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Cloud Computing Special Part 1: Looking For The Silver Lining

Cloud Computing Special Part 1: Looking For The Silver Lining

Australian companies of all types are cautiously shifting applications out of the data centre and into the cloud. Despite all the hype, cloud computing is proving to be one trend that's more than just hot air.

The NSW Department of Planning's major project database holds information on around 150 major projects worth billions of dollars. It keeps track of numerous modifications as they work their way through the approval process.

But getting visibility on the progress of assessments had been a highly manual and time-consuming process.

When it came it came time to update the system last year, the Department of Planning faced the usual choice of building or buying something to manage itself.

Rather than go down the traditional path, the Department signed a deal to use Affinity, a Web-based tracking service from the Australian developer Hiive Systems. Now its database sits in Hiive's cloud, and people like Department of Planning project manager John Ross need no longer worry about it.

"One of the elements that we liked the most was that it linked directly to our Web site," Ross says. "When the status of a major project has been assessed or determined, we can update the database and that will update our Web site automatically, and the public can see that it has been moved on to the next stage."

His group's limited technical knowledge meant it made sense for Ross to have to have someone else take care of the database and ensure that the necessary changes are made. So Ross doesn't mind that the data is offsite or that he pays a quarterly maintenance fee.

"Quite frankly it seemed to be beyond the capability of our IT section," says Ross. "Based on past experiences with maintenance of such systems, it was better to get someone else to do it."

Out of the Data Centre

Affinity is one the thousands of cloud-based services that are beginning to find favour with large organisations in Australia. Ever since Salesforce.com defined the software-as-a-service model back in 2000 there has been no end to the ideas and services launched to entice applications out of the data centre and into the cloud.

The model has evolved significantly, with the emergence of infrastructure-as-a-service providers, offering bare-metal storage and processing power, and platform-as-a-service providers, offering additional value such as a database or user interface. Many companies are setting up their own internal clouds using virtualisation as a service offering for their business users.

According to Gartner's research vice president Brian Prentice, what puts them all in the cloud is the common theme of being Web-hosted and able to scale up and down as the client requires -- and, most importantly, delivered as a service.

"We are talking about relationships established between providers and customers, primarily built off the back of a service level agreement, as opposed to the traditional end-user licence agreement," Prentice says.

This has some interesting ramifications for IT departments. "What starts to happen, if the cloud starts to expand and build, is enterprise IT shops are increasingly put in a position of having to compete with external organisations off the back of the quality of the service level agreement," Prentice says.

In one instance he says a university had been investigating Amazon's Simple Storage Service (S3) service, and found it could not get close to offering the same pricing back to its users.

"Users should have the right to say your service is too expensive for what you are providing, or what you are providing is not competitive with what's out there in the market," Prentice says.

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