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Cloud computing: It's all about the service

Alongside mobile computing, the cloud is one of the most talked about concepts in technology right now. But cloud computing can refer to many different things, some of which are appropriate for your company, and some of them less so. From a business perspective, a cloud provision is about the whole service, and the many workload options it can supply. Flexibility is a key characteristic and attraction of the cloud, with end users putting more or less emphasis on security, as well as requiring differing levels of availability, performance and compliance. But the cloud is not a one-size-fits-all universal panacea for all your business IT needs. There are more issues to consider.

For a start, there is the distinction between private and public cloud, with each suitable for different applications, and some applications potentially better off remaining on a traditional IT infrastructure. So when specifying a move to the cloud, there are essential attributes that should be considered, so that the appropriate blend of services is supplied. As we already mentioned, flexibility is a key characteristic of the cloud, and if services need to be frequently changed or updated, the cloud is very likely to be the best choice. If services will need to be set up quickly, used for short periods, and then discontinued, the cloud is again optimal.

The private cloud can help with situations where precise control over usage is required as well. Auditing policies can be built in, and steps implemented when usage exceeds levels of compliance. Security, on the other hand, can be complicated by the cloud, particularly the public cloud. The accessibility of public cloud provisions naturally puts them beyond the strongest internal protections. The cloud can be naturally resilient, though. Not only can services be quickly restored when they have encountered difficulties, but they can also be more easily supplemented with additional resources, should the load experienced increase. However, the shared virtual space of cloud implementations can also be problematic for some very high-demand applications, making a traditional dedicated IT provision more appropriate.

Alongside the cloud's ability to monitor and enforce compliance goes its facility to control expense. Instead of owning or renting an IT asset, which is then always available but not necessarily used cost-effectively, the cloud allows services to be leased out and metered on a precise usage basis. More economical use of resources can then be possible. However, it's also important to ensure that cloud applications can perform adequately for users' needs, and use the available monitoring tools to keep track of this. It's worth bearing in mind that cloud applications tend to be more generic than bespoke software designed specifically for your business. Whilst custom applications can be deployed on cloud-based infrastructure, the benefits of flexibility are greatest when standard components are used.

From these essential attributes, it should be fairly clear which applications belong on the public cloud, the private cloud, and the traditional IT provision. A good way of thinking about this is to consider which applications are unique to your company and set your business apart from competitors. These should be contrasted with applications that perform a support function, which most companies have in some form or another. These would include generic business software, or customer relations management. These kinds of applications fit a public cloud provision very well, as having them available anytime, any place and anywhere will be beneficial, so employees can work as flexibly as possible, and it won't be a disaster if anyone outside the company uses the applications as well.

Unique functions, on the other hand, could be better off in the private cloud or even delivered by traditional IT infrastructure. For example, they might experience a regularly high demand, so specifying this from the outset would be optimal. Allied to this, security will be more important than for generic public cloud applications, and it will be imperative to control access strictly so that mission-critical applications remain available when required. This is likely to be custom software, tailored to specific needs, so a flexible and rapid cloud-based deployment using generic components or a pre-prepared image won't be appropriate. Infrastructure-as-a-service could be ideal in a private cloud scenario, but the application itself is less likely to benefit from cloud service delivery.

HP CloudSystem provides the best possible way to deliver a flexible blend of public cloud, private cloud and traditional IT. The ability of CloudSystem to be deployed on existing hardware makes it easier to coexist with traditional IT provision, and balance allocations between the two as required. The facility to link to the leading public cloud brands – Amazon EC2 and Savvis – means that the same cloud management systems can be used across public and private clouds, so both can be deployed as a single hybrid continuum of services.

HP CloudSystem has a wide support for hypervisors from different vendors. As well as HP's own Integrity VM, there's compatibility with VMware ESX/ESXi, Microsoft Hyper-V, and Red Hat KVM. So although HP CloudSystem is optimally deployed on HP hardware, it will also be possible to use other hardware that is compatible with these hypervisors, for example servers from Dell, IBM and Cisco. Storage from EMC and NetApp as well as networking from Cisco are supported too. So a company with traditional IT based on any of these will be able to implement HP CloudSystem without having to specify new hardware.

To assist companies that need further information about the cloud, HP runs Cloud Discovery Workshops for key decision makers to get a clearer idea of how cloud computing services can benefit their companies. These provide all the information required to find the perfect balance between public and private cloud, and how this will integrate with existing traditional IT infrastructure. Delivering effective IT solutions in the era of the cloud requires IT leaders to consider themselves as more of a service provider, basing decisions on the workload needs of users. With cloud computing, it's all about the service.