Wednesday, 1 April 2009

CloudCamp North-East England

Newcastle University's Beehive building played host to the first UK Cloudcamp outside on London on Tuesday 24th March. Officially an unconference, entry was free and anyone that wanted to speak had an opportunity to take a slot, it also followed the great tradition of Barcamps with free beer and pizza and plenty of time for networking. A little more structured than a typical unconference, starting with a series of lightening talks and moving on to a panel discussion.

some of the 80 People that attended
After a brief introduction Justin Souter kicked off the lighting talks with 'an introduction to cloud computing', Steve Tron of Knowledge IT talked about 'public and fedorated clouds', Tony Lucas, CEO of XCalibre talked about 'whether there is a need for private clouds', Chris Purrington from CohesiveFT covered 'taking control in the cloud', Arvid Fossen of Aserver went on to talk about 'ready to use clouds',
Ross Cooney, founder of EmailCloud did a spot titled ‘bootstrap and transition, cloud computing to get your business started’, Alex Heneveld, CTO of CloudSoft covered 'cloud routemaster’, while Steve Caughey, CEO of Arjuna took ‘how to obtain Quality Of Service from a cloud?’ leaving Duncan Malcolm of EveryCity talking 'cloud1 versus cloud2' and Stewart Townsend from SUN rounded off the lightening talks.

The lightening talks were followed by a lively panel discussion chaired by Ross Cooney, where the 80 or so delegates got to pick the brains of the panel. The discussion covering everything from standards and data portability, to how do you tell your IT team that their jobs no longer exist and questions like how do businesses cope with a utility billing approach to cost and what happens if your provider goes bust.

All in all, it was very successful evening and I know I had a great time and learned a lot. While I found all of it interesting Ross's talk was one of the most compelling. Ross's company, Rozmic is relatively small, a handful of employees providing services for email and messaging, in a traditional model they would have a large building housing enough servers to cope with maximum usage (117 servers), a team of engineers, a huge internet pipe and power facilities. This would have had to be purchased and set up, and the maintenace and upkeep would be quite a task. With cloud computing he's paying per server, per hour and automatically turning it off and on as required, so during the night when demand is low he's only paying for 1 or 2 machines, during the day as demand goes up, he maintains performance by turning on more servers. He's only paying for what he uses and paying as he goes, so cash flow is managable and as the servers are virtual maintenace is minimal, giving his engineers time to streamline the code and make it even more efficient. What this means is, he can afford to use the technology he wants to use and can grow his business, without large risky upfront investments.

Having thought about it since i'm still not sure that I fully understand the implications of moving your IT into the cloud. Here are a few of the things that occured to me:

If you are deploying all your data to the cloud, and spinning up server instances all over the place, how does this affect the networking model? i.e. are you still using active directory to control your users, computers, sites and services? And where does anti virus and maleware fit in? Then, there is the whole area of licencing, if your creating hundreds of new servers on the fly how are they being licensed does it still use the per seat or per server approach, even if your not using microsoft servers and services surely there'll be licenses for anti virus, back up etc.

When we talk about "the cloud" are we talking about a single cloud or many fluffy little clouds, ie would i use amazon to store my files and cloudmail to provide my email and someone else to supply my sql and someone else for my cms and if this is the case how do i back all of this up, do i have lots and lots of little back up all over this cloud.

And the final thing to leave you with is do we have enough people with the skills to do all this? As an IT manager of some years, i have a very good understanding of core It, backup, disaster recovery, and a little knowledge of Api's and web development,but i'm not entirely sure that most IT staff would have all of the skills required to do all of the tricky bits to make this seemless to their end users, and i don't think many sme's could afford to get an engineer in every time it needs a tweek.

Resources: Introduction to cloud computing by Souter Consulting, Justin's blog post (with transcripts of the questions and answers), Ross's blog post, David coxon's photos.

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