Case of the common cloud

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7 July 2011 | 0

The outsourcing and managed services space is more dominated by cloud services than ever. According to several industry experts, future vendor developments will continue to revolve around the cloud, as client-demand for the concept matches innovation in the area.

Avnet Technology Solutions’ cloud specialist for Europe, Stephen Ennis, put it quite eloquently when told ComputerScope that the past 12 months he and his company, like many others, “have seen a huge increase in the desire of organisations to reap the much discussed benefits of cloud computing”.

Of these benefits, there were three which stood out for Ennis. “There’s the pay-as-you-go model – pay for the services which are actually consumed and not those which might be required. Then there’s elasticity which the ability to flex resources to match the business need, putting the business first.” Then finally, he added, there’s the ‘seemingly’ infinite scalability offered by cloud acting as a significant driver.

Ergo chief executive officer, John Purdy, made the interesting comment that the big change now regarding cloud is perception. In terms of outsourcing and managed services, the innovations that are going on at present “aren’t particularly different from what went before”.

 

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“From a technical perspective and from a delivery perspective, we and others have been offering off premises solutions for years. But unlike previously,” he said, “clients now see it as becoming a utility like gas or electricity; a mainstream concern as opposed to something coming in the wings.”

ICT DESTINY
Jimmy Kehoe, director of sales and marketing with Datapac made the point that “back-up to the cloud” has accelerated dramatically in the past 12 to 18 months. Kehoe continued by saying that he and his colleagues are now, “regularly seeing clients of all sizes remove their tape drives and rely 100% in cloud-based backup solutions from organisations like KeepItSafe and EMC’s Mozy”.

Strencom’s Fergal O’Connor, director, cloud services, made the assertion that the service level agreement (SLA) has “become the weapon for enterprises to control their ICT destiny” over the last year.

Elaborating, O’Connor noted that private cloud models in particular are allowing service providers to offer strong configurable SLAs which enable enterprises to “retain control and management” in the areas where it makes business sense.

“Today managed services are expected to provide cloud service management tools facilitating the choice of only the components you need, when you need them, and for as long as you need them,” added O’Connor.

On a similar point, cloud application reporting services were mentioned by Kehoe as being big movers in the last year in the outsourcing and managed services’ space. “This service monitors the SLA that a customer’s cloud provider is supplying to them. If the service drops outside [business] hours or if a client’s connection to the service is getting congested, you can notify them before the application starts to degrade.”

MANAGED PRINT SERVICES
Asked about the impact of the cloud on the outsourcing and managed services space, Martin Deignan, director of sales and marketing with OKI made the point that the development of cloud related services has made the provision of managed print services “easier and more efficient”.

The OKI representative added that management tools are now available which remotely and securely monitor customers’ printing devices for service trouble-shooting and consumables requirements. All this, he says, enables a pre-emptive response from companies such as themselves.

Those using such services can, he said, “securely divest themselves of the work, inconvenience and various intangible soft costs associated with internal printer service and consumables management”.

WRAP AROUND
Head of managed services at Decision Support Systems (DSS), Barney Austen makes the point that, for him, there are two main areas attracting attention from his clients at present.

“Firstly,” he said, “The opportunity to wrap managed services around the cloud offerings, such as Microsoft Office365, providing the customer with a complete outsource of both the application and all support around it.” Secondly, he said the opportunity to provide “outsourced PC management and monitoring services” using the cloud-based PC management and security service, Microsoft Windows Intune, is also having a major impact in the marketplace.

Infinity Technology’s Michael Corr was one of the few dissenting voices, when he noted that some clients are choosing not to work towards the cloud. “Particularly in the SME sector,” the Infinity director said, “the main reason they’re looking at the cloud is cost. However, once you run through the total cost of ownership the cloud can end up being more expensive. But, where security is a concern and where the private cloud can be funded by a company, that’s where the sales will continue to come from.”

SECURITY
Security, as Corr readily admitted, is becoming a major concern for companies. With one eye on the year ahead, Ennis commented that “one of the inhibitors of cloud adoption today is the perceived issue regarding security”.

He added, “It’s about security of data and security of access.” These concerns might not be around for much longer though. As Ennis pointed out, “Over the coming year we expect to see more federated security solutions which allow organisations to grow their data centre to leverage a public cloud service without the concerns around authentication and access control. So Authentication-as-a-Service and Audit-as-a-Service type offerings will help increase the speed of cloud adoption by reducing one of the current inhibitors.”

Looking towards the next 18 months, Trilogy Technologies’ chief technology officer, Neil Stone-Wigg also told ComputerScope that security will be a focal point for innovation. “By making more and more of the functionality and proactive management visible to clients,” he said, “the decision to entrust the responsibility to an external support company becomes simpler-the more they can see, the more comfort they can deride from that visibility.

