Cloud underpins smart cities, but under-supported among SMBs

Cloud computing plays an integral role in enabling smart economies, such as Singapore's smart nation push, but smaller enterprises are overwhelmed by its complexity and not getting sufficient attention from vendors.

Cloud plays an important role in enabling smart cities and big data analytics, but small and mid-sized businesses (SMBs) feel under-supported and overwhelmed by the complexity of managing cloud.

According to Wang Ko-Yang, executive vice president at Taiwan's Institute for Information Industry, most SMBs face several challenges when they adopt cloud computing. Such initiatives are often too expensive and complex, and difficult for SMBs to manage on their own.

Often stretched for resources, these smaller enterprises need the help of experts to guide them, but more often than not, they are often overlooked.

Wang noted that while SMBs accounted for more than 40 percent of private cloud deployment, they remained under-supported in a market landscape where most datacentres today, especially in the Asia-Pacific region, would direct much of their focus on catering to their top tier customers.

Because cloud typically would be complex to manage and require significant customisation, datacentre providers were more inclined to pay more attention to enterprises with more than 500 employees and bigger cheque books, he said.

He stressed, however, that SMBs played an important role in most economies could offer significant opportunities for cloud vendors. In Taiwan, for instance, they accounted for 99 percent of all enterprise and employed 98 percent of the local workforce. In the Asia-Pacific region, SMBs accounted for 97 percent of all businesses and employed more than 50 percent of the workforce. Furthermore, they contributed between 20 and 50 percent of their country's GDP.

Urging cloud vendors to provide better support for SMBs, Wang said the market potential for this enterprise segment was vast, spanning various components such as infrastructure, cloud enablement, support, and IT services.

According to a Parallels' September 2014 report, Singapore SMBs spent SG$520 million ($415.26 million) on cloud last year, putting most of their dollars in infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS).

Cloud behind Singapore's smart nation

The Singapore government, for one, is looking to cloud as a key enabler and foundation for the country's smart nation drive.

During his keynote at the show, Khoong Hock Yun, assistant chief executive of Singapore's Infocomm Development Authority (IDA), said the backbone infrastructure, which encompassed cloud and big data, was critical to support its goal to enable people, enterprises, and the government to collaborate.

Khoong said IDA had rolled out several initiatives to support its smart nation plan, including a data-as-a-service pilot last year that had since garnered 25 data providers offering some 70 datasets.

"Fostering clarity between data users and dataset providers continues to be one of our main goals to help the sector grow," he said, noting that one challenge, for instance, was determining the quality of datasets, which could be challenging since some private-sector providers required an upfront fee before providing access to their data.

In this aspect, he added that IDA introduced its Data Quality Metric guidelines to help assess, among other metrics, if a dataset was reliable, had proper relevance, and was accessible.

Khoong also emphasized the importance of cloud security, especially since this remained a key concern among businesses. Citing a January 2015 survey by Cloud Security Alliance, he said 82 percent of IT professionals in the Asia-Pacific region regarded cloud data security as an executive level concern.

IDA in 2013 established the Multi-Tier Cloud Security (MTCS) Singapore Standard to help cloud users better understand a cloud vendor's security capabilities, as well as choose the level of security they needed to deploy. To date, 21 cloud services have been certified under the MTCS, including Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services, and Inspire-Tech's EasiShare.

According to Khoong, the MTCS also had been fine-tuned to include clearer forms of security assurance, configuration security and control requirement, as well as more stringent audit procedures.

Wang noted that most governments worldwide were starting to realise the importance of making key datasets available to the public, and were doing so through APIs (application programming interfaces).

He pointed to the emergence of the API economy, in which organisations could generate revenue and profitability from APIs. He added that it would enable businesses to create value on top of their own services as well as improve process efficiency within their organisation.

Speaking to ZDNet on the sidelines of the conference, Riverbed's chief scientist and CTO Hansang Bae also underscored the importance of identifying network bottlenecks to ensure an enterprise's cloud deployment would not be compromised.

"The fundamental thing about cloud is that there should no difference between [running] on-premise and cloud...no difference in the metrics they collect or the troubleshooting methodology," Bae explained.

He noted that the CIO's main concern was that all applications his organisation needed remained up and running. "Most of them would think: If this app doesn't work, it's my a** on the line," he said. "So the SaaS needs to keep running...and they need to know where the problem is [if it doesn't]."

He added that cloud should be a "painless, seamless" extension of the organisation's datacentere, touting Riverbed's SteelHead WAN optimization technology as tools designed to facilitate this. With application the mainstay of most enterprises today, the vendor's offerings revolved around the application and on ensuring every application could move across the network to its intended destination.

Bae said: "We think of the app as imposing its will on the infrastructure [rather] than the infrastructure telling people where to put their apps." Each application within a cloud environment typically imposed different requirements on the available network bandwidth. WAN optimization tools such as SteelHead understood how each application worked and recognized what resources it would require to carry out its function, he said.

"You can troubleshoot the internet, basically, and if you can account for the packet, the end-user experience, including every browser click, then you can identify which service provide is at fault," Bae said. "In a cloud deployment, that security blanket is critical for companies."

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