SINGAPORE--Amid conflicting reports about cloud computing market players are putting out today, businesses need to realize the "revolution" behind cloud is its ability to offer simplicity in IT deployment and provisioning, lower sunk costs and consistent user experience across different platforms.
Brian Prentice, research vice president at Gartner, said awareness of cloud computing has been rapidly increasing. According to a survey of CIOs the research firm conducts annually, cloud computing has climbed up the list of hot technologies IT heads are looking at, from non-existent at the end of 2007 to second place by end-2009.
Prentice added, though, that awareness does not equate to understanding how cloud can be deployed in a manner that provides disruptive, cost-saving technologies to aid business growth and operations. Many CIOs surveyed so far merely hear the term being bandied about frequently but don't know what to do about cloud, he said during a media roundtable hosted by Microsoft here Wednesday.
This confusion is caused mainly by the different and, oftentimes, conflicting stories that IT vendors are propagating when it comes to cloud computing, Prentice said. These stories revolve around different definitions, deployment models, technology features and returns on investment (ROI), making it confusing for companies to decide on their go-to-cloud roadmaps, he added.
To help demystify the term, the analyst pointed to Gartner's definition: "Cloud computing is a style of computing that is massively scalable, and have elastic IT-enabled capabilities that are provided to customers using Internet technologies."
Elaborating, Prentice pointed out that cloud computing cannot be defined by a product or sets of products. He added that the cloud model of service delivery will help companies move from capital expenditure (CAPEX) to operational expenditure (OPEX), and be able to rapidly scale their IT capabilities up and down according to their business needs.
Adding to this point, John Fernandes, director of business and marketing at Microsoft, said Redmond views cloud computing as a "great opportunity" for companies to do more with less, as well as to be creative and do new things in new ways.
Fernandes said: "While cloud computing, in terms of the technology used, is more evolutionary, what's revolutionary is the cultural and mindset change in terms of how people see IT and how it can be used in businesses."
User soars on cloud experience
Lee Siew Kit, the assistant vice president of information technology services at Singapore Airport Terminal Services (SATS), who was also at the briefing, said ease of migration, security and user experience were the top considerations when the company decided to adopt the cloud platform.
Lee noted that the company decided to replace its existing IBM's Lotus Notes e-mail system with Microsoft's BPOS (business productivity online suite) offering because it made for a better user experience among its employees. Previously, employees had to carry a hardware token wherever they went in order to access their office e-mail accounts. This requirement proved unpopular among users, he said.
Additionally, SATS employees in the past could only access their e-mail using Research In Motion's BlackBerry devices. Since the deployment of 11,000 BPOS seats globally in September this year, the cloud-based e-mail client can be accessed via various smartphone models, Lee added.
"While we do lose some flexibility by moving into the cloud, there are other benefits that we gain from the migration," he said. When quizzed further, Lee said the loss of flexibility lies in additional costs the company would have to incur for moving to workflows that require a high level of customization.
He cited the example of Sharepoint Online--a part of BPOS--which supports only a limited number of workflows. Further customizations to rectify this would require additional fees, he noted. Comparatively, Lee said Salesforce.com's CRM tool is highly configurable and can be customized internally without needing to pay for vendor support.
Regardless, he said, SATS is still able to benefit from its deployment of BPO in other areas.
Lee pointed out that the ability to scale up and down according to specific business requirements is a significant cost advantage. For instance, the company was able to quickly provision e-mail accounts for its wholly-owned subsidiary, Singapore Food Industries (SFI), which was integrated into the company last year, he said.
Simplicity is key
Ultimately, Gartner's Prentice noted that simplicity, and not the type of technology used, is the "secret sauce" to the effective deployment of cloud computing.
He said companies should not simply spend money to virtualize their data centers and term themselves cloud-ready. By doing so, these enterprises would only repeat the mistakes made during the service-oriented architecture (SOA) era a few years back, he noted. Companies then had acquired the technology without looking at what needed to be tweaked to support a SOA infrastructure, he said, adding that these organizations failed to achieve the benefits SOA promised to offer.
To better leverage cloud computing, Prentice suggested enterprises focus on rethinking the way their businesses are run, and evaluate the areas where cloud computing can help streamline processes and reduce costs through scalability and flexibility before implementation.