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Cloud considerations for utilities, part two: use cases that will convince you to jump in


In part one of this series, I introduced the advantages cloud computing offers for utilities and pointed out that these are often undermined by implementation delays that increase both costs and corporate disruption.

That’s an important point to make, because in general we don’t discuss cloud disadvantages too often. For years, CIOs were concerned about performance and security. However, with established cloud services, many of these concerns have been alleviated as these are now major components of any cloud service that has achieved large-scale use.

However, lack of control and flexibility are still concerns to some. While cloud providers seek to be flexible, at some point they do force organizations to make upgrades. Also, many CIOs are hesitant to place mission-critical workloads on public infrastructure that may subject them to outages outside their sphere of control.

But the truth is, there are disadvantages to any architecture, and there are two use cases in which the cloud brings so much advantage that utilities should consider accepting whatever small risks may exist in order to reap the benefits.

The two primary cases that come to mind – and that should encourage you to embrace the cloud – are collaboration and analytics. These are very broad classifications, and deserve more explanation. Let’s go into each one in more detail.

Work together

Collaboration activities are vital to any utilities provider. Whether it is collaborating inside the utilities organization or working with partners and suppliers, collaboration is performed frequently because it is good for business.

Cloud computing’s geographic diversity, virtual centralization of information, and automatic upgrades perfectly suit collaboration use cases. Having computing instances closer to the user (geographic diversity) provides a better experience and encourages greater use of the solution. However, since the cloud is distributed and virtualized, everyone is working on the same information, at the same time. And finally, since upgrades are automatic, there are no coordination activities that have to take place across the participants. Anyone who has ever had to coordinate changes in EDI standards across a diverse vendor base will recognize this as a huge benefit.

Understand the business

Analytics are a hot topic in all industries, and utilities is no exception. Analytic applications often have a very volatile demand pattern. We used to joke that we “build the church for Easter Sunday,” meaning the size of the computing environment was built for the largest single peak. This is a perfect scenario for cloud computing, which has the ability to expand and contract based on use patterns. In addition, major cloud providers, such as Amazon, Google, Microsoft, and IBM (Watson), have made significant investments in cloud analytics capabilities that would be very difficult for utility providers to emulate.

Utility providers can opt to run any number of applications in a mixture of public, private, and hybrid cloud environments, and the cloud offers unique and compelling performance capabilities.

These functions are critical to utilities companies and they are also compelling use cases for cloud computing, because traditional architectures are not as well suited to deliver on them. First, the cloud is distributed by definition, making it the optimal environment for collaboration. Second, the power needed for efficient analytics processes is often not consistent: certain functions or certain periods of the business cycle will put much greater demand on compute resources, and building a big church for maximum capacity is not cost efficient. Instead, the elastic nature of cloud-computing resources perfectly fits analytics requirements.

The cloud can be extremely beneficial to utilities companies, but delays and infrastructure worries can derail otherwise valuable initiatives. Executives looking to gain the benefit public, private, and hybrid clouds offer can ask themselves if improving collaboration and analytics functions is important to them. If the answer is yes, then the cloud is the best way to get there.

Gary Coggins is an executive vice president at Capgemini and he can be reached at