Got to admit (don’t tell my manager!), when I first became involved in cloud computing, I was more of a skeptic than an advocate. There was a lot of hype around (and still is), and proponents of the “cloud will solve all your IT challenges” approach perhaps don’t realize this mantra has been used all too often with technology innovation. I’m also concerned by the often singular view of cloud computing implicit in the various marketing initiatives across the industry – you would think that cloud was only about moving applications to third party cloud/software as a service providers.
So what changed me from a skeptic? First, does Cloud solve some real problems? And secondly, what does the market data tell us, with respect to both cloud computing as an approach, and the perceived challenges that we will all face as we deploy, and transition to, cloud.
Cloud computing does indeed span more than third party outsourcing options. The so-called SPI model identifies 3 layers – Software as a service, Platform as a service, and Infrastructure as a service – and all have value. Here I will give you some thoughts on Infrastructure as a Service, and draw out some real world solutions from the apparent complexity.
Cloud Infrastructure as a Service, or IaaS, implemented as a private cloud, can solve some common IT problems, that I’ve seen in many organizations. For example, in many organizations, you will find there are lots of separate software development teams. They develop and test their software on separate, non shared (in most cases) sets of computers. In fact, most teams have multiple sets of infrastructure – for developing, then testing, then scale testing their products under development. Three sets of infrastructure – some of which may be only used for (at best) 25% of a project life cycle. Cloud computing gives the opportunity to rapidly re-purpose compute resources so that they can be efficiently, securely and reliably shared between multiple teams. Likewise, most IT systems have 1:1 backup systems – I observed this in many Telecommunications Service Providers across the world, in my previous Cisco role in Network Management – for each IT system, there is a backup system that spends most of its time doing nothing, awaiting a failure in the primary. Cloud – with rapid provisioning capabilities – enables customers to reliably create a shared environment – so that when a failure does occur, 1:1 backup systems are no longer required – in fact, based upon a degree of risk, a new backup system can be rapidly re-provisioned, and capacity extended, from a shared failover pool. What a cost saving! Wow that is something worth talking about. Similarly Virtual Desktop Infrastructure (VDI) solutions, delivered from the cloud, have the potential to revolutionize the enterprise desktop, delivering corporate security solutions to the all too common “lost laptop” (side note: often caused by sales reps leaving their laptops in the back seat of the car, maybe even covered up, but leaving their convertible roof down when they leave their car J ).
Each of these examples, Disaster Recovery into the cloud, VDI, consolidated Development/Test environments – and there are others – show how cloud – without the hype – can deliver significant cost savings in IT services delivery. These example also illustrate how most, if not all, enterprises should be considering cloud computing approaches for their IT services delivery. And this is before we consider other cloud offerings, including for example the ability to outsource non-core offerings from the IT services catalog – witness some of the large moves that some public sector and enterprise organizations have made into cloud office applications (e.g. Google Apps). These undoubtedly free up internal resources from low value (but essential) routine business applications such as E-mail to higher priority, less well understood, strategic IT priorities, that have greater need of your expensive IT personnel’s talents.
The second area that changed my mind on cloud computing was an in-depth customer survey we ran in Cisco Services earlier this year, where we collated responses, from over 700 of our customers, to a detailed questionnaire. This survey examined current customer involvement in cloud computing, their timelines, target use cases, and migration challenges. This survey told us, for example, that over 25% of respondents were involved in at least developing their cloud computing strategy today. That internal private cloud was a priority for more customers than software as a service adoption (somewhat surprisingly in my opinion – but that’s the great thing about real data – it makes you realize that your opinions are just that – opinions). And that disaster recovery into the cloud, compute as a service, storage as a service, and VDI were key initiatives that they planned to adopt cloud for.
Via this survey, customers also helped us understand their relative priorities for cloud adoption, and the challenges they anticipated in realizing a cloud computing architecture. For example – agreeing with the cynic in me – customers told us that further increasing their degree of virtualization was more important than migrating to the various forms of cloud computing. This is important – and places cloud in a correct context, in my view. No surprise that customers rated security as a #1 issue when architecting a cloud solution. Having said that, in Cisco we are always looking at the broader perspective – so from customer projects to date realizing cloud solutions, we recognize that automated orchestration is also less well understood as a genuine barrier to cloud adoption – witness our collaboration with BMC to solve this, reinforcing the role that partners play in Cisco Services solutions.
What other challenges to cloud adoption did customers highlight, areas where they may need additional assistance to decide and execute upon? Formulating a financially justifiable cloud strategy was one major aspect highlighted – specifically assistance to help then evaluate the return on investment (RoI) and total cost of ownership (TCO) of alternate solutions; an understanding of the operational process and people impacts of adopting automated cloud solutions ; and surprisingly – in some parts of the world – bandwidth and reliability of internet access were mentioned by some as a barrier to cloud – suggesting a need for solutions such as Cisco Wide Area Application Services.
Quite a few more aspects were highlighted by customers as being significant challenges in their adoption of cloud computing solutions – I can outline these on another day. What are your key challenges? – I’d love to love to hear, to see how it matches (or otherwise!) our research.