Friday 19 October 2012

Cloud computing turns IT into a utility, and that's a good thing?

The interesting thing about cloud computing
is that we've redefined cloud computing
to include everything that we already do...
The computer industry is the only industry
that is more fashion-driven than women's fashion.
Maybe I'm an idiot,
but I have no idea what anyone is talking about.
What is it?
It's complete gibberish.
It's insane.
When is this idiocy going to stop?

Cloud computing is cheaper, better, faster, easier, ... because it turns IT into a utility. In fact it's a no-brainer. So says Whitehall's G-Cloud team, reading from the industry hymn-sheet.

DMossEsq doesn't think that emulating the utilities markets is obviously a very good idea. Neither does Richard Stallman. And as for Larry Ellison, all $41 billion-worth of him, he thinks cloud computing announcements are "fashion-driven" and "complete gibberish", see above. And below.

But never mind Messrs Stallman and Ellison and DMossEsq, take a look at the past week's utilities news and you decide, what do you think? Is this where you want public money spent? Your money?

Don't bother working on the answer too hard by the way because actually it doesn't matter what you think. HMRC have already contracted with Skyscape Cloud Services Ltd to put your tax data in the cloud and GDS – the Government Digital Service – have already contracted with the same company to put all your benefits data up there in the cloud, too.

The big guns:

• 14 January 2011, OECD, Reducing Systemic Cybersecurity Risk: cloud computing creates security problems in the form of loss of confidentiality if authentication is not robust and loss of service if internet connectivity is unavailable or the supplier is in financial difficulties ...
• 10 February 2011, ENISA, Security & Resilience in Governmental Clouds: [re cloud computing] its adoption should be limited to non-sensitive or non-critical applications and in the context of a defined strategy for cloud adoption which should include a clear exit strategy ...
(ENISA is the EU's Network and Information Security Agency)
After a while, the penny drops for you, doesn't it. But it hasn't for Whitehall.
Small arms fire:
• 4 May 2012 Sage thrusts small biz tool into Microsoft Azure: At the end of last year Sage had converted just 1,000 of its customers from cloud sceptics to adopters, out of an installed base of 6.3 million ...

• 9 May 2012 Cloud data fiasco forces bosses to break out the whiteboards: Workers relying on Atlassian's cloudy team-tracking software have reverted to whiteboards and spreadsheets after a service outage made key project data vanish ...
• 10 May 2012 Root canal surgery officially more desirable than cloud migration: Some IT decision makers would prefer to undergo root canal surgery than deal with migrating their business to a private or public cloud ...

• 15 May 2012 iCloud blows away 15 million users for 90 minutes: Apple’s iCloud service crashed for ninety minutes on Monday, US time, leaving 12% of users – about 15 million people - possibly “unable to access iCloud mail” ...
After a while, you can't help noticing, can you. Not everyone is a fan.
from Whitehall's G-Cloud website:

• 12 March 2012 The Times they are a changing: Cloud Computing offers utility services that are cheaper, better and faster to provision ...
• 23 March 2012 A No Brainer: Cloud computing is: ICT services, or ICT enabled business services supplied on a utility basis ...
• 4 April 2012 Baby Steps: You don’t need to make a big commitment up-front because cloud is based on a utility service model ...
• 1 June 2012 G-Cloud ‘Simple’ Procurement Instructions: ... the aim of G-Cloud is to make it easier for the public sector to access and use utility-based ICT services and easier for suppliers to work with us ...
• 26 July 2012 Guidance on Terms and Conditions: Public Cloud means Utility Computing that is available to individuals, public and private sector organisations. Public Cloud is often non-geographically specific and can be accessed wherever there is an Internet connection ... Private Cloud means a Utility Computing infrastructure exclusively for the use of one organisation or community ...
See also • 10 May 2012 G-Cloud Information Assurance Requirements and Guidance
• 18 September 2012 hosting bought through G-Cloud: The purchase also shows that government is ready to embrace low cost utility cloud services ...
After a while, you get the idea, don't you. Cloud computing is a good thing according to Whitehall because it turns IT into a utility, it has all the benefits enjoyed by the utilities.
from the Guardian newspaper website:
12 October 2012 British Gas set to raise gas and electricity prices
12 October 2012 British Gas raises green electricity bills
15 October 2012 Scottish Power raises gas and electricity prices
17 October 2012 Obama and Romney take up gas prices and energy policy during second debate
18 October 2012 Energy tariff plans under pressure
18 October 2012 Energy companies to be compelled to offer lowest tariff to customers
18 October 2012 David Cameron's energy team unable to explain price pledge
19 October 2012 Npower price hike highlights complexity of energy tariffs
After a while, you get to wonder, don't you. Are these the benefits we want for IT?
from the Guardian newspaper website, 29 September 2008:
Richard Stallman
the prophet of open source
... Richard Stallman, founder of the Free Software Foundation and creator of the computer operating system GNU, said that cloud computing was simply a trap aimed at forcing more people to buy into locked, proprietary systems that would cost them more and more over time.

