For my first official contribution to ITPRO Africa I deemed it appropriate to comment about the ITPRO Africa Cloud Computing Event held in Cape Town on Thurs 1 September.
As a server and network administrator for a fairly large South African corporation, it’s not something that gets discussed. Cloud Computing is generally referred to in hushed tones in the hallways and dismissed as a marketing hype. Admittedly, today I gained a whole new perspective on this whole cloud malarkey.
Warren Johnson’s keynote presentation was very impressive and he explains that the promise of cloud computing is simply “… to provide IT as a Service …” Now I know you’ve heard this before and asking (yet again) what does this mean for you and me, the IT guys … uhm … IT people on the floor. Basically, by offloading some of the services, systems, infrastructure to a cloud-based service provider, you’re freeing up your time and effort to do the real work. Remember that Proof of Concept VM you built last year to test the new archiving solution? Well, now you got the time, since that “clouded” service is now someone else’s problem (to a certain extent).
Next up Paul Stafford from Mimecast gave us his views, encouraging ITPro’s to look through the cloud and not to be fooled by the hype. As Oracle CEO Larry Ellison so elegantly put it: “It’s still just hardware and software and a network connection.”
Interestingly, international research has shown that backing by local government, Cloud Computing can actually become a reality. A reality, even if we (South Africa) suffer from Bandwidth Deprivation, i.e. we don’t have any; local bandwidth being the big issue, but since we all know that, let’s not dwell. With the correct drive and proper investment in local infrastructure, we could see a huge economic shift with many more small start-ups becoming a reality. By hosting all the basic required IT services in the cloud, e.g. mail, collaboration, portal, CRM, etc., an almost zero capital expense is required and considerably less from your precious IT budget is spent on monthly subscription or pay-as-you-use fees.
However, cloud computing does come with its own set of challenges. The Cloud Service Provider now needs to consider, amongst others, things like cash flow, the new skills that staff will require, sales and pricing models of the hosted services and the delivery method of these services to customers. All of these challenges also directly affect the cloud client in terms of the quality of the services that are being provided.
Some of the issues that were highlighted include:
- The “reworked” onsite solution moving to the cloud. Moving that old VB6, bandwidth-eating, legacy application is probably not a good idea.
- Support and Training – this will be required not only for IT staff, but for users of the application was well.
- Integration with onsite solutions – how do we make AND will our onsite applications work with the clouded app?
- and the SA big one, Bandwidth Consumption and Connectivity Charges. We all know how expensive bandwidth and how fragile the infrastructure can be.
You and I as the IT pro need to prepare for this shift. Irrespective of the size or business area, you will have a cloud service and it will be sooner than you think. Ten-to-one you probably already have at least one.
So, what can we do to prepare for this?
- Keep your skills current and integrate this into your training schedule.
- Build a private cloud. If this is not financially viable, use one of the online trial programmes.
- Start with commodities. Common services that your company use, but is not core to your business.
- Get to know the Cloud Service Providers (CSPs?). Know what the various offerings from the different providers are and more importantly, what the limitations are to their offerings.
- Know how your support structure will work. Not only internally, but also all the way through to your service provider.
Finally Hilton Giesenow, Microsoft SharePoint MVP, gave us a demo on the Microsoft’s Cloud offerings, namely Microsoft Office 365 and the slightly older and lesser known Microsoft Live apps. All I can say here is if you’ve not yet had the chance, go and give both a try. Especially if you work for or support SME’s.
Be prepared. Cloud Computing is not the future anymore. It’s happening now.