Cloud computing is not all fluff

A RECENT survey by IDC Manufacturing found that 22% of US manufacturers have already incorporated cloud computing into their IT portfolios, and that 44% were in the process of doing so or have firm plans to do so.

That means two-thirds of US manufacturers are sold on the concept of cloud computing; with a mere 2% having no plans for cloud adoption. 

Whether that’s the case in Australia today is not clear. What is clear is that cloud computing is able to cut a companies’ IT costs, and manufacturers should be taking advantage of the technology where possible.

However, Andrew Milroy, VP, ICT Research, Asia Pacific, with Frost & Sullivan, warns the term cloud computing is being used to describe a continually growing list of computing products and services which can create confusion. 

“Many people are using the term to include on-premise IT implementations, sometimes known as ‘private clouds’.”

Milroy says a great way to simplify the concept of cloud computing is to list the key attributes of cloud computing using non technical terminology that non IT specialists can understand (see table).

“Buyers of IT products and services can use such a list to determine where their computing resources sit on the cloud computing spectrum. 

“They can also use it as a roadmap to determine what needs to be undertaken or negotiated in order to reap the benefits of cloud computing.

“A spectrum of attributes allows us to illustrate where a service fits with respect to cloud computing. 

“For example, services provided by public cloud vendors such as Salesforce.com, Netsuite and SuccessFactors satisfy most of these attributes. 

“Hence, it seems reasonable to refer to their offerings as cloud computing services. ‘Private clouds’ typically satisfy less of these attributes. Therefore such offerings can be mapped on a different part of the overall spectrum,” Milroy told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

Shane Muller, MD of OBT, a leading cloud services provider, explains that cloud environments are widely regarded as being made up of three core components; Software-as-a-Service (SaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS)

“SaaS provides for rapid deployment and enables organisations to scale up or scale down their IT requirements without the need for allocating resources to supporting on premise computing infrastructure. 

“At the same time, companies can focus their IT strategies on their own specific application needs which will help drive their own individual business requirements. 

“However, not all cloud service providers are able to effectively manage software updates in the cloud, while companies also need to be vigilant of their potential need for speedy retrieval of data in a useable format. 

“Organisations also need to be aware of the location where their specific data is being held as there can be risks in jurisdiction if your customer data is held in an overseas location,” Muller said.

“PaaS, on the other hand, enables developers within IT departments to take advantage of the scale and reach that they can achieve for their key core IT applications. 

“In addition, developers can launch their latest manufacturing application on a global scale in a matter of minutes, saving time and money in ensuring a consistent deployment.” 

But as with SaaS, Muller warns there are risks involved in managing data in overseas jurisdictions and issues may arise with integration and customisation of specific manufacturing legacy applications. 

“Manufacturers should also be advised that not all IT developers can handle what might be your own individual, timely need for specific software updates.”

Muller says IaaS is ideal for manufacturers who need to conserve their overall IT budget or redirect precious funds to new projects. 

“As with other cloud computing services, organisations can reap the advantages of the scale and speed of growth which hosted infrastructure affords while removing the headache of constant refresh cycles.

“However, IT managers need to ensure they work with an IaaS vendor which has a culture and style of management which can complement their own organisation’s management model and ensure that any chosen supplier has comprehensive disaster recovery programs in place. 

“After all, it is your data – whether hosted in the cloud or on premise,” Muller warned.

Is cloud data secure?

Nabeel Youakim, VP Products and Microsoft Alliance with Citrix, a leading cloud, networking and virtualisation company, describes cloud computing as the next phase of IT’s evolution: improving productivity, back up, mobility, access and lowering costs

“It’s also more ‘elastic’. For example, if you want to expand a company’s computing power, rather than purchasing new servers, building somewhere to house them, then waiting to put the applications on, with the cloud computing model, you can enable that the next day and have almost infinite computing capacity straight away ,” Youakim told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

And when it comes to security, Youakim says people should remember data is not completely secure anyway, especially if it’s stored on people’s PCs and laptops which are often lost or stolen.

“Whether it’s a private or public cloud, the information is much more secure. With a cloud model, you have someone whose job it is to secure and control that information and make sure it’s backed up and supported.

“It’s only accessible by your people, so the concept of theft is much, much less.”

While Youakim admits the concept that someone else has your data and is running it for you can be a worry for people, “but it shouldn’t be”.

