One News A Day Syndrome

Competition to grab the attention of the viewers has been intense in the past few years. With so many channels in audio-visual mediums like TV and Internet one would have expected that all major events of the day get reported adequately so that viewers of all kinds have their share of information and opinion. Unfortunately that does not happen as practically every channel picks up just about one story that is likely to catch attention.

Today is no exception. Most of the reporting for today is around the sad demise of Sarabjeet Singh in Pakistan. The event is a very unfortunate one as there appears to be some obvious complicity of Pakistani authorities. The truth will hopefully come out some time in future. But the fact remains that two large countries with so many demographic similarities should be responsible enough to understand the human side of things. Propaganda, posturing and whipping of passions is dangerous and should not be practiced at any cost. Politicians must not try to cash on these tragedies and setup fights on symbolic values. Moderation in confronting unfortunate events like these is an absolute need in the larger interest of millions of people on either side of the line-of-control. Let us  hope that authorities on either side will take appropriate steps to get out of this situation.

Media on its part can do its duties by reporting dozens of other events happening in this large country. Blacking out of a large chunk of other news is no way to deal with public reporting. All of us will be served much better if we get to know all that is happening and mis-happening around us, rather than being a witness to the media ritual of one event being beaten to pulp.


A What and How of Cloud Computing_2

(Unedited interview with an interviewer from 9.9media India in Nov 2011. It has since been published by them in their monthly publication ITNext.)

1. What is the current state of cloud computing adoption in India?

Adoption of cloud computing in India is in an early stage. Many organizations including the Government are already evaluating it. Most of the new upcoming IT infrastructures tend to be close to cloud computing model. In a couple of years from now, like in other parts of the world, we will have a large body of cloud enabled applications and the required IT infrastructure.

2. In terms of maturity, where do you see the Cloud?

Cloud Computing has essentially three dominant forms of usage. They are, Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS). Of these IaaS seems to be the most mature one, with almost every IT vendor providing standards based solutions for Virtualization, Provisioning and Policy-based Infrastructure Management. PaaS in contrast is still evolving. There is a lot of effort by a number of top companies and it seems to be fragmented. Amazon Web Services (AWS) has been somewhat more popular in specifying the APIs for public cloud. Other cloud implementation models like Eucalyptus, OpenStack and OpenCloud from open source ecosystem are evolving fast and claim to be decently compatible with AWS. Microsoft Azure is perhaps one of the most complete PaaS implementations from commercial vendors. But, as of now it is safe to mention that PaaS will continue to evolve before a clear de-facto standards based implementation becomes dominant.

3. Which company has an edge in India on the cloud: Why?

A company that can provide end-to-end solution will have an advantage. Unlike other kinds of IT purchases, Cloud Computing solutions are provided mostly by services providers. Service providers need to integrate products from OEM vendors supplying hardware, software and networking. Vendors like Microsoft, with a complete cloud stack like Azure combined with their own cloud hosting centers appear to be more complete than others. But, we cannot ignore other vendors like Amazon and Google who are quite active and are doing lot of pioneering work. For buyers who are setting up private clouds, large vendors like HP, IBM, Oracle, VMware etc. will continue to make sense.

4. What kind of security is available on the cloud?

For many people, security of the data and programs you store in a public cloud is a major concern. Users of Private cloud do not have to worry so much on security. Companies using a hybrid model, that connects private with public cloud, are obviously worried as well. But technology is maturing fast. Quite often one can tweak the applications a bit to enforce better security models. All dominant security software vendors like Symantec, Oracle, IBM, Novell, McAfee etc. are competing hard to plug these gaps both at the level of technology and perception. This market is expected to grow with newer and better products.

5. Social media is a buzzword now for an enterprise. How do you think cloud will impact this?

Dominance of social media, in the informal way it informs us, has set a new trend. We can no longer ignore its potential of collaborative and interactive approach. Enterprises that initially were averse to use social media are gearing up to use more mature versions of social media products with enterprise grade workflow and security built into them. Companies like Microsoft, IBM and Novell with strong lines of enterprise grade messaging solutions, have already rolled out products capable of handling social media based interactions. This is a welcome convergence. Similar trend in other products will continue to impact us in a positive way.

