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Flying Into The Cloud, Without Losing Your Way

Flying Into Cloud Computing

Cloud computing is going mainstream; it no longer lies just at the periphery of the enterprise network, it pervades it. Systems integrators will face the challenge of bringing together and taking responsibility for the orchestration, conformance and performance of many diverse systems.

Many businesses first saw cloud as an add-on, something external to the enterprise network, shadow IT, maybe a test and development environment. Then, with the spread of own devices (BYOD) the cloud grew more pervasive, but it still lay outside the main IT structure. However, once direct connections to the big cloud providers were established, the cloud began infiltrating mainstream IT – or you could say that IT started moving into the cloud.

Now it becomes necessary to integrate internal legacy IT with the new cloud-based services. This is the challenge systems integrators now face: how to virtualise the enterprise IT systems, integrate disparate internal and external resources while in many cases also taking responsibility for running and managing the system. This work includes two main functions. The first is to integrate all the services needed. The second function involves out-tasking suitable processes for greater efficiency and saving, then fitting them back into the corporate IT structure. This requires the integration and management of the whole complex mix of internal, cloud and out-tasked functions and it can take a very long time.

If the initial objective was to save money for the client, it becomes a very costly exercise. If the motive was to increase competitive advantage, then the longer it takes, the less advantage is gained. So a way must be found to make this transition as easy, swift and seamless as possible. Indeed, many systems integrators operate on a risk and reward basis, committing to completing the job in a certain time and facing penalties for late delivery or failing to achieve promised cost savings.

If the integrator also takes charge of the maintenance and management, then they are given responsibility for day-to-day running, policy and security requirements, reporting, visibility, and conforming to a growing number of data privacy and routing regulations – again with the threat of penalties for failure to meet targets. What can be done to streamline this migration? It would obviously be simplest for the systems integrator to partner with a single cloud service provider, or their own cloud services, in order to simplify the service integration.

Can you identify one single cloud provider as being the best overall for the client? If not, then going for a single provider will no longer guarantee a best of breed solution and questions will be asked about why they are committed to an inferior package. Even if your cloud partner or SI has an outstanding portfolio, it is likely that a large enterprise client will already be committed to some other suppliers’ services and not happy to lose them.

The situation has been compared to the business transformation required when office PC networks began to oust mainframe terminals in the 1980s. Then the dilemma was which PC platform to choose from a host of names including Acorn, Amstrad, Apple, Apricot, Atari, Commodore, Epson, IBM, Tandy, Xerox and many even less familiar names. The integrator that insisted on a single PC vendor might not deliver the optimal solution, or could face resistance from departments with different preferences, but had a much easier job incorporating the new technology with the client’s legacy systems. If they happened to land on the IBM/MS-DOS platform, then the future of the resulting solution was pretty well assured; if they opted for Osborne, they would be in trouble.

What is different now is that cloud computing is catching on a lot faster than the PC did, so the chances that your client is already committed to a range of incompatible cloud services is much higher. But the problem remains of not knowing whether any one of today’s giants – Amazon, Google, Microsoft etc (or some new upstart) – are going to take over and become the dominant cloud standard worldwide as did MS-DOS and Windows in the PC revolution. They also don’t provide a universal solution to every business need. So does your cloud fit the bill? Or do you face a very complex and costly integration process that could eventually lead your client to an obsolete solution?

Effectively, the systems integrator is being asked to take a gamble – lay your bet and hope to pick the winner. You could say that this is just how business works – competition and the survival of the fittest, where fitness can simply mean having a stroke of luck or a good crystal ball. But it does not have to be that way.

For example, by the beginning of this century Ethernet had taken over the entire global LAN space and the biggest opportunity lay in extending Ethernet out of the LAN into metro or wide area networks. A number of competing Ethernet equipment vendors had their eye on this opportunity but, instead of going it alone and hoping to hit jackpot, they got together and founded the MetroEthernet Forum to work on a single universal standard for what became Carrier Ethernet. By 2012 this solution had outpaced the sum total of all legacy WAN systems. So choosing what to run on your network is no longer a gamble – you either go for CE 2.0 or have very good reasons not to.

If today’s systems integrators had the option of a global open cloud standard, in addition to the current proprietary cloud services, it would not eliminate the element of risk entirely but it would provide a far safer bet. This is the vision that has brought together so many and diverse cloud stakeholders to form the CloudEthernet Forum (CEF).

The CEF believes that a dynamic and competitive cloud market is best served by a collaborative process that involves every type of cloud stakeholder – customers as well as providers, carriers and systems integrators – in order to ensure that cloud development is not only fast and well-targeted but also leads to an open market based on universal standards and certified conformance to recognised needs. Collaboration is not anti-competitive if it creates a level playing field. If you want to buy a car there is no end of choice – from SUV through family saloon to sports supercar – but at least you can be sure that whatever you buy will meet all the basic road safety and legislation criteria, and we have the example of the new hybrids which have standard connectors to allow them to use public recharging points.

Without that level of confidence, buying a car would be a very protracted, risky and costly process. So is this not what is needed now for the cloud market? If systems integrators could rely on mutually compatible cloud services, equipment and cloud solutions, it would reduce the risk, accelerate the decision process, provide greater opportunity for differentiation, and make it much easier to upgrade and orchestrate clients’ IT structures faster, at less cost and with greater reliability.

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As Vice President, Managed Network Services for Tata Communications, James Walker is responsible for leading the company’s VPN line of business – covering enterprise and wholesale Ethernet, MPLS, managed IPSec and data centre interconnect services. Following the company’s migration from Ethernet over SDH to native Ethernet over PBB, James became increasingly aware of the gap between data centre clients’ love of Ethernet’s simplicity and scalability and the growing challenges to Ethernet on the cloud scale. Discussion of these issues with industry leaders lead James to launch the CloudEthernet Forum (CEF).