Versioning for Cloud Computing — Part II

Versioning, as mentioned in the previous part of this article, Versioning for Cloud Computing- Part l, is the process of assigning numbers with or without date stamps to identify versions of a document or piece of data. Versioning at the backup level may create identities for backup versions that are stored on the server. At the file level, each file may be assigned a version number to distinguish it from other versions of the file after modifications have been done. A few storage providers may treat a set of backups, documents or files or folders as objects and perform object versioning.

File versioning is the most commonly used versioning system in cloud computing. The first version of the file (available in the seeded backup or a subsequent full backup) is generally given the first number (in accordance with the versioning system of numbering adopted) and every new version of the file is compared with the original version or the full backup version and numbered sequentially. The comparison process, additionally, enables the storage provider initiate incremental backup processes, so that only the modified sections of the file are backed up and unchanged portions of the file link back to the original file. This saves on bandwidth and time to backup. If time stamps are available and the management has pre-set archival policies on the system via the agent interface, the files will be automatically archived.

Some vendors like Google use object versioning systems. Objects are stored in buckets. All modifications to the object are part of the bucket, including archived versions of the object. Objects can be restored to an earlier state, overwritten, deleted or modified as required. The object properties allow users to identify the different versions of the object. The properties are numeric.

Versioning can be switched off or on for both file and object versioning systems. A switch off of versioning does not remove identifying characteristics of files or objects already stored under the versioning system. Original versions of the file can be restored without disturbing the current version of the file in file versioning. In object versioning, restoration of an earlier version of the file will result in overwriting of the current version.

Versioning for the cloud is becoming more and more sophisticated as cloud vendors strive to differentiate themselves from the competition. This is, especially, true of cloud service vendors, who want to offer their customers state-of-the-art collaboration tools and provide support for mobile / remote computing.

Versioning for Cloud Computing — Part I

Many users within an enterprise often share data.   The data may be modified, appended to or changed in some manner by users who are authorised to access the information. This creates a new version of the information. But, what if the enterprise wants to undo the changes to the data made by a particular user?  If it is a change to a single record, it is possible to effect the change manually. If multiple records have been changed, changing them back to the earlier version can be cumbersome, and time consuming. Versioning is the process of saving versions of documents before changes are made to it.  If the change is not desirable, the enterprise has to simply restore the previous version of the document.

How many versions of a document can be stored?  Any limits pre-set by the service provider will restrict the number of versions of a document that can be created.  Users may have the luxury of customising the figures within the limits pre-defined.

What benefits will the organisation derive from versioning?  Versioning is really a tool for the management.  Apart from being able to track and restore versions of documents, managerial version control enables the management time stamp information, and weed out or archive versions of documents that are no longer relevant to the day-to-day activities of the business. Archiving and deleting releases precious storage space that can be utilised effectively for storage of current business critical documents.

Versioning is also a necessary adjunct to disaster recovery. Managers can quickly and efficiently identify the latest version of the document for restoration in the event of natural or man made disasters, so that the restored system can kick start from the point when disaster struck the digital repositories, and created the outage. Furthermore, document search is simplified if versioning is automated for the storage system.

There are many different types of versioning technologies used by different types of cloud storage providers. We shall discuss more about these different versioning technologies in the next part of this article, Versioning for Cloud Computing — Part II.

Testing the Cloud –Trials, are for Free—Part II

In the first part of this topic, Test the Cloud- Trials are Free, we dealt with some of the nuances of using and testing cloud computing with trial versions of the software. In this part, we will explore some of the aspects that could not be covered in the previous article.

Generally, trial versions of the cloud software can be downloaded for free. But, most trial versions require you to hand over credit card details.  The purpose of obtaining that input from you is to ease the process of getting your subscription if you decide to go on with them. (Most cloud providers are certain that you will continue with them unless you are looking for something very specific).  A note of caution:  you will be charged if you do not adhere to time limits stipulated for the trial or do not communicate your acceptance or your rejection at the end of the trial period.  So, if you are allowed a thirty-day trial, complete the trial within the specified time limit, if you do not want to be charged for services that you do not plan to use.

Sometimes, trial versions of the software could come with some limitations. Even where the trial version is fully functional, you may have a limit on the amount of data storage space that is allocated per trial download.  This may not be sufficient for your enterprise. However, some vendors may allow you additional space for your testing operations on specific request.  So, pay attention to the amount of space you get with the trials, and make up your mind whether the allocated space meets all your testing and loading needs. If not, do not hesitate to start a dialogue with the vendor. They may oblige you and allocate more space on request or a small charge.

If all features of the trial are not functional, you may be allowed access to a fully functional trial on request.

The trial period is also a good time to evaluate the level of customer service you will get.  You will get a sense of the responsiveness and support from the different kinds of interactions you have with the management and the support team. You will also have an understanding of the kind of technical expertise that is available with the vendor. Ultimately, your employees will have to draw upon the vendor support for many things.  So, make use of the opportunity fully.

Test the Cloud—Trials are for Free—Part I

You do not have to buy anything before you convince yourself that the cloud is ‘just what you need’.  Download trial versions of different cloud services and see how your applications and workloads perform before you take the next step of accepting or rejecting cloud computing.

