Roundtable: The cloud's silver lining

Roundtable: The cloud's silver lining

Cloud computing is the latest IT industry buzzword, but what does it really mean, and how will it effect customer procurement today and tomorrow? ARN recently brought together a panel of industry representatives to discuss the opportunities and challenges.

“Cloud is a buzzword – it’s just about how people enable that service. It’s service-oriented business delivery.” Shadi Haddad, Ethan Group

“Cloud is a buzzword – it’s just about how people enable that service. It’s service-oriented business delivery.” Shadi Haddad, Ethan Group

Nadia Cameron, ARN (NC): What is cloud computing?

Darren McCullum, EMC (DMc): It’s as much a commercial model and approach to having IT delivered, as it is a mindset change. Rather than having your focus on the IT assets and infrastructure you’re deploying, it may be that you need an outcome delivered, and you’re less wedded to the infrastructure and bits and pieces that deliver that, and more wedded to the outcome. So I can find somebody either internally or elsewhere that can deliver that outcome for me not with disregard to, but with less regard to, what’s underpinning that. You’ll sign up for service levels and some infrastructure is provided with that.

Ronnie Altit, Dimension Data (RA): A lot of it’s to do with service delivery. Cloud is like everything we do in IT – we tend to give things names because it makes it easier for everybody to understand them, but the reality is we’ve probably been doing it for a long time already. One could argue Hotmail was originally a cloud service – it was on-demand mail, it just wasn’t at an enterprise level. What we’re doing now is taking consumerisation of IT and moving it into the enterprise; so things we do at home we now expect to do in the office. And what we’re seeing is the onset of the term cloud to mean many different things: It could be provision of a service from a third-party services provider; it could be provisioning it yourself internally, ala vSphere, and running that internal cloud across the office; or it could be what we used to do with Citrix, where Citrix was the ‘cloud’ for remote access. There are so many different things you can throw into the bucket as cloud, but ultimately it is service-based delivery of software, solutions and architecture to the business.

Linus Lai, IDC (LL): You’re right – a lot of the infrastructure built for consumer services is making it through to the enterprise today. You can open up a whole topic on internal clouds and external service provisioned clouds, but the key feature here is they’re all instantly shared and available in minutes. It used to take days or weeks to get these resources, even if you went to a hardware vendor and asked for an on-demand or utility type of service. I think that’s one very key criteria to the cloud discussion.

NC: Do you all agree quick access is driving cloud computing take-up today?

Simon Hum, HP (SH): At the end of the day, technology design aims to meet that complexity. What we are talking about [with cloud] is very virtual access and it has to be scalable to the millions. We need to look at things that are instantaneous. The other thing that’s important is what outcome those organisations are looking for, and the service-level agreements.

Andre Kemp, VMware (AK): There are other things that have nothing to do with IT in general, which is the services and how I interact with normal day-to-day stuff – entertainment, getting the groceries or whatever. To me, the ability to define everyday life is essentially what you’re trying to do by delivering cloud computing to the masses. Frankly, that’s not going to happen in our lifetimes, but it’s something we will eventually get to by natural technology evolution. Fifty years from now, all those things will be there – I’ll go to a shop and have a really switched-on online ordering experience, and it will be provided from a variety of different places with various revenue streams and I won’t see the providers. From a business point of view, you won’t be buying a CRM system – it’ll be ubiquitous access and you’ll just go and buy some data, and the provider will manage it and present it in a view you like. But for our purposes today, service-oriented infrastructure is what we’re all trying to say. The vSphere answer is about providing the building blocks to allow that type of infrastructure and at VMware, we believe this is what people would like to do.

Tony Wilkinson, Technical Architecture Solutions (TW): One of the key things around cloud is security service-level engagement – what it is you purchase as an end-user? As a provider, it’s about how you recover it. And if I’m looking to offer this great mass of infrastructure, which is rapidly scalable, how do I recoup the cost of that? So there are a lot of things out there that have to be addressed. The cloud concept really is about providing a base infrastructure that can be rapidly scalable, flexible in its duration of life for individual machine service, and provided either internally or externally. But there’s also software-as-a-service, which is part of the cloud, there is an application and development layer, then there is an OS layer. I find cloud too wide a term.

Tony Heywood, ComputerCorp (TH): The panacea we’re all after is a partnership with our customers, and cloud computing is an opportunity for that. Enterprise is probably different to the market ComputerCorp focuses on, which is SMB and mid-tier, but the customers we provide a managed service to don’t want to do IT, they want to do their business. Cloud computing gives them the ability to do their business, and to develop a partnership with a specialist outsourcer. A customer doesn’t care what’s behind that, they want an SLA and performance output.

RA: There’s something to be said for that. By extension, it’s almost bringing IT infrastructure to where telephony is today. You expect dial-tone and you don’t care how you get it – it could be via ADSL, copper, fibre or Skype – you just want to make a phone call and you expect to be able to do so. I think that’s what’s happening now – businesses are just expecting IT to be there. How it gets delivered doesn’t matter.

TH: The term cloud computing is new, but telcos have been drawing clouds for 30 years.

TW: The hype is that cloud computing is something really big, so you think it’s for enterprise. But I think when it comes down to adoption, where you’ll see it adopted today will be SMB and the mid-size market. I’m an SMB and I use cloud in the software-as-a-service space.

Andrea Della Mattea, Insight (ADM): It’s an interesting prospect for start-ups, so companies coming together or starting up – rather than having to sink all that investment into capital infrastructure, now there’s a viable alternative to get things up and running much faster.

RA: What we’re saying here is cloud is synonymous with external service provisioning, which it’s not necessarily.

Dylan Morison, Cisco Systems (DM): It’s the service utility model of some sort, whether you’re running internally or externally. The service could be anything – firewalls, servers – but it’s a more optimised and efficient model. It’s like power – you give that to Energy Australia because it is more efficient at running that service. The key about cloud is freedom of choice and having a consistent manner of doing it. I can now go from Energy Australia to some other provider because there is a standard. That’s what will make it go faster. Back on the point around start-up companies: This whole model will accelerate innovation because you are getting it out to more people, who are accessing more services in a more cost-effective manner.

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