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The Sky Is– er… Cloudy!

October 19, 2010

© 2010 by Nick B. Nicholaou, all rights reserved
President, Ministry Business Services, Inc.
Reprinted from Christian Computing Magazine

The company that created the software that makes it possible to have virtual computers running on servers, VMware, sponsors an annual conference called VMworld that draws thousands of geeks from across the globe.  This year it was in San Francisco, and more than 17,000 attended!  What were the takeaways that are— or will— impact churches and ministries?  Here are a few of my thoughts.

Make No Mistake: This Will Impact You
Here’s a quick primer on what virtual computers are about and their impact— now and in the near future.

  • Virtual Computers.  Most computers barely use their processor’s capacity.  This is especially true for servers, which are more expensive than desktop and notebook computers.  The processor is the most expensive component in the computer, so finding a way to get more work out of them makes great sense.  By running software that enables virtualization (this type of software is called the hypervisor), you can run many ‘computers’ on a single machine, or ‘host’.  And doing so saves money on hardware purchases, support costs, and utilities while also improving reliability and business continuity.
  • Cloud Computing.  This buzzword has taken the geek community by storm.  Originally it meant centralizing computer data and applications on a server in a datacenter somewhere.  But corporations have been reluctant to trust their sensitive data and processes to the Internet— there are too many unknowns that could seriously impact their profitability.  It has thus been redefined in two categories:
  • The Public Cloud refers to the original concept, focusing on using data centers.
  • The Private Cloud refers to centralized computer data and applications on servers located on the corporation’s premises.

Virtualization is the least expensive and most powerful way to achieve private or public cloud computing.  If your network is not based on virtualization yet, it most likely will be the next time you update it.

The Death of the Notebook & Desktop
We’ve been saying for awhile that mobile computing devices, like smartphones and tablets, will replace the notebook; I believe it’ll eventually replace the desktop too.  The only way that can happen is if The Cloud— public or private— can deliver data and applications for processing on mobile devices.

We’re already seeing a drop in desktop and notebook sales.  Smartphones and tablets, like Apple’s iPad, are selling in huge numbers!  Best Buy said last week that they believe mobile devices are the reason notebook and desktop sales are falling in their stores, where they’re also seeing a huge increase in the sales of mobile devices.  With all of that mobile computing power, people are going to want to do more of what once required a computer on their mobile device, and only The Cloud will be able to fulfill that want.

A Change Is Coming!
There are three major reasons why corporate America has not yet adopted the public cloud:

  • Security & Trust.  When corporations think of putting their data on a server in someone else’s datacenter, the threat of hacking and leaks of sensitive data is scary.  Whether trade secrets that give them a competitive edge, or sensitive communications that could be damaging and possibly cause a legal catastrophe, the threat is too big.  Even though private servers can be hacked or data on them also be leaked, the threat is lower and the cost difference to have a private cloud is worth it to corporate leadership.
  • Internet Unreliability.  Though it continues to improve, the Internet is still susceptible to regional outages that can make it difficult to reach data in someone else’s datacenter.  The concern of corporate leadership is that if their employees can’t get to the data they need, then personnel becomes unproductive— again affecting profitability.

This challenge can be solved, however:

  • By locating and replicating data in multiple datacenters in different geographic regions, and
  • By connecting workers to the Internet with redundant Internet connections.  That means using multiple Internet providers on different Internet trunks (or backbones) in a failover strategy; if one trunk goes dead, work automatically moves on to secondary carriers.
  • Territorial Protection by IT Directors.  IT directors are not excited about the impact of The Cloud on their departments.  It will likely mean a significant reduction in the need for internal IT staff, and with Concerns One and Two previously mentioned, the case is easily made that a move to the public cloud is too risky.

For those of us in ministry, corporate Concern One has yet to be solved adequately, but Concern Two is solvable.  What about Concern Three?

In ministry, our mission is arguably the most important on Earth.  The more that can be spent accomplishing the mission, rather than supporting its infrastructure, should be our goal.  That being said, church and ministry IT directors should— and generally are— hopeful regarding the possibilities The Cloud brings.  So, Concern Three should not be much of an issue, though we are all human.  The remaining challenge, then, is Concern One.

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