A What and How of Cloud Computing-1

(Unedited interview with an interviewer from 9.9media India in Oct 2011. It has since been published by them in their monthly publication ITNext.)

What do customers understand from the term cloud computing?

Cloud computing brings in a very different pattern of IT infrastructure deployment compared to what we have seen in the last 15-20 years. Cloud computing enables traditional users of IT systems to access their services from a low foot print device like a laptop or a phone without caring for the details of the computers and programs that may be in use at the data centre or should we say cloud centre. It leads to a lot of simplification and lowers the entry barrier for accessing quality services for the end user. From the application service providers’ perspective, they need not worry about the IT infrastructure details and their management. Availability of scalable, secure and dependable IT infrastructure from a new class of providers called Cloud Service Provider (CSP) ensures that a typical IT application service provider concentrates only on his applications with very little Capital Expense (CAPEX) commitment.

Can you list out certain compelling reasons why enterprises need to be on the Cloud?

Compelling reasons to consider a cloud based solution are many. Reducing Cost and Complexity along with improvement in Scalability, Ease-of-access and stricter centralized control can be cited as top reasons to consider a cloud based model. Cloud model allows the elasticity in demand cope with the elasticity in supply – that is, most of the demand side spikes (both high and low) are taken care of. It results in a situation where you pay for what you actually use. From a more long term perspective, cloud computing pushes the idea of specialization even further by decoupling the IT infrastructure and provisioning issues from the core application issues. For an application owner, this leads to a faster time to market and reduced cost.

Which industry verticals according to you would look at cloud in a serious manner?

Industries that use a lot of distributed processing involving large volumes of data are more likely to consider a cloud based solution. At this point, almost all industry verticals seem to be cautiously optimistic about the potential of cloud. However, problems in integrating legacy systems and not-so-appealing-perception about security in cloud are major inhibitors. So, verticals known to be relatively soft on these considerations are more likely to embrace the cloud faster. Going by this logic, organizations dealing with Education, Entertainment and Unified Communication services should look at cloud more seriously.

Which are the applications that are hosted on the cloud based delivery model? Please specify.

We may categorize applications to two types. One is the application hosting software products that ISVs like Oracle, IBM, SAP and Microsoft make. The other application types are the ones created by organizations by using middleware products from established vendors typically using Java or .NET. At this point, the compatibility between traditional and cloud based middleware options may not be so mature. Even though, Microsoft Azure, one of the more complete cloud platforms, claims to make the transition to cloud comparatively easy, everyone does not seem to agree. It will be sometime before large scale migration of end-user business applications will move to cloud. However, we should recognize that many ISV product vendors are already selling their flagship products for use in a Software-as-Service (SaS) model. Some examples are Oracle DB, SAP, MS SQL Server and MS Dynamics. is already a successful cloud platform. It has been popular among users needing near-zero investment in sales related activities.

Please elaborate your thoughts on initiatives to move Business Intelligence and Business Analysis applications to cloud?

Use of Business Intelligence has been comparatively less pronounced in smaller organizations, primarily due to the non-linear resource hunger of these applications. In many cases, the cost of using BI is unacceptable due to ROI considerations. However, the equation seems to tilt more favorably when one considers the OPEX model of expenditure used in a cloud setup. Organizations can use BI engines that may be available in a cloud somewhere and hook the output to their applications with a small incremental cost and effort. Therefore, in near future, as cloud based computing becomes popular we are likely to see a more pronounced use of analytics and intelligence in line-of-business applications.

Which of the business critical applications are moving to cloud?

Talking of business critical applications that are meant to run almost all functions in an enterprise, one must mention the dominant position of SAP and Oracle. Both of them have announced the availability of their products for cloud ready deployments. Interestingly, we have also seen Indian companies like Ramco announcing a cloud ready ERP solution. Obviously all these companies see a demand and therefore it is safe to conclude that most application owners are seeing a reason to make their business critical applications cloud ready.

