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“Open source technology plays a crucial role in the cloud business” – Netmagic

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Although the cloud has been around for a few years now, the phenomenon is still a mystery to many. CIOs still watch their step while moving on to the cloud. And when it comes to the open source cloud, it gets even more complicated for some. That is why we have scheduled CIOs from some of the country’s biggest firms to talk about the cloud and open source at Open Source India 2015, on November 19 and 20 at the NIMHANS Convention Centre in Bengaluru. 
In this interview, Diksha P Gupta from Open Source For You speaks to Sunil Gupta, executive director and president, Netmagic, about how open source and the cloud is changing the modern IT landscape. Excerpts:

Q Netmagic has come up with a data centre in Mumbai. What markets and sectors are you looking at with this data centre (DC)?
Typically, I divide my customers into two segments. In our terminology, we call them ICE and NICE. ICE stands for Internet centric enterprises and NICE for non-Internet centric enterprises. Under ICE, we include companies like Amazon, Flipkart, Myntra, et al. You must be aware of the growth wave of e-commerce in India. It is churning out new players every day. This is one market that Netmagic has a good hold on. Almost all of the e-commerce companies in India are hosted with us. So, this will continue to be one important sector for us, and will take up space and services in our new data centre.

The second set of customers is obviously those who are non-Internet centric. These could be in manufacturing, banking, financial services, insurance, the entertainment industry… almost all the industries practically become candidates for us. So existing customers could scale up their operations and take up space in the new data centre, or new customers from the above mentioned segments could do so.

Q Players like Microsoft and Amazon are now setting up DCs in India to tap sensitive sectors like the government, BFSI and telecom. With these players coming in, the competition would increase. How do you plan to face it?
It is true that players like Microsoft and Amazon deliver a fairly large scale, specially-operated, automated cloud delivery model. With them, everything is automated through a portal and customers can just go there and consume the cloud. They can use it or come out of it any time. So this is one way of offering cloud services, which involves a specially automated way of delivery where you can go and consume cloud resources right away. You may have some varieties and different types of packages for customers of different sizes or with different requirements. This model typically works on a large scale. This will be an advantage for Amazon and Microsoft. But, the only drawback is that they are not delivering these services from India, but from Singapore or Hong Kong and naturally, from a regulatory compliance point of view, many of the customers are not comfortable in using their services.

However, companies like us who deal with enterprise customers cannot adopt the same approach. Enterprises do not take their applications to the cloud straight away. Decision-makers in an enterprise like to first ask questions that will help in operating an app on the cloud. They would have concerns over their existing IT infrastructure. So, the very first problem that a CIO would like to be addressed by any service provider is the right level of absorption and accommodation of the firm’s existing IT infrastructure. Also, CIOs would want to lessen their troubles by outsourcing their existing structure. This would take care of issues with power, cooling, scalability and all other such things involved in running in-house infrastructure. These issues are going to be addressed by players like us, no matter who enters the market. Enterprises with legacy IT will continue to favour players like us, as they can continue utilising their existing IT hardware and avoid the cost of a fresh investment.

So, with most of the enterprises including medium, large and very large firms, the solution is never a single view of shifting to the cloud. It is a combination of using the existing investments in IT, which they would like to do for as long as there is life in them. And even when customers want to launch new applications, they would like to move to the cloud gradually.

Q What role does open source technology play in Netmagic’s scheme of things?
Open source technology has a crucial role to play, particularly in the cloud and data centre business. Customers are looking for cost-effective solutions, and open source is able to provide these. A fairly large part of our business is based on open source technology. We have about 600 members in our engineering team, and most of them work on open source technologies. We support all the customers who bring in open source technologies and host them in our data centre. We are constantly dabbling with open source technologies to possibly launch another version of our cloud, which will basically be running on open source.

Q How important do you think open source technology is for enterprise IT businesses?
It is extremely important. Modern day CIOs want freedom and don’t want to lock themselves in with a particular vendor. We have seen so much of migration, with our customers moving from closed technologies to open source technologies. This is helping them and giving them a much wider variety of vendors, as well as a broader, more varied ecosystem for support services. They are not stuck with a single technology or a single vendor. It is helping them reduce the cost of technology and cost of operations as well. Netmagic is helping here by supporting most of these technologies. I am seeing open source technology as a huge wave from my customers’ point of view.

Q What are the challenges IT heads are facing in the modern IT enterprise, and what are the problems that you are trying to address?
I will speak more with respect to my field of the data centre and the cloud. The biggest challenge an IT head faces is how to manage the firm’s IT investments. It started about 15 years ago when all CIOs wanted to create their own data centres within their own buildings. Everybody loved to have that corner glass room called the server room or data room. People would put in racks and have a small data centre in every building, just to be able to say that, “I have my own captive data centre.”

