Perspectives on Costs when Talking about the Cloud

While working on some cloud topics I dig deeper in some core elements of cloud computing. One core element is the reflection on economical questions.

When thinking about it, it became clear that there are mainly to perspectives, a macro and a micro perspective. Both needs to be taken in account when trying to understand the economical side of the cloud.

The Macro Perspective

In its essence you can perceive the whole cloud computing area as a mainly economical topic. You may reject this statement and come up with quite a lot technical topics, that make cloud computing great. That can be things like high availability, geo redundance, elastic and flexible scaling of resources, accessibility from anywhere, availability of virtually any technology on short notice.

All those come true, definitely. But all those can be accomplished with your infrastructure as well. Surely, there is huge innovation provided by the big players in the cloud computing market, especially the IaaS (Infrastructure as a Service). But most of this is related to the massive scaling needed to provide services to thousands of customers.

Don’t get me wrong here, cloud computing will be a major corner pillar for information technology. It has started and it is growing.

But while looking from a technological perspective you can achieve all that benefits within in your own IT facilities, you will run into major issues. Most of that issues will be technology related, but can be overcome with enough budget and the right people.

Now that is why the cloud is in its essence an economical questions. You may not have enough budget and the right people. Economical reasons will prevent you from building the needed technology, economical reasons will also prevent you from finding the right people, build the right teams and give them the freedom to stack up all the needed knowhow. It is simply not economical to do this all alone.

Secondly to be able to scale as needed you need to have enough resources, Again a lot of costs to have on the list.

The big players spread that costs over a lot of customers. Massive scaling.

The Micro Perspective

When evaluating the deployment of workloads in the cloud, often the question is whether a company should stay on-premises or should go into the cloud.

Now while this simplified macro view is not really difficult to understand, people often narrow down their decision whether to go for the cloud or not, mainly on economical reasons. Fine so far, but what we often see is that they miss a lot of important factors.

During the process this is the used perspective, so people tend to compare costs for running workloads in the cloud or on their own servers. Very often the result indicates the cloud might be much more expensive.

How can that be?

When a cloud provider sets the price tag, this includes everything needed to run for example a server instance. This includes costs for IT, facilities, management and perimeter costs.

  • IT costs are mostly related to hardware, software, installation, power consumption, networking and peripherals.
  • Facility cost include housing, racks, ventilation and air conditioning, emergency power supply, fire protection, building, property, etc. And all that needs to be maintained and from time to time it needs to get cleaned.
  • Management involves all aspects of running your systems, maintain and operate it.
  • And the there are still more costs, what I call perimeter costs. Personell, that is not directly involved in the service, but is needed, like security personell, you need insurances, parking space for staff etc.

cloud_costs

This are all factors, that are included in the price of an instance by the cloud provider of your choice.

Now for comparison people calculate prices for running instances on their own. Usually here costs for IT is included, but usually only for hardware and software. If you need some new periphereal hardware like networking equipment, it is included as well. Power consumption is also part of the equation. But usually thats it. All the other factors are seldom taken into consideration. Just because it is already there. You already have a building, you have rooms, you have ventilation, you have a security guy, the building is already getting cleaned by somebody, and your networking and perimeter supplies are also already there.

From this perspective the cloud often seems to be more expensive, but only because you exclude a lot of factors from the equation.

So in the essence, most IT managers have the micro perspective on their radar, but does not reflect all the factors.

Another reason is that often only a small piece is evaluated, but the real value comes clear, when you look at the whole picture. You will not reach a critical mass, when you evaluate each application on its own.

Amazon Web Services Region Names

Today when configuring the AWS command line tools on Mac OS X I also needed to set up a new credentials file with my default region in it.
While doing so I had an issue because I mistyped the region name. So I was in need to insert the correct string for my region.
While the region name is intended to be descriptive the string to include in command line settings and scripts is different from that.

The following list gives a quick overview on the correct syntax of AWS regions

Region Name Region
US East (N. Virginia) us-east-1
West (N. California) us-west-1
US West (Oregon) us-west-2
EU (Ireland) eu-west-1
EU (Frankfurt) eu-central-1
Asia Pacific (Tokyo) ap-northeast-1
Asia Pacific (Seoul) ap-northeast-2
Asia Pacific (Singapore) ap-southeast-1
Asia Pacific (Sydney) ap-southeast-2
South America (Sao Paulo) sa-east-1

SharePoint and ECM Image Viewer by Accusoft

Getting to know third-party tools and addons for SharePoint (or any other ECM/EIM/Portal/You name it) is always interesting and adds valuable items to the consulting toolbox.

