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Harnessing the value of open-source cloud data platforms

In an email interview with journalist Anne Jambora, Tan Chong Yong, solution architect lead of Aiven in Southeast Asia, discussed how organizations react quickly to the constantly evolving business environment. Yong highlighted the importance of having a robust IT infrastructure and a well-designed architecture that can withstand any disruptions.

Yong provided a comprehensive look at the most significant changes businesses will be facing as the world emerges from a global crisis and how utilizing open-source cloud platforms can play a role in simplifying the processes.

Aiven offers fully managed, open source cloud data platform that allows customers to create data pipelines that meet their needs.

Managing advanced persistent threats: Knowledge, Prevention and Defense

1. The pandemic has changed the way businesses operate. Sustainability has become a buzzword once again. That means, among others, some companies are choosing open source over proprietary. What’s ahead for regional business? What would be a secure and scalable business ecosystem of the future?

Over the past two and a half years, we saw how the pandemic sent businesses into an age of upheaval — dramatically changing the way we live, disrupting supply chains, and halting operations altogether. During this time, the “cloud vs on-prem solutions” debate was amplified by the pandemic, with the latter losing ground amid lockdowns and remote work norms.

But amid the changes that have accentuated business vulnerabilities, one thing is certain: organizations must quickly adapt and react to survive.

That meant adopting available technologies, such as open source, which allows organizations to tap into world-class expertise and propel operational efficiencies. Open source is created in a decentralized way and can be much less expensive than commercial or proprietary solutions. That helps organizations avoid vendor lock-in, granting them the flexibility to switch technologies according to evolving needs, which translates to higher agility.

Today, open-source code has become the backbone of any modern society and supports the growth of digital ecosystems. A 2022 report by Synopsys showed that 97% of codebases today contained open source codes, where at least 78% of it was open source, proving its overpowering pervasiveness. 

In the face of adversity, organizations — whether small or regional — must be able to react, recover, and seize any opportunity that may help them get ahead of the game. 

But even as companies continue to ramp up their digital capabilities and continue their pursuit of newer, better technologies, there must also be proper assessments of what is beneficial to the business, and not adopting for the sake of it.

With open source, organizations can tailor solutions to their business needs, and quickly produce solutions built upon sustainable, adaptable frameworks, which is essential in ensuring a secure and scalable business ecosystem of the future.

2. Are cloud services no longer optional? Why? What are some of the advantages? Is on-prem infrastructure more expensive in the long run?

Cloud adoption has no doubt experienced an uptick in recent years, and even more so during the pandemic when lockdowns and remote work were necessary. While lockdowns have long eased and return-to-office plans are no longer few and far between, the cloud is here to stay. Beyond the plethora of cloud-based tools that organizations are leveraging to increase collaboration and productivity, many are also investing in cloud computing to serve their business needs and making their move to the cloud permanent because of the multiple benefits it offers.

First is its flexibility and scalability. The cloud offers businesses the ability to quickly meet business demands. For instance, when it comes to hosting on a local server versus on a cloud service, a cloud-based service can meet the need for extra bandwidth instantly, as opposed to going through a complex and expensive update to the on-premise IT hardware infrastructure. This means that businesses can now scale up or down according to their specific needs, without being tied to a particular hardware or system.

In terms of cost-savings, most cloud services offer pay-as-you-go options, which means that organizations only pay for what they use, instead of paying for features that they neither need nor want, resulting in overall cost-effectiveness. Moreover, rather than requiring an IT department to perform an organization-wide update manually, cloud-based applications automatically refresh and update themselves, further saving organizations valuable time and money. 

With the cloud, businesses can achieve economies of scale at a much faster rate compared to on-premises infrastructure — and often at a lower cost. In view of these benefits, it is unlikely that businesses return to old paradigms.

However, while there are numerous benefits to moving away from on-prem infrastructure, the cloud is not a silver bullet for all infrastructure worries — there are still considerations that businesses should be mindful of.