Over a period of time, the technologies and the densities of data centres evolved from a small rack to about a 20kVA power rack. So much of compute and storage got stuffed into a single rack footprint, and the amount of power and cooling required in a data centre got so high that a regular commercial building just couldn’t handle it. There are innumerable examples of CIOs and CTOs who have talked of this problem — about not being able to have that kind of power in their data centre. They have cooling problems they cannot handle because the businesses are scaling up, big time. Even if they want to put more racks to accommodate more servers, they don’t have the space, with offices all around. These are the challenges that CIOs and CXOs are facing. And that’s why there is so much of migration among customers — they are closing their captive data centres and moving to third party data centres, which are giving them the same power, cooling and scalability, all in a much better way.

The second big challenge is that the businesses are growing crazily. Companies in e-commerce are growing really fast. They place requirements in front of the IT team to launch an application practically the next day. There is also a budget constraint put in by the CFO of the company. So one ultimately ends up ‘oversizing the hardware’ and this is the typical standard problem for all CIOs and CTOs. The solution to this is the cloud, and this is why this big wave of cloud adoption has happened.

You can just go and purchase a cloud instance of a reasonable size, and launch the application tomorrow without bothering about sizing beyond a point, because if you find that the cloud purchased is not meeting your requirement, you can actually increase that at a click of a button. And if you think you have taken a bigger infrastructure than needed, you can actually reduce it with the click of a button. The best part is that you are not stuck with a particular technology.

Q What are the kind of questions an IT head has to ask to cloud service providers while investing in the cloud?
Essentially, the first question should be, ‘Can I adopt the cloud?’ Different types of customers may have different needs. There are customers who are savvy, having dabbled with this technology. Such customers do not take time to adopt it, as the cloud is also becoming a commodity now; there are so many customers in the e-commerce domain who have become so very comfortable with the cloud that they don’t ask any questions, they just ask us to deliver. However, at the other end of the spectrum, there are still people in traditional enterprises like those in the manufacturing domain, who have a lot of questions. The questions do not really start with a transactional analysis of the cloud offering. They include, “Can you advise me on whether I can move to the cloud?”; “If yes, what applications can I move to the cloud?”; “If not, why can’t I move to the cloud?” or “How exactly can I migrate to the cloud?” They want to see the entire way forward.
The questioning from such clients is very basic, and these are the right questions to ask before getting into the nitty gritty of the cloud.

Q What are the kind of workloads that are suitable for the cloud?
Frankly speaking, if this question had been asked five years back, my answer would have been different. But today, I would say that cloud technologies have evolved and matured so much that any type of critical workload that demands huge resources in terms of compute, storage and networks can be migrated to the cloud. In general, anything which runs on Windows or any flavour of Linux can easily be migrated to the cloud.

Q So what would you like to tell clients who are looking for cloud computing to improve the utilisation of their existing servers, but are also concerned whether the utilisation and optimisation will compromise the service level agreements?
First of all, both the technology and the cloud service provider model, as they exist today, are so very evolved. When the technology came in six or seven years back, this would have been a good topic of debate. But nowadays, when clients invest in a cloud grid (which may host multiple customers), they get far more redundancy, flexibility and scalability than they might want. The amount of redundancy, security, flexibility and scalability available with a cloud grid today is far higher compared to the standard one-on-one solution for a customer. So the service levels that are given on a cloud grid nowadays are at par and even better than what was offered on a simple dedicated hardware type of solution earlier.

Q What is the importance of multi-tenancy in the cloud paradigm?
The entire underlying basis of the cloud is multi-tenancy. Every single enterprise has hundreds of applications, for which it could end up investing in hundreds of servers, storage boxes, network boxes, et al. According to several research studies, not more than 30-35 per cent of the capacity, which is invested in, is ever utilised. And the balance 70 per cent capacity is just a waste of money. And that waste of money is not only in hardware, but also an investment in costly software licences. Besides, accordingly, you end up investing so much money in creating data centres, power, cooling, manpower, networking…and a whole lot more on everything. It’s a huge waste of effort too.
What the cloud ultimately did was, instead of thousands of enterprises creating their own individual environments where there is so much wastage of resources, it created a centralised grid with a pool of resources. It cuts these resources into ‘pieces’ and gives it to individual customers. So when this is happening, if say, one customer is not using some resources, these are available for other customers to use. And that is where you are bringing in the optimisation. So the basic premise of the cloud is based on multi-tenancy, where a centralised service provider makes a huge investment in creating a vast pool of resources like compute, storage or networks.