Chris Dotson talks about cloud
To many people, the concept of the cloud might be a bit nebulous. "The public perception of cloud is that it’s a very broad term, even a ‘useless’ term,’" says IBM’s Chris Dotson. "I disagree.
"The cloud is really a new service consumption model. With the cloud, you only pay for what you use. It's amazing how many computers are out there just spinning because they might be needed next week. In the cloud, they’re available when you need them—and that means much less waste." Dotson should know; he is IBM’s worldwide infrastructure architect for infrastructure and provisioning requirements. He has worked on cloud for the last four years of his 19 years with the company.
So what exactly is the cloud?
If you use web-based email such as Gmail, you are using a cloud service. “You don’t think of that as cloud, but you don’t have to worry about infrastructure, platform or software,” says Dotson. Other widely used cloud services such as Flickr and Dropbox provide online storage. In all of these examples, the program and data are on another server, not your home computer or laptop.
Before launching its SmartCloud solutions, IBM built its own private cloud, and Dotson was the lead architect on the project for about three years. That cloud is still in use.
“It has more than 1,000 virtual machines,” Dotson says, and is used by developers and testers on myriad projects. That approach means there is no need to buy new hardware for testing. Instead, developers receive an internal credit limit for cloud services. “This brings service directly to the people who need it and cuts out other people from the process. It’s much more efficient,” says Dotson.
IBM’s offerings in cloud fall into three categories:
- software as a service (SaaS),
- infrastructure as a service (IaaS)
- platform as a service (PaaS)
Software as a service means the program you are using resides on a server outside your immediate location. “Gmail is the best example,” says Dotson. Users don’t install the program on their own computers. Nor do they have to worry about updates and other maintenance.
“With infrastructure as a service, you’re essentially renting a virtual machine,” Dotson says. Customers can access much more powerful computing power without the inefficiency and expense of providing that hardware continuously.
Platform as a service shares some characteristics with its infrastructure counterpart. “With platform as a service, you’re renting the infrastructure but also renting some stuff on top of it that makes it easier to use,” says Dotson. “It could be a programming language based in the cloud. It could also be something like one of IBM’s Rational products: software used to create other applications.”
With the “what is cloud” question being most common, the second most common is “is it secure?”
“Any time there is data, there are security issues,” he says. “And the more infrastructure is shared, the greater the security issues. But companies that are outsourcing have dealt with this for a long time.
“Twenty years ago when the Internet first started to grow, security people were saying, ‘You want other people to talk to our computers? Who knows what will happen?’ Now people are saying the same thing about cloud.
“Certainly there are things to consider. I like to use the analogy of a hotel. At home you just lock your doors. In a hotel, you’re sharing your walls, floor and ceiling with other guests. It’s the hotel’s responsibility not just to lock the front door, but also to make sure the walls, floor and ceiling are secure.”
Dotson is confident that security issues will not deter cloud from becoming commonplace.
“For consumers, ubiquitous cloud computing means things like Apple’s iCloud—instead of manually backing up your mobile device to a computer in your house, it’s backed up automatically to Apple’s cloud servers. For businesses, it means running less and less IT in-house, and buying services like email, analytics, customer relationship management and more as they’re needed without a large up-front investment in hardware or software. For hardware providers, particularly server manufacturers, it means that they will be selling more to cloud providers and less to individual consumers and businesses.
"And for software companies—well, let’s just say it’s an interesting challenge for existing software licensing models.
“We will always need access devices of some sort (desktops, laptops, mobile devices and, soon, augmented reality devices), but it’s quite possible that most businesses and consumers in the future will have no servers at all―only access devices and an Internet connection to use different cloud services,” he says.
“We won’t hear much about cloud computing in a few years. It will just be called computing at that point.”