“Cloud computing a secure platform, especially for organisations that have to show compliance in some of the manufacturing processes; documenting and tracking who did what, when and how in some critical maintenance processes for example.”

According to Youakim, the large engineering files used by manufacturers are not an issue when they are stored in the cloud.

“Users can have access to their files using applications that are running in the data centre in the cloud, private or public. Users see no difference; it runs on the cloud as good as it does locally.

“For high end 3D graphical applications, we have a special application that allows users to zoom in and zoom out and rotate the model as needed.”

Youakim suggests a first step for manufacturers is to look at SaaS and DaaS (Desktop as a Service) such as Windows Desktop which runs these applications.

“Many companies are centralising their desktop computing power onto a cloud model and making DaaS applications as a service,” Youakim said.

CAD and cloud computing

Karsten Hojberg, Director, Manufacturing Solutions Division, Autodesk Australia, says the big positive for industrial designers and cloud computing is regarding the interaction with simulation and analysis. 

“It is the way to get those breakthrough moments where you are able to do more things or try more experiments or having more iterations of a certain thing. 

“When users are running material tests, whether it’s on plastics or metal or whether it’s mechanical stress testing, those normally take enormous amount of computing power and lots of time. Designers are often limited to how many hours of R&D they can put into a particular job or a particular design,” Hojberg told Manufacturers’ Monthly.

“We see this advent of infinite computing and the cloud computing as a way of being able to take the process of simulation and analysis away from their local machine and do those mathematical calculations in those high performing centres that reside in the cloud.

“That way, instead of being able to test 4 iterations or 24 iterations of something in 2 hours or 2 days, the designer might be able to do 240, because they are only paying for the computing power for the time they use it, and not having the hardware costs.

“That is one of the biggest benefits; having access to high end simulation without having to foot the bill for enormous amounts of hardware and machine time,” Hojberg said.

Autodesk is building its cloud offering heavily oriented towards visual presentation of data, with the data treated as intelligent data, not just as files.    

Hojberg believes the idea of storing data files in the cloud is a while away.

“Designers and engineers have a relationship with the data hosted on their machines and are not constrained by normal working hours. So having access to their models, designs data on their machines is something that is not going to go away for a long time.

“The management of data or file storage in the cloud is one concept, but most people want quick access to their models. That might come, but it’s not where they are going to get their breakthrough moment.

“The storage of data is important, but for designers and engineers it is the concept of having the freedom to try different designs without worrying about the time or computing power.

“For example, if you can do 240 iterations of a particular stress analysis, with differing millimetres of steel or pressure for example, in the same time as doing 24. That gives users the opportunity to take more design risks as the cost and time is not prohibitive, and get that breakthrough moment.

“Today PLM and data management of CAD files are still predominately hosted in house, mainly because of IP security issues, plus the files themselves are quite large. So pulling them up and down from the cloud is not an ideal thing.

“However, the management of a process in the CAD and PLM world is manageable in the cloud. The process involves almost no data.

“People are starting to experiment with Autodesk Cloud now and I think over the next 12 to 18 months we will see an explosion in the way we deliver these web services and capabilities. Security in the process is very good, and is getting stronger and stronger. 

“The combination of using locally managed PDM systems with the concept of working with a process in the cloud, and not ‘cloudafying’ the data, is the space to watch. 

“Already many Australian companies are adopting the idea. Cloud computing is the next pivot point in the democratisation of technology,” Hojberg said.

The key attributes of Cloud Computing (CC)

  • CC offerings are services, not products.
  • CC allows customers to increase and decrease the number of users that have access to services, exponentially.
  • CC allows customers to provision new services to users instantly or within hours.
  • CC turns computing resources into operational expenses rather than capital expenditure.
  • CC enables organisations to pay for computing resources based on consumption of the resources in question.
  • CC allows multiple, diverse customers to share computing resources.
  • CC service enhancements, such as updates, are automatic.
  • CC resources can be accessed using any Internet-enabled device, from any location .
  • CC integrates security into services.
  • CC eliminates the need for support contracts.
  • CC costs less than on-premise alternatives.
  • CC allows the purchase of services without human interaction.
  • CC integrates automatic backup into services.
  • CC services are delivered from remote locations.
  • CC services are delivered by a third party.
  • CC services are delivered via the Internet or via an IP VPN. 

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