The State of Cloud Computing: Getting Real in 2012

The
hype around cloud computing may have really taken off in 2010 (could you even
go to an airport without seeing an advertisement for the cloud?), but vendor
marketing was ahead of market adoption. With concerns around security,
accessibility and unexpected downtime (crashes like the one at Amazon EC3
continued to be news well into 2011), as well as the big question of whether to
adopt public or private cloud infrastructures and integrate it with existing
systems, businesses were cautious to adopt what was seen as a new way of doing
IT. In 2011, though, there was a big uptake in cloud computing models in all
sizes of companies – an uptake that is likely to continue into 2012 and beyond.

According
to Jeffrey M. Kaplan, founder and managing director of THINKstrategies, there
is no doubt that cloud computing took off this year in both the business and
consumer markets. Consumer initiatives like Apple’s iCloud helped to popularize
the idea of cloud, and big infrastructure vendors like Cisco Systems and HP (as
well as many others, big and small) solidified their own solutions portfolios
and certification programs to help drive more sales and deployment of private
and public cloud offerings.

Although
there is still confusion in the market about what exactly is cloud computing (a
common trend in 2010, but less so through 2011), most companies are now in
agreement that it’s a trend that’s here to stay, Kaplan said. Cloud computing
offers an intriguing alternative, and early adopters showed this year that they
have gained quick, tangible and measurable business benefits by moving some or
all of their applications to the cloud.

“The
more we hear about those success stories, the more it fuels interest and
adoption of the broader array of cloud services,” Kaplan said.

Many
businesses are still in pilot phases when it comes to the cloud, and it’s not
unheard of for individual departments to go rogue to speed up the process of
getting services up and running more quickly than traditional IT departments
may be capable of. Such end-users are proving the need for the cloud, and IT
departments are being forced to cope with the fact that they’re not the only
provider in their organizations any more.

As
IT and business units come into alignment on cloud initiatives, the most popular
cloud services are beginning to change. When cloud first became popularized,
the top cloud services were human resources and email, said Michelle Warren,
president of MW Research & Consulting. Top cloud applications are becoming
harder to identify because everything has moved to the cloud. Although
established businesses with plenty of traditional IT deployments may be slower
to move everything to the cloud, the smaller and more agile startups are now
able to run every type of business application in the cloud.

The
default standard, however, is the hybrid cloud, and both Kaplan and Warren said
hybrid cloud infrastructures, which integration both private, public and
traditional IT systems, are the present and the future of cloud computing
deployments. Much of the reason for that is the traditional IT investments that
have been made over the years, but there is still some concern over putting
mission-critical applications in the cloud.

“Initially,
it was companies like Amazon offering the public cloud, and then there were
large organizations that wanted enhanced security features, so they created
private clouds. Both are useful in their various respects. Private tends to be
much more expensive because they have to set up data centers and have the
management software and virtualization and hypervisors,” Warren said. “They
have to make those decisions. It can be quite cost-prohibitive. As cloud
technology advances and becomes a little bit less expensive, some companies
will have a private cloud and they’ll keep some applications in the private
cloud and they’ll put others out on the public cloud.”

Private
cloud costs are diminishing, which is making them more accessible to
businesses, she said.

The
consumerization of IT and the bring-your-own-device (BYOD) phenomena have also
had a hand in driving the adoption of cloud computing in business
organizations, Kaplan said. Mobility, in particular the adoption of tablets, is
helping to drive cloud adoption, and there’s a certain amount of viral
marketing starting from consumers and moving up through the ranks of their
employers, who are starting to see the benefits of cloud computing.

“That
more organic bottom-up process has actually helped to increase the success
rate,” Kaplan said.

Warren
noted that there’s a strong expectation that a lot of people will be getting
tablets for Christmas and that those tablets will end up in the enterprise on
January 3, 2012. End-users will expect to be able to use the new toys they
received from Santa to do things like check email and pull down files from the
corporate servers. If all goes as expected, IT departments will require a few
Aspirin early in the new year, but the cloud can make things easier.

A
key question around cloud in 2010 was related to how secure the technology was.
Through 2010, security concerns kept many businesses from adopting cloud, and
although security concerns never really go away, the worry over cloud security
has been reduced considerably. It doesn’t appear to be an inhibitor to adoption
any more. Vendors and cloud service providers made it a priority and relieved
many of those concerns.

“They’ve
done a very good job of safeguarding people’s data, and while there may have
been a case or two where there was some question of policy issues around proper
protection from a usage standpoint, the cloud industry has done a good enough
job that the security issue is not as acute as it once was. It’s subsided as a
major concern,” Kaplan said.

Naturally,
any smart customer is going to ask what security is offered and what
protections are in place of any cloud provider or service, but the security of
the cloud in general is no longer an issue of debate, he said.

The
larger debate now is what type of cloud is best and how it will tie into legacy
systems and software resources, Kaplan said. The integration of cloud with
existing IT investments is a top-of-mind priority now.

When
the hype around cloud computing first began, it appeared that public cloud
would be dominant, but as more security and advanced features were demanded,
private cloud caught up. Some businesses have opted for the community cloud,
which Kaplan defined as a shared cloud resource. However, the future of the
cloud is expected to be a hybrid, which is a blend of traditional IT in
addition to public and/or private cloud offerings. It’s the best choice for
businesses, he said.

“In
99% of the cases, unless you’re a startup greenfield situation, you’re probably
already going to have some systems and software in place that are relatively
stable and inexpensive to keep running,” Kaplan said. There’s no sense in
ripping out existing, functional and cost-effective IT systems to replace with
something new, whether it’s cloud or not.

Warren
agreed, calling hybrid a natural migration for businesses.

“I
think the future’s hybrid, for sure, because not everybody is going to want a
public cloud, not everybody is going to want a private cloud,” she said.

For
the channel, the cloud has provided a source of opportunity as well as a point
of tension between partners and vendors. There are plenty of opportunities for
all elements of the channel, even in the face of possible competition and
conflict with vendors (many of which made efforts to reduce or eliminate such
conflicts in 2011).

“There’s
a lot of debate going on right now. The channel can provide services and actual
set up the database if it’s a private cloud. The channel can be involved in
setting that up. And if they look to public or private, then they’re looking to
managing the data, accessing and securing it so they can provide managed
services,” Warren said. In many cases, it’s better for businesses to outsource
their cloud deployment and management to the channel because of the
complexities involved (and when doesn’t IT get more complicated?).

Kaplan
pointed to Cisco’s latest announcements regarding CloudVision as one
illustration of what’s happening in the market and how it affects the channel.
Both Cisco and HP solidified their cloud strategies and partner initiatives
this year. Even Salesforce.com started talking about how it would work with the
traditional channels to increase its business.

That
doesn’t make channel conflicts go away, but Kaplan was optimistic that the
cloud rules of engagement would become clearer in 2012. The industry is indeed
changing, and it’s not only the vendors that need to change to capitalize on
the new opportunities being presented. Channel partners find they have to
modify their own businesses to best take advantage of the new world of the
cloud.

 

 

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