Cloud gold rush: Is it all just supplier noise?

IT providers are unveiling cloud services at lightning speed and are launching robust price wars. But are enterprise customers equally gung-ho in adoption?

With the lightening pace at which IT providers are launching cloud services and promoting its benefits, we may be forgiven for thinking that enterprises are abandoning in-house IT investment in favour of cloud computing. But are enterprises really as gung-ho about cloud adoption as the suppliers?

Not quite. A Computer Weekly and TechTarget study of nearly 1,500 IT professionals on cloud computing adoption and use found that as many as 40% do not use cloud services.

In addition, the non-users did not indicate any immediate interest in using cloud services. A vast majority (80%) say they do not plan on using the cloud for at least a year, and 45% say they do not plan to use cloud at all.

Among the respondents not interested in the cloud, many feel their existing IT infrastructure is “good enough”, while others say they do not see value in the cloud.

Supplier hype and enterprise use of cloud computing

Even IT providers deeply rooted in selling virtualisation products, such as VMware, are keen to grab the cloud share. VMware has hinted that it will launch a hybrid cloud service, and chief executive Pat Gelsinger will outline its cloud strategy on 21 May.

The company has already released tools to help enterprises automate all elements of their datacentre to create a software-defined datacentre and become ready for cloud adoption.

"VMware will place a huge public gamble on enterprise cloud when it moves to become a hybrid cloud service provider. Hybrid public cloud carries risk and exposure for service providers,” says virtualisation and cloud analyst David Davis from US IT training company TrainSignal.

Another provider, Hitachi Data Systems, is launching cloud services in Europe in May 2013 too.

Meanwhile, public cloud behemoth Google is preparing to make its IaaS platform Google Compute Engine generally available soon. “We cannot reveal exactly when it will be, but the next milestone for Google's enterprise cloud division is the general availability of Compute Engine,” says Barak Regev, head of Google's cloud platform in EMEA.

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Amazon Web Services (AWS), Microsoft Azure and Google are also adding new instances on the cloud, specifically designed for high-performance computing, and are continuously engaging in cloud price wars.

While some leading-edge enterprises with high budgets are yielding the benefits of being early cloud adopters, many have only just started the journey to the cloud.

Pizza delivery chain Domino’s Pizza has been using Rackspace’s open source cloud services for around a year, but its cloud use is restricted to its testing and development environment.

“We wanted to build our experience and understanding of it [cloud services] in a low-risk way,” says IT director Colin Rees.

Another enterprise, Jaguar Land Rover, has started a multi-million pound IT update project, but it is not all about cloud yet. “Our IT was not ready to support global expansion, so we decided to use virtualisation and datacentre automation to help us,” says CTO Gordon McMullan.

Using VMware’s virtualisation platform, Jaguar Land Rover continues to host all its data resources in the UK datacentre, but provides access to global engineers by provisioning virtual machines.

“In our current virtualised infrastructure, all the data, applications and IP resources stay within the UK and the central IT team is in complete control,” says McMullan. His next IT project is to support the mobile working needs of its global workforce.

In the Computer Weekly research, about 38% of respondents say their current IT investment is enough and 24% say cloud benefits are inadequate. There is also a perception of poor security (36%) and concerns over inadequate IT control in the cloud environment (33%).

One-third of the respondents sat their IT is not virtualised or ready for the cloud yet.

Use of cloud computing and reasons for limited adoption

Enterprises using cloud platforms are fairly equally split between public (40%), private (30%) and hybrid (30%) cloud services.

Private cloud users turned to it for cost savings, IT automation and the ability to meet business computing needs, but cite efficient use of IT resources, workload scalability and business agility as its most significant advantages.

According to the respondents, challenges to private cloud adoption include application suitability (62%) with IT professionals pointing out that not every app works well in the cloud. Support is also seen as a challenge (40%), and changes/upgrades are reported to be more difficult (36%).

Meanwhile, challenges to hybrid clouds are application suitability (61%) and a lack of interoperability/integration between private and public clouds (39%). But those using hybrid clouds also report benefits such as IT efficiency, agility and scalability.

For users, the benefits of public clouds are slightly different, with improved availability (60%), workload scalability (57%) and cost management (47%) ranking highest.

Don’t adopt cloud because everyone is talking about it. Be clear about the benefits of cloud for your organisation and find a steady way to move your workloads to the cloud

Colin Rees, Domino's Pizza

But the biggest challenge to public cloud adoption is application suitability (55%). CIOs cite it as a technology that forces them to rewrite or convert workloads for the cloud. Problematic support (35%), a lack of interoperability/integration with the cloud provider (29%) and in-house staff limitations (21%) are also seen as challenges.

IT professionals responding to the study think that business use of production data in the cloud could increase, but very slowly, suggesting caution on the part of cloud adopters to risk security and compliance violations, and also because network performance may not support massive production data increases.

One of the biggest surprises revealed by the study is the limited use of cloud for disaster recovery, at only 28%, despite its promoted benefits.  

Disaster recovery as a service (DRaaS) is a predetermined set of processes offered by a third-party supplier to help an enterprise develop and implement a disaster recovery plan.

Almost 69% of respondents report that disaster recovery (DR) data is stored separately in the cloud from regular backup data. Many still continue antiquated DR practices. Beyond cloud DR services, 39% also ship DR data to another physical recovery site and 33% say they still put DR data on tape.

Even platform as a service (PaaS) deployments are confined to a minority of the organisations' IT infrastructure, though respondents expect PaaS platforms to comprise a larger percentage of enterprise infrastructure in the latter part of 2013.

Despite cloud’s touted benefits, at times of austerity CIOs are avoiding risks, instead fixing only the broken elements of their in-house datacentres to sustain IT services. Cloud computing adoption numbers do not add up to supplier noise and it has yet to become part of users’ day-to-day IT management strategy.

Domino’s Pizza's Rees concludes with his advice to CIOs: “Don’t do it because everyone is talking about it. Be clear about the benefits of cloud for your organisation and find a steady way to move your workloads to the cloud.”

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