Inside Track: CLOUD SERVICES – Service please

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1 October 2011 | 0

Irish businesses are more open than ever to the possibilities of cloud computing according to experts in the field, with private cloud, infrastructure as a service (IaaS), software as a service (SaaS), as well as accounting and customer relationship management (CRM) services attracting enormous attention.

Commenting that some of cloud’s popularity can be attributed to companies being "asked to do more with less", Peter Trevaskis, enterprise marketing manager with Dell Ireland said, "When it comes to private cloud organisations want to reap the benefits but they also want to extract the full value of investments already made. As a result we see many adopting an ‘evolutionary’ rather than ‘revolutionary’ approach."

Speaking about the every-growing popularity of SaaS management tools in particular, Trevaskis added that e-mail management solutions for one are finding fans. Taking a recent example of their effectiveness, he pointed out how clients who utilise this service would not have been affected by the recent problems for Research in Motion (RIM) and its ‘Blackberry black out’. "In this case, this solution works not only as a backup to RIM but in conjunction with it."

Francis O’Haire, technical director with Data Solutions said the expansive area of IaaS as has been the main interest for his clients since the beginning of the year. "Many organisations now have servers which are four to five years old or even older, and they’re under pressure to replace them in order to avoid failures and costly downtime," he said.




"In the past and in better economic times, these organisations would have just replaced the aging infrastructure with modern high powered servers and taken the opportunity to implement virtualisation and a storage area network (SAN) to provide flexibility and high availability. Certainly for smaller businesses this large capital outlay is no longer an option and they are looking to their IT partners for a better and more cost effective solution."

O’Haire said this has given rise to clients looking for affordable pay-as-you-go solutions, one of which is the Silverline IaaS offering. He added that thanks to the "economies of scale" involved in cloud infrastructure, companies can have the benefit of running their IT on "secure and highly available state-of-the-art servers, storage and networking without the capital cost associated with owning the equipment". It is, he added, basically a case of telling businesses "why buy the cow when you can just buy the milk".

Meanwhile, Asystec director Brendan McPhillips told ComputerScope that few of its clients have looked at solutions outside of those which are now considered are tried and tested. "In most cases it tends to be those activities which take the greatest level of effort to maintain in-house which have been targeted for the move to the cloud," he said. "These would include intrusion prevention, backup and mail environments."

McPhillips added that the company has a number of customers who are using platform-as-a-service (PaaS), primarily for test and development requirements. For Mark Cawley, managed IT principal with eircom, there are still quite a lot of clients, both corporate and medium-sized, who need to find out what the cloud means to them. "There’s a lot of conversation about the topic but most businesses are still utilising it primarily for web hosting, test and development platforms or proof of concept while some other people are using it as alternative means for disaster recovery (DR)," he said. "The pay-per-use model makes having a DR platform a possibility for many clients who may have thought it was out of their reach."

Asked which offering were attracting attention at present, sales director at TEKenable, Mike McCarthy told ComputerScope that he’s noticed major software vendors beginning the process of "transitioning their current product ranges unto a cloud service model", providing a structured and clear process for clients to move over to cloud.

McCarthy also added that there are signs that more infrastructure providers are "rolling out increasingly sophisticated portal technologies that allow clients manage their private and public cloud infrastructure in a more personalised and abstracted way"; something which he says "reflects business process and predictable costing".

"Both of these initiatives are and will go a long way to opening the way for a larger wave of migration to cloud as the benefits become better understood and measurable and the normalisation process of cloud and its uses begins to take root," he added.

Richard O’Brien, IT director with Triangle, meanwhile commented that while many businesses may have a virtual infrastructure in place, "the next step really is automation; providing self provisioning capabilities to their user-base". They can, he said, "find a lot more of automation options available from companies like VMware, and products like the vCloud Director are putting a framework around a lot of what’s been talked about previously".

Dr Chris Coughlan, head of HP professional services’ Worldwide Cloud Computing Innovation Centre in Galway, felt there are three clear cloud trends over the past year. Firstly, offerings that are presented with a "commercial model of no up front costs" are becoming very popular. While "scalability of solution, across multiple continents, particularly where cloud is concerned" is also attracting interest. Finally, he said business intelligence (BI) visualisation is proving attractive, adding, "we can demonstrate the possibility of meshing data across multiple services and delivering it back to the client in the form of BI".

CRM was the focus of attention for Sage Ireland’s Brian McIntyre, who is the company’s head of research and development. He said there’s a "strong demand" at present for online applications offering this service. "Online CRM gives business access to sophisticated CRM without the upfront capital costs and gives employees who are not based in the office access to the companies CRM system."

