The approaching decade has us wondering if there are more lean years ahead or can we look forward to some real growth again, much like the teen "growth spurt" that typically follows those staid preteen years. Whether your business grows like an always-hungry teen or remains steady state, there are ways to make the most of technology's newest offerings and minimize your cash outlays on the inevitable refresh. If you trust the business analyst's predictions for 2010 and delay your actions until the second half of the year, it's time to start thinking about your next moves. Invariably, those next moves should include investing in open-source software, virtualization and cloud computing.
If you'd rather investigate than invest, you have options that will allow you to move away from traditional computing and into more streamlined and cost-effective strategies. Facing a technology refresh in the next 18 months and current economic conditions might provide you with the impetus you need to investigate new ideas and propel your business effortlessly through those rocky teen years.
Open Source Software
For those steeped in traditional physical server computing, open-source software presents exceptional possibilities often at no charge. Several Linux distributions, office suites, server software, client software and desktop applications made available to you with full source code in tow have distinct advantages over their costly proprietary competition.
First, you'll have a competitive edge if you aren't blowing a stack of greenbacks on licensing fees. Second, open-source software promotes innovation by providing access to the underlying program's source code. You're free to examine, modify and distribute the software, including source code, in any way you wish. Third, you have the freedom to innovate with open source products. Not only can you change the source code, but you can also create a new product from that code and sell your product. (You must include your modified source code with your product according to the original license.) Finally, open source software has the advantage of a worldwide community to support it. Patches, security fixes and updates arrive from all parts of the globe, resulting in software that doesn't rely on any one company's whims or financial stability.
Open-source software frees you to grow and advance at will with fewer restrictions and hassles. If you're looking for unstinted teen growth, open source holds the most promising solutions.
Almost every technical magazine or web site you see brandishes some sort of information, banner ad or blurb about virtualization. There's a perfectly good reason for this: Virtualization works. Virtualization minimizes your hardware footprint while maximizing its utilization. The strategy and its execution are both simple. Underutilized physical machines have their workloads moved to virtual machines that reside on a limited number of virtual host systems. Virtual host systems provide the hardware backbone and computing horsepower to supply resources to several virtual machines simultaneously.
Virtualization allows you to minimize your costs by decreasing the number of system service contracts, lowering power consumption and cooling costs, decreasing downtime due to maintenance and hardware failures, maximizing system utilization, and decreasing your data center footprint, which is especially significant if you lease your space.
Virtualization also makes your business more agile by having the ability to quickly provision a new system or add resources to an existing one. If you need a lean technology solution, virtualization is the answer. It provides you with lowered costs and rapid expandability just what you need to help you through those impetuous teen years.
As ubiquitous as the term cool, cloud computing is the premier teen buzzword. You hear it everywhere and see it everywhere. Cloud computing is virtualization on a global scale. To understand cloud computing, think about a huge data center filled with hundreds or thousands of virtual host machines running tens of thousands of virtual host systems. Now imagine multiple data centers just like that one. That's cloud computing.
When someone says to move your workload to the "cloud," that's what they're talking about. Instead of moving your physical machines to virtual ones within your own data center, you move their workloads to a cloud provider's infrastructure. It's analogous to moving your locally hosted web site to an Internet service provider's (ISP's) web server farm. Your applications and files reside on a highly available server system, and you pay a monthly fee for the bandwidth, storage and computing power that you consume.
The largest and most prominent cloud provider is Amazon. Amazon offers its Elastic Compute Cloud (EC2) services at a fraction of what you'd pay for traditional hosting. And it's just announced three new services: CloudFront Streaming, EC2 Spot Instances and VPC Unlimited Public Beta.
Amazon's CloudFront Streaming gives you the ability to stream audio and video files. The service is easy to setup and use, and it requires no long-term commitments or contracts.
Finally, if you're having trouble deciding on how to move your workloads to the cloud, Amazon makes it easy with their Virtual Private Cloud service. This service provides a Virtual Private Network (VPN) connection from your network to Amazon's for seamless and secure workload migration.
Cloud computing isn't just another teen angst-inspired buzzword tripping off the tongues of pundits, writers and nerds; it's the future of large-scale, highly available computing. So, if those teens are lean, you can put your business on a rapid weight loss diet with confidence.
The tumultuous teen years, full of anxiety, growing pains and incessant hunger, supply us with just enough joy to keep us going through the lean times without throwing up our hands and quitting. As we mark our business growth in pencil on fiscal doorposts during these next few years, I think we'll see growth spurts sparked by the widespread adoption of open source software, the conversion of traditional single server-based computing environments to virtual ones and the movement of large workloads to cloud-based infrastructure. The teen years promise excitement, newfound loves and a trend toward sensible maturity.
What do you think the teen years will bring to your business environment? Write back and let us know.
Ken Hess is a freelance writer who writes on a variety of open source topics including Linux, databases, and virtualization. He is also the coauthor of Practical Virtualization Solutions, which is scheduled for publication in October 2009. You may reach him through his web site at http://www.kenhess.com.