] ] Cloud com­put­ing up­date

Daily Trust - - IT WORLD -

Com­put­ing on the cloud has been one of the new tech­nol­ogy par­a­digms of the past five years, and this col­umn in Daily Trust has fol­lowed the evo­lu­tion fairly re­li­giously. Af­ter all, the maiden ar­ti­cle in this col­umn, back in 2011, was de­voted to cloud com­put­ing. Cloud com­put­ing could save your busi­ness tons of money and im­prove your turn­around time if you are in the busi­ness of rolling out soft­ware ap­pli­ca­tions. The “cloud” in cloud com­put­ing of course refers to the In­ter­net. So, es­sen­tially, cloud com­put­ing is “com­put­ing on the in­ter­net.” That is, from your desk­top, lap­top, or smart­phone, you could log into some “far-away” web­site and start “com­put­ing,” which means run­ning some ap­pli­ca­tions or de­vel­op­ing yours in other people’s in­fra­struc­ture lo­cated on the web.

The cloud in­fra­struc­ture is es­sen­tially that of a data cen­ter, with sev­eral uti­liza­tion modes. Depend­ing on the scale and the de­gree to which the cloud al­lows other people ac­cess, we could have pri­vate clouds, pub­lic clouds, and hy­brid clouds (pri­vate plus pub­lic). The first mode of uti­liza­tion is “In­fra­struc­ture as a Ser­vice (IaaS),” whereby you upload your ap­pli­ca­tion to the cloud site and run it there for a fee, us­ing the hard­ware (servers, stor­age ca­pac­ity, net­work band­width, etc.) at the site. The sec­ond mode of us­age, “Plat­form as a Ser­vice (PaaS),” al­lows you to log into the cloud site and use soft­ware tools in the site to build your own ap­pli­ca­tions. This ob­vi­ously en­hances quick roll-out of your soft­ware. In the third uti­liza­tion mode, “Soft­ware as a Ser­vice (SaaS),” you ac­cess the cloud site in or­der to use avail­able soft­ware (de­vel­oped by oth­ers) on the site. The cloud sup­plier, not the user, is re­spon­si­ble for the hard­ware that de­liv­ers this ser­vice, and also for the cre­ation, up­dat­ing, and main­te­nance of the soft­ware. In all cases, you pay only for what you use.

In my ex­pe­ri­ence, not ev­ery­one who says they op­er­ate a cloud fa­cil­ity ac­tu­ally does so, in the strict sense of the tech­nol­ogy. To rec­og­nize a cloud de­ploy­ment, look out for the fol­low­ing char­ac­ter­is­tics. Clouds are, of course, web-based, and usu­ally in­volve a large num­ber of servers (ma­chines), which are built from proven com­mod­ity parts. As an ex­am­ple, the word is that Google’s cloud has at least 800,000, and per­haps one mil­lion CPUs, dis­persed over at least twelve ge­o­graph­i­cal lo­ca­tions of the world. The mi­cro­pro­ces­sors in cloud servers are typ­i­cally of the x86 (generic PC) va­ri­ety and each server is vir­tu­al­ized to hold any­where be­tween 8 to 256 users or more, through the use of mul­ti­ple cores per CPU and a cou­ple of CPUs per ma­chine. Also, cloud com­put­ing in­volves a busi­ness model that is char­ac­ter­ized by elas­tic re­sources that are avail­able on de­mand to whomever needs them.

Many in­sti­tu­tions, es­pe­cially in the United States of Amer­ica, such as Cor­nell Univer­sity, Univer­sity of Illi­nois at Ur­bana-Cham­paign, Univer­sity of Cal­i­for­nia in San Diego, and Univer­sity of Texas at Austin, have built out mas­sive su­per­com­put­ers from a clus­ter of small ma­chines. How­ever, those su­per­com­put­ers would not qual­ify as cloud in­stal­la­tions.

A few com­pa­nies in Nigeria have tin­kered with cloud de­ploy­ments, al­though this has mostly been limited to plac­ing ap­pli­ca­tions in cloud in­stal­la­tions abroad (mostly in the USA) and hav­ing cus­tomers (usu­ally in Nigeria) log into those clouds to use the soft­ware. Ap­pZone Limited in La­gos pre­vi­ously housed its ap­pli­ca­tion soft­ware with the Go-Grid cloud (USA), where cus­tomers went to use the soft­ware. TTC Tech­nolo­gies (Nigeria) Limited, in col­lab­o­ra­tion with the Obafemi Awolowo Univer­sity (OAU) in Ile-Ife, is the only Nige­rian com­pany that I know of that is ac­tu­ally build­ing (pri­vate) clouds, by car­ry­ing out the req­ui­site clus­ter com­put­ing tasks.

Should your busi­ness or in­sti­tu­tion go into the cloud? Nu­mer­ous ad­van­tages abound for you with the cloud. The cap­i­tal in­vest­ments you need in or­der to re­place hard­ware and in­fra­struc­ture ev­ery three to six years dis­ap­pear, as do the op­er­at­ing costs, main­te­nance costs, soft­ware li­censes, power, and so on. In its place, you pay for only what you use, and you are not stuck with re­dun­dant fa­cil­i­ties out­side of your peak de­mand. Be­cause of elas­tic­ity, the amount of re­sources avail­able to you scales with your need, seem­ingly with­out a limit on the re­sources you can ask for and get. The downside to cloud com­put­ing is that in­for­ma­tion se­cu­rity could be an is­sue, and, depend­ing on your busi­ness, you could opt for pri­vate clouds.

The cloud busi­ness is still grow­ing, and pre­vi­ously skep­ti­cal com­pa­nies, no­tably IBM and Or­a­cle, have now fully joined in the cloud com­put­ing band­wagon. In fact, both com­pa­nies now of­fer a broad se­lec­tion of en­ter­prise-grade cloud so­lu­tions that en­com­pass all the three uti­liza­tion modes. Ama­zon is, by a large mar­gin, presently the big­gest player, with rev­enue last year of more than $3 bil­lion, an in­crease of over 85% rel­a­tive to that for a year ear­lier. In the past year, Google has re­vamped its of­fer­ings, an event that has mo­ti­vated cus­tomers to jump to Google from both Ama­zon and Mi­crosoft.

An­other new de­vel­op­ment in cloud com­put­ing is the rather bru­tal price war that is go­ing on be­tween the ma­jor cloud providers: Ama­zon, Mi­crosoft and Google. Ba­si­cally, the econ­omy of scale brings the cost of com­put­ing on the cloud to ex­tremely low rates. A few years ago, Ama­zon was charg­ing ap­prox­i­mately N13.6 an hour per server to run on a Linux server and N19.2 to run on a Win­dows server, while Mi­crosoft charged N20 per hour per server. Shira Ovide pointed out a few days ago in the on­line Con­nect mag­a­zine that, within days last month, each com­pany had cut prices on var­i­ous cloud ser­vices by up to 85%.

The bot­tom line of this ar­ti­cle is that more providers and users are get­ting into cloud com­put­ing, and price wars are driv­ing af­ford­abil­ity way up.

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