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The cloud’s global future

No single provider holds the keys to a truly global cloud. So, argues Ditlev Bredahl, we need to turn towards a more federated model

This article first appeared in issue 236 of .net magazine – the world's best-selling magazine for web designers and developers.

It can be tempting to think of ‘the cloud’ as a ubiquitous global phenomenon: always on, and always available everywhere to anyone. And it’s easy to assume cloud providers such as Amazon are the only way you can get access to that kind of global capability. The reality is really quite different. That’s why a new approach to the cloud, one based on a federated model, will be increasingly important for cloud providers and users alike.

One provider won’t do

The future of the cloud is federated, and when you look at the broad categories of apps moving to it, the truth of this statement begins to become clear. Gaming, social media, web, ecommerce, publishing, CRM – these applications demand truly global coverage so that the user experience is always on, local and instant, with ultra-low latency. That’s what the cloud has always promised to be.

The problem is that end-users can’t get that from a single provider, no matter how large. Even market titans such as Amazon have limited geographic presence, with infrastructure only where it’s profitable for them to invest. As a result, outside the major countries and cities, coverage from today’s ‘global’ cloud providers is actually pretty thin. Iceland, Jordan, Latvia, Turkey or Malaysia? Good luck. Even in the US you may find that the closest access point to your business isn’t even in the same state, let alone the same city.

Of course, these locations aren’t devoid of infrastructure. There are hosting providers, telcos, ISPs and data centre operators pretty much everywhere. If you own infrastructure in one of these locations, you already have a working business model for your local market. And, like most providers, you are likely to have spare capacity almost all of the time.

So, what if there was a way to pool that capacity and make it available as a massive pool of cloud resources to anyone who needs it? That’s what the federated cloud is all about: capitalising on this geographically dispersed infrastructure to finally deliver the promise of the cloud.

Federation benefits

The federated cloud connects these local infrastructure providers to a global marketplace that enables each participant to buy and sell capacity on demand. As a provider, this gives you instant access to global infrastructure on an unprecedented scale. If your customer suddenly needs a few hundred new servers, you just buy the capacity they need from the marketplace. If a customer needs to accelerate a website or an application in Hong Kong, Tokyo or Latvia, you simply subscribe to those locations and make use of the infrastructure that’s already there.

As part of a cloud federation, a small service provider can offer a truly global service without spending a dime on new infrastructure. For companies with spare capacity in the data centre, the federation provides a simple way to monetise that capacity by submitting it to the marketplace, thus creating an additional source of revenue.

There are immediate benefits for end-users, too. The federated cloud means that they can host apps with their federated cloud provider of choice, instead of choosing from a handful of ‘global’ cloud providers on the market today and making do with whatever pricing, app support and SLAs they happen to impose. Cloud users can choose a local host with the exact pricing, expertise and support package that fits their need, while still receiving instant access to as much local or global IT resources as they’d like.

A federated future

The federated cloud model is a force for real democratisation in the cloud market. It’s how businesses will be able to use local cloud providers to connect with customers, partners and employees anywhere in the world. It’s how end-users will finally get to realise the promise of the cloud. And it’s how data centre operators and service providers will finally be able to compete with today’s so-called global cloud providers.
 

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