Fraser Kyne, technology specialist in the cloud and data centre for Citrix Systems, went along similar lines to McIntyre, saying that, in terms of SaaS "the options are really clear and the risks are really low", particularly in an area like CRM. Clients have, he added, "got their heads around" SaaS, and "when it comes to people dipping their toes in the water, that’s more in the area of IaaS and PaaS."

Sage representative McIntyre also noted that online accounting applications are getting a good reception from smaller businesses in particular. "They (clients) want to get up and running quickly and don’t want to tie up a lot of capital in IT, so subscription-based pricing is very appealing. In addition these businesses are generally run by owner managers who like the ease of use of online accounting applications and the ability to access their data from any device with a connection to the Internet."

Looking towards 2012, eircom’s Cawley commented that the changes he is expecting in the industry are primarily focused on IaaS, with two main developments in particular. "The first," he commented, "is the ability to move between clouds. To start a virtual server on your own private cloud and then to be able to move it across to the public cloud, that will be something that will interest people."

The second big change, he said, will be "the impact of cloud brokerage services". "For example," he said, "people who come to eircom may have a number of different requirements. Those demands may suit our own cloud-delivered services like our managed network service or our infrastructure service but some we will have brokered in from other players in the market. The ability to go to single place and have all the services you want delivered, provisioned and reported on in the same manner will be attractive to a lot of clients."

TEKenable’s McCarthy meanwhile felt that wherever cloud offerings are heading over the next year to 18 months, the big debate is whether "private or public cloud will dominate in the years ahead". He added that whichever solution becomes prevalent, long-term success will only be assured if there’s a structured process that "allows clients to transition their entire IT infrastructure and assets over to a cloud platform in a seamless, predictable and structured way, and not just about adopting new offerings already delivered through a cloud model".

Treading similar ground to Cawley’s cloud brokerage point, McCarthy continued by saying, "The current market is very fragmented as leading vendors seek to create their own sandboxes, either in software, hardware or both. As the message of cloud becomes better understood, a natural gravity will draw various providers of infrastructure, implementation, connectivity and project management together to give their clients an entire suite of required services to transform any given enterprise over to cloud.

"No one vendor will be able to complete this process on its own," he added, "therefore a new wave of focused system integrators and consultancy organisations in alliance with infrastructure partners will begin to appear, and when that happens the transition to cloud will gain in pace."

For Citrix’s Kyne, a growth in "specialised community cloud" strategies will also be evident in the next year or so. The concept sees cloud offerings tailored towards individual industries, as several organisations form a particular business space such as finance, the public sector or otherwise, share a virtual community space between them.

Kyne said "It’s exciting for both providers and consumers. For instance, industries will have specific compliance requirements unique to them and then they can go to a cloud provider who can potentially offer them something which meets those compliance requirements. It’s really good from the providers’ perspective as it differentiates them in the cloud market."

For his part, Sage’s McIntyre noted that the next year to 18 months will see "strong integrations between online business applications and third party services". He added, "We expect to see more and more online services such as bank data or payments beginning to seamlessly integrate with online business applications."

Elsewhere, Coughlan of HP said the cloud services that will be most successful in the near future will be those who "reward participation". Elaborating, Coughlan said, "if you choose to share your data, any services that access and consume and generate revenue though using your data will reward you in-kind."

Looking towards the year ahead, Dell’s Trevaskis said that "easy to adopt and easy to manage IaaS for development, burst and hybrid requirements" will be popular. He added that another trend to watch out for is "open architectures which integrate with on-premise investments already made".

In similarly territory to Coughlan and Trevaskis, Triangle’s O’Brien said that he thinks the relatively straightforward business continuity faction of cloud services will "push on even more" over the coming months. "That ability to replicate at an IP level and offer real time objective (RTO) and recovery point objective (RPO) numbers on individual virtual machines is great," he said.

O’Brien also said there are a number of service providers "both internationally and locally" providing high standard solutions in this area that will provide the initial step for many into the cloud infrastructure."

Looking at the year ahead, Asystec director, McPhillips made the case that cloud service offerings are getting more complex with more integrated offerings. Giving an example he said, he chose Oracle which is now providing back-end database, middleware and identity management "tightly integrated to allow new service delivery efforts to be focused on the development and deployment rather than platform or application integration". He also pointed out the example of Rackspace’s platform, hosting and application services which "provide PaaS and SaaS point solutions".

McPhillips continued, "A gap still exists between the level of offerings from most cloud providers and the readiness of organisations to take advantage of more complex and integrated cloud services. Customers need to focus on making their environments ‘cloud ready’ to take advantage of any new developments. We would," he concluded, "expect this gap to continue to close over the next 12-18months when we would see a broader acceptance of looking to the cloud for provision of business critical environments."

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