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Lucrative Cloud Service – Online gaming August 3, 2010

Posted by spdguru in Cloud Computing, Software as a Service.
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We often look for the most useful cloud service that businesses can adopt, and completely miss one of the most lucrative ones. Walt disney’s acquisition of Playdom last week is an attestation to this. VCs are pouring money into Zynga, the maker of Farmville. Farmville allegedly has 100 million players. It does prove the existence of a social gaming market.

The multiplayer online gaming (MOG) seems to be doing well given the investments being made by giants like Sony. Sony has offices in San Diego, Denver, Seattle and my home town – Austin,TX. It is likely that the global recession bolstered the industry by giving people more time to explore these online games. Like other cloud Services, games charge the player a monthly or bimonthly fee for access to the game’s servers.

According to a special report by the Economist “WPT (World Poker Tour) games are broadcast in over 150 countries to around 400m people. H2, a gambling consultancy, puts the global online-poker market at $4.9 billion, of which America (where the game’s legal status is dubious) accounts for $1.4 billion.”

The pure entertainment value of online gaming is undeniable. Greater value is gained when gaming is used to train and teach. The US Army is apparently looking into using games to train soldiers on Asymmetric Warfare. Online games is definitely a safer way to train for warfare. Not to be left behind poker proponents see in poker “a language for thinking about and an environment for experiencing the dynamics of strategy in dispute resolution”. According to Garry Kasparov, the chess grandmaster, poker offers lessons on chance and risk management that even chess does not. Using games to pique the curiosity of students is not a far fetched concept. We should expect some valuable online gaming/teaching tools in the near future.

IaaS vs PaaS June 10, 2010

Posted by spdguru in Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service, Software as a Service.
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I understand that this particular discussion has been brought up many times among the technorati. It is however important in shaping future Cloud centric applications. One of the parts of the Cloud Computing definition by NIST is the SPI (SaaS/PaaS/IaaS) model, which is definitely a good start. It helps us understand the distinction between various Cloud offers. In very broad terms, when a provider allows a user to control the operating system of the hardware the offering is Infrastructure as a Service. An example of this is Amazon’s EC2 offering. When a user (application developer) has no control on the Operating System (OS) but does have control on the complete application software, and uses application development services like those from the App Engine from Google, the cloud offering is a Platform as a Service. Finally, if the end user has no control on the Application software, except some configuration, like in the case of Salesforce.com, the offering is classified as Software as a Service (SaaS).

The line between IaaS and PaaS is very gray. Amazon’s offerings are deemed to be IaaS and this is probably true in the case of EC2. But Amazon also offers database services (SimpleDB & RDS) and a billing service (DevPay)which are clearly beyond IaaS. Even the S3 storage service provides read write capabilities, which are generally the domain of an OS. The PaaS definition should be broader than the ability to develop an application and physically run on the platform. The Apple App Store surely is a market place, which allows developers to showcase applications and monetize them. The App Store should be a platform too, since it plays a very important role in the lifecycle of an iPhone or iPad application. It is not a stretch to envision the emergence of specialized platforms targeted for industry specific applications. For instance, Authorize.net provides a set of services for credit card payments accessed over the Internet or “in the Cloud”.

Cloud Computing Essentials June 3, 2010

Posted by spdguru in Cloud Computing Essentials, Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service, Software as a Service.
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Starting with Cloud Computing Essentials – why?

If you have been reading, writing or dabbling in any sense with the topic of cloud computing, you would agree that if you ask 10 people about cloud, you would generally get 15 different definitions. So I thought, let’s start with the ‘cloud essentials’ comprising a cloud ‘definition’ and then figure out cloud ‘components’. This will give us a good foundation to start with.

BTW, elasticity here refers to the cost-efficiency when scaling up or down. As one could imagine, being cost-efficient whilst scaling down can be hard to achieve but feasible with the right cloud-based IT services offers.

Start with a Cloud Computing Definition

Now we have a definition, let’s visit cloud ‘components’. Basically, I have developed two compartments for the cloud-based IT resources and services– how businesses will utilize and how providers will deliver.

NIST has done a great job of providing definitions and a presentation here.

Cloud Service Providers and Cloud Users Components

I often refer to the above chart as a ‘swim lane model’ where the top 2 swim lanes refer to how a business with first justify why it will utilize cloud-based IT services and resources and then systematically figure out how the business will deploy such IT functionality.

For example, the 5 key characteristics of the cloud usage (NIST) are important for the business to understand from both technology and economic perspective. I think self-provisioning through a portal will definitely be the ‘make or break’ factor for the acceptance of any cloud-based offer as it really defines the ‘quality of experience’ for the cloud user. Better the quality of experience, more likely the users will flock to the cloud provider. Cost will always be a part of the success as well but then cost is always an important factor, regardless of the economy at the peak or in the trough.