While systems like SharePoint already come with a lot of functionality and capailities out of the box, there will always be gaps and there will always be functionality you miss.

Of course you can build anything on those platform,but  just buying components is often the faster an cheaper alternative. In any architectural process you should always, make the build or buy consideration a central piece of action, but that is another story.

A few days ago I had the chance to get a demo on product from a company called Accusoft, especially we had a close look to their image viewer. Viewing files online without downloading is always on the list and vey often it is not enough to handle Microsoft Office- and PDF-files.

Accusoft is a software vendor  from the US specialized on addon components and SDKs for ECM product suites and platforms with a special focus on input- and output-management functionality.

During the great demo by two guys from Accusoft we had a special focus on their image viewer component. This viewer is available for SharePoint and also standalone. Both versions are HTML5-based and can be integrated in a lot of ECM-products.

This image viewer provides several nice features, especially the capability to view, annotate and comment a lot (really a lot) of document and image formats. Those formats range from documents like Microsoft Office (of course) and PDF, a lot of image file formats, up to files and formats in the computer aided design (CAD) area. All this files can also be converted into PDF directly from the viewer. Great feature.

The complete list of supported formats and an online demo can be found here: https://www.accusoft.com/demos/file-type-demo/

The viewer also comes with digital rights management features, that can be used to prevent printing and downloading a file.

From my point of view, that viewer is really nice and could be taken into consideration in a lot projects, especially in the financial and engineering sector.

So another piece in the toolbox.

Views on the Value and Benefits of a Collaboration Portal

When working with clients on the idea of introducing a collaboration portal or a digital workplace, a common question is about the value or even return on invest (ROI) of such a portal.

Very often answers are needed to justify expenes and investments. While calculating the total cost of ownership is no big problem, the question for a ROI is really a difficult one.

Evaluating the value and benefit of a collaboration portal based on Microsoft SharePoint or any other similar technology is a complex question, which requires differentiated views on the benefits of the plattform and single functionalities on different levels of usage.

The benefit of the plattform itself spans over a couple of cross-sectional characteristics, wich can have a value on itself or in combination. Examples would be saving administrative costs, or get better usability. At the same time a requirements definition should also represent  the benefits of individual requirements based on singular use cases, for example the ability to connect documents in ECM with customer records in CRM.

So, the value of intended functionality, should be evaluated and assessed per single requirement as well.

Options to measure and assess benefits

The assessment of benefits and ROI („Return of Investment“) in collaboration and SharePoint-projects is very often limited. While some factors can be pinpointed quite exactly, others can be assumed, but cannot be measured directly.

Now when looking at the benefits question, I tend to view it in two different categories – hard and soft benefits or if you like the term hard and soft ROI.

collaboration_portal_benefits

Hard Benefits (Hard ROI)

In the area of the hard ROI we assess the value of a plattform based on directly measurable criteria. This criteria, where benefits can be measured are for example

  • Time that savings can be measured directly
  • Costs savings that can be measured directly
  • Licensing and fees can be reduced of eliminated directly

Examples for a measurable benefits are reduction of requests to the service desk or shorter process cycle times. Also reduction of license costs, because of consolidation of several licensed software tools to one single plattform with a single license of the SharePoint plattform is an example here.

A weaker, but still quantifiable value to address benefits, is the estimation of those savings.

Here the value and benefits are visible and can be estimated, but are not directly measurable. In this cases benefits can be projected, but numbers are not directly available, so you have to estimate.

A good example is the use of the search engine. Employees are searching for information and documents and with the use of the seach engine, whether SharePoint of any other enterprise grade search engine, an acceleration of search process can be perceived.

Despite that perception, the real time saving cannot be measured, because you always never get the chance to actually measure the relevant search process in daily business. So you cannot say how much an employee actually save and if that savings really increase productivity.

So the benefits of a new better search engine is not measurable in reality, you can only estimate it.

Same issue with often seen goal of eliminating email. You can measure the number of received and sent emails before and after introducing the collaboration portal. While the number of emails is a single number, the actual benefits come with the boost (hopefully) in productivity. What you cannot measure, but only estimate is the amount of time and effort people invest in communication. Is it easier to deal with communication now? Are there information gaps, that must be closed elsewhere? The pure number of reduced emails is almost never the goal, at least it should not be. The goal is to reduce distraction and increase productivity, but both you can only estimate, not measure.

But in those case this estimations are still quantifiable and can be represented in numbers.

