January 31, 2013

Battle for the Cloud: The Future of Cloud Computing Panel Creates a Stir


One of the real values of coming to TMC’s ITEXPO Miami is capturing the insights of industry experts and visionaries in real-time. The truth is you never know when someone or several of them are going to capture the essence of what is going on in our industry, and do so in a way that really get the juices flowing and social media humming. Such was the case for the featured panel of Day One’s afternoon session, Battle for the Cloud: The Future of Cloud Computing.

Let’s start with a rare gathering on one stage of the following:

  • Lisa Pierce, Managing VP, Unified Communications, Network Systems and Services Research Team
  • IBM, Mike McCarthy, Vice President of Cloud Computing Services
  • Citrix, Peter Ulander, VP Product Marketing
  • Microsoft,Skip Chilcott, Senior Product Marketing Manager
  • HP, Kiran Bellare, Director Product Marketing Cloud Services
  • Cisco, Roberto D. De La Mora, Sr. Director Unified Communications

TMC’s, Erik Linask, Group Editorial Director, put this rock star quality (for our industry) group through its paces and the results as noted lit up Twitter with ripple effects that are already reverberating around the industry. You had to be there and here is why.

While billed as a “battle” with expected sparks to fly between these industry heavyweights, there turned out to be a surprising consensus on the future of cloud computing. Where things got interesting is when the panel focused its attention on the impact of the cloud and its acceleration of “shadow IT”—where lines of business (LOBs) are literally rolling their own in order to be responsive to internal user and customer requirements by going around IT for cloud-based solutions. This led to lengthy exchanges on what could and likely should be the future of IT, specifically inside larger enterprises.  As an aside, the reason is that small to medium businesses (SMBs) without big IT departments looking for ways to move CapEx and sticker shock to OpEx, have been the low-hanging fruit in the move to the cloud. 

Gartner’s Pierce started things off with a level set for the audience, which got the tweet’s flowing by stating, “SaaS is popular for new applications or for testing, and unified communications an excellent example of that. From there, since almost everything can now be offered as a service companies are moving toward Infrastucture as a Service IaaS) and Platform as a Service (PaaS). What you need to know for XaaS of any type is that at a minimum it must be characterized as being: highly scalable in near real-time, have usage-based billing, is highly automated to reduce cost and human error, and is highly elastic. If it does not have all of these characteristic you do not have a cloud service.” The other panelists agreed. 

IBM’s McCarthy did a good job of summing up the view of the panel when he said, “The world is not going to cloud completely. Our best advice to customers is to find out what makes sense for cloud. Look at architecture, security, compliance, networking and where cloud makes sense for your unique requirements.”  

Whether it was IBM, Citrix, HP, Microsoft or Cisco, there was violent agreement on several key points about the future of the cloud be it employed on a public service, via a private implementation, a hybrid of public and private, and/or inter-mixed with premises-based solutions. The benefits are tangible, the businesses case solid, and many of the early concerns about security and control have been addressed.

The bottom line was that the cloud does certain things well that are compelling. The short list includes:

  • Moving CapEx to OpEx
  • Increasing agility and responsiveness
  • Allowing pay-as-you-go, pay-as-you grow, and elasticity to meet the requirements of an unpredictable world of traffic, which bursts are easily accommodated without disruption and fire drills
  • Having somebody with expertise handle always being on the most current version of critical software including malware
  • Providing a consistent look and feel as not just data centers and desktops, but work becomes virtualized and a dispersed workforce needs access to all of the tools it would have at a single location
  • The ability to universally enforce certain key policies and rules, and customize access to critical resources
  • The ability to move less mission critical things to prove out capability and then carefully migrate using the cloud as a means to evaluate, do a proof of concept and then move to general availability in alignment with corporate business imperatives and financial objectives.

In short, the cloud at this point actually has little left to prove. In fact, on a panel earlier in the day somebody remarked that the only difference between what you can get on the cloud today versus a premises solution is “you can’t pull the plug on the server.” 