Can you elaborate on the cost structure and billing structure involved in the cloud model?

Cost structure in cloud is essentially based on OPEX (Operational Expense) model. This shift away from CAPEX (Capital Expense) model, where the application service had to provision for expensive IT and networking infrastructure upfront, is a welcome change. This reduces the entry barrier for owners of applications to go live much faster by leasing infrastructure from Cloud Service Providers (CSP) and benefit from the elastic model of pay-per-use. For a CSP, shared use of IT resources by larger number of users leads to higher utilization of the resources and higher revenue. There are already many CSPs who are charging their customers based on the exact use of resources like CPU, Memory, Storage and network. Customers tend to like the more granular billing structure that is based on metered usage of resources at a pre-agreed price. Pricing by Amazon is perhaps based on a more mature model, as they have pioneered a part of this type of billing.

With security being the most used buzzword as the challenging part under cloud, can you elaborate the security framework defined around this model?

You are right. Security in cloud has been a point of discussion and rightly so. No one with a high stake on application and data will expose himself to additional risks by hosting them off-premise, where the control over resources may not be hundred percent. But, let us face it, security or lack of it is also a matter of perception. Existing solutions from major vendors are adequately secure. By deploying additional software for compliance and verifiable security responses, the cloud options can be effectively harnessed for most types of applications hosted in public and hybrid clouds. In any case, private cloud is almost as secure as any other existing system and has been found to be acceptable.

How will the procurement (license) model going to be impacted in this model?

If people move most of their applications to cloud, obviously, there will be lesser demand to buy local copies of the software for in-premise deployment. That means fewer copies of software licenses will be sold. But vendors offering products to be used in Software-as-Service mode may suitably adjust the pricing model to recover their cost and margin. So it is not easy to predict, how exactly the move to cloud will affect individual product streams. But the fact remains that the end-users will pay for the software usage in a fairer manner based on the actual quantum of use. Frills and unwanted features that are thrust upon users are forced to buy, in the existing scenario will be a thing of past.

Elaborate on the different business model evolved around cloud and which is the most popular?

As I stated little earlier, cloud computing is all about pay-per-use for all resources you may use in a very granular manner. There is a price attached to each unit of resource you may actually use/consume. Typically resources are classified into five categories such as CPU, memory, storage, program and network. Each one of these is metered accurately and contributes to the cost. There may also be a variable cost that service providers will charge based on measured Quality-of-Service (QOS) and Service-Level-Agreement (SLA). With so many dimensions in the pricing of services, the optimization strategies by the user and the provider will be complex. Let us wait and watch how it is going to evolve over a period of time. One can be sure that there will be many innovations here including many freebies.

Kindly furnish the names from key industry segments, who have deployed key applications on the cloud?

There are many established companies. Let us leave it to guess. It will be worthwhile to mention the popular everyday services we use from the likes of Google, Yahoo, MSN and Salesforce. They are all based on cloud technologies.

ICT at Crossroads in Odisha – A View

By Dr. PK Mishra, CTO, Adapro Consulting

(The article dates back to June 2011 and views herein are based on many interactions the author had during his meetings with several senior officers of Odisha Government. A version of this was also published in The Pioneer, Bhubaneswar Edition)

Rapid advances in the Information and Communication Technologies (ICT) have led to many changes in the way we execute our day to day personal and professional activities. Electronic mail, SMS, social networking using likes of Facebook and Twitter have added entirely new dimensions to the ways we work and communicate. Information dissemination on an Internet scale using web browsers has become so common that most of us cannot imagine a day without it. In organized sectors such as enterprises and Government, ICT has been leveraged to a much greater extent to enhance operational efficiencies in transacting business. In this article we analyze the impact of ICT in the state of Odisha.