Soft Benefits (Soft ROI)

In difference to the hard ROI, the value of the soft ROI  is not directly quantifiably. Here we are talking about subjectively  and partly also emotionally perceived changes.

Both types, subjectively and emotionally percived changes can be assessed by talking  to your employees and users. You can use interviews or employee surveys here. In both cases, make sure you already have assessed the situation before introducing the new system to get a clear picture.

So assessing the value and benefits of a new collaboration portal, or a social collaboration tool, is not easy and cannot be presented in a single numerical value like a single number for a ROI.

There are a couple of factors to be assessed and you need to make sure to review those to get a better picture.

Microsoft renamed SharePoint and Office Apps to Add-Ins

Some weeks ago when looking up some information on SharePoint Apps for a customer project, I stumpled on the information that Apps for SharePoint and Office are now called Add-ins.

sp-addins

That note in MSDN makes clear, that not all documents and UI elements are updated yet, but will over time. So right know, be aware of current terminology inconsistency in the SharePoint and Office 365 eco system. From my point of view, this new name is far better, since the term “app” has always been confused with apps for mobile devices.

So, not much of a big change, but when talking about stuff, consistent terminology is key. Especially when discussions go hot, it is very important to actually use the correct term for things and make sure everybody is talking about the same thing.

It may be just small change, but Microsoft had quite a couple of renames now and still several inconsistent terminology issues inside its SharePoint and Office365 plattform.

For most operational tasks this is not a real problem, but especially if you have some cross-functional discussion, on future projects, in project planning or design and architecture discussion, this may cost time.

I am always a huge fan of keeping a consistent terminology, especially when discussions get intense, this helps.

Data Privacy and the Public Cloud

When talking about cloud services, especially on the public cloud, data privacy and data security are always topics on top of the list. The different providers cover this topic differently as I pointed out in a previous blog post on data security and privacy information the different companies provide to their customers, and customers have a different perception as well.

So today I like to draw attention, to two recent blog posts covering the topic of data privacy and the public cloud.

1. Tech Republic - The number one reason some financial services firms don’t adopt cloud

In his article on Tech Republic Brian Taylor (@BrianB2BCopy) gives a great summary on a recent survey from the Cloud Security Alliance . The survey covers cloud adoption among the financial services industry.

The survey and so the summary provides some great numbers on cloud adoption in that specific industry.

The numbers that interestme most, although not surprising, are the numbers on the biggest issues and concerns.

  • Data confidentiality (60%)
  • Loss of control of data (56%)
  • Data breach (55%)
  • Compliance and legal issues (51%)
  • Data loss (42%)

While working in the german market, this numbers does not really surprise me. In Germany views on public are very sceptical and usually it is perceived as a typical german problem.

While seeing this numbers, it is clear, that missing cloud adoption is not only a problem in this specific market, but in other industries globally as well.

Read the full article on the Tech Republic website.

2. Amazon Web Services – Privacy and Data Protection

In a recent blog post Amazon Web Services points out a few statements on the topic of privacy and data protection, additionally to the usual offical set of information.

AWS clearly felt the need to make it’s point of view clear, so here are some quotes:

  • “Amazon does not disclose customer information unless we’re required to do so to comply with a legally valid and binding order.”
  • “Where we need to act publicly to protect customers, we do. Amazon never participated in the NSA’s PRISM program.”
  • “[...] we oppose legislation mandating or prohibiting security or encryption technologies that would have the effect of weakening the security of products [...]“
  • We are certified under the Safe Harbor Framework and are members of numerous associations focused on protecting privacy and security [...]

To get the full picture read the full blog post on the AWS security blog.

VPC Flow Logs – new network monitoring capabilities in AWS

In Amazon Web Services powerful capability are provided by Virtual Private Clouds (VPC) to build structured network areas in your AWS cloud environment.

You can easily create new VPCs and assign instances inside that network area. Building network segments like internal or external nteworks and isolate and protect even single servers or applications is easy in AWS.

The one thing that was not so easy was monitoring of network traffic. For this you needed to introduce your own tools and set it up on your own instances.

Yesterday Amazon Web Services announced a new capability that covers this gap – VPC Flow Logs.  With this feature you can now monitor network traffic easily and use it for later analysis. You can even hook this monitored data to Cloud Watch, so you can easily set alarms and react to certain network events.

So definitely a nice feature to expand control on your AWS environment.

For more information have a look at the official blog post by AWS

 

Quick List of Free BPMN Modeling Tools

While working on a RFP (Request for Proposal)  for a cloud based information management portal for I got several documents with requirement from my client. One of them was set of BPMN  (Business Process Modeling Notation) diagrams showing their model of interaction  between people, systems and information. It was created in a tool I didn’t know, Bizargi, and fortunately it is a free tool.