This does not mean perfection. There remains significant issues surrounding contract terms and conditions regarding liability, accountability and compliance. In addition, while from a technical standpoint things can be made secure, security inside containerized applications remains a challenge. And, as almost each panel member noted, security and risk management is not just about technology, it is about human behavior and education and it needs to be addressed holistically and without pointing fingers at the cloud as a culprit.  Gartner’s Pierce said their research showed only 50 percent of cloud implementations examined revealed that security was raised as an issue which she called, “very scary.”

There also remains skepticism, despite vendor assurances, that putting critical assets in the hands of even the most skilled parties, raises control and ownership issues that are as much cultural and emotional as they are rooted in technology, but there is a lot of education that remains to be done. What it does mean is that the trend of things moving to the cloud is inevitable. The questions are how much, how fast and for what reasons, and there will always be things that will not be conducive for movement to the cloud, and that what customers need is a plan and the flexibility to move back and forth as business requirements dictate.

The conclusion, however, was unanimous, the cloud is a work in progress like all technology revolutions but it is more than ready for prime time for almost any use when it fits customers needs and properly executed by a trusted partner.

The future of IT

So much for the warm up, next came the pitches. Cisco’s De La Mora jolted the group with an anecdotal story about going to a customer site and see a sign that said, “IT is Hell!”

This set off a spirited round of commentary on the future of IT. It was observed that as a result of BYOD, the growing pressures regarding security, governance and compliance, and a host of other factors, the need to be responsive in an age where the lack of responsiveness was an invitation to market peril was causing LOBs to turn to the cloud for shadow IT solutions to problems that could not wait on traditional IT timeframes. De La Mora said all of these forces are creating a tipping point where IT must step up and convince the LOBs, end users and C-levels, particularly the CFOs, that IT as a service can be leveraged for competitive advantage. 

Citrix’s Ulander noted that it is critical for IT to move to an IT as a service model, rooted in taking the end user’s view. IT needs to understand the enterprise’s business objectives and more importantly how work is done and what is required to be fast and best in the market, i.e., not managing new technology as it comes up, but providing technology with the intent of solving business problems by understanding how business process do and need to work, and how this impacts the customer experience of those who use it internally and impacts their interactions with ecosystem partners and customers. He went onto say that, ”The focus has been on looking to things like the cloud for cost efficiencies and now it needs to be on operational efficiencies creating agility for competitive advantage.”  

Microsoft’s Chilcott and HP’s Bellare added their take. Chilcott stated that, ”This is not an all or nothing proposition and must be done on the terms of the end users…Users are driving a lot of the need and not IT saying here are new capabilities. If users are able to do it on their own they bypass IT… The cloud for example takes the workload of managing infrastructure off of IT so it can concentrate on business alignment.” Bellare added that, “HP also is trying to help its customers leverage their existing investments… Our job is to help customers provide seamless transitions so they are future ready.” 

There was a whole lot more the panel said, that was scintillating regarding what the role of IT needs to be in a cloud-filled world. And, things got pretty exciting when the talk turned to interoperability between clouds, as the analyst said it was an imperative but aspirational and the vendors showed their colors by in essence saying pick your vendors wisely and work with a short list who have partnered to assure a viable ecosystem that will meet your expectations, nicely spinning the fact that in a heterogeneous world of data center and networking solutions, promises of quality assurance based on proprietary solutions were trumped by equally well performing open source solutions that user are choosing as a form of shadow ICT solutions to avoid be trapped in an age where transparency and interoperability and federation are emerging as critical elements of business transformations.

At the end of the day, the panel provided two invaluable insights. Fist, the cloud is not just hype, it will be a growing force in the future of how business value is created and sustained for competitive advantage, but it is only one critical tool of many for doing so and it needs to be implemented with get care and proper caution. Second, the future of IT departments may be more cloudy from a technology standpoint, but what is really cloudy is whether they can turn Hell into a silver lining. 

You might wish to check in on the continuation of this discussion when ITEXPO moves to Las Vegas this coming August. This is a topic that is not going away, and in fact the real battle for helping IT transform is now fully engaged. I am looking forward to seeing you there.




Edited by Brooke Neuman



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