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John Savageau

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Communities in the Cloud

In the 1990s community of interest networks (COINs) emerged

In the 1990s community of interest networks (COINs) emerged to take advantage of rapidly developing Internet protocol technologies. A small startup named BizNet on London’s Chiswell Street developed an idea to build a secure, closed network to support only companies operating within the securities and financial industries.

BizNet had some reasonable traction in London, with more than 100 individual companies connecting within the secure COIN. Somewhat revolutionary at the time, and it did serve the needs of their target market. Management was also simple, using software from a small company called IPSwitch and their soon to be globally popular “What’s Up” network management and monitoring utility.

However simplicity was the strength of BizNet. While other companies favored strong marketing campaigns and a lot of flash to attract companies to the Internet age, BizNet’s thought leaders (Jez Lloyd and Nick Holland) relied on a strong commitment to service delivery and excellence, and their success became viral within the financial community based on the confidence they built among COIN members.

As networks go, so did BizNet, which was purchased by Level 3 Communications in 1999 and subsequently the COIN network was dismantled in favor of integrating the individual customers into the Level 3 community.

Cloud Communities
Cloud computing supports the idea of a COIN, as companies can not only build their “virtual data center” within a Platform as a Service/PaaS model, but also develop secure virtual interconnections among companies within a business community – not only within the same cloud service provider (CSP), but also among cloud service providers.

In the “BizNet” version of a COIN, dedicated connections (circuits) were needed to connect routers and switches to a central exchange point run by BizNet. BizNet monitored all connections, reinforcing internal operations centers run by individual companies, and added an additional layer of confidence that helped a “viral” growth of their community.

Gerard Briscoe and Alexandros Marinos delivered a paper in 2009 entitled Digital Ecosystems in the Clouds: Towards Community Cloud Computing.” In addition to discussing the idea of using cloud computing to support an outsourced model of the COIN, the paper also drills deeper into additional areas such as the environmental sustainability of a cloud community.

As each member of the cloud community COIN begins to outsource their virtual data center into the cloud, they are able to begin shutting down inefficient servers while migrating processing requirements into a managed virtual architecture. Even the requirement for managing high performance switching equipment supporting fiber channel and SAN systems is eliminated, with the overall result allowing a significant percentage of costs associated with equipment purchase, software licenses, and support agreements to be rechanneled to customer or business-facing activities.

Perhaps the most compelling potential feature of community clouds is the idea that we can bring processing between business or trading partners within the COIN to near zero, as the interaction between members is on the same system, and will not lose any velocity due to delays induced by going through switching, routing, or short/long distance transmission through the Internet or dedicated circuits.

Standards and a Community Applications Library
Most trading communities and supply chains have a common standard for data representation, process, and interconnection between systems. This may be a system such as RosettaNet for the manufacturing industry, or other similar industry specifications. Within the COIN there should also be a central function that provides the APIs, specifications, and other configurations such as security and web services/interconnection interface specs.

As a function of developing a virtual data center within the PaaS model, standard components supporting the COIN such as firewalls, APIs, and other common applications should be easily accessible for any member, ensuring from the point of implementation that joining the community is a painless experience, and a very rapid method of becoming a full member of the community.

A Marriage of Community GRIDs and Cloud Computing?
Many people are very familiar with project such as Seti At Home, and the World Community GRID. Your desktop computer, servers, or even storage equipment can contribute idle compute and storage capacity to batch jobs supporting everything from searching for extraterrestrial life to AIDS research. You simply register your computer with the target project, download a bit of client software, and the client communicates with a project site to coordinate batch processing of work units/packets.

Now we know our COIN is trying to relieve members from the burden of operating their own data centers – at least those portions of the data center focusing on support of a supply chain or trading community of interest. And some companies are more suited to outsourcing their data center requirements than others. So if we have a mix of companies still operating large data centers with potential sources of unused capacity, and other members in the community cloud with little or no onsite data center capacity, maybe there is a way the community can support itself further by developing the concept of processing capacity as a currency.

As all individual data centers and office LAN/MAN/WANs will have physical connections to the cloud service provider (IaaS provider) through an Internet service provider or dedicated metro Ethernet connection, the virtual data centers being produced within the PaaS portion of the CSP’s will be inherently connectable to any user, or any facility within the COIN. Of course that is accepting that security management will protect non-COIN connected portions of the community.

Virtually, those members of the community with excess capacity within their own networks could then easily further contribute their spare capacity to the community for use as non-time critical compute resource, or for supporting “batch” processing. Some CSPs may even consider buying that capacity to provide members either in the COIN, or outside of the COIN, and additional resource available to their virtual customers as low cost, low performance, batch capacity much like SETI at Home or the Protein Folding Project uses spare capacity on an as-available basis. Much like selling your locally produced energy back into a power GRID.

We Have a New, Blank Cloud White Board to Play With
The BizNet COIN was good. Eleven years after BizNet was dissolved, the concept remains valid, and we now have additional infrastructure that will support COINs through community clouds, with enabling features that extend far beyond the initial vision of BizNet. CSPs such as ScaleUp have built IaaS and PaaS empowerment for COINs within their data center.

Cloud computing is an infant. Well, maybe in Internet years it is rapidly heading to adolescence, but it is still pretty young. Like an adolescent, we know it is powerful, getting more powerful by the day, but few people have the vision to wrap their head around what broadband, cloud computing, diffusion of network-enabled knowledge into the basic education system, and the continuation of Moore’s, Metcalf’s, and other laws of industry and physics.

COINs and community clouds may not have been in the initial discussions of cloud computing, but they are here now. Watching a Slingbox feed in a Jakarta hotel room connected to a television in Burbank was probably not a vision shared by the early adopters of the Internet – and cloud computing will make similar un-thought of leaps in utility and capabilities over the next few years.

However, in the near term, do not be surprised if you see the entire membership of the New York Stock Exchange and NASDAQ operating from a shared cloud COIN. It will work.

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More Stories By John Savageau

John Savageau is a life long telecom and Internet geek, with a deep interest in the environment and all things green. Whether drilling into the technology of human communications, cloud computing, or describing a blue whale off Catalina Island, Savageau will try to present complex ideas in terms that are easily appreciated and understood.

Savageau is currently focusing efforts on data center consolidation strategies, enterprise architectures, and cloud computing migration planning in developing countries, including Azerbaijan, The Philippines, Palestine, Indonesia, Moldova, Egypt, and Vietnam.

John Savageau is President of Pacific-Tier Communications dividing time between Honolulu and Burbank, California.

A former career US Air Force officer, Savageau graduated with a Master of Science degree in Operations Management from the University of Arkansas and also received Bachelor of Arts degrees in Asian Studies and Information Systems Management from the University of Maryland.