Concept are enterprises doing around the cloud?
Enterprises are also doing proofs of concepts on cloud computing to understand its impact, advantages, etc to their business. So they would start simple, by moving some of their collaboration services to the cloud-SharePoint, Wiki, etc. Their engineers and staff would start getting a hang of the difference between inhouse vs a cloud environment, how the security works, integration with services back in the data center, etc.

Many enterprises start with doing DR as a PoC for the cloud. One reason here is that companies that provide DR services command a very high premium for their service, and organizations paying for them aren’t even sure whether it would work when the time really comes. Many CIOs now want to adopt a model where they’ve more fine grained control over their DR and can exercise it more frequently. So some organizations are moving their certain tests/development systems to the cloud, and if there’s a disaster, they replace it with their DR environment, to check if they can be up and running quickly. To make life simpler, these days, companies like SAP and Oracle have their products fully certified on the cloud. So you can for instance, backup an Oracle database to the Amazon cloud with just a few commands from your own premises. If you need to restart the database, you just have to start up the database, point it to that backup plan and you’re up and running again.

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