Cloud computing is a concept that means different things to different people.
Businesses might not have their cloud computing plans set in stone because of security fears and the absence of case studies, but CIOs need to understand where it can fit into their IT strategies.
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It is not just about providing enterprise applications over the cloud, reducing power consumption or creating computing on demand. It can be all of these things and more.
System integrators Wipro, Infosys and Capgemini are using the cloud internally and offering cloud services to CIOs. Their experiences can help CIOs get a feel for the wide variety of business challenges the cloud can address.
It is impossible to review all the cloud developments these companies are involved in because almost all their businesses now touch the cloud somewhere. But some examples can provide a useful touchstone for CIOs.
Wipro has applied cloud computing to its own business model, Infosys is building platforms that can provide business sectors with end-to-end services and Capgemini is re-inventing itself as a service integrator.
Wipro's internal cloud
Wipro has tested cloud computing in its software development. It built an internal cloud and connected between 350 and 500 developers to it.
In the past, when Wipro set up a new project, the team would have to go through the long process of requesting servers, having the order approved, waiting for the equipment to arrive and then setting it up.
But using the internal cloud, the team can request computing power with a single e-mail. This process has allowed the company to reduce the time taken to set up software development projects from 43 days to 36 minutes.
The other major advantage is the removal of waste. Wipro can allocate computing power more accurately. Rather than having a dedicated server or servers which are utilised for an average 20% to 30%, cloud computing means Wipro can allocate computing power according to need.
The company is also providing cloud computing services in India and the US where it has datacentres. It will offer cloud computing services Europe when datacentres are in place.
But CTO, I Vijay Kumar, says some customers are cautious and do not want to jump straight into cloud computing. "Many customers want to pilot it first to understand how it works."
Bucket services from Infosys
Fellow Indian systems integrator, Infosys, which has datacentres in Europe through a partnership with Colt Telecom, has developed three cloud services aimed at specific customer sectors.
These are an HR platform in the cloud, a cloud-based application to support procurement services, and a niche platform targeted at the advertising industry, which manages all the transactions involved in the advert. Another three services will be ready in a few months' time.
Infosys offers cloud services in two buckets. The first bucket is for processes which can be shared in public clouds. The second bucket offers unique processes that can improve competitiveness and will be supplied via private clouds.
Rajesh Murthy, vice-president enterprise solutions at Infosys, says CIOs must be able to get their heads around cloud computing to be able to get the message across to business leaders.
"The biggest challenge is for them to get the buy-in in terms of convincing stakeholders about what it means to be in the cloud."
Data protection and ownership are two areas where stakeholders need convincing. There are also challenges "backward integrating" cloud services because they must still interface with non-cloud services, he says.
It is not just about creating appropriate business platforms in the cloud, but also linking to various clouds to ensure a service is the most effective and cost-effective possible.
Capgemini integrates clouds
Capgemini is now re-positioning itself as a cloud service integrator. It will work out the customers' requirements and piece together a service from what is available in the cloud.
UK outsourcing head Greg Hyttenrauch says that the cloud computing has become a reality faster than expected. "At the end of 2008 we thought it would be another five to 10 years before cloud computing entered the enterprise but we are selling it now.
"The advantage to the business is it is going to be easier and quicker to react to a business requirement and integrate the service that exists in the cloud," says Hyttenrauch.
He says a business service might be made up of components from the public and private clouds.
Cloud computing is not a straight forward sell to the CEO. CIOs will be required to understand what they want from the cloud and what is available.