The cloud is confusing. To me, that's a very strange statement to be making. As a journalist I find myself writing about the cloud every second day (or at least that’s how it feels). However, from a customer perspective, it’s still a buzz word.
Specifically, customers are confused by the differences between public and private clouds. They are not clear enough, and it's difficult finding accurate, consistent definitions across the industry.
Indeed, the problems don’t start with the cloud, either. Organisations are still confused at the early stages of virtualisation – the first tentative stepping blocks to cloud adoption.
“I think a lot of clients are confused on the idea of virtualising their infrastructure altogether, but cloud puts the icing on the cake,” Telarus CEO, Jules Rumsay, said.
“For a lot of the clients that we’re talking to, there’s a lack of comfort around the idea of virtualising their infrastructure, and moving towards things like virtual machines that are hosting their applications. How they do that without destabilising their infrastructure, where it might live, so whether they have it at their site in a datacentre, or whether they look at taking on some sort of third-party service.”
It’s not a good start when customers are already confused when taking the first tentative steps towards adopting a cloud model.
The lack of comfort contrasts against a desire for the dollars that can be saved on virtualised or cloud-based infrastructure. It means the customer is willing to listen to what the vendor or partner has to say, and allows an opportunity to dismiss that confusion that customers have.
“The goal is to acclimatise the organisation to ask ‘what’s actually out there?’ and at the same time most of them are undertake the next step beyond virtualisation,” Novell technology strategist, Paul Kangro, said. “With cloud, the compute becomes more grid-like, and the user deploys jobs into this grid – the way people think about how they run jobs, or how they run workloads, which they classically think about needs to change as well.”
The public and private debate
But stepping back to the seed of the problem – what are the core confusions that customers experience when talking about clouds is the public and private debate?
The basic definitions of public and private cloud are simple enough – it can’t be that that’s causing the confusion.
To take it simply, a public cloud is one accessed through a Web browser, where the hosting infrastructure is off-site, and organisations pay for access on a monthly, or data size, basis. Examples include Google or Salesforce.
Private clouds are similar, from a technology platform point of view, but are simply hosted within the organisation, and can only be accessed by those within the organisation. With private clouds, a datacentre is still required, but though virtualisation, and cloud technologies sitting on top, is still a path to efficiency.
On the surface, this is straightforward enough, but the problem is, the IT industry itself needlessly complicates matters.
“Cloud computing as a term became a natural rallying point,” Salesforce.com regional vice-president and marketing head, Jeremy Cooper, said.
“For some vendors, especially the incumbent ones, it represents a massive threat to business, because the expectations of the marketplace are changing, and in doing so those vendors are struggling for relevance, so it seems to be a natural reaction that everyone is now offering some form of cloud computing.”
Of course, from Salesforce’s perspective, there’s no need for a private cloud at all, and the industry would be much clearer if there was just the one type of cloud being pushed.
“The public cloud argument is why do you need a datacentre at all?” Cooper said.
“You think about a private cloud model, the burden is on the individual companies to implement their own security technologies, their own hardware technologies, virtualisation and those sorts of things.”
But the problem many customers have with public cloud computing is tied with security. While there might be a comfort level with using Google email, organisations might be less comfortable with sensitive data being hosted off-site.
“I may choose to run different workloads in that private, rather than the public cloud, depending again on the level of scalability required, and also the security model,” Novell’s Kangro said.
It might compound customer confusion, but these trends and concerns are giving rise to a third form of cloud – identifiable as a hybrid model cloud.
A hybrid cloud can be seen as infrastructure-as-a-service. An organisation like Melbourne IT, who offers business services in a cloud fashion, could be considered a hybrid cloud provider.
These various terms are becoming firmer – in terms of vision and description, according to Hitachi Data Systems senior marketing manager, Australia and New Zealand, Tim Smith.
“The challenge you’ve had is you’ve had all of these different existing models converging together and trying to jockey for position on what type of cloud is in this particular offering,” he said.
“And in the last couple of months, we’ve really started to see all of that being bedded down.”
It helps that there are being standards developed around cloud computing, to ensure that customers gain a consistent view, whether dipping into the technology for the first time, or changing providers for some reason.
“There are a number of standards – you’ve got a variety of different bodies working on this – I know from a storage point of view that SNIA is very actively involved in pulling that together,” Smith said.
Pulling the market in
Cloud remains a big opportunity for the channel. ‘Confusion’ can also mean ‘consultancy opportunities’, and from an engagement perspective it’s easy to make the case that customers need to adopt the new technology. Indeed, if anything the channel needs to hurry to meet the market demand.
“If we don’t look at cloud seriously, we will fall behind and business will just bypass the traditional IT and go to business cloud providers,” HP software and solutions strategic marketing for Asia-Pacific and Japan, Paul Schroeter, said.
“If you’ve got your service level agreements in place with the business units, you’re then in a good position to turn what’s the best way to source those services, whether it be built in-house, a tradition built-order application of business services, or go out in the cloud and find a public or private offering that might meet those needs more cost effectively,” he said.
Brennan head of marketing and product management, Nick McMenemy, likewise saw little reason to be concerned over any customer confusion.
“I think there’s a degree of education required, yes, but are we seeing it as a major inhibitor to take up? No, we’re not.”
“Giving you a six month view, I think you’ll see an increasing reliance on cloud computing – we understand a lot of customer objections, but we also understand how to help the customer understand. For instance, I had a guy talk to me recently and say ‘I think this public cloud stuff is rubbish', and I said ‘I don’t think you’re right. If we all thought public clouds were rubbish we wouldn’t have Gmail accounts or using Google docs.’”
So, yes, cloud computing might still confuse the odd customer, and will continue to do so until the IT industry can put up a unified front. Even still, there are plenty of opportunities to take advantage of.