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IaaS making slow headway

Large enterprises take a methodical approach to moving workloads into the public cloud

By Christine Burns, Network World
April 09, 2012 12:09 AM ET

Network World - Cloud Illustration: Adam Simpson

When it comes to Infrastructure as a Service - renting on-demand compute, storage and network resources that live in a multitenant virtualized public cloud - midsized businesses are jumping in with both feet. But large enterprises with their own well-established data centers are still dipping their toes in the water.

10 most powerful IaaS companies

The overall usage of public cloud IaaS is certainly on the rise, according to industry analysts. But many large enterprises are moving at a very deliberate pace, one workload at a time.

"Most enterprises we work with are taking a hard look at where cloud fits into their operations. But it's not about putting one project out there and another one inside," says Edward Newman, senior director at EMC Consulting. "It's more about looking at each workload within each application and deciding based on performance, price, functionality and trust level which loads can be deployed in public, multi-tenant clouds.''

In a survey published in January of more than 600 enterprise and mid-market companies globally, only 27% said they were using public cloud IaaS services. That's up 10% from a similar survey published in early 2011. But 28% of respondents said they have no immediate plans to jump into the cloud, and another 24% said they haven't pulled the trigger on a cloud deployment yet, but plan to at some point in 2012.

IaaS vs. PaaS vs. SaaS

Mark Bowker, senior analyst at Enterprise Strategy Group, which published the survey, summarizes the results this way: "Those three indicators combined show there is some good momentum behind widespread business adoption for public cloud infrastructure services, but we are not there yet.'' Bowker adds that he's generally quite bullish on the prospect of enterprises embracing the public cloud long term.

"Public cloud IaaS is rapidly becoming an accepted technology approach to doing business," adds Gartner vice president of research Lydia Leong. She published a Gartner Magic Quadrant on public cloud IaaS in December that profiled 20 vendors. Leong identified Amazon, Bluelock, CSC, Savvis and Terremark as market leaders, with Joyent and Rackspace as market visionaries and GoGrid, IBM, NaviSite and OpSource as challengers.

Enterprise deployment trends

While midsize businesses are more willing to outsource IT compute cycles en masse to public cloud IaaS providers, larger organizations are selectively testing the waters, using public IaaS primarily for these specific use cases:

1. For research and development projects and load testing.

2. As an opportunity to build and deploy new Web-based applications built to run natively in the cloud that are so compelling to the business that even the most conservative IT folks are willing to accept the perceived security risks, the subpar auditing capabilities and the lack of management tools associated with IaaS.

3. As a way for IT operations to move non-critical, legacy applications that are not subject to regulatory monitoring off expensive on-premise data center resources.

4. For specific line of business applications where the managers in those units want to act quickly on a new opportunity and don't want to wait for IT to provision internal resources.

5. As the underlying infrastructure for a software-as-a-service (SaaS) or platform as a service (PaaS) offering being consumed by the enterprise.

Gartner's Leong says early adopters have been very successful in theses types of selective rollouts over the past two years and are now poised to make public cloud IaaS a more mainstream practice in their companies.

IT gets out ahead

Paul Burns, founder of Neovise LLC, a Fort Collins, Colo.-based research firm specializing in cloud computing, says enterprises are now taking a more strategic planning approach for future use of the public cloud. "Yes, there are still pockets of rogue developers who think they don't need IT to build and test new virtualized applications, but there is much less of that these days," Burns says. "CIOs are now telling their teams to get a public cloud strategy in place and roll it all the way down to the workloads where it makes sense. Planning helps contain cloud sprawl."

IT managers using public cloud IaaS are quick to extol its virtues. They point to the delivered upon promise of instantaneous scaling that both provides elasticity to handle peak workloads and gives IT an overall "can do" image when other departments come to them to explore technology driven initiatives.

ETS gives cloud high marks

Dan Wakeman is vice president and CIO of Educational Testing Services (ETS) in Princeton, N.J., which currently uses CSC's CloudCompute in a hybrid deployment where the compute power sitting in the cloud has a secure dedicated tunnel back to ETS's large Oracle database.

Wakeman says the combination gives the company flexible computing power necessary to develop, administer, and score more than 50 million tests at 9,000 locations worldwide annually. "When partners come to us with new ideas that might have been put on the back burner due to lack of IT staff time and resources before we were using the cloud, now we can take them on," Wakeman says.

IT managers are also able to hold IT staffing levels steady while taking on more internal projects because provisioning servers that used to take days or weeks now takes just hours. "It is indeed slightly cheaper for us from month to month to run our operation in the cloud," says Jonathan Newbury, vice president of E-commerce and Technology at Preferred Hotels.

The Chicago-based hotel reservation services company has employed Terremark's public cloud offering - called Enterprise Cloud -- since late in 2008. "But the real cost benefits comes when you look at the huge number of new projects we've been able to take on without adding any new IT staff because they are no longer running to the colo to manage the servers," Newbury says.

And, the pay as you go billing allows them to shift from sunk capital costs to operational costs that can be directly tied to revenue streams. "What IT department doesn't want that direct justification?" Wakeman says.

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