Why cloud's not reigning in the enterprise

Lack of business-focused offerings from suppliers and misguided private cloud projects are stifling progress, say Cloud Expo speakers

IT departments are failing to implement cloud in the way businesses want, and providers are selling solutions in the wrong way. Those were the overriding messages to emerge from this year’s Cloud Expo Europe conference in London.

On day two of the conference, HSBC’s global head of innovation, Barry Childe (pictured) – one of the few customer speakers given a keynote slot at the event – called on suppliers to package their solutions and services in a way that was more relevant and understandable to business users of cloud services. This echoed the point made by Outsourcery co-CEO and BBC "dragon" Piers Linney in his opening session the previous day.  

While cloud evangelists in corporate IT departments today understand the potential opportunities of adopting a cloud model in terms of improving agility, cost control and efficiency, they face considerable difficulty persuading line-of-business managers of its merits, noted Childe.

“Ultimately, cloud allows us to do things that we’ve always talked about doing. It’s the glue that enables a whole set of technologies to come together and allows us to offer services globally on demand.” he said. “So why isn’t it the dominant model in our IT landscape? Wherever you look, it’s still in its infancy inside most large firms.”

Like Linney, Childe thought this state of affairs was primarily down to a failure among suppliers to sell their services effectively, in a way that speaks directly to a business’s end customers. 

“When I was walking round the show yesterday, all I could see were people selling me lots of tools – screwdrivers and spanners that allow me to go away and fix things. And we just accept that,” he said.

“When I ask my CIO for funding, the first question he asks me is what business problem I’m solving. And I’d really like suppliers to help me put some of those messages together, because at the moment we haven’t completely solved the puzzle ourselves and I’m sure on occasion we aren’t doing as good a job as some of you guys could.”

Childe went on to explain that much of the problem was down to the fact that historically IT suppliers have built relationships almost exclusively with companies’ IT departments. But in a world of software as a service (SaaS) and platform of as a service (PaaS) – where IT does not manage the infrastructure directly – that no longer makes sense. 

“There needs to be a change in the engagement model. You need to sell SaaS and PaaS systems to the people who will ultimately see the benefits from those systems,” he said. “If you did that, heads of businesses would have more understanding of what’s required and cloud solutions would take off.”

Childe ended by challenging suppliers to step up, saying that the game-changing opportunities cloud offers businesses are too compelling to miss: “We really have to move the game on and become a lot more innovative for our businesses. I want to go out there and delight my global customers.”

A virtualised datacentre is not a cloud

Enterprise IT departments, too, must take some of the blame for failing to deliver the levels of agility their business customers are seeking, said George Reese, Dell’s executive director of cloud computing.

In his day-one keynote session, Reese pointed out that when IT began to face the challenge of users bypassing IT and procuring services directly from public cloud providers, companies’ IT departments tried to wrest back control by creating their own private clouds, egged on by their traditional suppliers.

“In a lot of companies, IT has approached a list of trusted vendors and told them they want a cloud but they also want to enforce governance and regulatory controls centrally. Invariably, though, these vendors didn’t really have true cloud solutions,” he said.

Instead, what IT departments have done in the main is to create a virtualised datacentre and then put in place various approvals processes before business customers can fire up virtual machines. “They pat themselves on the back because they’ve managed to reduce their procurement time from six months to six weeks, but for the business even having to wait six hours is too long,” he said.

More recently, some businesses have attempted to build less constrictive private clouds using technologies such as OpenStack and CloudStack. But while this type of approach offers more long-term potential, particularly for ensuring companies aren’t tied to any one supplier, the current immaturity of the technology – as well as the lack of internal skills required to implement such solutions effectively and the inability to achieve anything like the economies of scale offered by public cloud providers such as Amazon and Google – businesses have been left less than impressed.

“Ultimately, in either scenario what happens is the business says ‘we want cloud’ and IT says ‘but we’ve got cloud’. Yet they’re not talking about the same thing. Cloud is about real-time self-service. What the business wants is something with the speed and agility of AWS [Amazon Web Services]. But a virtualised datacentre is not the same, and the end result is disappointment,” he said.

What the business wants is something with the speed and agility of AWS

George Reese, Dell

This, he said, is leading businesses to conclude that private cloud doesn’t work. “IT has invested millions in a virtual solution or OpenStack/CloudStack and the business isn’t using it. But what’s behind the scenes is irrelevant to consumers of IT services – they just want to be able to do the same as they can with AWS or Google,” Reese said.

He believes the path to harmony lies in IT putting the concept of speedy self-service ahead of the desire to enforce governance and regulation manually. “Approvals kill clouds. IT needs to recognise that self-service is what it’s all about and focus on agility, then implement governance and regulatory compliance in a way that’s fully automated. The beauty of cloud is that it can be automated so there’s no excuse for injecting manual processes,” he said.

So it seems the promise of cloud computing to deliver true agility for enterprises still remains tantalisingly out of reach. Both the industry and business IT leaders need to take stock and refocus if cloud is to truly reign in the enterprise.

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