This project is primarily aimed at a broad and diverse target group of companies that have used or want to use cloud services and infrastructure, but more specifically the companies themselves offering technology based on cloud technology work or who use cloud technology to exploit their services (e.g. SaaS, PaaS product providers). We also focus on traditional software and ICT companies that are digitizing, deploying and transforming. In addition, the project targets the broader technology companies developing both software, hardware and services and their respective customers. In the second instance, we are specifically targeting IoT product developers and CyberSecurity companies. Other companies, professionals, freelancers, end users, cloud enthusiasts, etc. are also welcome to join OpenCloudification to learn or improve, but also share their knowledge about Cloud and Cloud-related technologies.
Several companies are struggling with cloud services and open-source cloud technology. Although the technologies are very promising and are embedded within the Information and Communication Technology (ICT) domain, it is challenging for most organizations on several levels. Where previously Cloud usage was limited to VM-based lift-and-shift of existing servers to an IaaS model, supplemented with some Platform-as-a-Service and Software-as-a-Service applications, in recent years, the cloud domain has transformed into a vast ecosystem of technologies. The Cloud Native Computing Foundation (CNCF), for example, lists a limited number of these technologies.
The purpose of this project by the partners IMEC-IDLab, LSEC and The Beacon is to help ICT companies (and more specifically ICT companies that are active in the Cloud or that wish to offer their products via the Cloud) by transferring knowledge about Cloud developments in various practical and applied ways. In recent years, a lot of research has been done in the field of advanced container orchestration (Kubernetes and derived distributions), serverless functionality, cloud-native storage, cloud-native monitoring and service meshing, etc. All of these are concepts that have only become mature in the last years and for which many choices have to be made.
The ultimate goal is to guide companies with a strong interest in embracing the Cloud to take the initiative to launch new products/developments or improve their current product portfolio by gaining a better understanding of what technology can solve some of today’s problems, and how to use it.
Knowledge enhancement will be done in incremental steps, allowing companies to step in at different times and taking into account the different levels of maturity. The techniques provided will focus on open-source and vendor-neutral solutions. We will not be blinded by the myth that open source is better by definition, but, where appropriate, the necessary warnings will also be provided for immature or non-production-ready open-source projects (in other words, the fact that a specific technology is open-source does not make it immediately better than closed-source/proprietary products).
Thanks to the project, the companies will immediately be able to apply for the intended knowledge transfer. Both the open-source cloud “basics” – where the educational materials can also be used within the companies can be used to sensitize other users – as well as the development of specific “advanced” open-source components (monitoring, observability, security, etc.) that the development departments of the participating companies can guide, asking the right questions and making trade-offs during the design process, development and implementation.
The existing knowledge of secure Cloud developments among the target companies is mostly limited to an understanding of the need to operate cloud-based and knowledge regarding a subset of the solutions offered by one of the three major Cloud players (Google, Amazon and Microsoft). The concrete implementation of the cloud needs is, therefore, often outsourced to cloud consultants for lack of internal knowledge and expertise. Otherwise, if cloud expertise is built up in the company, there might be only a focus on a subset of developments due to a lack of resources. Most companies are not going to specialize in-house personnel in all the knowledge regarding modern cloud use. Still, jumping on the cloud-native train can give these companies a step ahead of their direct competitors, because of factors such as cost efficiency, scalability, agility (good technology choices can reduce incident resolution time), and customer loyalty (shorter duration problems or no problems lead to higher satisfaction among customers).
Cloud and Open-Source Cloud Components
Modern cloud applications are currently built from a huge collection of technologies. Small and medium-sized ICT companies are not sufficiently familiar with this wide range and knowledge transfer is thus imminent to bring back the know-how that is currently often located at research institutes/universities and service providers. Through the project, we can prepare companies to work in a modern cloud-based way of working. This means that those companies can become more cost-efficient, adapt their applications to the needs of the customer (many of the modern cloud technologies bet on agile development) and spot new opportunities (e.g., in terms of integrating serverless or edge/cloud orchestration). From OpenCloudification, the following knowledge is accelerated to companies (not exhaustive – topics will be adjusted or added, to make them more useful):
- Cloud 2022-2030 basic concepts, cloud usage models, cost models, business cases, the sense (and nonsense) of open-source, success and inspiration stories, funding opportunities, state-of-the-art, innovative developments useful for tech companies, opportunities for sovereignty, legal possibilities and limitations.
- How to move from VM-based cloud applications to more flexible container-based applications.
- How to handle the orchestration of cloud resources (processing nodes, storage, users, tasks, etc.).
- How to install and configure cloud-based applications/components and then automate them (e.g., CI/CD and IaC).
- How to manage application data flows in a cloud-native way.
- How to perform upgrades of cloud applications and underlying orchestration components.
- How to set up monitoring of application response times, cloud resource consumption and alerts.
- How to secure cloud applications against accidental use/abuse.
- How to secure data in the cloud.
- How to integrate edge devices into the Cloud.
