Clearing Up The Cloud
Everyone talks about cloud computing but to glean insights about how it’s shaping companies and markets, Bisnow, Digital Realty, and Transwestern/RBJ invited experts who are developing and leveraging the technology to explain where it’s at and where it’s going. (Tracking clouds... and our teachers said we weren't smart enough to be meteorologists.)
To consider and assess, we assembled at cocktail hour Tuesday at the ICA, overlooking Boston Harbor, sun shining and 80 degrees. (We may not see that again until July.)
Our moderator: Transwestern/RBJ partner Brian McKenzie, is a broker in the ‘burbs where several of the one dozen or so area data centers are located. Among the more recent additions: Digital Realty commissioned a 130k SF data center in Needham; good thing, too. As technologies advance, companies become more comfortable using third-party facilities to manage and house data, and as the cost to do so declines, demand will continue to rise, he tells us. Renting data services enables users to control costs and scale up as their needs rise. (It's like renting a storage unit, except the stuff inside is probably not as strange.)
Our panel: Digital Realty CTO Jim Smith, Akamai senior product marketing manager Greg Lord, Constant Contact CIO Stefan Piesche, and Sonian founder Greg Arnette. They discussed the evolving landscape of cloud computing, especially infrastructure as a service, and how providers are competing on features and cost. Companies buying into the services talked about their differing needs and their search to find the provider that’s right for them.
There’s excitement, fear, and concern over how and when to deploy cloud technology, Jim says. Questions abound but one thing’s for sure: in the future the cloud will look very different given the tremendous investments being made by small and large user organizations. (It won't be a cloud anymore, it'll be a hurricane.) Digital Realty, which has invested over $2B in data center construction over the last few years, has six data centers in our region in Bedford, Needham, Waltham, and Wakefield.
Akamai is a software company that delivers its capabilities as a managed services model on a massively distributed platform that’s a cloud in and of itself, Greg says. Its aim is to make the Internet fast, reliable, and secure. While still a “work in progress," as more organizations put mission critical applications into cloud computing environments, the cloud will continue to rapidly become mainstream. But once IT teams flip the switch on applications they have moved to the cloud, Greg says he often watches them grapple with issues of performance, availability, and security. (Plus some peeping G-men.)
As growing Constant Contact became an arms race between development and operations, it began to dive into the cloud, Stefan says. The company sought velocity and a system that’s self-serve for engineers; they have 135 of them. While still early into the cloud, Constant Contact has kept applications that need to talk to each other on a private platform and moved those that are a good fit onto public platforms. But that requires rethinking how they work as well as new work processes and, as we all know, changing behavior is difficult.
Born on the cloud in ’07, Sonian analyzes companies’ communications to deliver software services that allow a client to securely retain, quickly search and retrieve emails, files, and documents. (Can they explain to us what a zip file is and why it has never worked for anyone ever?) To get the greatest benefit from the cloud, a user wants to put the infrastructure in place before building its software. For an established company, that may mean re-architecting its systems from the bottom up, Greg says. A benefit of the cloud: the possibility to have real-time estimates of how much the services cost minute-to-minute and to expand globally without having to build-out new data centers for each region.
Wayfair, born in a Back Bay basement in ’02, had $1B in revenues last year and expects 60% growth this year. Its technology is largely proprietary. Recently, as it began to evaluate the possibility of going public, it started to scrutinize its software, Jack says. As it searched for a more stable platform, it began to consider cloud services, in part, to off-load the congestion in its three data centers. Chances are, it will always keep some data inside and some on the cloud, so, it’ll be a hybrid.