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Avanade MD makes his case for cloud computing

Cloud computing is an evolution that will take place over time, but there are definite ways for companies to take advantage of cloud today, says Craig Dower, managing director, Avanade Australia.
Craig Dower, Managing Director, Avanade Australia

Craig Dower, Managing Director, Avanade Australia

With Microsoft increasingly talking up cloud computing it is not unexpected that Avanade, the consultancy dedicated to using the Microsoft platform, and which was co-founded by Microsoft, is starting to talk up the benefits of running services in the cloud. To get a little more of a local insight where he thinks the market is positioned and what Avanade can offer organisations, we spoke to Craig Dower, managing director, Avanade Australia.

Why is Avanade talking up cloud computing?

As a relatively new term, there is quite a bit of confusion around what cloud computing is and different people interpret it in different ways. Although the technologies have been around for some time, it is the way they are now coming together that makes it a viable platform. Much of the discussion to date has been technical. We thought it would be useful to have a discussion about the business value of cloud computing – what does cloud enable and where might it be best applied? Customers are asking us how they should assess whether they are ready for cloud, and how to get started in cloud [computing].

Cloud computing is an evolution that will take place over time, but there are definite ways for companies to take advantage of cloud today. Companies need to be thinking about how they might manage the transition to cloud and where it sits as an option for them. They should be asking themselves what computing resources should be owned and managed internally, which might be owned but managed by a third party and which should be provisioned from the cloud.

How much local experience in cloud computing and SaaS do you offer? And how serious are you?

We’re very serious. It’s early times so few players have a lot of experience, anywhere. Look for more to come on details about our cloud based offerings targeted at helping customers realise the benefit.

Microsoft has a number of online offerings (current and emerging) that we believe companies can begin to take advantage of today – technologies like Microsoft Exchange Online, Microsoft SharePoint Online, Live Meeting Online, etc. We will be announcing more about our initiatives in this space soon.

Avanade has extensive experience helping companies migrate across platforms. We believe that expertise will play well for those companies seeking to migrate from on-premise to cloud technologies, and other derivatives.

As a Microsoft shop, why should customers talk to you before the Microsoft Azure platform is released?

Microsoft Online is available now. Azure will have many other features and benefits for developers that Microsoft Online does not provide. So, our counsel to customers is to investigate what advantages Microsoft Online and other cloud offerings offers today while developing a longer term strategy on what Azure might mean to them. We would suggest customers begin experimenting, build a point of view, then consider how this can be a part of their roadmap for the medium to longer term.

In a recent survey sponsored by your firm, you asked ‘How has the economic downturn since summer 2008 impacted your use of cloud computing?’ Some 44% of Australians said it increased it. Why do you think this is so? Is it perceived as a costs reduction tool?

Good question. We don’t know specifically as we didn’t get that data from the survey. What we do know is: the vast majority of companies are looking to technology to help reduce costs (rather than just reducing technology costs themselves). Costs aren’t the only consideration. Cloud computing will enable companies to push commodity-type software like email, portals, etc. giving them further opportunity to focus on technologies that truly add differentiation.

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What apps do you think are best suited to cloud computing? And what should remain in-house?

Identifying what’s best is in the intersection of what the platforms provide and what services an enterprise can move to with the least risk. For most customers today, that’s messaging, portals and CRM. Workloads that can uniquely leverage the infinite scale of the cloud – batch/grid, conversions – are also good candidates. Where there is significant IP, in-house skills, unique business processes – things that are distinct competitive differentiators, and may have great complexity – these would more likely continue to remain in-house (although they wouldn’t always need to reside on company owned and managed infrastructure). So, we are likely to see a set of hybrid models.

Why should companies listen to the cloud computing message today when ASPs failed spectacularly post dot com boom?

Companies in the ASP market were mainly start-ups whereas the cloud computing providers are all very large and have the resources to build massive data centres with the vast amounts of storage and computing capacity required to service millions of customers reliably.

Some more thoughts on this include:

Supply side

  • Availability of affordable and scalable bandwidth (not available to ASP’s)
  • Commodotisation and standardisation of infrastructure – hardware, storage, operating platforms, virtualisation (dramatic changes since ASPs), plus the compute fabric (e.g. grid)
  • Open standards, and evolution of architectures and technologies (such as middleware) to enable cross platform integration (in its infancy then)
  • Multi-tenant capabilities (in its infancy in ASP days)
  • Flexibility of approaches – subscription pricing, unit pricing, transaction pricing (evolving, and will continue to do so)

Demand side

  • Ongoing need for productivity and efficiency gains (even more so as a result of GFC)
  • Standardisation, rationalisation and virtualisation of platforms (has vastly simplified data centres and enabled potential for commoditisation)
  • Business desire to focus on core and areas of innovation/differentiation (again, even more so as a result of GFC)
  • Greater sophistication in purchasing (from big-bang outsourcing, to selective outsourcing, to off-shoring, to blended teaming, growth in procurement power) – companies have become much better at separating core from non-core, and looking at IT needs in both a more holistic and also a more segmented way.