Servers

The cloud is coming for you: Eight ways it may change how you work

For network specialists, the shift to cloud computing will have a significant impact on several aspects of their jobs. Mark Underwood suggests eight areas of change to start thinking about now.

Passions about cloud computing vary from the ho-hum to the evangelical.

The ho-hum crowd sees cloud computing as Back to the Future computing. Ride the DeLorean back to the 70s and return to the heyday of "timesharing" - i.e., renting computing resources on more powerful remote computers. Customers purchased resources by CPU hour, connect hour, and disk space and were surcharged for specialized software like Model 204, a high performance data base management system then known for its bit-mapped indexing technology. (Model 204 is still commercially available almost 40 years later - a rarity.) Technical challenges, the Ho-Hummers argue, aren't that different from today; the issues in distributed computing were well understood then. The benefits to users then were pretty much the same as they are today. Timesharing users had little or no responsibility for the data centers housing the remote high performance computers. They gained access to large scale resources with smaller-scale budgets or staffing commitments.

The evangelists - let's call them Cloudistas - argue that then was then, and now is very different. Today, they insist, bandwidth is vastly greater, customers operate their own networks, and considerable local processing can be performed on personal computers and handheld mobile devices. Further, the user communities are vastly different. In the 70s customers were confined to government and fairly well-heeled enterprises - probably numbering in the thousands. By contrast, one poster child for the 2011 version of the remote mainframe - iTunes - has as many as 200 million users. One in four U.S. adults are already using mobile applications - and many of these apps transparently rely on cloud services. The consumerization of cloud computing, say Cloudistas, makes possible economies of scale and performance that were unthinkable in that distant computing era.

NIST's Cloud Computing Program statement put it this way: "The Cloud Computing model offers the promise of massive cost savings combined with increased IT agility." Whether this proves to be the case or not, NIST aptly identifies "fast wide-area networks" as the first of three key enabling technologies (along with fast servers, and high-performance virtualization for commodity hardware). NIST's view represents a consensus of sorts, and, perhaps, indirect marching orders for network engineering.

Apple's recent iCloud announcement, like Google's Chromebook, ensures that, sooner or later, enterprises will need to come to terms with cloud computing. Just which facets of the cloud trend matter most is a matter of some dispute, so the list provided here is intended to identify trends of interest to network specialists.

#1 WAN feature set

There's no avoiding it; sooner or later there will be one or more cloud services that some user or department in the enterprise will want to connect with. Many shops will need to pay more attention to WAN pipes than in the past - and not only bandwidth.

#2 Location-independent computing

The idea of location-independent computing isn't new, but now millions in the workforce will have firsthand experience with it. It will be natural for them to expect applications they use, purchase and develop to be able to operate wherever workers find themselves. For multinational enterprises, this will be a particular challenge.

#3 Increased scale and reliability expectations

The notion of synchronizing content isn't a new one. It's been part of personal information manager (PIM) software for a couple decades. What is new are scale and expectations. The content to be synchronized won't be limited to a few hundred lines of text (e.g., just contacts), and those potential terabytes being slewed around will be expected to work dependably. Perceived improvements in up-time performance and functionality for cloud resources may, in some quarters, be difficult to match with locally managed resources, which could affect the careers of some IT professionals.

#4 Additional points of failure

Updated network diagrams for cloud-reliant operations may reveal both additional points of failure, and failures that affect many more users.

#5 Reworked DR and risk assessments

Dependencies on cloud computing will lead to revisions of disaster recovery plans as well as updated risk assessments. Some risks may be reduced; e.g., cloud backups for modest volumes provide a level of immediate offsite security that is not easily matched with on-premises services. Other risks, such as having entire departments or even entire enterprises down during outage periods may not have been considered; pre-cloud mitigation strategies could be rendered infeasible.

#6 Synchronization is nontrivial

While file-level synchronization, such as that offered by iCloud and similar services, is at least seen as relatively straightforward, other kinds of synchronization may not be at all trivial. Synchronization failures can degrade the integrity of backups, and errors introduced by such failures could go undetected for days or even months.

#7 Lockstep upgrades and migrations

While some cloud service providers may choose to give customers some control over configuration management of services customers have subscribed to, others may not. As a result, internal project schedules, test plans, and training budgets may be impacted by unavoidable version changes mandated by providers.

#8 Balance sheet influences

Rented services have a different profile in a company's financial statements. The profile will vary from firm to firm, but the shift from IT capital assets to rented services may have implications not fully understood.

Trade-off

Cloudistas may think they're promoting a comparatively carefree model for computing, but, as with other transformations within IT, it's more likely that one set of problems will be traded off against another set. Network professionals accustomed to managing internal flows may turn their eyes toward the perimeter more often than before, but concerns such as security and reliability are pretty much the same old fare off the same old menu.

Can you think of other cloud consequences for network specialists that aren't listed above?

About

Mark Underwood ("knowlengr") works for a small, agile R&D firm. He thinly spreads interests (network manageability, AI, BI, psychoacoustics, poetry, cognition, software quality, literary fiction, transparency) and activations (www.knowlengr.com) from...

