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Q&A: Cloud Computing Use, Benefits Continue to Evolve

An expert in cloud computing explains the growing advantages of the cloud and the changes taking place as its popularity grows.

As data management and computing needs continue to grow, various cloud architectures offer compelling advantages. In this interview, Todd Helfter, global VP at cloud provider Datapipe, explains how the cloud has grown and evolved in his many years of working in the industry.

BI This Week: You've said that the definition of "the cloud" has changed and broadened as the concept has gained traction. How do you define the cloud today?

Todd Helfter: There are multiple definitions of the cloud -- if you ask different people, you'll get different answers. For many years I thought of the cloud narrowly as it relates to Internet- based applications and virtualization technologies such as Amazon EC2 and Microsoft Azure because that was the context in which I most often experienced it. I've come to adopt a more simple definition: it's really any compute solution available on the Internet that is not located on premises.

Given that definition, what are some of the reasons businesses consider the cloud today? What are companies using it for and why?

There are many reasons businesses are considering the cloud; these are some of the most common:

  • Decrease delivery time: There is a dramatic decrease in the time to deploy when you don't have to wait for hardware to be purchased and configured. Cloud-based services are designed to scale out on demand.

  • Proximity to the end user: Network speeds continue to improve globally, but it's still a very real truth that the end user experience of performance depends a great deal on the network latency between where they are and the service they are using. Utilizing a global cloud services provider allows that distance and latency to be minimized.

  • Multi-region resiliency (disaster recovery, business continuity): Cloud services are often adopted for use in disaster recovery and business continuity scenarios.

  • Development systems: Elastic compute allows companies to turn off systems when they are not used, thus reducing the amount spent for those systems.

  • Lower facilities cost: Data centers are not cheap to build and maintain. Using cloud computing resources in highly redundant facilities can free up organization resources.

What factors go to into choosing a hybrid cloud versus "full" cloud solution? What are the pluses and minuses on both sides?

Our definition of hybrid cloud is combining a cloud solution with co-location or managed physical hardware, often combined with a high-speed "direct connect" between the cloud and the physical infrastructure. There are several advantages to this combination:

  • System variance: Not all applications will run in Windows or Linux. A hybrid cloud model excels when you need to keep a small portion of the infrastructure on an environment that can't easily be migrated into the cloud. Examples include software that runs on Oracle Solaris and IBM AIX.

  • High-availability (HA) clusters: HA systems such as Oracle Real Application clusters cannot (or should not) be run in the cloud.

  • Database appliances: Oracle Exadata systems can be paired with the cloud in a hybrid model.

  • Memory and data requirements: Cloud solutions are designed to scale horizontally. If your database requires a large RAM allocation, there is a price point where physical hardware becomes the best choice.

  • Software license: Enterprise software licensing is often tied to the number of CPU cores in the environment. Utilizing physical hardware allows for direct control and compliance on the license.

  • Data security and compliance: Many issues of regulatory compliance can be harder to address on cloud-based databases. PCI and HIPPA are two areas where a physical database layer can make compliance easier.

What are the challenges of moving "big data" in and out of the cloud? For customers with large amounts of data, say 5 TB or more, what do you recommend? What are common solutions you're seeing with customers, and how well do they work?

There are two challenges that relate to moving "big data" into a cloud-based environment. The primary challenge is the initial seeding of the data; the second is synchronization of that data between the initial seed and the "go live." Both of these challenges are affected by the same primary limitations: network speed and network connectivity.

The most common solution for this process is to copy full database backups to some sort of mobile storage. Ship the mobile storage to the new database platform or to a device with high bandwidth connection to that new database platform. Follow up with a backup restore. Once the initial seeding is completed, the data has to be kept in sync with the primary source until the time when it becomes the primary source (go live). The syncing process is typically done over the network by sending log changes or incremental backups to the new DB, where they are applied to the seeded copy.

What security issues remain with using cloud-based services?

Security challenges around cloud-based services remain a factor. Although security of the cloud is taken care of by a cloud provider, security in the cloud is the responsibility of the client. That's an important distinction.

A company that is considering cloud-based services will need to know what regulations require compliance and the level of security required around their data. That's especially true if your compliance requirements include limiting physical access to the hardware, or certified destruction on decommission of the hard drives holding the data, or both.

We've found that customers have varying degrees of risk tolerance and will base their security practices and approach based on that tolerance level, unless there are specific compliance requirements.

Can you discuss the concept of shared vs. non-shared cloud spaces? What are the advantages and disadvantages?

The advantages of shared cloud space are flexibility and minimal deployment time. A non-shared cloud space typically involves dedicated hardware pieces that must be assembled and released, and that takes time. Once the private cloud infrastructure is created, however, end users have the same flexibility to use it as they would with a shared space.

When choosing a cloud provider, how important is it that the provider has globally diverse hosting centers? Why is that important?

Globally diverse hosting centers have a high strategic value, certainly. The availability of consistent services in diverse regions allows customers the freedom to quickly relocate assets to different regions in the case of changing rules and regulations. The ability to "grow" a product in regions close to end users can help assure the performance requirements needed to make that product successful.

What are the advantages of a hosted private-cloud solution as opposed to a public solution?

Hosted private cloud solutions have at least two advantages: hardware isolation and architectural control. With hardware isolation, you eliminate the possibility of a so-called "noisy neighbor" impacting the solution. With the right architectural control, the private cloud can be designed to exactly match licensing requirements for enterprise software and compliance requirements for regulations.

How does your firm, Datapipe, fit into what we've discussed here?

Datapipe is a recognized leader in cloud-enabled managed hosting. We not only operate our own public and private cloud solutions, we have the training and proven deployments in managing hyper-scale cloud platforms -- Amazon Web Services (AWS) and Microsoft Azure.

Our unique platform, and our ability to deploy hybrid IT and managed solutions in 24 global locations, allows clients to expand into the cloud with certainty. Datapipe also delivers value to clients by providing proactive monitoring, automation, security, governance, and management of cloud environments. We have the core competency to guide our customers through a plan-build-run framework of cloud deployments, along with the governance and processes to securely manage those assets. We provide access to world-class facilities designed to achieve high levels of redundancy and resiliency, and our support teams have a 24x7x365 mentality that we bring to each of our customer's solutions.

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