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Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Cloud Computing Can Be A Catalyst For India - Ravi Venkatesan, Chairman, Microsoft India.

This is an article by Ravi Venkatesan , Chairman, Microsoft India on "Cloud Computing Can Be A Catalyst For India"
Everybody is talking about cloud computing. The term and the excitement both remind me of the last decade when the Internet was assuming the shape we see it in today. Just as we cannot imagine a world sans the World Wide Web now, the cloud could rapidly change the way we view and use information technology.

Forrester Research defines the cloud as ‘a standardised IT capability, such as software, app platform or infrastructure, delivered via Internet technologies in a pay-per-use and self-service way’ . The idea is not totally new. People have been using the cloud for years. Hotmail, Yahoo, Gmail and, of course, Xbox Live — a Microsoft online multiplayer gaming and digital media delivery service — have been in the cloud for a while now. The difference between then and now lies is just who is using it, and the volume and the type of data that is involved.

Today’s notion of cloud computing is about taking online services to enterprise networks, not just to solitary consumers. This also means that the volume of data that is being processed and stored online is of a colossal magnitude.

In fact, if we were to break down the services that the cloud today provides, they can be classified into: one, software-as-a-service (SaaS), which comprises end-user applications delivered as a service rather than traditional on-premise software. Two, platform-as-a-service (PaaS), which provides an independent platform as a service on which developers can build and deploy customer applications. Three, infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS), which primarily comprises the hardware and technology for computing power, storage, operating systems or other infrastructure delivered as an on-demand service rather than a dedicated onsite resource.

As is evident, the cloud is certainly multifaceted . And this fact makes gives it a dynamic combination of linked strengths. Agility is one of the biggest features of cloud computing, though the level of agility is controlled by the user’s pace and ability to re-provision technological resources without stretching costs.

Plus, with capital expenditure converted to operational expenditure, costs slip down automatically . At the same time, multi-tenancy in cloud computing enables centralisation of infrastructure — along with device and location independence — increase in peak-load capacity and efficiency improvements for systems. Apart from this, since one can measure usage, direct cost ramifications, reliability and scalability remain flexible and within control.

However, as cloud computing moves out of the buzzword zone and turns into a powerful tool for expanding IT capabilities, one cannot ignore the challenges it throws up. According to the analyst firm Gartner, the biggest challenge is that of security. Cloud architecture makes and delivers big promises — but it doesn’t automatically grant security compliance at any level. The major part of the responsibility for security lies with the application designer, and, to some extent , with the vendor.

That is why, Gartner believes there are specific issues customers should discuss with vendors before homing in on one. “Ask providers to supply specific information on the hiring and oversight of privileged administrators, and the controls over their access,” they recommend. Transparency regarding regulatory compliance details, data location and segregation and recovery assume great importance. “Any offering that does not replicate the data and application infrastructure across multiple sites is vulnerable to a total failure,” Gartner adds. Further, it would be self-defeating if a cloud computing-based solution turns out to be a limited-capacity passive utility system. You would just be paying increasing toll for experiencing less and less.

Nevertheless, cloud computing is here to stay. Its potential is immense and it can — especially in a country like ours — fundamentally transform government services, scientific exploration and discovery, and economic and social development. For example, the local government in Dongying, China, is poised to set up the Yellow River Delta Cloud Computing Centre to transform this petroleum-based region from an industry-based economy into a servicesbased one. The cloud is also expected to expand and support an e-government services platform and a research and development platform for eco-friendly oil cultivation.

All of this is a plausible reality today. And while companies like Microsoft are completely committed to the cloud, their services and solutions come with the reliability, security and global reach that customers deserve and demand.
Longer term, cloud computing is turning out to bring a transformative change in the business landscape. It is aiding the making of a new generation of products and services, creating a new awareness of the greater Internet, and Web 2.0 in particular, and supporting a more self-service IT architecture. For example, Microsoft recently co-founded the Simple Cloud API project with IBM, Zend, Rackspace and others. This project focuses on open-source cloud interoperability, allowing developers to write basic cloud applications that work in all of the major cloud platforms . What’s more, this can even call information back and forth across cloud platforms!

This is just the beginning. New and additional standards will emerge as new and inventive scenarios develop from evolving platforms, standards and technologies. But this will work well and in our favour only if we make technology both personal and democratic, along with the assurance that privacy rights and data security will be preserved at all times. This should also include an international understanding about the governance of data when it crosses national borders.

In the Indian context, cloud computing holds greater potential because of an obvious reason: we have no legacy systems that need to evolve or move into the cloud. For instance, both our state and central governments are in the process going digital, and the time is just right to implement the cloud right off. While keeping costs low, the cloud will not just put an efficient document management system in place, but will also ensure efficiency in service delivery.

And in time, “this infrastructure can be used to shift the government from a capex (capital expenditure) model to an opex (operating expenditure ) model” , as Som Mittal, president of Nasscom, says. Global management consultants Zinnov, in a recent study reiterated that India has the potential to emerge as the global competency centre for cloud services. The study estimated the global cloud computing market to be over $70 billion by 2015 and that India, with its powerful ecosystem of independent software vendors , developers and system integrators, is ideally poised to address this growing opportunity. An additional 3,00,000 jobs related to cloud services are estimated to be created in the country over the next five years.

So, yes, cloud computing is a big idea, but it will never endorse a blanket one-size-fits-all approach to computing. In the foreseeable future, we will not be able to live with 100% cloud or 100% on-premise computing. Instead, we will have to rely on a clever and optimal mix-andmatch combination of on-premise and cloud computing, based on specific needs. In the broader context, IT needs to look at the cloud not just as an alternative means of doing what it does, but as a whole new form of computing that opens up ways of doing what could not have been done before. Think about it: when electricity became a utility, it didn’t just bring down the cost of running existing factory machines. As Nicholas Carr describes in The big switch, it allowed Henry Ford to innovate on the electrified assembly line and change manufacturing forever.
Courtesy: economictimes.indiatimes.com

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