Odisha, a state rich in cultural heritages has generally lagged in some socio-economic development parameters in spite of the abundance of mineral and other natural resources it is endowed with. ICT is a great equalizer and promises to push Odisha ahead, if it is used appropriately. Education, health, poverty alleviation and delivery of various Government services are some of the key areas that can benefit from the ICT use and push the developmental indices. In enterprise sector, personal productivity using ICT and other relevant technologies can improve the efficiencies and process orientation if the strategies are right. Outsourced IT related activities from other parts of the world to Odisha is another enabler for creating decent job opportunities for many educated youth in the state. Let us look at some of these areas and examine how successful we have been and what more we need to do.

Education is the back bone of all development. Use of ICT for delivering high quality educational content to students at all levels is a well-recognized agenda. Luckily, Odisha has made good progress in this. Most of the schools and colleges in the state have been equipped with decent amount of computing resources. Many projects funded by the Government, Universities and NGOs are already underway. The vast repository of educational content available on the Internet is now accessible to almost anyone who cares to use it. Perhaps, a more careful local enablement of teachers will encourage many more students to use these resources better. Education is a great leveler. It is the right catalyst that can help the youth in the state to compete well at national and international level. By suitably choosing the skills-in-demand and delivering them with care can make youth in Odisha participate in attractive skill oriented job market.

Health is another area where dissemination of useful information, tips and healing practices can benefit a lot of people. Since it is impossible to position well qualified doctors in remote areas, ICT can be leveraged to provide a channel between the patients and the medical system. Use of practices like telemedicine should be encouraged. Enrollment and monitoring of the health of more vulnerable poorer sections of the society need to be improved. Governments and NGOs will need to step up their work and extend the reach of the thin medical delivery system in the state.

Poverty alleviation issues concern most Governments and they engage in many activities such as employment generation, food and wage distribution, empowerment-at-grass-root level, land reforms etc. Quite often even NGOs chip in. Of late, the concerns regarding resource leakages in these cash rich programmes have been heightened. Financial inclusion policies of the Government are also getting more attention. Needless to say, use of ICT is a big enabler for all these. Odisha has generally done well in some of these projects. But it is widely felt that there should be qualitative improvement and definitely there is a scope to do better. Instead of being technology-centric, the approach should be people-centric. These projects should be monitored more on their social and economic impact. Availability of unique identities under projects like the UIDAI, NPR of Government of India, that leverage modern ICT practices, will bind many of these socio-economic projects to show better results.
Effective delivery of the Government services is another key agenda for all Governments. Information is power and is almost a matter of right in today’s context. Through various eGovernance projects, Government of Odisha has done well in ensuring that a lot of information in public domain is available with ease. The Odisha Government portal is already a rich source of information and is quite good. However, most of the Government departments and funded organizations have chosen to host their own web sites. While that is quite commendable, one cannot deny the fact that, there is a need for reorganizing the content in a more coherent manner and aggregate them under one portal. Information should also be available with more contextual flavour. Privacy and Security of the information delivered should also be taken into consideration. All of these require a more integrated approach. It may also be useful to understand the needs of the end users better and make things simpler and interactive from a common user’s perspective.

To host all ICT initiatives in the state, both central and state Governments have been investing quite generously and have created a pretty robust IT infrastructure. Many overlapping networks such as NICNET, NKN and SWAN have been in place and provide multiple redundant paths to Internet and Government owned data centres. Organizations such as National Informatics Center (NIC) and Orissa Computer Application Center (OCAC) have helped in creating a number of useful applications that form the back bone of the current set of eGovernance programmes. From the industry perspective, the level of computerization in sectors such as utility services, banking and mining are generally adequate.

While, the picture of ICT usage in Odisha is satisfying as on date, one cannot ignore the challenges that are staring. Evolutions such as cloud computing, large scale shift to usage of mobile devices, usage of open source software, need for collaborative computing, heightened concerns for security and privacy, and demand for use of Odiya language etc. are bound to push the challenges to higher levels. It is therefore imperative that all sections of the society including Government, industry, technologists, and users-at-large address these issues and find a reasonable roadmap. We must therefore realize that, in order to succeed and leap ahead in the emerging society of high aspirations, there is no alternative to harnessing technology in a manner that is easy-to-use and cost-effective.