Enterprise Cloud Services: The agenda

Cloud services have the potential to deliver important business benefits to the enterprise, including cost savings, flexibility, resiliency, agility, quicker time to market, better customer service and the ability to handle unexpected spikes in demand.

However, achieving those goals isn't going to be easy. Enterprises need to have a cloud-ready, virtualized infrastructure. They need to understand the different types and styles of cloud computing. They need to navigate through a complex decision-making process in order to determine which aspects of cloud services are the right fit. Then there's negotiating and managing contracts, keeping track of SLAs, and making sure security and compliance concerns are addressed.

This six-part series, which kicks off today and continues throughout the year, will provide a comprehensive guide to Enterprise Cloud Services. Today's package provides a set of clear definitions of cloud computing and the various models that are available to enterprise IT. It also includes a guide to preparing your network for the cloud, a discussion of the economics of cloud computing, and a look at the career opportunities that cloud computing can provide.

In future issues, we will dig into the public cloud vs. private cloud debate, provide a guide to working with SaaS and IaaS providers, examine the available management tools, look into cloud security options and analyze the cloud vendor landscape.

While there's no lack of uncertainty and questions when it comes to cloud computing, one thing is for sure: interest in cloud computing is sky high.

For example, when Deloitte Consulting began fielding questions on cloud computing around 18 months ago, 80% of the discussions centered on setting the stage, helping clients define cloud and understand what it might mean for them.

Only 15% of cloud conversations dug into actual road maps, strategies and pilots, with a mere 5% of engagements dealing with actual implementations of production solutions, says Mark White, CTO of the firm's technology practice.

Now the percentage breakdown is more along the lines of 10% setting the stage, 50% planning and 40% implementation, "with that continuing to swing more and more into production implementation as people get through the strategy and road map phase," White says.

Enterprises are adopting cloud computing at a quicker-than-anticipated rate, White says - a situation he attributes to the economic downturn that hit two years ago.

"The economic crunch caused people to really be interested in the cloud's Opex over Capex story and the ability to buy small and, if it works, to go big," he says. "That really accelerated adoption, and we're doing large-scale implementations now of private and public cloud services among our clients."

The fourth quarter of last year was a turning point for enterprises and their pursuit of cloud computing, says James Staten, vice president and principal analyst with Forrester Research. "That's when we started seeing IT's interest shift away from getting educated on the cloud to getting ready to invest in it," he says.

Whereas understanding the various cloud computing models, service types and product choices were once hot topics, now the conversation has shifted to vendor particulars and best practices. Staten points out two reasons for the shift: One, as products mature, vendors have been tapering off on the "cloud washing" that had been obfuscating what cloud is and isn't, and two, cloud definitions have begun resonating with enterprise IT, Staten says.

That is, enterprise IT - and the industry at large - now generally accepts the cloud definition put forth by the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST).

Cloud computing enables convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.

Users access the applications, infrastructure or platforms they need via a Web browser or other simple front-end interface, grabbing and releasing them at will and paying only for what they use and no more.

Also, there are now commonly accepted service models and deployment models. The three service models are: software-as-a-service (SaaS), infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS). The four deployment models are: private, public, hybrid and community.

Bar chart: Cloud data concerns

NATO launches cloud offensive

Today, more enterprises are getting serious about the cloud. Take for example, NATO's Allied Command Transformation's (ACT) Technology & Human Factors Branch in Norfolk, Va.

NATO ACT was in prime position to jump into the cloud because it had started down the road to virtualization a few years ago in order to consolidate data center resources, says Johan Goossens, head of NATO ACT.

Since then, NATO ACT has been gung-ho on all three cloud service models: IaaS, SaaS and PaaS. "With infrastructure as a service, we're really thinking of the consolidation of data centers and stopping the server hugging mentality that we have today and that of IT being provisioned by a central location on- or off-premises. And then with platform and software as a service we start converting existing applications to be 'Net-ready cloud offerings within the NATO enterprise," Goossens adds.

NATO ACT recently announced that it's working with IBM to create an on-premises cloud that it'll use to test and develop network solutions for command, control, intelligence, surveillance and reconnaissance projects.

"People are starting to understand all the different options and what are the right ones for them," says Geva Perry, an independent cloud strategist and author of the "Thinking Out Cloud" blog. "Even within one enterprise, people are recognizing that no one size fits all," Perry adds.

Cloud complexities

One of the fascinating aspects of cloud computing is that it's possible for an enterprise to become both a cloud service subscriber and a cloud service provider at the same time, according to Deloitte's White.

"A CIO will say, 'I want to be a subscriber of public cloud infrastructure as a service,' and we have an actionable conversation about that, talking about the benefits, the hurdles, the business case. And then the CIO also may want to be a subscriber of public cloud software as a service, and, if the client wants to implement private cloud, that CIO might want to talk about being a provider of private cloud platform as a service, too," White says. "That CIO could be involved in all three conversations, but we do them one at a time and then put them all together so we come up with more explicit outcomes."

Early cloud adopters aren't shying away from the technology's promise.

At Ford Motor Co., cloud has become a means of innovation, says David DiMeo, service delivery network (SDN) operations manager at the Detroit automaker.

Ford's SDN, otherwise known as cloud, is a scalable model that lets Ford easily mesh data from external vendors and information stored within the enterprise for delivery to customers' vehicles, DiMeo says. "The cloud has given us efficiencies. It's allowed us to decrease our time to market, as well as reduce development costs because we're not having to build out every single piece of an application," he says.

Cloud trends

As the cloud comfort level ratchets up in the enterprise, Forrester anticipates the strengthening of two critical trends over the next six months. One, application development managers are going to put more concerted effort into running workloads in the cloud. "For those who are new to the cloud, this means more trials going on in cloud environments. For those who have experience with cloud trials, this means more applications in production on the cloud," Staten says.

And if they can't get the servers and storage they need from an IT-sanctioned private cloud, it's off to the public cloud for many. As individual developers have been doing for some time, application managers will oversee use of public cloud services.

This could be as simple as buying capacity in Amazon's Elastic Compute Cloud or, when stringent service-level agreements (SLA) are in order, contracting with a hosted private cloud provider such as GoGrid or Terremark. The key is getting the resources they need in the timeframe they desire - rather than waiting weeks or months for internal IT to get its servers in order.

For its part, enterprise IT is starting to get aggressive about limiting uncontrolled use of public cloud services. One way is by offering up IaaS via private clouds, quickly deployed using cloud-in-a-box packages. "Most of time when we see IT operations setting up clouds, they're doing them for defensive reasons - so developers won't go to the public cloud," Staten says.

But getting control of what's already out in the public cloud is another matter, Perry says. In fact, he adds, some enterprise IT managers resist doing so - and for good reason.

"They've had no control over business units running off and using cloud services without permission, yet they're still being held accountable for governance, compliance, security and the like," Perry says. "But more and more, IT is coming to an understanding that they can have the best of both worlds. We can have that easy, on-demand accessibility, pay for use and all that good stuff of cloud with the proper governance and security."

Ultimately, enterprise IT will create and manage what essentially will amount to an app store, Perry says. "Central IT will decide on an approved platform, on all levels - SaaS, PaaS and IaaS - and business users or developers will pick and chose what they need from this app store. It'll all be pre-integrated and IT will ensure compliancy and everything else," he says.

"And the sooner IT gets its act together around that, the better off it will be," Perry adds. That, of course, will be easier said than done at many enterprises.

Schultz is a longtime IT journalist. She can be reached at bschultz5824@gmail.com.

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