Stone-Wigg went on to say that the major innovations that will make their mark over and above this are “all around managed security”. He added, “As the boundaries of networks become more blurred, with the introduction of the cloud, or mobile devices such as tablet PCs, the management of the security aspects around this will become paramount.”

The Trilogy Technologies CTO would also make the point that, “managed security will, in 18 months time, be the foundation to build all other managed service solutions around”. For his part, Datapac’s Kehoe meanwhile said managed security "is going to become pervasive” over the next year to 18 months.

“With security such a major concern for chief information officers,” continued Kehoe, “and the skill-set required to keep an environment secure becoming harder to maintain, outsourcing security to a specialist makes more sense.” The Kehoe said services such as firewall management, vulnerability assessments, intrusion detection/prevention and log management are becoming more and more popular in reaction to all this.

OBSOLETE
Turning his attention to the future, Strencom’s cloud expert O’Connor noted that there is a general feeling amongst his colleagues that the blur between managed, outsourced or cloud services will become “obsolete” in the next year to 18 months. This, he said, will be replaced by a “clear contained service offering”.

Giving a few details, O’Connor said that this offering will be a remote private cloud service where an external service provider will be contracted to instigate, manage and extend this service. “In essence, it will be the platform for enterprises to adopt new cloud service offerings as they evolve.”

Continuing down this road, O’Connor revealed that this will mean the service provider will need to provide “seamless connectivity” to enable optimum bandwidth for enterprises to confidently access their cloud service. Without this strategic ICT infrastructure in place organisations, will be hard pressed to adopt a cloud innovation roadmap, he stated.

“New state of the art IP communications infrastructure will be implemented. Financial innovation will be key to these next generation managed service propositions. These will be financed through operating rather than capital budgets, so the cloud model will prevail,” added O’Connor.

Avnet’s Ennis, meanwhile, also felt it important to mention that improvements in network access will have a significant impact on cloud adoption as we move into 2012. “As bandwidth and speeds rise, and the reliability of public networks improve, access to data on the cloud over the network will become more common,” he commented.

INFRASTRUCTURE AND APPLICATIONS
Weighing up the rest f 2011 and on into 2012, Ergo CEO Purdy said that there will be a “race” on for developments in the “usual areas” such as cloud-based infrastructure and applications. “But,” he added, “I think also we’re going to see a major move towards self service computing in the cloud. Vendors will be thinking about building cloud solutions to suit the needs of the client and they can then run these services themselves.”

Speaking from the company’s East Point Business Park-base, Purdy said that he thinks “this type of utility provision is particularly suited to those in the services, utility or even e-Government sectors. People dealing with a large pool of varied, potential clients would benefit from such tools.

John Kennedy, sales and marketing director with HiberniaEvros made the point that many of the clients he’s talking to at present are looking for “managed services across the board”. Previously an exception rather than the norm, Kennedy said this is a trend that will only develop further over the coming year.

“When you look at what people want, a lot of them are really looking for a good IT partner more than anything else.” The complexity of this partnership, he added, comes down to the clients own capability in-house.

“Some people want a complete outsource and ourselves or someone similar will essentially become their IT department,” said Kennedy. “That’s right up from answering calls from end users to handling a ‘top priority escalation’ in times of emergency. Clients have more faith that this can be handled within the cloud.

“This will,” he added, “become more important to pay attention to as the concept of 24/7 is the big thing in the next year. For those offering managed services it will be about making sure everything is running exactly as it should all the time.”

BUSINESS ENABLERS
Austen of DSS divided his attention across two main areas when asked about the prospects of the year ahead for those in the outsourcing and managed services space.

He said the first trend that will have an impact is the continued desire for internal IT departments to act as “business enablers” instead of “just being seen as an expensive cost centre”. With finite resources, he maintained, IT managers are continually looking for mechanisms that will allow this focus.

“The purpose of an internal IT department will continue to transition away from the standard support function by engaging in outsourcing of all non-core activities,” he added. “Services provision and outsourcing is becoming increasingly commoditised allowing IT managers to achieve a strong value proposition from their service provider,” he said.

Second up for Austen is the exponential growth of service providers delivering managed services around the cloud offerings. Expanding on his point, Austen said, “Cloud takes the responsibilities for ICT infrastructure from the both the internal IT team and also the service providers who traditionally provided those services.

“These support services will be replaced by service centre provision and application support for cloud-based solutions. The focus will move from keeping the infrastructure alive to ensuring the business is achieving benefit from their application layers.

Concluded Austen, “The most likely evolution of the cloud environment will be a transition to a mix of private and public cloud defined by the services that are being used within an organisation.”

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