So since this is not the first free BPMN modeling tool I stumpled about, I would like to provide a short list of a few free tools in this arena.  There are numerous tools out there, several enterprise grade suites, but this are free tools. I used all of them in a certain kind, but this article is not intended as full comparison.

One hint: I cannot give you clear guideance on what degree of “free” you can expect, so you have to check for yourself, if “free” really means free in your particular case. So please check for your self.

Here is the quick list.

1. Bizagi

Bizagi offers several BPMN tools for business process automation and modelling.

If you are looking for modeling only, Bizagi is offering a free BPMN modeller after registration.

Get more information on the Bizagi website

bizagi

2. Camunda

Camunda is offering an open source BPMN workflow engine based on Java technology and is also offering enterprise support.

Part of the product line is a free BPMN modeling tools, that comes as standalone version and as Eclipse plugin.

Get more Information on the Camunda website

3. ARIS Express

ARIS is a well known enterprise platform for business process management tools based on the ARIS concept.

While the ARIS platform istself is not free, there is a free community version called ARIS Express, which is also offering BPMN support.

Get more information on the ARIS community website

arisexpress

4. Inatalio

Intalio is claiming to be the world’s leading Open BPMS. Beside the Enterprise Version, there is a free community edition available which can be downloaded from their website after free registration.

Get more information on the Intalio website.

5. Bonita BPM

The company Bonitasoft is offering a BPM plattform which contains several components including a BPM engine and a modelling tool  the Bonita BPM Studio.

The products are available on subscription basis, including a community edition with is free, but limited in functionality.

Get more information on the Bonitasoft website.

So this are five free BPMN tools, functionality and terms may differ between them. To get a feeling what fits best to you, test them out.

Especially if you do not have the need or budget for a full enterprise grade BPMN suite, each of those tools is worth to be considered. But if you are looking for an enterprise version, this five ressources should be on your list as well.

More Ressources on BPMN:

1. The Home of BPMN by the Object Mangement Group (http://www.bpmn.org/)

2. The usual suspect - Wikipedia (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Business_Process_Model_and_Notation)

Understanding the Concept of Shared Security Responsibility in AWS

Whenever a company is moving IT systems or single applications to the cloud, a topic that certainly is coming up is a security discussion. Standpoints vary from very critical views to total unawareness. But to be able to address the topic properly, you need to have a certain understanding about the basic security concepts behind the cloud computing services the discussion circles around. Depending on the type of cloud service, whether it is a Software as a Service (SaaS) or Infrastructure (IaaS) service, those basic concepts may be different. In its nature SaaS is a service that offers a complete software application and IaaS is a service that offers capabilities to build IT stacks, so security concepts behind both cannot be the same.

When talking about Amazon Web Services there is no difference. AWS addresses these facts with a concept of shared responsibilities. With this concept AWS follows the good old architecture concept seperation of concerns. While AWS is providing a lot of infrastructure components in the cloud, customers build upon that. AWS is talking here about “Security of the Cloud” and “Security in the Cloud”.

So what does that mean?

Amazon Web Services is offering a cloud service that includes a lot of building bocks. Currently there are over 40 services. Those services can be used within Amazon data centers worldwide in several regions. This building blocks include anything you need from servers, network components, storage and data services, up to complex services like a Hadoop cluster. All managed from a webinterface or various APIs and commandline tools, including commercial management with billing tools. AWS is making sure that this complete environment is secured. So nobody can access your tenant and manipulate services. That is what they call “Security of the cloud” and what is in the responsibility of Amazon Web Services.

AWS_shared_responsibility_aws

Now on top of that you build your own application stack with the software and systems of your choice. Could be CRM-System, a website, mail servers or a SharePoint environment. To get there, you need to configure the network environment Amazon is providing, especially the VPCs and you have to make sure you and your customers and users can access your services.

Within those tools you may want to provide certain services to be able to consume that application you need to provide access. That can be access to the servers, to databases or access to web interfaces. Usually you provide this via a kind of authentication system like Active Directory or LDAP. All that configuration inside your AWS account and inside your applications is in your resonsibility. This is what AWS calls “Security in the cloud”. It is inside your environment, configurations are made by you, so you are responsible.

AWS_shared_responsibility_customer

Understanding this concept is crucial for understanding how to secure your cloud computing environment on Amazon Web Services. Whenever you start a cloud based project on AWS think about this concept and make sure you understand what you need to do to make your environment secure and what you can expect from Amazon Web Services.