  • Cost of migration:  both time and effort are needed to assess the impact of migration, how to test applications after migration, and whether any application refactoring is needed.
  • Use cases: the benefits of moving to the cloud would also differ depending on use cases and business needs. For long-term use cases that have predictable workloads, it might be cheaper and more efficient to run it on-prem instead, where there is a dedicated and properly sized infrastructure catered to the demand. A simple analogy to illustrate this would be car rentals: if you know you will be driving every day, it might make more sense to buy a car and maintain it yourself instead of renting a car every 2 days. On the other hand, cloud computing would be suitable when you have fluctuating and unpredictable workloads — such as eCommerce stores running monthly promotions, or subscriptions to cloud services with no clear view of the workloads that are required in the upcoming months — which would provide companies the flexibility to pay for what they need and to meet demands accordingly.
  • Cloud repatriation: in cases where the cloud hasn’t met expectations, organizations may choose to leave the cloud and return to on-premise infrastructure. This is especially so if companies are considering backup and recovery applications within their cloud strategy.

It is imperative that companies evaluate all considerations for a cloud strategy, such as needs, resourcing, and future trajectories before adopting one. 

3. How are cloud services changing the Asian market?

Like the rest of the world, there is a strong shift towards the cloud in Asia. In fact, according to a Deloitte report, cloud spending in APAC has grown across industries and is forecast to almost triple in the next four years.

Cloud has endless potential to enhance operations, and it goes beyond helping to save costs. According to an IDC study, over half of employees in APAC (56%) say they want a combination of remote and in-office flexible working models in the future. This will only raise the importance of cloud-based business communications and collaboration tools in the modern, hybrid workplace.

Business leaders in the region are also seeing the value of the cloud in enabling faster and better business outcomes, including direct commercial and operational gains. With Asia-Pacific companies migrating to the cloud at a faster rate than their counterparts in Western Europe or the US, Asia is well poised to speed up their digitalization and benefit from emerging technologies such as quantum computing, virtual reality, and AI to meet growing business requirements.

4. What are the common reasons businesses are hesitating to go for open-source platforms? Why? Does this have something to do with the fact that only 20-plus percent of the CEOs today are digital-savvy?

A common reason behind the hesitation lies in the fear of uncertainty. Moving away from legacy systems and embracing open-source data infrastructure that sits on the cloud may seem like a tedious process. In fact, any change in processes can seem like a hassle to the employees as it often demands a shift in internal operations for the change to be effective and efficient across the entire organization.

Another reason lies in the saturated cloud market — many are overwhelmed by the number of options, as the downside of making the wrong bet can outweigh the benefits. To leverage the benefits of an open-source cloud data infrastructure, it is imperative that organizations focus on the benefits and opportunities it provides.

While business leaders, including CEOs, may be the ones in charge of the move towards the cloud and open source, a dedicated IT team propagating such organization-wide changes can positively impact the employees, resulting in a cultural shift that breeds success in the business’ digitalization journey.

5. What would be the criteria/standards when choosing an open-source platform? What would be the red flags?

The first and most important criterion when it comes to choosing an open-source solution would be its suitability. It may sound obvious, but it is essential that IT leaders carefully assess how the technology may fit the bill, rather than choosing based on popularity or going for the cheapest option. Some questions to ask would be:

  • Does the software do what we want it to do?
  • What are the business requirements to be met?
  • Can it be readily extended or scaled according to needs?
  • Will it integrate well with other software

In an ideal world, we would have a managed platform that is fully open-source — one that meets business needs without the lock-in. The platform would automatically manage operational workflows to provide solutions from backup and high availability to upgrades and patches. This takes away the major pain points of managing infrastructure while granting the flexibility of modification whenever necessary.

Good open-source projects often have active communities that can promote knowledge-sharing and shorten the time needed to problem solve, should issues arise.

Some potential red flags, however, are to be cautioned against. 

  • Proprietary features built on top of the open-source platforms: If a company signs up for a platform that has proprietary features built on top of open-source ones, it potentially reduces the flexibility of switching platforms due to lock-in. To prevent this, it is important to be aware of the feature sets needed, and whether those are covered in the specific open-source platform chosen. 
  • Hidden costs: Some platform providers may have hidden costs and restrict access to certain features or metrics without paying more. This may add up to additional costs that you might not be prepared for.

