Bumi Armada’s adoption of the cloud could be a trailblazer
Issues, challenges exist; but cloud should be the ‘new normal’
LAST week, many of the stories featured on Digital News Asia (DNA) came out of the recently concluded 4th Global Entrepreneurship Summit (GES) and the Global Startup Youth (GSY) initiative.
There were also some satellite events held in the background, away from the major spotlight of the GES and GSY -- one of which was the MSC Malaysia Cloud Conference, held on Oct 9 at the KL Hilton hotel.
The main theme of the conference was ‘Cloud Computing: Soar Above the Competition,’ and it was my task to cover the day-long conference.
My first thought upon getting the invitation from the Multimedia Development Corporation (MDeC), the country’s ICT custodian, was, “Hmm… another cloud conference? Will the presenters say the same thing, over and over like a broken record?”
To put things in perspective, I have been covering cloud computing for many years. A quick check of the time stamps on my story archives sees articles as far back at as 2008. In tandem with this, I had also covered numerous cloud conferences, both locally and abroad.
Time after time, I came away from these conferences realising that a lot of the talk about the cloud was just that – talk. In the early days, the talk was really confined to the topic of virtualisation – the consolidation of hardware servers such that computing resources can be pulled together, acting as one rather than in silos.
Later on, it was the private cloud versus public cloud debate, with some saying that the private cloud isn’t actually cloud computing. These people argued that it was more a way to outsource an enterprise’s data centre to a third party to manage, akin to a hosted data centre model.
But the one thing common amongst all these debates was that cloud computing was being held back by concerns about security and privacy.
So do forgive me if I felt the same way. I did this time, too.
It was therefore refreshing to hear two fundamental points raised last week at the MSC Malaysia Cloud Conference, points which I thought were key to moving the cloud computing agenda forward for enterprises in Malaysia.
The first has to do with security.
In a bold declaration, one of the keynote speakers at the conference said clearly that his company had embraced cloud computing and had chosen public cloud provider Google as its partner.
"A lot of people are hesitant in adopting cloud computing because of security reasons,” Bumi Armada chief information officer Chakib Abi-Saab said during his keynote address. “Let me make one point very clear: The idea that cloud computing is not safe is incorrect.”
Bumi Armada is a Kuala Lumpur-based offshore oilfield service provider.
What’s more remarkable was when Abi-Saab went a step further to challenge those who doubt that cloud computing is safe: “To this, I say: ‘Can anyone tell me if our own data centre is safer than these reputable providers such as Google or Microsoft?’ [Of course] there is no one technology that is 100% crash-proof; not today, perhaps never.
“This question to me has a very simple answer: These cloud providers do this for a living and the reality is I can’t compete with them in terms of cyber-security because they are built with that purpose in mind. Cloud computing is safe if we decide to move our information to a company that is reputable and that will truly support you.”
To me, this is by far the most daring and audacious declaration by a top executive and end-user of cloud computing, endorsing the cloud as the way forward for his company.
This kind of endorsement is what enterprises need in this country and it acts as a trailblazer. Now there is finally a large enterprise based in the country that is willing to embrace the cloud, reaping benefits from it, and willing to declare it.
The second key point was the way in which Abi-Saab convinced his bosses that Bumi Armada should embrace the cloud. He related how he tried to get his board to move to the cloud but failed to do so when he first arrived at the company.
Realising that he needed to be more forceful with his arguments of the business benefits of the cloud, Abi-Saab changed his approach by explaining to them how he was going to improve the availability of data, and create efficiencies by focusing on managing business activities rather than on how many servers the company had.
This, to me, must be the pattern for others to follow.
The cloud proposition is undeniably valuable. The notion of having the ability to rent hardware and software on-demand and in a scalable way; the reduction of companies' dependence on IT servers, storage, networking and expertise to manage all of it; and the shift from a capital-intensive way of meeting IT needs to one that is based on operational expenses -- these are fundamentally good propositions for many enterprises to consider.
But while these factors are no doubt selling points of the cloud, many CIOs, IMHO, are still stuck in trying to explain the cloud to respective boards by using technical jargon and terms, such that they miss the point completely.
The cloud must be expressed in terms of business value, benefits gained, costs saved, efficiency and productivity improved, and data flow controlled, to top executives before it will be embraced by an enterprise.
I would lay part of this problem at the feet of vendors and service providers, which in the early days were guilty of overselling the hype of cloud computing. On the flip side though, end-user enterprises have also been guilty of shying away from the cloud just because they may not have wanted to change or were too afraid to change.
Granted, the cloud is not 'magic IT' such that it would solve all of the challenges of today’s IT infrastructure. Sure, enterprises must take steps to ensure that they know what they are getting into.
And yes, before adopting it, enterprises must comprehend the technical architecture of the cloud and assess what parts of their IT infrastructure are suited to it, and will need to scrutinise the complex service level agreements with a fine toothcomb and understand exactly what it is and what it is not that they are buying.
But know this, the cloud is here to stay, whether we like it or not. Those who look at it from the glass-half-empty perspective would invariably lose out. Those who embrace it, however, could potentially be game-changers in their respective industry verticals.
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