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Head in the Clouds: New Technology a Boon for Businesses

Cloud Computing offers tremendous advantages to the corporate market

Cloud Computing is creating a buzz in the tech world in the West and now this buzz has reached Sri Lanka’s shores. Described as a breakthrough that will allow companies to compute without much hardware, Cloud Computing is a way of computing via the Internet that broadly shares computer resources instead of having a local personal computer handle specific applications. Microsoft has announced its readiness to offer Cloud Computing to companies in Sri Lanka and is uniquely positioned to provide an ubiquitous computing experience as the IT giant offers solutions that have the ability to run on the desktop (‘on premises’) and via Cloud, or a combination of both - with seamless integration. Microsoft is working on a strategy to provide access to information and computing needs via three screens: PC or Notebook, the mobile and the television. Hence, Cloud Computing will be an important thread to bring the three-screen vision to reality.

Sriyan de Silva Wijeyeratne, Country Manager, Microsoft Sri Lanka, explains: “Microsoft is making significant investments in the Cloud as we see this as the next big wave in computing which will dramatically change how IT is accessed and consumed by businesses and the market. Microsoft has been in the business of Cloud Computing for over a decade - with offerings such as Hotmail and more recently with Windows Live and Live Meeting services, which are essentially examples of Cloud Computing for mass users. However, we now offer companies in Sri Lanka the opportunity to leverage on our global expertise in Cloud Computing to realise significant gains for their businesses”.

Benefits of Cloud Computing

  • Cloud computing is an ideal tool for companies looking to avoid massive investments in capital expenditure, especially on hardware and software. Instead, the consumption is usually billed on a utility basis with little or no upfront cost.

  • Consumption of Cloud Computing skills is billed on a simple basis, much like we consume electricity, where billing is for units consumed. Companies also have the option to select a subscription based system

  • Sharing infrastructure leads to low overhead costs, no heavy investments and immediate access to a broad range of applications.

  • Cloud computing significantly enhances the user’s ability to upscale or downscale according to technology needs, thus promoting agility, a vital element for companies looking for first mover advantage

  • Users merely need to access systems using a web browser regardless of their location or what device they are using (e.g., PC, mobile). As the infrastructure is provided by third party and “in the clouds”, so to speak, users can log in from any location.

Cloud computing has caught the imagination of companies that need to mesh agility with the adoption of the latest technology, while keeping operating costs to a minimum. “Sri Lanka has always been a step ahead adopting the latest computing technologies and Cloud Computing is another avenue to enhance their business practices. Microsoft’s Cloud Computing solutions are especially useful for large corporates moving to a more open model and for SMEs who are unwilling to bear expensive enterprise class software solutions.” says Deepak Setty, Server and Tools, Microsoft APAC.

Microsoft CEO, Steve Ballmer said, “The growth of cloud services will also enhance business productivity in Asia, providing SMBs with online access to software productivity tools that free of infrastructure costs. In this way, the cloud promises to increase the agility, speed and ultimately growth of SMBs in Asia. Collectively, it will enable Asia’s legion of SMBs to experience a step change; enjoying the benefits of application-based innovation on a usage-based cost model. Microsoft continues to build out its cloud infrastructure in Asia, based on a collective vision, technology innovation and a committed partner ecosystem”.

Microsoft has been investing in cloud services as part of its broader strategy for more than a decade, having run some of the largest cloud services on the planet for almost 15 years. For example, there are about 370 million active Hotmail accounts, making it the world’s largest Web-based e-mail service. There are also millions of paying users of Microsoft Online Services (Exchange Online, SharePoint Online, Office Live Meeting, Office Communications Online, and Exchange Hosted Services). Those customers include seven of the top 10 global energy companies, 13 of the top 20 global telecommunication firms, 15 of the top 20 global banks, and 16 of the top 20 global pharmaceutical companies.

Businesses such as Coca-Cola and McDonald’s have used Microsoft’s cloud services to quickly add applications and other tools to help meet changing business needs. The cloud also has allowed consumers to access their information on a number of devices and have those devices work on their behalf to create better experiences with their technology.

Dr Tariq Marikar, CIO of Suntel said “Cloud computing is a valid proposition today for many businesses in Sri Lanka. Businesses that wish to immediately inherit the features and benefits of systems typically found in high end corporate environments can do so today – under this model - without incurring upfront CAPEX. Centralized, hosted and secured delivery of these services via the internet is a very mature model and Suntel has been delivering iDC and VPN services to customers for years on multi-tenet basis to even the financial services sector. By using a scalable, secure, multi-tenet platform at iDC, the customer obtains a cheaper, on-demand service that can drive down their business costs immediately and truly support them in their business seasonality.”

Microsoft works with a large partner eco system and its partners have developed cloud based services and solutions that are available for the market. It offers services to the market through hosted service provides on a monthly rental model based on the actual usage. In fact, Microsoft has a large number of partners building solutions using its cloud computing platform on Windows Azure - a cloud services operating system that serves as the development, service hosting and service management environment for the Windows Azure platform. Windows Azure provides developers with on-demand compute and storage to host, scale, and manages web applications on the internet through Microsoft® data centres.

Azure Services Platform is an application platform in the cloud that allows applications to be hosted and run at Microsoft data centres. It provides a cloud operating system called Windows Azure that serves as a runtime for the applications and provides a set of services that allows development, management and hosting of applications off-premises. All Azure Services and applications built using them run on top of Windows Azure.

Windows Azure has three core components: Compute, Storage and Fabric. As the names suggest, Compute provides computation environment with Web Role and Worker Role while Storage focuses on providing scalable storage (Blobs, Tables, Queue) for large scale needs.

The Microsoft virtualization offering cost savings combined with the System Centre family of products offer a comprehensive data centre solution to build, operate and manage cloud services for hosting partners at a lower total cost of ownership than what the competition can offer today. Microsoft’s Service Provider License Agreement (SPLA) offers the flexibility required for its hosted partners to offer Microsoft solutions to customers on a rental model based on the actual usage per month, making it a much more attractive proposition to acquire Microsoft solutions for SME markets and large customers who are looking at moving into consuming Software as a Service.

With Cloud Computing, Microsoft is converging on a common developer platform for both servers and services, and through this convergence, Microsoft will enable developers to continue using familiar Microsoft tools and technologies, as well as third-party tools to create applications that run on the server and as services in the cloud. Many of the leading corporate in the country have already testified to the superior after sales support that Microsoft offers and Cloud Computing users can also avail of the same partnership with Microsoft.

Mr. Samath Fernando, Group CIO of Hidramani Group said “Microsoft has been providing Cloud Computing services to customers worldwide and after hearing testimonials from leading companies, we decided to explore this option. We are currently running a pilot on the technology on Windows Live initiative. We see potential to reduce costs through Cloud Computing becoming a reality in Sri Lanka and plan to go on premise & off premises as a strategy so that we could reap the maximum benefits of technologies, which will enable us to go full, live on the initiative, by the end of this year.”

The potential for Cloud Computing is vast and companies who gain an insight into its limitless possibilities will be poised for future gains as this technology is the way ahead for the world in meeting computing needs.