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Cloud computing concerns slowing widespread adoption

A luxury hotel chain chose Terremark's hosted services over Amazon Web Services. But why? Concerns about losing control when moving data and services into the cloud continue to make organizations wary of cloud computing.

This is part two of the three-part series on working with Infrastructure as Service (IaaS) from Jo Maitland, Executive Editor of SearchCloudComputing.com.


Infrastructure as a Service comes in many flavors. Users looking for more granular network control might find that Amazon Web Services, geared primarily toward building Web apps and Web communities such as KaChing, does not offer enough knobs and dials to control how the service is used.

In mid-2008, Preferred Hotel Group, a luxury hotel chain headquartered in Chicago, moved all its IT operations (including Microsoft SQL and Exchange servers, Citrix Systems desktops, file and print servers as well as various utility servers) to service provider Terremark Worldwide Inc.

In-house proves too expensive
Prior to using Terremark, the hotel chain hosted its infrastructure at Savvis Inc. but found that too expensive, prompting the switch to Terremark. In between the move, the company calculated what it would cost to bring everything in-house. For a Dell blade server, a midsized storage area network (SAN), VMware software and the required power and cooling equipment, the hotel chain faced a $250,000 up-front investment.

Meanwhile, Terremark offered all the gear plus disaster recovery (DR) to a second site for $16,000 up front and an additional $12,000 per month. The Preferred Hotel Group currently has 36 virtual machines (VMs) and approximately 3.5 TB of storage at Terremark.

"It works out at a little more a month, but we don't have to worry about hardware maintenance and disruptive software upgrades," said Chad Swartz, an IT manager at Preferred Hotel Group. He says one of the biggest bonuses of using a cloud provider is getting your hands on topnotch IT gear. "They can afford a whole different class of SAN. I can look at Dell; they can look at Hitachi and a lot of other devices that make things run much faster than we could."

Swartz noted that while disk prices have come down, the real expense of a SAN comes in managing it. "There's no assigning LUNs [logical unit numbers] in the cloud. It's so much simpler… and we avoid that staffing cost," he said.

Why not Amazon Web Services?
So if simplicity and cost are your primary concerns, why not use Amazon Web Services? Swartz said Amazon does not have all the controls that Terremark does. "Most cloud services are geared at building websites, not running infrastructure," he said. "Terremark provides more granular controls over the way servers are built… the setup of DMZs [demilitarized zones], subnets and the ESX environment."

That said, Swartz would like even more control. Right now he has no way of seeing how much Internet bandwidth he uses or how many virtual machines are provisioned on the servers his company pays for, especially for DR purposes. "We have to trust that they are all on different servers for VMotion [VMware's feature for live migration of VMs], it's a good-faith thing, but I would prefer to see it," he said.

Daryl Ford, the director of communications and infrastructure services at the University of Massachusetts Boston, is a big believer in cloud computing but knows what it's like when users run amuck in the cloud. At one time, a faculty member at the university quietly used a cloud service to back up 20 GB a night over the Internet.

"It was bringing our network to its knees," Ford said. "We shut him down." Ford says UMass has all the right policies concerning IT procurement and enforces them as best it can, but he said there will always be cracks in the system.

"People could care less about policies…," he said. "They want what they want when they want it and they don't involve IT." And this goes for cloud services in particular, as they are so easy to buy, he added.

Pharmas thinking cloud?
Pharmaceutical companies are another sector eager to use cloud infrastructure services to alleviate IT scaling issues, but concerns about security and compliance have prevented many of them from jumping in.

Almac Clinical Technologies has grown fast. In a matter of months, the size of its clinical trials has jumped from hundreds of people to tens of thousands. Getting the infrastructure deployed to support these trials in a timely way is almost impossible, according to Jack Kosowsky, the director of systems development at Almac.

But before he can consider using a service such as Amazon EC2, he said protecting the company's intellectual property in the cloud is "critical." So security is a huge issue. The data associated with clinical trials is extremely sensitive. In the context of a multi-tenant environment, imagine if Merck got hold of Pfizer's data on a clinical trial. Thus pharmaceutical firms have stringent change-control requirements. "You can't turn a screwdriver in our data center without documenting it," said Kosowsky.

The firm must show that its IT systems maintained the same state throughout the duration of a trial. Just applying a service pack to Windows requires a lot of thought and testing to ensure that the system can operate in a continuous state. The company's traceability matrix shows how even the slightest change affects every system in the IT department. Before undertaking a trial with the firm, Almac's clients sometimes visit the company's data center to check out its security.

"They take great comfort from a nicely laid-out data center with blinking lights. If we say [their data] is somewhere in the cloud, it's not going to give them that comfortable feeling," Kosowsky said. Reliability is another deterrent from cloud services.

"A daylong outage would be the end of cloud computing for clinical research," Kosowsky added.

 

Advice from the trenches
Physical-to-virtual migration is out there, but IT pros say that in many cases it's best to build servers in the cloud from scratch -- and SQL servers in particular, as the drivers operate differently in the cloud from those in a traditional environment.

Data synchronization is a big deal and will likely force some downtime as companies do the initial copying of their data to the cloud. In many cases, companies physically ship data because they have too much to send over the wire. What does your service provider offer to make this transition easier? Until you are certain everything in the cloud runs as it should, keep your old environment up and running.

 

  • Request itemized bills that explain all the charges per contracted period. Beware of hidden extras, and question everything.
  •  

  • Consider the implications of cloud lock-in. Ask your cloud provider which archiving and virtualization standards it supports and, if you wanted to move to a new cloud environment, the kind of services it offers.
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  • Find out whether your cloud provider has insurance for data privacy breaches and network interruptions as well as how much the insurance covers.

TABLE OF CONTENTS

Infrastructure as a Service: How to maintain control
How one growing firm uses Amazon's EC2
Cloud computing concerns slowing widescale adoption
Understanding cloud computing pricing

ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Jo Maitland is an executive editor in the Data Center and Virtualization media group at TechTarget. This article features additional reporting by Christina Torode, a senior news writer in the CIO media group and TechTarget.

Editors' note: This chapter on Infrastructure as a Service is the fourth part of an e-book on cloud computing that also includes chapters on CIO strategies for the cloud, development for the cloud and Software as a Service.

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