Capitalizing on the promise of cloud services

For many enterprises, the concept of a cloud services model has become a Holy Grail in terms of future IT vision, and it's easy to see why, says Riverbed Technology's Apurva Davé.

Commentary - For many enterprises, the concept of a cloud services model has become a Holy Grail in terms of future IT vision, and it’s easy to see why.

Cloud services give organizations the benefit of outsourcing the complex task of managing their infrastructure to someone else, while at the same time enabling instant spin-up of services and lowering costs. The cost savings of the cloud services model can be significant. For example, public cloud provider IBM iNotes Live starts pricing at $3 per user, per month. It’s a good bet that not all IT organizations can effectively run their internal electronic communication platforms for that low a cost.

When the term ‘cloud’ is mentioned, most people envision services like Salesforce.com, Google or Amazon Web Services. These vendors are attempting to become a one-stop shop for all of an enterprise’s IT needs, and have certainly become the icons of the cloud vision. However, these vendors are really focused on providing public cloud services, meaning their model is to drive cost down and scale up by trying to support thousands of businesses on their platforms. They do this by centralizing all of their services in a few data centers around the world, and then trying to deliver global services – at acceptable performance – from these locations.

The purest vision of the cloud is that it completely abstracts away the complexity of dealing with a physical IT infrastructure. Thin-provisioning and virtualization technologies enable vendors to offer customers a seemingly limitless data center infrastructure at a low monthly cost. However, despite the promised benefits that this vision of the cloud brings, it is not without its problems.

A recent research paper out of UC Berkeley titled “Above the Clouds” explains that a number of factors will hinder widespread enterprise adoption of public clouds. These factors include availability, security, data transfer bottlenecks resulting from bandwidth limitations, vendor lock-in, and performance unpredictability caused by latency. Public cloud vendors can overcome performance-related barriers such as bottlenecks caused by a bandwidth crunch and latency by adopting a WAN optimization infrastructure. However, the other barriers (combined with one more issue described below) are more difficult to solve and have pushed many enterprises to bypass public cloud offerings altogether and instead implement private cloud services.

The idea behind private cloud services is to take the fundamental business and delivery model of public cloud vendors and scale it down to delivering the computing capacity for an individual enterprise. This is especially valuable for enterprises that have tens of thousands or hundreds of thousands of employees, as a private cloud model enables them to cost effectively provide the type of instant, seemingly endless computing and storage capacity that public vendors. By consolidating storage and applications, virtualizing the network infrastructure, and then providing acceleration to branch offices and mobile workers, businesses are fundamentally changing the way they manage the services that run out of that data center. In essence, these businesses are transforming their physical data centers into private cloud services.

In addition to overcoming issues of availability, security, and lock-in, organizations see one other benefit to the private cloud model: dealing with sunk data center costs. Many organizations have invested millions of dollars over the past few years to build private data centers with the necessary capacity to support their business for the next 5 to 10 years. With such a large investment, it’s unlikely that they would simply abandon those investments to use the cloud. Instead, it makes more sense that they shift their operational models within their own data centers to mimic what public cloud services are doing. This gives IT organizations the ability to deliver internal services in a cost effective manner while employing a chargeback model they can use to drive these lower monthly costs back into the business units that consume IT resources and services.

Businesses that adopt a private cloud model today can transition to a hybrid model that uses both private and public clouds over time. Many IT organizations are implementing this strategic approach to cloud services.

In a recent discussion I had with a top-10 engineering company, its CTO described the public cloud as “flex-capacity” to support their private cloud infrastructure. As large projects come online, shift locations, or undergo other transitions, public cloud services may supplement an organization’s internal capacity to ensure that IT services are not a bottleneck to completing a revenue-generating project on schedule.

Other companies may simply look to recoup their investment in their existing data centers and eventually transition completely to a public services model, making the assumption that by the time they begin that transition, costs will be driven lower and the other barriers to adoption for public clouds will no longer be an issue.

Regardless of whether organizations end up choosing the public cloud, the private cloud, or a mix of these services to deliver IT for their business, it’s important that they don’t lose sight of the end goal. IT’s mission is to provide a competitive advantage to end users so they can generate more revenue for the business. Above all, that means IT must provide the business with the functionality it needs at the fastest possible level of performance. Whether a business builds out its own cloud or buys cloud services from a third-party provider, they need to be sure that the end product is optimized for the speed that its own users need.

biography
Apurva Davé is Vice President of product marketing of Riverbed Technology, the IT performance company.