I’ve recently had the opportunity to have a conversation with Dr. Satwant Kaur on the topic of Smart Clouds. Dr. Kaur has an extensive history in IT, being the author of Intel’s Transitioning Embedded Systems to Intelligent Environments. Her professional background, which includes four patents while at Intel & CA, 20 distinguished awards, ten keynote conference speeches at IEEE, and over 50 papers and publications, has earned her the nickname, “The First Lady of Emerging Technologies.” As such, she is now putting forth the idea of Smart Clouds, and I got to talk to her a little bit about this idea and its implications for the cloud computing industry and for businesses in general.

Q: What exactly are smart clouds, and what is it that makes a cloud smart?

A: In the emerging computing model, computers are mobile, devices are connected, applications are interactive, development is collaborative, and service delivery needs to be immediate. Cloud computing can enable all these capabilities for businesses while optimizing costs and resource usage, since infrastructure (IaaS), platforms (PaaS) and software applications (SaaS) can be delivered on a usage-based service model. Users can get access to what the want as and when they need, instead of having to pay for any idle computing resources.

While this is excellent in theory, there are still some major gaps in the capabilities of cloud providers today that act as deterrents to businesses that are looking to make the move to the cloud. The Smart Cloud is a framework of the necessary traits or characteristics that any cloud offering (regardless of it being IaaS, PaaS or SaaS) should have in order to fully answer the needs of business users everywhere. The ten most important traits are as follows:

  1. Smart Clouds can be built modular by using Cloud-In-A-Box cells.
  2. Smart Cloud services are secure.
  3. Smart Clouds provide Automated Management of Cloud Services.
  4. Smart Clouds perform to meet needs of the real-time nature of business.
  5. Smart Clouds are available for business-critical services.
  6. Smart Clouds enable businesses with governance and control.
  7. Smart Clouds are provisioned rapidly by  self-service.
  8. Smart Clouds have solutions to manage the cloud environment.
  9. Smart Clouds have solutions to transform the infrastructure.
  10. Smart Clouds have integrated social collaboration solutions.

Q: Can you explain in a little detail each one of these traits?

A: The first trait, about modularity and the “Cloud-in-a-box” model, relates mainly to the lower levels of the cloud stack, especially infrastructure-as-a-service. It basically means that any cloud offering should not only be fully redundant, but also easily scalable. A smart cloud provider should be able to plug-in computing/storage/networking units as needed to increase capacity without any impact to existing systems. At the same time, each individual unit should be completely redundant and self-reliant, ensuring that there is no single point of failure for the entire system. This translates not only to better scalability, but also into better resiliency, since, if one unit fails, the rest would keep working as usual.

When we discuss security, we are focusing not only on technological security through encryption and access control, but also on procedural security. A smart cloud should perform automated security testing (penetration testing) on itself at every layer, from the hardware to the operating system to the applications that run on top of it. Furthermore, it should simplify security management, so that privacy protection policies and security policies can be easily deployed across the whole system.

Traits 3, 7 and 8 go together hand-in-hand. They relate to end users having the ability to dynamically expand their resources as needed without having to go through complex interactions with their service providers. The smart cloud should offer something as close to a “one-click purchase” experience for cloud resources as possible. At the same time, the user needs effective management tools that allow them to quickly see what is going on at every level of their cloud, regardless of the mixing of private and public resources. Finally, the smart cloud should also offer alternatives to automate management, so that resources can be brought on-line as the system itself detects a need for them, or, conversely, that resources can be shut down when they are no longer needed.

Traits 4, 5 and 6 are directly related to business needs. To address the real-time needs of businesses, the smart cloud needs to constantly monitor itself not only from a back-end point of view, but also from an end-user point of view, so that IT always has an up-to-date view of what is going on at both ends of a service, and knows exactly what kind of experience the end-user has today. With regards to availability, a smart cloud service should offer not only the expected SLA, but also full transparency into service status and uptime, with the tools users need to manage it. Finally, the smart cloud should offer all the tools businesses need to deploy their own governance rules, to audit any system as needed, and to ensure that specified policies are properly applied.

Trait 9, about infrastructure transformation, implies that smart clouds should bridge the gap between private and public resources. They should enable companies to migrate their internal IT into a service-based model, and also allow them to easily interoperate with other services, be they public or private. This would bring about an easy path of migration for businesses so that they can exploit cloud benefits.

Finally, the last trait talks about social collaboration. Many providers today employ communications solutions that include social media to give status reports, but these tools are mostly about broadcasting, and not collaboration. Social collaboration is a two-way street. A smart cloud solution enables users not only to collaborate and interact with other users, but also with the cloud itself.

Q: Okay, so most of these actually sound familiar. Are the clouds today already smart?

A: Well, I would say that cloud vendors today fulfill anywhere from 20 to 80% of the traits outlined above. The top vendors today do offer a lot of these capabilities, but there are still issues that plague cloud implementations everywhere, and these are the hardest ones to address.

Q: So what are these issues? What are the main issues for the widespread deployment of smart clouds?

A: Interoperability is probably the main issue today. Today there are too many platforms, too many technologies, too many domains of expertise, and too many vendors to coordinate and manage. A smart cloud therefore needs to offer a path to interoperability between services, as well as service brokers that can make it easier for users to get at the services they need when they need them, without having to go through a complex hiring process. In a sense, this is the hardest step to overcome, since interoperability may not be in the best interest of all vendors.

From a technological perspective, we still need to see some developments related to service standardization (which would improve interoperability) as well as improvements in service management and delivery.

Q: And how about security? Whenever I talk with businesses, they express a clear concern with the security of cloud offerings.

A: The main obstacles in making the cloud secure are how to deal with federated identity, authorization and entitlement and how to integrate with the existing security infrastructure that businesses have already deployed. At the same time, smart clouds need to have automated intrusion detection and prevention, as well as powerful tools for audits and compliance reporting.

Q: Finally, what are the business benefits from the smart cloud?

A: The smart cloud should be seen as a framework to be pursued by businesses when looking to the cloud. No matter if they are building their own private cloud or if they are going with cloud providers, they should try to satisfy as many of the traits defined above as possible. Those traits that aren’t fulfilled from the start should be clearly outlined on the roadmap for the services being hired.

That said, smart cloud services can enable businesses to dynamically right-size their IT consumption, optimizing costs and improving availability and scalability. At the same time, it would allow businesses to safely break down barriers between them and their consumers and even other businesses, improving collaboration and simplifying access to information. Finally, smart cloud services improve the interoperability of business processes and systems, resulting in a more resilient and agile business.

The issue with traditional clouds was that it did not meet the complete needs of businesses. The Smart Cloud Technologies are emerging, and hence businesses are just beginning to adopt. But this is a quickly growing area.

Dr. Satwant Kaur hosts a live radio show, “First Lady of Emerging Technologies,” as she is known in Silicon Valley. Currently, she is a Master Solutions Architect at HP. She was the CTO of Emerging Technologies group at TIBCO. She received her doctorate in Mobile IP technologies from Oakland University in Oakland, Michigan. She also holds a Bachelor of Technology degree in Electrical Engineering with distinction from the Indian Institute of Technology in New Delhi, India. Her email is: satwant@drsatwantkaur.com