Wrap Your Management Arms Around the Cloud

If you think you can run your cloud operations the way that many data centers are managed, your head really is in the cloud. IT shops have spent years adding this and decommissioning that. The result is often a hodge-podge, and managing all this is like corralling a bunch of wet cats.

As operations move to the cloud, it is time for a fresh start. And author Jaydeep Marfatia believes this is the time to, from the very beginning, create a cohesive set of management tools and policies.

I think Jaydeep is right. If your internal data center is a mess, at least you can walk in there and fix it. How do you fix problems that may be a half country away?

The trick is to prevent problems and when they occur, have clear procedures to resolve them. That is what management is all about.

Posted by Doug Barney on 03/13/2012 at 12:47 PM2 comments


Google Apps vs. Office 365

Many in IT are being asked -- or are asking themselves -- if their shops should move apps to the cloud. There are two main choices: Google Apps for Business and Office 365.

Google Apps is actually older, at least in the online world. Google Docs, a bare-bones Web-based word processor, came out in 2006, and is going on 6 years old. Meanwhile, Office 365's predecessor, Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), came out worldwide about three years ago. But Office, which is the core of Office 365 client apps, itself is now more than 21 years old (it debuted November 1990). That legacy means that Office 365 has far, far more features than Google Apps. For some, that is important. Others, particularly startups and smaller shops, may appreciate a leaner, simpler set of offerings.

Another huge difference? Google Apps is pure Web -- everything happens in the browser and most users store most files in the cloud.

Office 365 can be used solely in the cloud, but the sweet spot is a hybrid installation where on-premises server software and locally installed instances of Office interact with Office apps in the cloud. You can also opt for running the productivity apps in hybrid fashion and having Microsoft completely manage Exchange, Lync and SharePoint, thereby reducing the administrative burdens of security, backup, patching and other forms of maintenance. This hybrid approach also allows shops to move to the cloud at their own pace. In fact, they need never cut fully over to the Web.

Since Microsoft has been offering a suite going on 22 years, there is consistency in how all the apps work. They essentially look and act the same, with the exception of maybe mixing and matching Ribbon and non-Ribbon-based apps, so they all feel like they're part of a family.

Google likely didn't imagine Google Apps for Business when it first wrote all these pieces of software, so there is a certain lack of consistency among the apps in how they look and feel, operate, and are set up and managed.

So what do you get for your money, and how much does it all cost? Let's start with Google. Google Apps for Business is easy to understand and simple to buy. The suite includes Google Docs, which is now equipped with word processing, spreadsheets, storage, slideshows and presentations. It also has Gmail, Calendar (which is somewhat separate from Gmail), Sites, Groups (for work sharing), Postini security, and Web-ish apps such as Blogger, Reader, Picasa and AdWords. And that's just for now. The nimble Google is keeping Apps a moving target by regularly adding items.

Pricing for Google Apps for Business? It's either $5 a month or $50 a year with no commitment. That's it.

Office 365 comes with core Office apps, Excel, Word, OneNote and PowerPoint. It also includes server tools such as SharePoint, Lync and Exchange. Think of Office 365 as a super suite.

The base Office 365 license offers the bare-bones Microsoft Office Web Apps versions of core Office apps, forcing users to bring files into their locally installed apps to do fancy formatting, serious spreadsheet calculations and so on. But customers can pay extra for Office Professional Plus. With Professional Plus, the online versions of the Office software are fuller-featured, essentially offering the full-feature set of Office but online.

Pricing for Office 365 is complex and generally ranges from $6 to $27 a month depending on how much function you want.

Dueling Devices
Google essentially works with any Web-ready client, such as smartphones including Android (of course), BlackBerry, iPhone and even Windows Phones, as well as key tablets. On the PC side, Linux machines, Windows and Mac are all equal-opportunity players.

When it comes to clients, Office 365 was crafted with a PC-centric view. Most shops will use a PC running full versions of Office apps as the client, and thinner clients such as smartphones just for mobile use.