"It's stupidity. It's worse than stupidity: it's a marketing hype campaign," he told The Guardian.

"Somebody is saying this is inevitable – and whenever you hear somebody saying that, it's very likely to be a set of businesses campaigning to make it true."
[A cloud computing user says] We went ahead and moved our business to public cloud computing about 18 months ago. It has been a nightmare, there have been times when the company is down because our collaboration software, Basecamp, is unreachable. We also have an Amazon cloud solution. How secure is this, what if there is a breach? How do you even call Amazon, they don't even have a phone number for us? The level of transparency is not there.
... tough issues remain. One is that organisations often cannot perform audits to verify the vendor's claims. Google, for example, does not allow it. "It does more to impede the security, letting everybody in to take a look at everything," [Eran Feigenbaum, director of security, Google Apps] says.
Larry Ellison, Oracle
"The interesting thing about cloud computing is that we've redefined cloud computing to include everything that we already do," [Mr Ellison] said. "The computer industry is the only industry that is more fashion-driven than women's fashion. Maybe I'm an idiot, but I have no idea what anyone is talking about. What is it? It's complete gibberish. It's insane. When is this idiocy going to stop?"
No doubt someone will point out that Oracle now do offer cloud computing services. Does that imply that Mr Ellison no longer discerns gibberish, idiocy and insanity in cloud computing? Not necessarily. It may be simply that, having warned everyone about the idiocy, insanity and gibberish, he now feels that it is not in his shareholders' best interests to stand by and watch while Oracle's competitors pick all the low-hanging fruit.
After a while, you give up, don't you. Like Whitehall. They've opened an on-line shop, the CloudStore, in which central and local government can buy cloud services (with no warranty*, incidentally). It's a leak, through which control over public sector IT escapes. Whitehall will soon enjoy all the control over their IT suppliers that you personally currently enjoy over your gas, electricity, telephone, water and sewerage suppliers.

* Five questions were submitted to Whitehall's G-Cloud team about the advisability of including the products of Skyscape Cloud Services Ltd on the CloudStore. Skyscape is a small start-up with no trading history into whose care your tax data is being entrusted and your benefits data.

As she always does – and this is as good a point as any to thank her and to emphasise that it is appreciated – Eleanor Stewart, Assistant Director of G-Cloud, answered as fully as she could as follows.

It's up to the customer – whether HMRC, GDS, or any other public sector body – to decide if the supplier meets their requirements, the G-Cloud team give no warranty, inclusion on the CloudStore doesn't imply reliability.

The use of bold below doesn't match Ms Stewart's original reply:
To ensure the financial stability and repute of a company applying to be part of the Cloudstore the Government Procurement Service use a range a tests. The main one is the Experian Score for the company. This is an independent assessment of the financial risk of the company rated from 0-100 and recognised across all sectors. The normal benchmark set by HMG for a supplier is to have a score of 51 however as you have implied this penalises small or young companies and G-Cloud programme as set a requirement to have a score of 25 on the basis that we have a range of services, are broadening the marketplace and are not just for big companies with high scores. To gain a score of 25 you must be a stable company however, as with everything on the G-Cloud framework the customer can determine whether they are happy with any associated risk at the point of selection ...

To purchase from G-Cloud GDS and HMRC have gone through a detailed selection process looking their requirements and the options available to them and have concluded that the Skyscape services will best met their needs and that of UK citizens.


Anonymous said...

Stallman's point is moot. Good management always has contingency. GDS have some technically talented and moving, or any other asset, from party A to B would be relatively straight forward and certainly _much_ cheaper and easier that 'traditional' IT of lots of servers in racks.

Ellison has everything to lose from the cloud, but even Oracle are now getting into that game. The _first link_ in Google Search for Oracle Cloud links this .

Don't get bogged down by marketing crap around the 'Cloud'. Those of us in the industry hate that particular jargon as much as the next, but 'Cloud' does have some benefit in the form of IaaS and PaaS (see Wikiepedia for some good articles on the topic). Amazon Web Services enable small though large companies to delivery products and worry less about managing hardware, datacenters, backups and so on. It's economies of scale at work. And really, it is the future and is not going away, nor is it a fad or a fashion.

