The enterprise seems to be developing a love/hate relationship with the public cloud. On the one hand, the prospect of virtually limitless resources seems ready to take on any processing or storage load that comes along. On the other, issues of security, availability and portability threaten to inhibit productivity unless sophisticated new management layers are introduced.
Nevertheless, enterprise deployment of public cloud resources is on the rise, if the data from the provider community is to be believed. Gigaom Research, for one, estimates that public cloud infrastructure is nearly deployed or already in place at more than half of large enterprises, most of which are looking to provide the underpinnings of broad scale-out architectures to support Big Data analytics. This trend cuts across a wide swath of industry verticals, including manufacturing, tech firms, finance and ecommerce, with specific applications ranging from real-time workload and batch processing to app development and social media.
Clearly, this is good news for the large public cloud providers, and at the moment there is none larger than Amazon. At its AWS re:Invent show last week, the company claimed no less than one million active customers who are driving revenue growth to about 40 percent per year. Gartner estimates that AWS offers about five times the capacity as the next 14 cloud competitors combined.
If size was all that mattered, however, it would be game-over for anyone else thinking about providing public cloud resources. Offering commodity resources at ultra-low prices is a good way to draw consumers, but enterprise customers generally need a higher degree of hand-holding. This is where rivals like Microsoft and Rackspace hope to make their marks, by offering cloud support for popular business tools like Office and SharePoint that can integrate directly with legacy platforms and provide multiple premium levels of service that enterprises are willing to support, even at higher cost.
Amazon has made some moves in this direction, with new database support and various PaaS offerings, but most of its higher-level services come from third-party providers like GitHub. The company recently launched a new version of its GitHub Enterprise dev/ops platform that features direct integration with AWS. Success for this kind of venture is a bit, well, cloudy; however, consider that one of the primary reasons for the success of the on-premises version of the GitHub software is developers’ reticence in trusting potentially highly valuable code to the public sphere. But with AWS’s heightened support for leading compliance standards like HIPAA and FEDRAMP, both companies hope to overcome those concerns.
Still another concern is that distribution of enterprise infrastructure across multiple clouds will lead to the same kind of data isolation that afflicts traditional resource silos. But on that score, it seems that on-premises platforms could in fact produce greater federation across the cloud. NetApp’s latest Data Ontap release, for example, offers clustering capabilities that provide consistent data functionality between the enterprise and AWS. The company is working with Microsoft, Verizon and other providers to bring them into the fold as well. At the same time, the OnCommand management suite offers a single pane of glass to oversee both public and private cloud environments.
The cloud, then, is an apt metaphor for the data infrastructure that is emerging both inside and outside the enterprise. On good days, it will be a peaceful environment with data flowing smoothly from place to place, but on bad days it can become highly chaotic with rapid shifts of resources and sudden bursts of energy that can greatly affect life on the ground.
If there is one overriding principle to devising public, private and hybrid infrastructure then, it is not to prevent storms from happening but to learn to cope with them as they arise.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata, Carpathia and NetMagic.