While Google Apps was built from the get-go with remote access from multiple devices in mind, Microsoft also has a decent story, according to reader Phil. "I can access the Outlook message store if I can get online. Recently while on vacation, I was left without the shared netbook we brought. My daughter connected with her iPhone to the online Exchange site through Outlook Web Access, and I could quite quickly search for and find a key email message with the name of a restaurant in it. I've even been able to reuse an old iPod Touch as a calendar device. This solution does require at least Outlook 2007, but 2010 is better," Phil says.

Joseph Johnson is president of the nonprofit soccer booster club RHS Soccer Boosters Inc., and is looking to help players, parents, coaches and the club itself better communicate. The club is working with Google Apps and Facebook.

Johnson likes how his Google Apps are available anywhere. "Having the documents available on my cell phone or at any public computer is great, [such as] when [I'm] approached by parents at a soccer game or needing to print 100 copies of something at the UPS Store. Additionally, most people can access the public files with a simple sign in and no install. The ability to access these documents in a pure Web browser makes it great for our motley group," Johnson says.

Have you used either tool? If so, how well did it work? Shoot your thoughts to me at [email protected].

Posted by Doug Barney on 02/28/2012 at 12:47 PM10 comments


CTOs Cop to Cloud Concerns

Top technical execs from six cloud and virtualization vendors talked to Virtualization Review Editor in Chief Bruce Hoard about what it'll take to get the cloud to really take off.

Virsto CTO Alex Miroshnichenko was first up. Miroshnichenko thinks one issue is the term "cloud" itself. He argues that the lack of a standard definition is one impediment. He also sees IT's nervousness about cloud security as another major stumbling block, though Miroshnichenko thinks this is more paranoia than reality. There is one other issue the cloud needs to deal with, he says: Storage hasn't kept pace with cloud apps and services. For now, high-end storage is simply too expensive.

AppSense VP of Technology Simon Rust feels the weak point is the number of applications on the market. According to Rust's math, IT shops tend to have one app for every 10 employees, so a 1,000-person shop has 100 apps and a 10,000-person shop has 1,000. Precious few of these apps run on the cloud these days. And many on-premise applications, particularly those that are transaction- or graphics-intensive, may never run well on the cloud. Lack of WAN and Internet bandwidth is one more concern for Rust. If the app is too slow, users will rebel.

Veeam Senior Director Doug Hazelman believes that not all in IT have come to grips with how to manage apps running on virtual servers, a very different scenario than dedicated boxes. One problem is that many in IT have consolidated servers, but kept the same number of operating system apps that still need to be managed. And like Miroshnichenko, Hazelman laments the lack of a standard definition of cloud computing.

Kaviza COO Krishna Subramanian has a different view, and doesn't see security as a big barrier. That's because IT is not yet committing their truly critical apps to the cloud, so security is not paramount. For Subramanian, IT is more interested in business as usual and the status quo than making a big cloud. And with tight budgets, myriad projects and computers that just love to break down, this makes a lot of sense. Subramanian suggests making the cloud move one step at a time -- baby steps, even.

F5 Networks CTO Karl Triebes, as a networking vendor, sees bandwidth and app performance as key concerns. Performance can already be an issue in virtual server environments; that's why the most compute-intensive apps are the last to go virtual. The same theory rings true for the cloud where the WAN is the gating factor.

Finally, Liquidware Labs CTO Jason Mattox weighed in, believing that "management challenges" are the real problem. For many, virtualization was so easy that IT went overboard with VMs everywhere -- but didn't add enough management infrastructure. And this is not just for the virtualized servers, but the attendant storage and backup, as well.

Is anything holding you back from the cloud? Let me know at [email protected], and check out Bruce's interviews with these CTOs here.

Posted by Doug Barney on 02/21/2012 at 12:47 PM0 comments


Assessing Azure

Longtime Microsoft watcher Mary Jo Foley has just penned (or at least keyed) a new column, "Can Microsoft Save Azure?" I didn't know Azure was nearly toes up, but have learned over the years to never doubt the word of Mary Jo.