Skyscape on the other had appears to have no scale. It simply appears to be selling traditional hosting, albeit on virtualised infrastructure. Of course, the details of their operation are secret so there is no way of know if their offering consists a rack in a data-centre or a multi-site system with site to site fail over, or how they have amassed sufficient experience to provide robust, scalable infrastructure at reasonable costs, or if what they are offering is value-for-money to the tax payer.

That the dead tree press seemingly have nothing to say (positive or negative) about Skyscape and government IT contracts in general seems odd.

David Moss said...

Thanks for your comments, anonymous.

The central question here is, is the utility model attractive, given as an example the events of the past few weeks in the energy sector?

David Moss said...

You say, Anonymous, that "moving, or any other asset, from party A to B would be relatively straight forward and certainly _much_ cheaper and easier that 'traditional' IT of lots of servers in racks".

I took this matter up with Eleanor Stewart, asking her to comment on how easy it is to move applications around the cloud, and she said:

"Your description is a very reduced version of how some quite complex technology works – akin to saying an internal combustion engine works by sucking, squeezing, banging and blowing – technically correct but missing out any subtlety about the processes involved in each action. Cloud Services do indeed allow the movement of data between servers more easily than other technologies. It would be better to liken the data in a cloud to the electricity flowing through a grid – it can be diverted and moved anywhere within the grid (or cloud), safely and securely as long as the integrity of the data, it’s security and the processes involved are maintained".

Anonymous said...

'Utility computing' is a model that dates back decades. The first computer system were, due to their cost, leased and organisations would but cycles on computer systems to performance their transactions.

I do not believe it is analogous to the system we have in the UK for electricity and gas supply and I disagree with Eleanor Stewart's analogy. For one, you can have more than more computer system supplier at once. Further, systems can be engineers to easily (push buttom) migrate between suppliers. It's quite complex technology, and still somewhat in it's infancy, but unlike physical tin (server) it's a programming job, not a wiring and plumbing job.

So, it's easy if that function has been considering in the architecture of the platform, and components that make up the system are well organisation. From what I have seen of GDS and it's members, I would expect it has been well considered and their is flexibility in their implementation of the system.

There have also been significant changes in the role of the systems administrator in recent years. The 'devops' movement coupled with IaaS and PaaS is leading to 'Infrastructure as Code' - that is to say, all the configuration for the system can be written as a computer program. This is new. This, coupled with the rise of the use of commodity components, is nothing short of a revolution in the industry. The fact that marketers, idiot managers and other shysters label it 'Cloud' is just because they don't understand the technology involved. That is changing, slowly but surely, and GDS seem to be at the forefront of this thinking.

But there is a disconnect. What GDS have done is provide the upper layers of the system, described how the web site works, how the operating systems they run on are configured, I would expect. But they're running on Skyscape's servers. Why Skyscape? What do they offer than Amazon, Rackspace, or the UK based Bytemark and others couldn't? If it's that, for political reasons, they need be seen to host on servers owned and run by a UK company there are plenty around with established track records. And is a public web site after all and they're using Google Analytics - US based -for site usage data, including which IP address requests come from and what pages they view. Further the government appear ok with the GDS proposal of using US companies to authenticate UK citizens to it's services.

I've not doubt waffled here, but I hope what I've said make 'Cloud' computing a bit clearer and not the fad or fashion Ellison says it is.

Chris Chant said...


You seem to pick and choose definitions and analogies at will based on part of the name of a programme of work instigated by the UK Government. I have defined several times what the programme is about and how it operates but you choose to ignore the facts, not allowing them to get in the way of a good story and headline. The programme tries to enable organisations in the public sector access to a much broader range of IT, including "cloud", suppliers who may offer solutions more in line with user (public sector , citizen and business) need. GCloud does a slug of the procurement activity and assurance up front, once, for as many organisations that want to use it. The procurement and assurance done by the programme, (actually the Government Procurement Service and Pan Government Assurers), is exactly in line with conventional IT procurement and assurance rules.... exactly in line with conventional procurement and assurance rules. The difference is, having done it once every organisation can reuse that work, thus saving tens of £Ms in reduced duplication. The service also makes public and visible the cost of those services and also,before long, the level of satisfaction of users, something that is currently often, even contractually, invisible.

All this is in response to obscenely high levels of spending and low levels of service that exist at present. What would be your solution David, no really, tell us, we all want to know how to fix this and if you have a bettey3f0b9mhuwAUH3gLOavA; oauth2-token=
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David Moss said...

See Twitter if you like from here to here.

Anonymous said...

I worked for one of the big IT suppliers in the UK. Cloud was being pushed at the expense of all else. One account was told it had to offer the cloud to it's customer even though when they added up the costs from the 'menu of services' it worked out more expensive that the bespoke service!

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