Sources for Cloud Providers Data Security and Privacy Information

While talking to customers on cloud computing and options to provide solutions for their real life problems in the cloud, one topic that always comes up and  must be discussed is data privacy and security. So questions usually coming up are “What is happening with my data?” or “Is my data secure?”.

Especially in Germany there are always heavy dicsussions on data privacy when the topics cloud computing comes up. Although often very emotional discussions, arguments always help. Getting the right information on time is crucial, but after checking sources for this article it became obvious that the different providers give you information very differently.

The leading two, Amazon Web Services and Microsoft, provide information easy to find and in a very comprehensive way, others where not so easy to get. On the other hand when looking for information on Google Apps for Work for example I found data privacy information, but was unsure, whether those were the privacy information of the service or the website.

So while most providers do provide information on both topics, question is what is covered and where to find it. In this article I will cover the question where to find information. So I like to give a brief overview on the sources for data privacy and security information for the various cloud computing providers. This list is not complete and it does not give information on all providers out there. The selected providers are the ones that matter most from my opinion. In this article I also do not differentiate too much between, IaaS, PaaS and SaaS providers, but you will find, that most candidates are either from IaaS or from the SaaS side, so I will have IaaS and SaaS in one section if a provider offers both.

Amazon Web Services

Amazon Web Services is the leader in IaaS for sure.  AWS is also giving a lot attention to data security and to compliance.  A lot of money is going in here. All relevant compliance information is combined in one place and is easy to find http://aws.amazon.com/compliance/

Microsoft

Since decades now Micrsoft is working with big and small companies of any branch and business area. So Microsoft knows that trust is a key asset. Microsoft combines all their compliance and security related information in online trust centers – one for each product line.

Find the Microsoft Azure Trust Center here: http://azure.microsoft.com/en-us/support/trust-center/

Same comes true for Office 365 so the Office 365 Trust Center can be found here:  https://products.office.com/en-us/business/office-365-trust-center-cloud-computing-security

Salesforce.com

Would you hand over all your customer data to a cloud provider? Your most valuable assets? A lot of customers do for good reasons and Salesforce.com is the number one SaaS CRM provider.

Therefore data privacy is a huge topic for Salesforce as well and trust is key. So Salesforce.com offers its privacy information in a special trust section of their website https://trust.salesforce.com/trust/privacy/

Google

Despite all search engine business and all the numerous consumer tools, Google also offers business platforms with Google Cloud Platform and Google for Work.

While the offering itself is still behind that of AWS and Microsoft, Googles efforts to increase transparency and trust of its customers into Google Services, is limited form my point of view. I may be wrong but that’s what I see and perception is critical in this business.

Information is limited, but at least something is there.

For Google Cloud Platform there is a whitepaper under the following link https://cloud.google.com/files/Google-CommonSecurity-WhitePaper-v1.4.pdf

For Google for Work there is only a statement in the support area:  https://support.google.com/work/answer/6057301?hl=en

In my opinion this is by far  not enough, there is still a lot of work ahead for Google in this area.

Rackspace

Another big, but as well known, player in the business is Rackspace. Originally being a webhoster, Rackspace entered the cloud computing area some years ago and is one of the key figures behind the open source cloud computing technology stack Openstack.

Same as the other providers Rackspace also offer a dedicated section for security topics http://www.rackspace.com/security/

Dimension Data

Dimension Data is a cloud comuting and IT infrastructure provider from South Africa and owned 100% by japanese telco provider NTT. Dimension data is also providing some information, but it is packed into the terms of service. There are information available, but not as prominent as it could and should be. Quite some room for improvement here.

http://cloud.dimensiondata.com/saas-solutions/about/legal/terms-of-services

Softlayer

Softlayer is  offering IaaS services since 2005 and was aquired by IBM in 2013. With IBM experience in the back, Softlayer knows about the needs of customers. So also Softlayer offers compliance and data security related information:  http://www.softlayer.com/legal

This has been a short overview on the available information on data privacy and compliance topics in the cloud. For a lot of customers these kind of information can make the difference in their decision to team up with one of those providers or not.

I do not claim, that this list is complete, it represents what I found without to many hours of investigation. Trust is crucial in the cloud business and if I cannot find relevant information easily, then there is a problem.

So compliance and data security information must be easy to find to be of value. The big players got it, for the others there is still a lot to do.

 

#informationarchitecture // #sharepoint // #enterprisearchitecture // #cloud