A reduction in communications costs and faster networks have made the private cloud a much more accessible solution that offers many benefits in addition to providing quasi –built in disaster recovery and business continuity, according to Graham Pearson, CEO of Ignition.
There are various forms of disaster recovery at different levels of cost and equally different levels of success. The more traditional approach would include the back-up of someone’s data and production systems, typically based in a company’s office, to tape and taking those tapes home or putting them into a vault somewhere.
This is localised and the most inexpensive way of doing it, says Pearson. The problem is that this type of disaster recovery only protects a business against the building or the server being impacted, but if a natural disaster hits Cayman it does not help, because the server and applications are lost and the company typically would have to move off island to recover its business.
At a higher level the traditional approach to disaster recovery would take the data to an off-island data hosting centre. Companies would still be running their applications, such as their accounting system or trust system, on their servers. There a regular back-ups and a snapshot is taken anywhere from once a day in the evening to continuously in real time.
“That would take the data off island, but then you have still got the issue, if they lose the building and they lose the server after a natural disaster, all the applications will have gone as well,” says Pearson. “So all you are left with is the data sitting on disk drives with no applications.”
The good news is your data is protected. The bad news is you cannot use it for some time, as it could be weeks before the servers are rebuilt.
“The next progression from that would be that we would take their applications and we would also put those in the remote data centre,” Pearson explains.
Applications and data are copied and a company’s production environment is recreated in a data hosting facility. Any changes in data in the production environment are replicated at the hosting facility and the organisation effectively maintains its systems in two locations at the company’s offices and at the hosting centre.
The private cloud model
“That was the old model and that still exists,” says Pearson. “But what is happening with the introduction of the private cloud model is those productions systems themselves are now no longer being housed within the company. The trend that we are seeing is that companies move onto the cloud, so they are not having their own servers anymore.”
One of the effects this has on a company’s operations is that by moving applications to the cloud, the business also obtains a disaster recovery and business continuity solution, as back-ups are made by default without having to duplicate everything.
Data and applications are also copied between multiple data hosting centres, to address the concern over what happens in the cloud, if that data hosting centre goes down. In theory and in practice those data hosting centres are of course built far more robustly than anybody’s own office building with multiple redundancy and back-up systems, but companies do want to see that data backed up, he says.
Pearson names Gmail and Apple’s iCloud as examples for the principle. “If you think of Gmail they do the same thing. Those Gmail accounts are spread across multiple data hosting centres, so the chance of you not being able to connect to that is very remote.”
Also in the consumer space iCloud will change the way movies, music and other entertainment is going to be delivered to various devices and desktops. “When people understand that they don’t actually have to have a drawer full of DVDs, they don’t actually have to have their disks of Gigabytes and Terrabytes to make this work, that all your applications are stored centrally, they will become more and more comfortable with it,” Pearson says.
The same technique can be applied to core business applications, like a trust accounting software, or Microsoft Office.
Another advantage is that under the traditional model a company would buy all application servers and if a disaster strikes, these application servers would have to be bought all over again.
“So we are saying don’t bother having applications and servers anymore,” says Pearson, comparing the service offered by Ignition to a utility like electricity.
Private and public cloud
He further emphasises the distinction between private and public clouds, which effectively indicates whether the applications in the cloud are private or shared with other users.
“In the private cloud we are having your own specific applications that have been built for you. They get moved and come out of your computer room or corner office and they get put into a data hosting centre, typically off island and they are yours dedicated to you, as opposed to applications that are shared, which would be Microsoft Office or those apps, which are not customised to you,” he says.
The big difference between private and public clouds is cost, because in the private cloud you cannot share the facilities, he explains.
Who is moving to the cloud?
Ignition is still offering the traditional model and the private cloud model as companies are gradually coming to terms with the new way of computing.
“All the companies that we talk to except the brand-new start ups have already spent a lot of money. So the trigger point typically tends to be the equipment they have bought is running out of steam, it is too old or they need to have a software upgrade, a change of application or they look at business continuity and disaster recovery solutions.”
At that point the private cloud environment offers a much broader solution, where by default you are getting disaster recovery, but there are many more benefits than that, he explains.
The main benefit is no up-front capital expenditure, as under Ignition’s offering the IT firm buys all the equipment and charges companies on a per user per month basis.
This is particularly attractive for smaller firms of five to 10 users that are common in the offshore environment, for which the cost of infrastructure relative to the number of users is always going to be high.
“If you private cloud it, it is a lot less expensive,” Pearson says.
Firms that have a need for multiple offices and access to a central system are the ones that embrace the private cloud model faster, he adds, because working remotely from another location or connecting offices to a firm’s in-house system is all achieved by default.
Organisations that opt for the private cloud model have to ensure that they have a stable communication system.
“You have got to be able to get to the data centre. So you can’t have one home DSL type link and expect to run your business on the cloud. That is not going to work,” he notes.
In practice this means that users will need a dedicated Internet access and route to the data centre that is not shared with the general Internet, because of its lower performance. This means that communication costs will be higher, but these costs are coming down.
“This is another reason why the cloud is becoming more and more accepted not only from a technology point of view,” Pearson notes. “Communications costs are dramatically lower now, you could not have done this five years ago. The cost of connecting to the applications in the private cloud would have been prohibitively expensive.”
Ignition insists on two providers that will be redundant from each other, so the connection is never lost.
“We got some smart technology that will balance across those two, but the biggest thing to look at is connectivity to the data centre.”
The other consideration for organisations that want to opt for the cloud model is the service provider and more specifically infrastructure, the location of the hosting facility and whether the data hosting centre is certified and meets accepted standards.
“And of course you only go with a service provider that can give you a list of different options,” Pearson concludes.