The business deployment model for the cloud-based services and resources really speaks to the governance (public or private provisioning), lock and keys to the physical location of hardware running ‘the cloud’ (internal/external) and who deploys the security policy (bounded/unbounded). A great example is collaboration provided by Cisco Telepresence and Cisco WebEx solutions, actually.

Cisco TelePresence is Private, Internal and Bounded deployment of IT services and resources providing collaboration. This is because a collaboration session requires provisioning done by authorized parties, access to telepresence room with a physical badge or such and pertinent IP traffic is secured by known security measures such as firewall, IPS, DDoS Mitigation, encrypted tunnels, and such.

In comparison, Cisco WebEx provides collaboration via Public, External and Unbounded deployment of IT services and resources. Cisco WebEx has the multi-tenant asset of MediaTone Network. As a result, any party with an active service account and correct credentials can provision a meeting on the IT resources and services physically residing in the MediaTone Network and be secure as each meeting ‘join’ is secured with SSL encryption with the closest MediaTone Data Center.

By the way, Private, Internal and Bounded define Virtual Private Data Center (VPDC) here.

A couple of points to clarify that changing the deployment element to External means that the VDC is hosted and managed on the SP premises and Unbounded means it is secured according to the business security policy by the provider.

Now from the cloud delivery point of view, there are 3 swim lanes.

The first one is Delivery Models. The delivery model is known as the SPI (Software, Platform and Infrastructure) as a Service model. Currently, IaaS model is being build out by Savvis, Terremark, Rackspace and others.

The second one is Payment plans. Self-explanatory Pay-per-drink and All-you-can-eat models are generally in place. Pay-per-drink model is attractive but the well known $0.10 cent per VM per hour does not buy you a production class server to run your critical application, say a transactional database. However, according to the InformationWeek in the report ‘The Pubic Cloud: Infrastructure as a Service”, generally $499 per month for 1xCore CPU, 4 GBs of memory and 32 GBs seems to be a commonly found tariff.

Finally, the integrated management that is critical to get right for the quality of user experience that we talked about in the beginning.  Having a cross domain manager (physical and virtual resources), OFAB (Operational Fulfillment, Assurance and Billing) and service modeling (within a customer cloud pod or across a multi-tenant cloud cluster) are very important. On a future date, I plan to discuss this more in detail as I think this is the ‘secret sauce’ that a cloud provider can create to ‘make or break’ their cloud offer.

The next topics I plan to discuss are cloud security, service orchestration and top 5 IaaS offers.

Resources to get upto speed on Cloud Computing May 24, 2010

Posted by ranjitn in Uncategorized.
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After a short hiatus I am back to pursuing my passion of seeing cloud computing make a meaningful impact for businesses.  High tech company executives have been chastised for confusing users about this paradigm.  Rightly so because many existing products were renamed as cloud computing products.  In defense of the high tech companies, the fact is that cloud computing is not a revolution but an evolution;E commerce has been around for more than a decade.  Some of the ideas such as virtual desktops have been around for several years.

So what is different now? One big difference is that we now have more reliable networks, be it data or voice.  More Users have broadband connections and have come to depend on the network. Cloud computing is an evolution where users are willing to use compute power in the network, using various access devices including smart phones.  It is still a change from the past because users need to trust the cloud computing service provider to render services without interruptions, and secure all personal data.  In the past, service interruptions were due to disk crashes or virus attacks on the personal computer.

A friend recently asked me how she could get up to speed on cloud computing, and which books would help.  My initial instinct was to say there are no books, but then I went to check on Amazon.  Sure enough there were no less than 293 books on “cloud computing”, several available for pre order.  The books reminded me of blind men describing an elephant.  This is not to demean their efforts in anyway, because I would explain it in a way my thinking has been shaped over the years. Books should help us synthesize the collective thought process and define the common vocabulary where there is a consensus.  Since this is such a big and emerging topic, it takes time for the dust to settle.  NIST, a US government agency had to step in and provide a definition of cloud computing we could agree on.  Analyst firms like Gartner and Forrester have variations of this. 

In the information age and with a topic as fluid as Cloud Computing it is imperative to keep in touch with daily news and blogging.  I have found the following to be great sources.

a) Gigaom  http://gigaom.com

b) Phil Wainewright  http://blogs.zdnet.com/SAAS

 c) Sandhill.com http://www.sandhill.com/

d) Cloudbook.net http://www.cloudbook.net/

 e) And to top it all (no pun intended) Guy Kawasaki’s new venture “Alltop” – a news aggregator.  http://cloud-computing.alltop.com/

f) Google groups – cloud-computing@googlegroups.com

– Ranjit Nayak

Convergence of Telcos & IT January 17, 2010

Posted by ranjitn in Uncategorized.
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The convergence of Telco and Information Technology. For some reason the convergence is not an recognized as an obvious trend. I first saw this notion in a research study by IDC. The research indicated an intersection of the two industries and hence opportunities. As a person on main street (nice terms for Not a Pundit) I see that my telco has added new services such as Satellite TV. One identifier I have seen for such telcos is CSP ( Content Service providers).  Last week I saw another article about Telstra the Australian Telco which reinforced the notion of convergence  (http://www.billingworld.com/articles/telstra-integration-on-demand-smb-market.html)