- How to transform existing cloud applications (or parts of them) into serverless applications.
- How to integrate open-source cloud components, preparatory activities, required resources, etc.
- Limitations of open-source, licensing and royalty considerations.
- Experiments, tools and documents, hands-on experiences, learning by example and by mistake.
Moving to microservices
For many companies, it is often a challenge to sufficiently picture or to ensure that they have a well-documented overview of the most relevant evolutions. This is the case, among others, for the field of microservices, a form of application development where applications are divided into a collection of collaborating services in which each takes care of a specific part and that can independently execute/scale on needs. Microservices are typically deployed via container technology and managed by container orchestration tools, hence the direct link to what is provided in this project. When one wants to develop microservice systems, one often encounters the following questions and technological challenges:
- What benefits can microservice-based applications bring to a company?
- How can one easily and systematically transform existing applications into microservice-based applications?
- How can one start deploying microservice-based applications?
- How does one deal with the manageability of microservice-based applications (which will often consist of dozens of container instances)?
- How efficiently monitor and track microservices-based applications?
These and other relevant software design challenges for companies will be addressed during the project activities, for instance during the technical workshops. In addition, the project partners will also provide additional support during the activities towards converting scientific research and publicly available code and applications:
- Scientific research on detection and resolution of integration problems in service-based applications, integration of low-resource edge devices, federation of resources, low-impact monitoring solutions, etc.
- Provide documentation on promising available open-source technologies (not as a replacement of existing documentation, but as a list of pros and cons, when and where the technology should be used, when it is better to not use it, etc.) and make all the necessary additional modifications to make them more accessible (e.g., by provisioning Kubernetes Helm charts or operators for easy installation on a Kubernetes platform).
- Offer advice about the different Cloud platforms available: at the time of writing, there are, for example, 68 different certified Kubernetes distributions, which makes it very difficult to choose a specific one. Similar complex choices are available for private cloud platforms (IaaS), monitoring systems, network mesh, tracking solutions, etc.
Our Valorization Strategy
The first project results will already become available within the first month of the project and widely disseminated immediately during the project through collective project activities.
The knowledge dissemination and transfer will take place in different forms, in multiple actions, and at different times. During the inspiration seminars, we will provide insights into the possibilities of newer cloud technologies for enterprises, how the cloud can be used not only as a storage resource but to further enable optimal computing through containers and serverless, and how to make optimal use of that from a business and use case perspective. The seminars will be hybrid online & physical meetings so that companies that either have a barrier of distance or companies who find online operations challenging can both be addressed. The seminars will also be recorded so they can be used for documentation of attendees and for registered users afterwards.
Next, we will dive deeper into the challenges of cloud technology and we will focus on the elements that are less well-known. We will also focus on the cloud technologies that companies primarily use, or that we suggest based on existing reference solutions, scientific research and best practices. Another focus will be on the added value for business operations such as the serverless approach. Next, we will focus on the applicable technology to get up and running faster with open-source components. Already fairly early on, we will start with the concept of adopting existing open-source adaptations so that they can be integrated faster and better. Some activities will run in parallel so that they can converge to the exact needs of the participating companies at the moment that a sufficient understanding is achieved. During the technical workshops, specific technologies or components such as observability, monitoring, multi-cloud management and so on will be analyzed, demonstrating how to apply them and how concrete use cases can be developed and built out. All will be carefully documented so that it can also be used for further dissemination. The project activities are further complemented by a knowledge database (including whitepapers and tutorials developed within the framework of this project) and some specific software components to facilitate the adoption of “newer” cloud technologies. The knowledge base will also allow the use of external sources of cloud challenges and solutions so that other open-source components can be added and partners can work on their own. All materials will be made available for the participating companies to get started themselves and encourage them to innovate by enabling concrete applications and improving their security.
With knowledge dissemination and support, the partners want to work towards the following concrete forms of potential valorization in the short (during the project) to medium term (3-5 years after the end of the project):
- Internal product innovations. Developments by companies already actively engaged in cloud technology, but through advanced concepts, their products can evolve in a supported way.
- Internal process innovations. Improved cloud adoption and more thoughtful technology choices to achieve increased cost efficiency.
- Follow-up projects. Grants for cooperative demand-driven research, through thematic calls including cloud technologies.
- Interfaces with the AI and CyberSecurity programs of the Flemish Government. Each of these broad cases needs cloud technology to be deployed. Within the AI program, there is also a need for AI task orchestration and for dataflow optimization.
- SMEs growth. It will grant development or research projects (via VLAIO or other supporting organizations) to explore new markets and opportunities for cloud-based product innovations.
- EU projects (Horizon Europe IA, RIA and SME call, smaller INNOSUP projects, etc.).
- Internal increase. Refocusing people to improve internal cloud expertise and cloud product management. Additional employment in the short to medium term.
- International expansion. By adopting scalable technologies, a larger sales audience can be reached.
- New partners. Thanks to the project, new collaborations will arise between tech companies among themselves.