Alan Perkins

Cloud computing can be called a boon for young startups. But it is essential to understand what a cloud can do for them, how to make the most effective use of it, and which model is best suited for their needs.

Alan Perkins, Chief Technology Officer, Rackspace Asia Pacific, decodes cloud for entrepreneurs. Here he talks about how cloud can help startups, the hybrid model, adoption in e-commerce, trends in the space, and the imperative challenge of security. Excerpts from the interview:

BFSI entities say that they have been building private clouds for many years now and this is just old wine in a new bottle. What is your take on it?
What BFSI entities have been building are virtualisation farms, which are fundamentally different from the cloud. The private cloud has built-in intelligence for controlling and releasing virtual machines to internal development teams in a way that is secure, facilitates resource-planning, and allows for efficient responses from the IT department.

The industry has been going through a pendulum-like shift over the years. Marketers have traditionally been on the receiving end of larger IT budgets, which may pose a potential problem if the resulting IT initiatives and applications turn out to be in silos and more marketing-centric.

However, the trend seems to be shifting in favour of the IT department as businesses become more aware of the need for holistic applications that benefit all aspects of the business.

Security has been the biggest hurdle to mass cloud adoption. How are you tackling this challenge?
Physical security is often overlooked and very few businesses do it well on-premise. However, many tend to believe that data is more secure on-premise than when put on the cloud – a perception that seems to be changing with time as awareness continues to grow.

The question of security has been coming up less often over the years, and in its place are other concerns such as that of data sovereignty. In this regard, Rackspace does not share information unless required by certain regulatory laws.

So how are you educating and creating industry awareness about the safety of cloud?
Businesses today are much better informed with regards to the cloud as compared to the past. We have constantly emphasised the message that the cloud is inherently safer, and will continue to do so by reinforcing this in everything we do. We also invest in industry knowledge share through The Rackspace Open Cloud Academy — and this is a resource we have built that looks to bridge the IT skills by providing hands on learning tracks across various disciplines of the total cloud technology stack.

Are we seeing enterprises walk the talk now – especially when it comes to cloud adoption?
Most enterprises are currently in the early stages of cloud adoption. But in many ways, this is a positive sign as now is the right time to lay down an architectural roadmap for managed cloud that is built for the future. Firms are starting to realise that cloud models enable them to be more agile in their development efforts without having to sacrifice security or risk releasing poor quality applications.

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The emergence of DevOps has helped enable cloud flexibility in real world deployments. As a rising trend in the IT environment, DevOps is a software delivery methodology that stresses the importance of communication, collaboration and integration between developers and operations teams, thus aiding organisations in the rapid production and deployment of software products and services. Good ‘people-centric’ DevOps sits closely with Rackspace’s own vision of Fanatical Support, where real humans are always at the end of the phone to help support your IT needs.

Which industries are leading in adoption?
The uptake of cloud has been relatively fair across various verticals, though there has been greater prevalence among customer-facing industries and those relying on the cloud to host Platform-as-a-Service and Big Data services. E-commerce, for example, is a vertical that has displayed increased awareness and adoption of the cloud in recent years.

As industries become more knowledgeable with regards to the value of technological developments such as cloud and Big Data, we can expect to see an increased number of enterprises turning to business analytics as a means of understanding customers and driving operational efficiencies.

Leaving behind the enterprises, what kind of startups are embracing cloud?
The type of startups that are jumping onto the cloud bandwagon span a very broad spectrum, and an interesting point to note is that this rapidly growing trend encompasses non-technology businesses as well. These startups rely on cloud software to support their businesses in areas such as financial assistance and management, among many others.

Why would you suggest startups to adopt the cloud from word ‘go’?
With its flexibility and scalability, the cloud serves as a platform for startups to test their inventions and is one of the go-to platforms for them to build their applications on. A key challenge common to all startups is the initial uncertainty over the success of their new product deployments and service-based solutions, and how far their idea will go.

Cloud is an ideal launchpad for them as it does not require heavy capital investments to be made upfront. These companies need a flexible model that will allow them to start small, and yet be able to scale over time inside a managed environment that offers specialised services tailored to specific needs.

In layman’s terms, how can the cloud model help a young startup save money? Please share some numbers.
Essentially, the cloud helps young startups save money as it enables them to focus capital investment into areas that are directly related to the product or solution. Also, businesses at this phase tend to encounter unknowns and are thus subject to great uncertainty and risks. In this regard, the cloud provides startups with the freedom to experiment, serving as a learning ground to understand what works and what doesn’t.

In my own experience having run a startup, an invention that would have required 11 computers to test would traditionally have taken me three weeks and over US$15,000 to do so. However, the usage of cloud allowed me to set up the test in half an hour, run it for three hours, which cost me less than US$5 – thus making a highly significant trailblazing difference. The Rackspace Cloud Calculator is a great resource for quickly estimating the cost of cloud services and I would urge anyone to try it out.

So in realistic terms, the hybrid cloud model is the best option for startups as it means they aren’t tied or locked down to one particular choice.

So how does the hybrid cloud model work?
The hybrid cloud is for everyone, but it is not for everything. This is a rule that applies whether the business is a small startup or a large corporation. Either way, the ability to manage workloads flexibly in accordance to the level of activity in a business is useful, if not essential in professional grade cloud environment of any size.

Take for instance a business that experiences unpredictable spikes at certain times and is prone to volatile growth. For such businesses, it would be optimal to start with a public cloud model until a predictable workload pattern is determined, after which the business can then make the shift towards an affordable, dedicated environment.

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As the business continues to grow, a wider managed hybrid cloud facility can then be expanded in addition to the dedicated system so as to meet the business’ demands during peak periods. For example, a hybrid cloud serves as a perfect solution for e-commerce businesses as it enables them to store confidential credit information in a secure environment while using a front-end cloud for a retail or more customer-facing service.

How does the hybrid cloud model address on-demand flexibility?
Hybrid cloud provides the scalability to cater to a business’ level of activity at any point in time, thus allowing for sudden drops or spikes in demand. Based on the level of activity, the hybrid cloud model can effectively model the hours used to reflect these activity patterns.

For businesses that are able to determine their base point (the lowest point of activity in their commercial activity patterns), it is optimal for them to commit all activity below that base point to a dedicated environment, and leverage the cloud to cater for all additional activity above and beyond that point. Such on-demand flexibility enables businesses to adapt and scale according to their specific business needs at any point in time, and that is the hybrid cloud’s distinct and definitive advantage.

Why wouldn’t you suggest a ‘public cloud only’ model?
Relying on ‘public cloud only’ model can be a costly decision over time because not everyone belongs on unmanaged clouds. Hybrid cloud, in contrast, presents a more economically viable option and these can be extended with specialised clouds to run services such as Mongo DB, Hadoop and DevOps functions. Hybrid clouds allow businesses to buy what they require in the long run and only use the cloud whenever necessary, thus providing a solution that combines the best of both worlds.

Do you have an offering to help fresh, new startups?
Rackspace has an initiative that grants startups year-long access to approximately US$2,000 worth of free hosting per month. We understand how hard it is to take those initial steps as we have done it ourselves.

Which are your key focus markets in Asia? Where are your data centres located?
Our key markets in Asia are Singapore, India and Hong Kong, all of which hold tremendous opportunity. Our data centres are located in America, London, Sydney and Hong Kong.