Here's her thinking: Azure, as it exists today, is really aimed at developers who build new apps that reside in the Microsoft cloud. The notion of simply moving in-house apps to Azure has not yet been realized. And here Microsoft has been quiet, maybe too quiet. The company has simply not provided a detailed Azure roadmap. Foley also wonders how many customers are on Azure, and here again Microsoft is more mum than Nadya Suleman.

While Foley's headline is provocative, her conclusions are more moderate. She sees Microsoft opening Azure to non-Microsoft development tools, and the company is moving to host more apps natively, such as SharePoint, in the Azure cloud.

This, on the surface, is a bit confusing. Let me think out loud to sort it out. Azure is a platform, so it is inherently more flexible than Office 365, which is a set of applications. Yet the platform is there to support apps. In the case of Azure, the goal is to support new apps and custom apps, and eventually do more of what Office 365 does. The only thing I need to understand better is why one would want to run standard Microsoft apps on Azure versus the pre-built and ready-to-roll Office 365. It must be the level of customization. Help me sort this out at [email protected]

Posted by Doug Barney on 02/14/2012 at 12:47 PM2 comments


Cloud E-Mail Archiving Starting To Deliver

E-mail archiving is a massive undertaking for little gain. It really doesn't produce anything. What it does is protect your shop from data loss. It drives less revenue than a chain-link fence, but you have to have it.

Archiving on the cloud takes away all IT archiving chores. So long as you truly trust your archiver, a huge load is taken off the staff. The market is taking off, and will nearly double from 2011's revenue of $191 million to $336 million next year. That's not a crazy amount of money, but it is a healthy, growing market that's taking off fast. For more details on the market and your options, click here.

Not sure if you can trust a cloud archivist? I get it. But look at it this way: That is their core business, so they ought to be good at it. Ask yourself this -- do you trust a dedicated cloud archivist or your own shop, where e-mail archiving is just one of the things you do? Answers welcome at [email protected]

Posted by Doug Barney on 02/14/2012 at 12:47 PM3 comments


Jonesin' for Office 365

Redmond magazine contributor Don Jones just finished moving from Google Apps for Business to Office 365 and the man couldn't be happier. The cloud software is now running and running well. Here are some of Jones' conclusions:

The setup required a bit too much PowerShell scripting, and could do with more tasks being handled by the GUI.

For internal users, it is smooth sailing. For outsiders to connect to Jones' SharePoint, they have to authenticate through Hotmail. I guess that's because Hotmail uses Passport authentication and Microsoft reckons it is easy and cheap enough to set up a Hotmail account.

Jones detailed the migration in a three-part series you can find here.

I recently interviewed over a dozen readers about Google Apps and Office 365. Serious Microsoft IT types vastly preferred Office 365, while smaller shops such as nonprofits liked the slimmed-down approach of Google. I'll report on all my findings in the coming weeks.

Have you used either? If so, let me know at [email protected]

Posted by Doug Barney on 02/07/2012 at 12:47 PM5 comments


BlackBerry Picks Office 365

The BlackBerry still exists largely because it is enterprise-ready out of the box. Specifically, it integrates with Microsoft apps such as Exchange. That's why I have and will keep using mine 'til April 16, when my Verizon contract expires.

The iPhone caught up pretty fast, and IT has no problem hooking the Apple phone to Exchange. To keep its edge, BlackBerry owner RIM is now tying its phones into Office 365. It sounds pretty cool. Just like the integration with on-premise Exchange, BlackBerrys can sync with Exchange mail, calendar and contacts.

The coolest part is the protection of your data. Because it is in the cloud, it should be secured by your provider. And if you lose your phone, you can remote wipe it clean. Sweet. You can also remotely reset the password.

I won't be locked into Verizon and the BlackBerry after this April. What phone and service would you recommend? Put on your Ann Landers wig and send your best advice to [email protected]

Posted by Doug Barney on 02/07/2012 at 12:47 PM6 comments


Dell Drives Private Cloud Formation

Private clouds are not always clearly defined. To me, they are internal to your datacenter and highly virtualized. But just because your servers are highly virtualized, they aren't necessarily a cloud. It is the level of virtualization. When the infrastructure is truly elastic and self-healing, then I reckon it's a cloud. So it starts with good, old servers and our trusty hypervisors. The rest is software magic, such as management and orchestration.