Another thing to look out for would be its track record. It is important to go for a solution that is actively used and supported. For one, such solutions have active communities that can promote knowledge-sharing and shorten the time needed to problem-solve should an issue arise. More importantly, the companies can rest assured that these solutions they choose won’t turn obsolete overnight.

6. From your experience, pre-pandemic, during the pandemic, and (hopefully) post-pandemic, what trends in technology space are emerging? How have these trends evolved since, say, 2016?

From chatbots to more advanced search technologies, 2016 was the year when AI came of age. Six years on, AI is still among one of the biggest buzzwords in the technology world, among others. 

Many of today’s smart devices, including phones, TVs, and cars, are powered by AI and machine learning (AI/ML) algorithms that can perform various tasks. For instance, AI is being used in a smartphone’s facial recognition technology, and in cars to detect driver alertness. For businesses, AI is present in scheduling assistants and chatbots that have helped boost productivity and improve customer service, and in IoT sensors and devices that are collecting data to help make data-driven outcomes. 

Some other trends that have emerged include:

  • Open source — while open source has long existed since as early as the 1950s, the onset of the pandemic has accelerated the rise in the adoption of open-source platforms. Open source solutions support growth, provide open access to the digital ecosystems, and more importantly, present businesses the opportunity to propel innovation — a key to staying ahead of the game amid disruptions. 
  • Cloud Adoption — with more employees working remotely and using tools such as videoconferencing platforms, there is increased stress on back-end support services and increased network traffic. Only the most robust and expansive architecture would be able to deliver the seamless user experiences that modern-day consumers were demanding. Companies had to transform, and many adopted cloud solutions to cope with increased demand and maintain uninterrupted service delivery. 

A study by Amazon Web Services and consulting firm AlphaBeta has revealed that Asia Pacific alone will need to train 86 million workers over the next year in digital skills to keep abreast of the industry’s technological advancements. The landscape for technological skill sets will also evolve in the coming years to accommodate this shift – and has already been kickstarted by the inclusion of various technology elective courses in universities in the region. 

Consequently, it’s likely that the uptick in demand for specialized skill sets that complement technology will also continue to rise. To cite an example, fintech is one area where technology and a separate industry have come together to create a certain niche. This trend is likely to permeate other major industries such as healthcare, energy, agriculture, and education to accommodate the increasingly pervasive use of technology in every aspect of modern society. 

7. Based on the current trends, what would be your “predictions” for the next big shift in the cloud and open-source space?

Cloud adoption will continue to increase in popularity as startups and enterprises alike look towards the cloud to enhance efficiencies and productivity while directing the saved efforts towards other revenue-generating activities. 

For the open-source space, the adoption is already thriving and is only expected to keep growing. It is a virtuous and free ecosystem, where any individual — including students — can access and use the open-source tools. This gives students and any aspiring professional the relevant skills to enter the workforce, and organizations will have an easier time hiring talents, who can in turn contribute back to the open-source community.

8. Lastly, what are your thoughts on companies investing in the metaverse? We’re watching large BPOs like Accenture jumping into the metaverse “trend.” Like, how would the metaverse work, and when would it not work?

While the metaverse holds the potential in various sectors including delivering better healthcare services, enhancing urban development via ‘digital twinning,’ and sparking improvement in education and training, the technology is still in its nascent stages, and more needs to be done if it wants to stay relevant.

This includes ensuring robust security. Lingering concerns about security in the metaverse must be addressed lest businesses risk losing customer trust.

We do see many different companies, including big brands such as Nike, D&G, Gucci, Microsoft, and Google, investing in the metaverse. 

There have been different takes on how the metaverse would work. I’d imagine there would be a lot of different “metaverses” built by different entities that people can hop into and use assets that belong to them.

For metaverses to “work,” or even be of significant value to society, however, they must gain mass adoption. There is also a need to have a seamless way to bridge the different metaverses and a strong enough incentive model for people to work, operate and interact within the metaverse.

While the technology is still in its nascent stages, it’s certainly exciting to see the possibilities that it may bring. 

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