Catalyst boss faces down crunchy cloud questions
NBR: When Catalyst clients are after advice on whether to use New Zealand or overseas-hosted services, which direction do you nudge them in? And why?
Don Christie: If the clients are a New Zealand organisation, we host them here, unless their target audience is mostly overseas based. The “why” is convenience and latency [the slight lag on international connections] – although New Zealand’s pathetic peering model does undermine the latter a bit.
NBR: A lot of people are broadly aware of the controversy over the GCSB and Telco Intercept bills. Most probably see it framed as a security versus privacy debate. But could the legislation also stop cloud providers and ICT services companies from offering the best services, and otherwise hinder New Zealand businesses?
DC: Yes. The definitions of “telecommunications services” and “network operator” are incredibly broad and badly defined in the current TICS (Telecommunications Interception Capability and Security Bill). As technology has changed, the internet-based services New Zealand digital companies can provide have broadened. The government claims that the updated bill is a response to new technology but that its intention is only to capture the old telcos (think Telecom) in their definitions.That means they needed to update those definitions. But they have not done so.The scary thing about the TICS Bill is that it gives the GCSB oversight into the design of a network operator’s systems. For a small Kiwi company this means civil servants having sign-off on services we would like to create and compete with.
I am sure NBR readers understand that having government designed IT systems is not the best recipe for speed-to-market, agility and cost effectiveness. We also have overseas clients, particularly in Europe, who are concerned about any hint of US oversight of their business. The closer New Zealand is tied to the US when it comes to spying networks, especially of the economic kind, the worse the light in which they view our services.
Right now, for example, New Zealand business are on the cusp of being able to offer localised and open cloud services that rival those being offered on a massive scale by large overseas corporates. It would be a shame to see these opportunities undermined by ill-conceived legislation.
(Mr Christie is also a co-founder of lobby group NZ Rise)
NBR: Can you explain the OpenStack project? How does it address some of the drawbacks of cloud computing?
DC: OpenStack is a collection of about 40 open source projects. It was initiated in 2010 by Rackspace and NASA and is now the fastest growing open source project since the Linux Kernel. It offers fully automated and programmable cloud infrastructure, with no licence fees. That means that users of OpenStack can commission virtual servers, networks and platforms in seconds and at a very low cost.
Up until now the choice has been to go with Amazon Web Services or Rackspace – which is flexible but overseas – or build your own, as the government essentially did with Infrastructure as a service (IaaS). The problem with IaaS is that it is very expensive and based largely on on a proprietary stack of VMWare and EMC2. Even things like the automatic provisioning of servers is expensive so rarely switched on as an option for clients.
OpenStack, along with the object storage layer, Ceph, runs on commodity hardware, is fully functional and developing fast. We see it now pushing into the platform and application stacks with business intelligence, database provisioning and web analytics. We are getting better performance out of our commoditised storage layers than very expensive storage area network (SAN) technology.
NBR: What drew Catalyst to support the Cloud Code of Practice?
DC: When we joined the IITP [Institute of IT Professionals NZ] CloudCode project we had no idea how it would turn out but it seemed an important initiative which had broad national and international support. The code is about open disclosure, that’s all. There is no excuse for cloud providers not to be offering, clearly and concisely, the sort of information requested in the code. This includes which country’s laws apply, who owns the data, whether it is possible to shift from one platform to another and who owns the software that runs the service.
More importantly, it gives potential consumers a list of about 13 questions they should be asking before they use a cloud based service. This is very empowering and all Kiwi SMEs would benefit from having a quick read and applying the questions to the services they use, whether it be Dropbox, Mega or Catalyst’s own open cloud, “Open Ao.”