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Why Intercloud Is the Future of Cloud Computing

A Contributed Article by Anand Srinivasan, Independent IT Consultant

A report prepared by the International Working Committee on Cloud Computing Resiliency (IWGCR) has some pretty damning statistics against the reliability of cloud services. According to this study, the cost incurred by businesses due to the unavailability of over 28 top cloud-based services in the past five years totaled nearly $273 million. Of this, Amazon Web Service and Microsoft Azure alone contributed nearly $75.5 million and $37.4 million respectively.

Security and service reliability are two primary concerns to any business migrating their data and solutions to the cloud. While businesses may evaluate the security of a cloud provider by benchmarking their service against competition and standard best practices, service reliability is a tricky subject. Consider this: According to the IWGCR report, SalesForce (http://www.salesforce.com) did not experience any major outages between 2007 and 2011. However, the service experienced 34.36 hours of downtime in 2012, costing businesses nearly $6.87 million in lost revenue. With such sporadic but significant reliability issues, it is pretty difficult for businesses to properly evaluate the various services for reliability.

This is a concern that won't go away anytime soon. However, businesses can try to mitigate their losses due to service downtimes. One of the most promising solutions to tackle this challenge is the concept of intercloud. Intercloud, or "cloud of clouds" as it is commonly called, is a topography in which multiple cloud-based services are connected in a seamless network to build a seemingly infinite cloud that can have nearly 100 percent availability and potentially infinite storage capacity. The idea is to make use of the data centers owned by multiple providers to ensure that customer data may be stored and retrieved at all times.

To understand why this is important, take the example of a high security service like electronic signatures. These are services that businesses use to sign paperless contracts in a safe and secure environment. Silanis (http://www.silanis.com), one of the largest businesses in this industry makes use of Amazon Web Service (AWS) to offer their service to customers. The e-signature industry is at a pretty nascent stage with less than 10 percent of all contracts in North America being signed electronically. A downtime at AWS could in turn imply the non-availability of the e-signature service. For a growing industry that depends on customer trust and satisfaction to proliferate, such downtimes can have significant impact. By hosting the service on an intercloud, businesses like Silanis could make their service available virtually 100 percent of the time.

Although several collaborative efforts have been carried out over the past three to four years to standardize the network protocols of the various cloud services, it is only now that things are starting to look up. In October this year, IEEE announced a testbed initiative to bring together 21 leading cloud providers to create a working prototype of the intercloud. But the bigger announcement has been from IBM. In mid-December the company revealed that their researchers are now working on a multi-cloud distributed storage system that will help mitigate losses due to service outages. 

Besides ensuring the business against server downtimes, a "cloud-of-clouds" approach has several other benefits as well. An interconnected cloud platform enables a business to spread its data over multiple servers. In the event of a server reaching full storage capacity, new data easily can be stored in an alternate cloud server. Also, an intercloud network prevents vendor lock-in since a standardized protocol would ensure data can be migrated to alternate providers with the click of a button.

Finally, intercloud networks also are extremely secure. Hackers are less likely to intercept vulnerabilities on a distributed server network as easily as on standalone systems. This makes the data more secure since a hacked server may be easily quarantined without having to disrupt the services being offered to the customers.

Virtualization Of The Internet

In many ways, the Intercloud is technically the virtualization of the internet infrastructure. According to Vin Cerf, who is widely regarded as the father of the internet, cloud computing today is plagued by the same challenges that internet faced back in the 1970s. A lack of common protocols between the various cloud service providers is akin to the inconsistent networking standards that existed among networks in those days. By bringing together a standard protocol that various cloud businesses may adhere to, Vin Cerf says we may be able to virtualize the internet with the intercloud.

The IEEE initiative with the 21 participants is a step in the right direction. This will pave way for more extensive collaboration among the cloud businesses, which will effectively help us make intercloud a practical reality.

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About the Author

Anand Srinivasan is an independent IT consultant with over 7 years of experience. He is based out of Bangalore, India where he advises enterprises and SMBs on their cloud and technology adoption strategy. You may reach out to him at anand.srinivasan@gorumors.com

Published Wednesday, December 18, 2013 6:51 AM by David Marshall
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