I was at the Management World conference in Orlando in 2008. Although one of the keynote speeches did go into Amazon’s cloud services and intrduced Web 2.0 services to attendees, the average attendee did not see how online services were related to the services telcos offered. A very knowledgebale senior technical staffer even asked what “SaaS” was, and admitted that he had just heard about “Salesforce.com”.

Economic situation good or bad for SaaS (Cloud) January 17, 2010

Posted by ranjitn in Uncategorized.
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This is a topic being discussed far and wide. And the politically correct answer is it depends! One look at this article (http://www.mercurynews.com/business/ci_11130755?nclick_check=1)  on the San Jose Mercury and the ambivalence is evident.

The logic favors SaaS companies in an economic downturn. Buyers do not incur capital expenses, instead they incur a recurring expense which is accounted for as an operational expense. A recent survey by ScanSafe confirms this sentiment. We have counter arguments from none other than Larry Ellison. I for one do expect that SaaS companies will do well, but then seeing is beleiving!! Surveys and opinions can only go so far.

However there is some truth to the argument that in general, SaaS companies will have lower revenues due to the economic downturn as all investments are put on hold. This is very disturbing because even good investments will now be stalled. The CFO’s mantra in uncertain times is cash conservation.

A blog post by Phil Wainewright even suggests that an acceleration of the SaaS market could be disastrous for the software industry.

Why is cloud computing attractive? January 17, 2010

Posted by ranjitn in Uncategorized.
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Until the 90’s, most software applications were written for mainframe use. In the 90s, personal computing and client server applications began their dominance. The 90s also saw the rise of the internet and a networked globe. Today, the pendulum is swinging back to server centric computing, much like the mainframe era. Software complexity contributes to this trend. Maintaining software by applying patches is cumbersome and time consuming. Personal computers, unlike data centers, are not very secure and reliable. There are several cases of laptops with classified data being stolen or lost. Users losing important data due to hard drive crashes and lacking any backups is not uncommon. Individuals and small companies cannot afford the time or manpower needed to maintain IT resources.

How are SaaS and Cloud computing related? January 17, 2010

Posted by ranjitn in Uncategorized.
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With the terms “Cloud computing” being used so often, like many, I pondered on its relationship to Software as a service (SaaS). Are they synonymous? If not, what is the overlap? To add to the confusion analysts, reporters and vendors, have their own definitions. For instance Gartner calls it “hosted software based on a single set of common code and data definitions that are consumed in a one-to-many model by all contracted customers, at any time, on a pay-for-use basis, or as a subscription based on usage metrics” http://www.gartner.com/it/page.jsp?id=496886. According to internet news “Software as a Service may also be referred to as simply hosted applications” http://inews.webopedia.com/TERM/S/SaaS.html. The second description implies that a software vendor could get a hosting company to host an instance of the software and voila, you have SaaS. The question is how is this any different from an ASP (Application service provider). Now the pay-for-use can be construed to be a monthly subscription fee and this is different from the pay-for-use we see in our electricity utility bills or cell phone bills. So let’s see how Salesforce.com the poster child of the SaaS industry fits in to the definition. Yes, there is a hosted solution, and yes they charge a monthly fee ( up front). They also charge a different subscription fee based on the features available for use. However, there is a significant characteristic which differentiates salesforce.com from an ASP – multitenancy. This means salesforce.com does not create a new instance of the software installation for every new customer.

Cloud computing on the other hand seems to have originated from the hardware side of computing. The terms “utility computing” and “grid computing” immediately come to mind. The following blog by Geva Perry, on gigaom.com, contrasts utility computing from cloud computing http://gigaom.com/2008/02/28/how-cloud-utility-computing-are-different. In summary he says “Utility computing relates to the business model in which application infrastructure resources — hardware and/or software — are delivered. While cloud computing relates to the way we design, build, deploy and run applications that operate in an a virtualized environment, sharing resources and boasting the ability to dynamically grow, shrink and self-heal.”

Based on this description of Cloud computing, it is clear to me that SaaS vendors must adopt the cloud computing paradigm which encompasses concepts such as linear scalability, multi-tenency, self-healing, high reliability and virtualization, in order to deliver customer value. As such, SaaS is software delivered using cloud computing infrastructure. Cloud computing infrastructure includes all the hardware and middleware components needed to satisfy the pre-requsites listed above.