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Flexibility flourishes in the cloud

This article appears in the issue June 2012 [Volume 21, Issue 6]
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Although predictions for growth of cloud computing vary depending on how it is defined, experts agree that the market is booming. Cloud applications, infrastructure, integration tools, brokers-a whole new range of products and services has emerged and is growing quickly. Forrester predicts that the global cloud market will increase from $40.7 billion in 2011 to more than $240 billion in 2020.

"Cloud technology allows organizations to simplify their use of software and reduce IT staff," says Clay Richardson, senior analyst at Forrester, "but perhaps more importantly, they can achieve greater agility and remove a non-core function."  Businesses of various sizes and in many verticals are finding cloud computing to be a good strategy.

Smart grid strategy

As energy prices have risen, utilities have sought new strategies for managing energy supplies efficiently, including "smart grid" technology. Smart grid helps manage use by establishing two-way radio communications between suppliers of utilities and meters located at the consumer's residence. For example, smart grid can measure how much electricity is being used at defined intervals during the day to identify areas of peak usage. Interval measurement allows utilities to implement "time of use" rates, which can be employed to encourage customers to shift their usage to off-peak hours. By balancing the load, suppliers can avoid purchasing excess capacity at higher rates, consumers' costs are lowered, and the chance of "brownouts" and outages is reduced.

Science Applications International Corporation (SAIC), a scientific, engineering and technology applications company, has developed a new "Smart Grid as a Service" (SGS) offering and cloud application that collects data from smart meters and translates that data into actionable intelligence for utility customers. Municipalities and utility providers sign up for the service and begin receiving information they can use to improve performance and reduce costs.

An interface for utilities and consumers

"The challenge that these organizations face is how to take all the information that's available and make more intelligent decisions," says Tim Crowell, chief architect for smart grid services at SAIC. "Our SGS product provides an interface for the utility companies so they can view and analyze the information. Consumers also have a portal that allows them to manage their utilities."

SGS sends back a wide variety of information to the utilities. "They can monitor voltage at the meters and transformers, how the load is distributed across the grid and detect outages," explains Crowell. "Then they can analyze the information to provide a better understanding of usage and allow early detection of problems." For example, a certain number of transient outages might indicate vegetation issues around feeder lines. "By knowing what issues may become pressing problems," Crowell says, "utilities can prioritize their work more efficiently."

SGS also integrates additional functions such as allowing the utility to connect and disconnect service, and lets consumers access analytics to evaluate their usage. It compiles billing information and tracks charges on a daily basis, unlike traditional meter reading, which occurs monthly. "We generate billing data and deliver it to the utilities as a service," Crowell says.

Application building blocks

Behind the scenes, the smart grid as a service relies on the hyperService Platform, an innovative application development and integration platform from NextAxiom Technology. The hyperService platform facilitates rapid application development by using graphical programming building blocks to create applications. For SAIC's application, the hyperService Platform integrates the meter data with analytic tools and the cloud delivery service. In also exposes industry standard-based Web services to the utilities, so they can integrate their own systems (on premise or cloud-based) to provide additional analytical capability.

The hyperService Platform represents a paradigm change in application development, according to co-founder Sandy Zylka. "Our goal was to move beyond the object-oriented concept of programming to silo-free, hyperService-oriented programming, which we believed would provide much greater agility for developers," she explains. The larger goal is to create a "silo-free" enterprise by providing access to any enterprise application through a unified interface. "It represents a different way of looking at application development," Zylka says. "We are adding business logic across all the IT assets through hyperServices, and it can be done without coding, by dragging and dropping it in graphically."

Another unique feature of the hyperService platform is its metered pricing model, which is "pay as you go" and based upon the number of hyperServices consumed. That consumption-based metered model is unique for middleware platforms, and was a factor in the decision by SAIC to select the hyperService platform as its integration tool. "This model takes the risk out of building new solutions because the upfront costs are eliminated," Zylka says.

IT in the cloud

Increasingly, organizations are seeking to access not only specific applications from the cloud but to move part or all of their infrastructure to the cloud, also known as infrastructure as a service (IaaS). Gartner has predicted that the percentage of companies having the majority of their IT infrastructure in the cloud will increase from just 3 percent to 47 percent in the next four years.

Chipita America, a producer and distributor of snacks and confectioneries, was using outside support for IT functions such as e-mail, network management and help desk, but was not satisfied with the quality of service and began looking into other options. "We identified CenterBeam as a company that offered a very broad range of cloud services, from which we could pick and choose what we needed," says Scott Martin, CIO of Chipita America, "And it looked like a good fit."

Chipita first opted for CenterBeam's Microsoft Exchange hosting and help desk support, along with its support for on-premise hardware. "What we discovered right away was the value of a roadmap for making this transition," Martin says. "For example, we moved our data warehousing, BI and ERP functions into the cloud as a group. If we had not done that, we could have had performance issues because of the need for data to go back and forth among these applications."

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