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June 24, 2011

Our HE Cloud Pilot - the real work begins

I'm spending an increasing amount of my time thinking about/talking about/in meetings about "the cloud" - well, specifically the HE Cloud Pilot that we are now putting in place as part of the JISC UMF Shared Services and the Cloud Programme.

This is both intimidating and exciting...

Intimidating because a lot of this stuff is new to me and, if I'm completely honest, the hardware side of things really doesn't do it for me. Luckily, we have some pretty good people now assigned to designing and building this stuff and I'm impressed at the progress being made very quickly. But there are times, as happened in an architectural design meeting this afternoon, where the discussion gets too much for me and I have to leave (about networking in this particular case). I figure that if I've sat in a meeting for 30 minutes and not understood a single word, and therefore couldn't summarise for someone else what that meeting was about, then I'm probably not being useful :-).

Exciting, because I think we have the potential to do something really useful and innovative here. That's not to say that success is guaranteed and I think that there are very real challenges for us in terms of building something that is of value to the education community and that has a sustainable business model associated with it. We spent an afternoon earlier this week (in the form of a premortem) brainstorming a pretty long list of everything that had gone wrong with the project from the perspective of 12 months hence - technology, usability, resourcing, business models and so on - and then thinking about the kinds of actions we wished we'd have taken to mitigate against them. It was a very useful exercise.

In delivering the infrastructure we'll start by targetting the various SaaS projects that are now being funded by the JISC (we've already made contact with most of them). But we'll also keep one eye on a much wider application of the infrastructure, to meet adminstrative and academic compute and storage requirements of institutions and individual researchers more generally because, long term, that is where our success lies.

Note that 'cloud' is a little narrow here since, on the compute side, our offer will include physical servers (though I think we'll try and discourage this to a certain extent), virtualisation in the form of VMware vCloud as well as true cloud in the form of OpenStack Compute.

I want to try and put something public in place where we can document the design decisions we are taking as we take them - partly as a sounding board for the community. I'm not sure where yet, though I suspect it won't be here. If you have an interest in what we are doing, keep an eye out.


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