A First Semester Report
by Tim Jennings
Research Fellow, Ovum IT
Ovum is a leading worldwide industry analyst and consultancy firm specializing in IT, communications and telecommunications. It delivers insightful research to businesses drawn from its 400,000 interviews each year.
Cloud computing—the concept of accessing software, services and computing resources primarily over the Internet—is rapidly becoming an integral part of the IT landscape. In reality it is a broad mix of capabilities, many of which have been available for a number of years. But as it gains traction, the focus is moving from the theoretical to the practical, and organizations of all sizes are examining the opportunities to benefit from the cloud, while at the same time tackling the technical and management challenges that accompany it.
Multiple Audiences, Multiple Propositions
The broad concept of cloud computing will offer many different value propositions to differing audiences, from individual consumers to the largest multinational corporations. In this equivalent of cloud’s first semester, there are two major areas on which interest is focused: the delivery of software applications and services via the cloud (described as Software as a Service or SaaS), and the use of cloud computing principles and resources to enhance and extend an organization’s existing on-premise infrastructure (including the concept of Infrastructure as a Service or IaaS). These services also encompass multiple deployment models, from private clouds dedicated to a single organization, to open public clouds managed by a service provider, and hybrids between the two.
As a supplier of the infrastructure building blocks that underpin cloud computing, as well as a provider of cloud-based services and software, platform vendor Cisco is well placed to understand these new opportunities and to help its customers benefit from them. To help assess progress in both areas, Ovum spoke to Brian Korn, Cisco’s Marketing Manager for Service Provider Data Center and Cloud.
The Changing Face of Software
The most immediate impact of cloud has been in the deployment of software solutions, with the majority of enterprise software companies now offering a SaaS option, touting the benefits of rapid provisioning, easy scaling and flexible payment models. For smaller businesses this agility and the opportunity to avoid managing complex IT systems in-house is worth a premium. In larger enterprises the option to pilot solutions or roll out at a departmental level can be valuable in its own right, and in dynamic areas, such as sales force automation, e-mail and productivity software, and collaboration solutions, SaaS can be more attractive than on-premise delivery. Cisco’s range of secure and real-time collaboration solutions, for example, have been deployed both via private clouds for enterprise use and as public subscription services for large and small business.
Transforming the Data Center
In the data center, the cloud is seen as a natural extension of the move toward virtualized infrastructure that has become the de facto enterprise platform. Here, however, the adoption of public cloud-based resources, encompassing compute capacity, storage and networks, is still in its infancy. The management and business challenges of this model are such that only a handful of businesses, typically Web-based start-ups, have been willing to attempt wholesale adoption.
For the majority there has been greater interest in applying the principles of cloud computing to their own existing infrastructure investments, where elastic capacity, rapid provisioning and flexible charging models (here applied internally), deliver significant benefits in abstracting the dependency between business applications and the underlying IT platform on which they run. Technically, it is then a short step to augmenting these private clouds with public cloud capacity when peaks in demand occur, in what is termed a hybrid-cloud model (see Figure 1 at right).
Building out this private cloud infrastructure is a project in progress for many larger enterprises, and Ovum believes that the balance between on-premise and cloud-based infrastructure will be a slow transition for the majority of organizations. This relative caution is driven by a combination of concerns that include security, regulatory compliance, business continuity, cost uncertainty, interoperability and quality of service, all of which must be addressed if the cloud model is going to make serious inroads into the enterprise IT landscape.
The Importance of Trust
Cisco’s Korn explains that if enterprises are to use cloud services to deliver critical business processes, then they will require the assurance of a trusted provider that is able to provide the necessary quality of service, reliability and security on which they can rely. Cisco believes that the choice of cloud provider will be dependent on these attributes, rather than simply on a lowest-cost commodity offering, and that for suppliers to achieve this goal, they must manage the end-to-end connection between provider and consumer, including servers, storage, switches and routers, network (both local and wide-area) and the associated management software.
Extending the monitoring and management of quality of service through the network and into the cloud environment can help cloud service providers to increase their value proposition. The network is unique in this role, as the only component that extends end-to-end, and will therefore be a critical component of both private and hybrid enterprise-class services, and of highly scalable public clouds. Implementing security, policy and performance management into the network layer is the most effective way to ensure quality of service, as it can be monitored along the entire delivery chain. The implication for service providers is that they must look to differentiate their offerings and to provide added value, and it is here that companies such as Cisco have an important role to play in the cloud ecosystem, by helping their service provider customers to build out these trusted services, from highly performant and highly secure IaaS propositions, through to complete SaaS solutions that integrate software, infrastructure and management functionality.
Cloud computing’s first semester has seen a rapid transition from the conceptual and merely curious, to eager experimentation and an understanding that this model will profoundly influence the future delivery of IT solutions and services for business, consumers and individuals alike. To take full advantage, enterprises will need to adapt their infrastructure, their processes and their skills, while providers must build out trusted, value-added services for their customers.
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