Getting the best out of the trial version of cloud software (any software for that matter) requires some effort and hard work on your part.  You need to have an exact and accurate idea of your data loads, workflows, backup and recovery requirements, time frames, reporting requirements, disaster recovery compulsions, recovery point objectives (RPO), recovery time objectives (RTO) and so on.  Without this information, launching on a trial is as good as useless.

If you have ascertained all of the above, you are ready for your trial.  You need to use simulated or actual data to create the right computing environment you are likely to use.  You may like to replicate the effort by downloading trials from more than one cloud service provider, so that you have the data for comparison. You may like to conduct extensive research in parallel on what the cloud service offers you—the enterprise—in the service level agreement (SLA) and what kind of reputation does the service provider have, etc., while you are busy simulating your computing environment over the Internet hands-on.

Experts recommend that it is best to start small and then go full hog.  They would rightly advise you to migrate non-critical systems first and then a few critical systems to see what kind of performance metrics you get.  Appointing a test group for the purpose of the test is generally a very good idea.  They can keep a record of the performance and the problems experienced during the trial.

Ideally, the trial should be a three to six-month trial.  Many cloud vendors will allow you the luxury if they think you are a big customer—they cannot afford to lose—or you are a very serious customer, who will ultimately subscribe to their services.   Otherwise, most trial versions are available for free for a period of 30 days.

Make sure, that the trial versions you are downloading are fully functional. A few vendors bar some features from the trial version and this can be very annoying. You may not be able to fully test the potential of the software during the trial.

Part II of this article is found here: Testing the Cloud –Trials, are for Free— Part II

Integrate your Systems if you are Moving to the Cloud

Moving to the cloud is not a simple three-step process that it is made out to be. If you have very little data, you may follow the steps and get on to the cloud. But, most organisations have voluminous data and there is a lot of work to be done with the data before you can take the first step towards the cloud. Your systems must be integrated if you are moving to the cloud.

What does integration mean?  Integrated systems are pre-configurations of data, storage, networks, applications and their management, to deliver optimal performance in the cloud.  The process involves understanding the different system components and how they work together before configuring them.  Workloads may be identified, optimised for each application, and a broad range of infrastructures may be requisitioned for obtaining a specific pre-defined, level of performance.  Capabilities for managing the application and the workload will have to be clearly set out.  Thereafter, different application requirements may be fine tuned, balanced, until realistic performance measures are obtainable and available.

The pre-configured data centre exported to the cloud then creates the environment for speedy delivery of applications and resources. Flexibility and scalability are automatic, allowing the business to expand infinitely, bringing in more customers, and adding more information to their digital repositories.  Multiple operating systems can be hosted and applications can be shared among a large number of users, wherever they are located, and these applications can be deployed on a variety of devices that may be used to connect to the enterprise account.

Service portfolios can be expanded to include a wide range of business services that induce confidence in the company.  These benefits alone are enough to validate the need for pre-integration and fine-tuning of enterprise applications and systems before cloud migrations.  Add to this the cost savings that occur and all arguments against pre-integration activities must cease to be voiced.  Of course, the success of integration will be in direct proportion to the willingness of the organisation to spend the time and effort required for the process and the level of standardisation that they are eager to implement.  A healthy services centric view and a felt need for effective Service Level Agreement (SLA) management will act as catalysts that help transform legacy data centres into efficient cloud data centre, humming with activity and delivering performance.

Get Yourself Scalable Storage!

If your data is burgeoning and your volumes are becoming unmanageable, it is time to get yourself some scalable storage.  Virtualisation, no doubt is a first step, but it is just that—the first step. You need to take the logical next step and move to the cloud.

The cloud is designed to handle unstable workflows.  The peaks and troughs in your data flow need no longer bother you. You can scale up your storage when data volumes peak, and scale it down when your data volumes dip, and you need to pay only for what you use!  If you pause and consider the implications of this, you will appreciate the flexibility you gain thereby. Your legacy systems never allowed you to enjoy this luxury.  They were designed for unchanging workflows and you had to spend hours anticipating the peaks and troughs in workflows and provisioning for the same. You had to maintain redundant resources to ensure that you did not find yourself short when peaks were encountered.

Die-hard fans of legacy systems will be quick to point out that there must be some kind of trade off involved. Perhaps, scalability will be provided at the cost of performance?  Well, no.  It is the legacy systems that create trade offs with performance. Legacy systems have monolithic controller architectures. When resources are shared, all the applications try to hog the available resources, creating noise and performance dips.  If resources are to be dedicated to performance sensitive applications, a management nightmare is in the making.  Resources will have to be hard wired to specific applications while other applications are starved for resources.   The process can also result in storage fragmentation.  Cloud architectures are designed to dedicate and release resources on demand.  This results in optimum utilisation of resources and makes the resources available for other applications, as and when the demand is made.  Storage fragmentation is never an issue as storage is never fragmented or permanently dedicated to any one application.

Cloud resource scalability extends to security scalability.  Data is always encrypted, isolated and in synchronisation with standard security requirements. Comprehensive security can continue to be provided even when hardware resources are scaled up or down. This is in distinct contrast with legacy systems, where security cannot be scaled up or down on demand, and additional security can only be provided if physical resources are added to the data centre.

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