by Kevin Littrell, DISC Board Member, Diocese of Baton Rouge

The big buzz phase in the IT World this year is “Cloud Computing”. You probably already know all about it, right? After all, isn’t the “Cloud” the Internet? I heard that organizations use it get rid of their IT departments! Yes, I’ve heard of  this wonderful, ambiguous “Cloud” where everything that IT currently manages can magically disappear off to someday. But I don’t have to worry about it effecting my job because “The Cloud” isn’t secure, right? My CFO will never move our computer systems to “The Cloud”!

We Diocesan IT professionals know about “The Cloud”, and while we don’t know what it all means yet, we know enough to be scared and intrigued all at the same time. Let’s face it. The average person thinks “The Cloud” is the place to go when they want to spend hours doctoring photos of there family that wouldn’t sit still and smile for two seconds.

“Family Photo” – To the Cloud – Windows 7

They think that “The Cloud” is a marketing term for the Internet.

Ah, the mysterious “Cloud”! Whether your intrigued by it, scared of it, or don’t know that it is, either way, it’s going to envelop and change the work you do eventually. You might as well warp your mind around it. I began digging mid-last year to get a feel for “Cloud Computing” and this what I learned. Cloud computing happens when a group of computers provide shared computing resources to a logical computer that has no one physical location. Basically, it’s virtualization with economies of scale. Cloud computing comes in two flavors “Public” and “Private”. The “Public Cloud” offers low cost insecure computing power on demand. You can rent CPU cycles, disk space and ram memory by the hour from places like the Amazon EC2 Elastic Compute Cloud. Just put a credit card on file and let the meter run. This kind of cloud is not the kind that might jeopardize your job though. Because the “Public Cloud” gives you resources from the same pool that it uses for everyone, your not going to want to use it to run your organization’s accounting systems.

The cloud you might care about it the “Private Cloud” (a.k.a. WAN Network of the 21st Century). Why do I say that the “Private Cloud” is a WAN Network? After all, WANs are nothing new! Well think about it. A WAN network is a private network that you manage that is spread out across a large geographic location. Once you put systems on the WAN, users don’t really know where they are physically located. Now throw virtual servers running onto your WAN. The end users don’t know where these virtual server are located or what physical servers they are running on. And, in a properly setup virtual environment, the virtual servers can dynamically move from one physical server to another. Sounds like a cloud to me!

So the questions to ask yourself as DISC members are: Do you have a WAN? Do you have a virtual environment? Can you offer private cloud computing to your parishes, schools and/or departments? If you don’t have any of this stuff can you rent it from a data center for less than you could build it? Can you use multiple data centers in different locations and share the resources? Wouldn’t that make a “Private Cloud”?

Last year at the DISC 2010 conference Joseph Edward suggested that DISC build a “Private Cloud” for Dioceses to use? Should DISC do this? Wouldn’t it be better for dioceses to build there own? Couldn’t dioceses share and combine resources to form large multi-diocesean clouds? Would doing that be a conflict of interest? That is the kind of “Cloud Computing” that we DISC members need to be thinking about. These are the questions to mill over prior to the pre-conference.

The answers to these questions are the reason you should consider the pre-conference. This year’s pre-conference will be hosted by Microsoft and OnPoint. Microsoft will present for four hours and OnPoint for two about their respective cloud computing solutions and about cloud computing in general. The pre-conference is you change to find out what “Private Cloud” computing means for your Diocese and if you can get any value out of the “Public Cloud”.

Last year VMWare/EMC introduced a new product for data centers called vCloud Director. This tool gives data center administrators the ability to create private clouds within a farm on virtual host servers.  This tool will allow customers (you and me) to rent an entire private cloud from a data center in the near future. At the DISC conference in 2008 I remember Joseph Edward telling a group of us to stop building server rooms. I was knee deep in a server room rebuild when he said this. I remember knowing about the “cloud computing” concept but think that is was way off in the future. Well, its here now and we can capitalize on it if we just morph our thinking. We already have the infrastructure to build a cloud of our own or we will have the ability to rent one from a data center in the near future.

So the Diocese of Boise’s IT department  along with the DISC Planning Committee decided to have a pre-conference workshop about this topic. “The Cloud” can help you grow in your job or it can make your job obsolete. Hopefully this pre-conference will help you decide how to join the revolution before the cloud envelops you.