Dell, which already has a massive partnership with VMware and is doing more and more (though less than VMware) with Hyper-V, has a new line of virt- and private cloud-ready boxes. The vStart 200 is so named because it can support up to 200 VMs. On top of the servers themselves, Dell is more than happy to equip you with networking, cables, storage and whatever else you need to support your rack. Dell also has management software that integrates with Microsoft System Center, which Redmond is pitching as a key private cloud enabler.

Dell isn't the only player in the private cloud town; other large OEMs such as HP and IBM have similar bundles.

Posted by Doug Barney on 01/31/2012 at 12:47 PM2 comments


NIST Insists on Cloud Protection

The National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) wants our public clouds to be more private and secure. NIST just released a set of guidelines that can be used to build better clouds or question cloud providers. Here are some highlights:

  • Research precisely what cloud providers offer and make sure it matches your security needs before signing any contract.

  • Figure out who is accountable for security and privacy and how they will actually be held accountable.

  • Before building a cloud, think through issues of privacy and security and build those protections into your plan.

What are your top cloud criteria? Share your thoughts at [email protected]

Posted by Doug Barney on 01/31/2012 at 12:47 PM5 comments


Cloud Security Vendors to the Rescue

Virtualization Review Editor in Chief Bruce Hoard meets with a lot of vendors. And because the virt and cloud markets overlap so much, Bruce meets a lot of cloud types. With that, Bruce chose five cloud security vendors worth a look.

Dome9 offers a security tool it claims is easily managed because it is so highly centralized. The tool, meant to be as automated as possible, is closed off to administrators unless they explicitly ask for permission. Once the admin is done, access is shut off, resecuring the system.

Sentrigo Hedgehog Enterprise watches your cloud databases and sends out encrypted alerts when there's trouble.

Websense offers security and management as a service, remotely locking down your in-house machines.

Panda Security is a longtime anti-virus. Like Shavlik (which VMware is in the process of buying), Panda now offers a cloud-based virus protection service. The coolest part is how the experiences of the Panda community contributes, almost in real time, to product updates.

Finally, CloudPassage offers firewall-style security that spans your premise and your chunk of a service provider's cloud.

What vendors do you think are cool in the cloud? Give them props at [email protected]

Posted by Doug Barney on 01/24/2012 at 12:47 PM3 comments


SMEStorage Shines in Cloud Storage

Most folks who use cloud storage take a simple approach -- choose a service and use it. Power users never do things the easy way. For their homes and businesses, quite often power users and IT pros (commonly the precisely same thing) use several services, especially when they are free (at least for a limited amount of storage). And sometimes, different services are for different uses.

This can all be confusing. Did I leave that file in Dropbox or SkyDrive? SMEStorage, a service from a company called SMEStorage (if you want to learn the meaning of eponymous, there it is), aggregates these disparate services, providing greater storage without running up the bill, a simpler view and easier file retrieval.

Reviewer Derek Schauland took it for a whirl and saw a role for the tool for businesses and consumers.

Posted by Doug Barney on 01/24/2012 at 12:47 PM5 comments


Transforming Private Clouds: A Primer

I was at a security hardware vendor Crossbeam the other day and we got to talking about private clouds, which the Crossbeam devices can help secure. As we got to talking, the definition of a private cloud came up. Many use the term without explaining what it means.

After some discussion it seems to me that a private cloud is a datacenter or area within it that is virtualized. What makes that virtual infrastructure cloud-like is the level of virtualization -- it has to be elastic and feel like a utility. This all has to do with live failover, orchestration, elasticity and management.

Eric Beehler, writing for Virtualization Review, walks through the benefits of private clouds and how to achieve them. If you are confused by the concept (which has been ill-defined) but interested in its use, check out Eric's piece here.

What is your take on private clouds -- hype or great hope? Vote at [email protected]

Posted by Doug Barney on 01/17/2012 at 12:47 PM5 comments