10 comments
chdchan
chdchan

Tired of buying, upgrading and fixing OS continually, I want to have OS hosted and end-user devices as thin clients when ultra speed, stability and redundancy of broadband/6G services are to be readied in future, and needless to say, cloud-based application software on-demand too. It will make manufacturing of millions tons of plastic CD/DVDs unnecessary and further miniaturize our computers.

theresearchpedia
theresearchpedia

SaaS has been particularly popular with SMBs, of course because of the benefits it has provided to these firms especially low Total cost of ownership, easy installation of updates, low overheads and above all flexibility to focus on their core competence. I believe in a few years most of the applications will be SaaS applications. Of course as of now SaaS / cloud is not for everyone and firms need to take precautions while subscribing to these services.

rick.jury
rick.jury

I'd concur with those above. I'm pretty skeptical about how applicable cloud services are for enterprise/government IT shops. These are the environments where there are confidentially or system complexities that would make it hard to 'cloudify' your apps, and custom in-house systems abound. But if you are the IT provider for home or small-medium business then be very afraid. 5 years from now your industry will have disappeared (just like the hordes of computer operators in the days of yore). For the people who just use email and office apps (and don't big confidentiality risks from offsite data) why wouldn't you just use free cloud apps that are available everywhere and all the admin is done for you??? Vendors who make their $$$ selling email/office/os apps to the masses should also be quaking in their booties right now! I agree - network is also an issue too - particularly latency. In my part of the world 150-250 ms latency to USA is typical and I found when we switched from a local instance of an app to a US based SaaS service its about 5-10 times slower because it takes so long to fetch all the page elements (the app is web based front end with lots of objects on each page)!

dale_may1999
dale_may1999

I now listen to most of my music on the Amazon player. Why not, all my songs on my computer are there, the service is free, and heck you can even store documents , pictures as well as music. A person can buy more space. I will never buy an external hard drive for backup. I will never buy a GPS unit, I will never stop and ask directions at a gas station, repeat after me, "Change is good" Just go with the flow and get updated yourself!

fjpoblam
fjpoblam

It's very similar in mindset. The one gripe users may have is that of timing and advance warning. In a mainframe environment, the user (usually an enterprise) had (has) control over when a change to software was (is) applied, necessitating (for example) rewriting of apps, retraining of support staff, and retraining of users. With SaaS, the end-users have far less control over software versioning (if any): possibly no advance notice, whatsoever, and possibly little or no responsiveness from the "ultimate" support staff (e.g., Google). Cloud, schmoud. Goog says Docs, I say Word. (TooMaytoe, TooMahtoe)

BlueCollarCritic
BlueCollarCritic

I just love how all the pro Cloud articles, including the ones pretending to be "Cloud-With-Caution" based, push the idea that going to the cloud is a done deal and all but a few radicals are saying this will have to be done and soon even if it means learning lessons along the way. The Cloud is at its best an additional tool for IT and not a replacement for LANS or even WANS. Sure there are some users like small businesses with large remote users who will benefit from a total move but mid to larger size companies are going to say no and rightfully so. The cloud has proven (see recent news events about cloud down times) to be too unreliable and even worse, to insecure. Just look at the user agreement the cloud providers have and how they give the big ISPs who host the cloud services, full and unfettered access to your data for any reason without exception. Currently if a government agency be it the IRS or law enforcement wants to access your internal company data they have to go thru the courts. The cloud agreement will bypass this by giving the cloud provider the legal right (because you signed the agreement) to do whatever they want and you can bet the government will make use of that shortcut. And if you really believe this want be abused by the government then either you're in denial or have not tuned into anything that has happened over the last decade dealing with government abuse and fraud. The FBI alone just got busted for allowing firearms into Mexico so that they could be traced back to the US and used as justification for why they need to crack down more on gun control. This same abuse technique will be used for the cloud users by the IRS and similar government agencies. Mark my word.

Spitfire_Sysop
Spitfire_Sysop

Sometimes it is best to learn the hard way. Many companies are jumping in to these offerings head first. Even if they don't suffer any huge problems with the tech itself it will be a few years down the line that they see that no money has been saved. It's a trade-off. Just like any other tech there are some things that go well with it and some things that don't. The only thing I look forward to is the anti-office. A company that has no physical location. 100% cloud based with mobile workers. We could hold meetings in the park. Aside from this extreme I think many companies are better off with the "private cloud" model.

Darren B - KC
Darren B - KC

Even if it is coming, it's still far far away. For every article that seems to praise the benefits of the Cloud, there are ten articles that talk about how it's not yet practical or secure. Security gaps, or should I say "canyons", aside, bandwidth is key in order to make it work and I know of too many places where there just isn't enough to make it worthwhile for anything other than something simple where waiting around isn't a problem, like the aforementioned iTunes, which users continuously complain about already. My employer is on a 1.5 mbit T1 for all their web traffic, inbound and outbound... and we host 4 different websites in-house. Yes, it's painfully slow, but our CEO has no interest in buying more bandwidth and he definitely has no interest in doing business in the Cloud for both cost and security reasons. It's a Taiwanese company, so that should explain the penny-pinching attitude, but I can guarantee that we're only one example of a HUGE slice of the pie that will be just as reluctant, if not completely unwilling, to spend the money necessary to make the Cloud a viable facet of business computing.

daboochmeister
daboochmeister

I work with several companies that don't have fixed office space ... instead, they timeshare at a generic office, you sign up for the resources you need (conference room, audio/video, various telecomm) and you swoop in for a mtg ... or you can just use a carrel to support a single employee who needs space for a day. They tell me the cost savings are compelling - though it's culturally jarring to realize when you walk in for a mtg that there are multiple companies there at any one time. Seems like this is an interim step between the "office classic" and the totally-virtual office you describe.

ScarF
ScarF

A company without office, with a PO Box as address, and a bank account in Bahamas. Cloud, sweet cloud.

Editor's Picks