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Cloud Illusions?

I’ve looked at clouds from both sides now,
from up and down, and still somehow
it’s cloud illusions I recall.
I really don’t know clouds at all.

Joni Mitchell – Both Sides, Now 1968

43 years after Joni Mitchell first pondered the subject of Clouds many IT budget holders are now struggling with similar issues. What is the Cloud and is it all an illusion?

Cloud is certainly the new buzzword. A glance at a graph created from Google trends shows that before the end of 2007 there were literally no searches at all for Cloud Computing whereas now it is almost ubiquitous. In the last month alone I have read stories on the BBC and the Times explaining that this is the year of the cloud.

However if I asked for 5 examples of Cloud applications most people would struggle to name more than 1 or 2. Salesforce.com is a good example (and having recently switched to using them myself I can verify that it is a great application) however who else is making a success of the cloud? I would guess that a survey of FTSE 100 companies would find that public Cloud applications have made very little penetration at all. It appears that large companies although liking the idea of the cloud are loathe to make the move either because of the security issues or just because of the large upheaval it would cause to move. Some of these companies still have systems based on NT4 and so the cloud might be a move too far.  A colleague of mine had a meeting at a large UK bank a few weeks ago and was told “you were doing quite well until you mentioned Cloud”.

So where is the predicted uptake going to come from if it’s not from large multi nationals? For me I think the cloud is perfect for Small Medium Businesses (SMBs). Small companies are more agile and are keen to embrace the advantages that the Cloud can give:

  1. There is nothing to install, maintain or upgrade meaning no costly maintenance or power costs.
  2. The applications are always secure and backed up
  3. Costly application Support Skills are not required
  4. The application can be accessed anywhere
  5. The payment is spread over a large period of time
  6. And it is free to try

The emergence of Google Apps Marketplace has helped. Google is serving as an ecosystem for third party SaaS providers and now has more than 200 apps and about four million users with access to the service. A friend of mine has just released a great example of a Cloud SaaS application called Bike Shop Manager (http://www.bikeshopmanager.com) which is written using Google Apps. Aimed at bike shop owners the application allows bike shop owners to use a quality application without the need for any IT skills except the ability to access the internet and a browser.

Orb Data too has an application that is aimed at the SMB market. We have recently released YourTivoli.com which has brought an industry leading Enterprise Management tool – IBM Tivoli -into the reach of smaller customers. This service allows a customer to monitor their servers and applications whilst Orb Data manages the Tivoli applications which keeps the customer’s staff focussed on what they do best, removing the need to invest in developing skills and ultimately improving the delivery of IT services to the business.

Both of these applications (in a very different way) bring quality applications to the reach of companies that had not thought they could use them before.

Public or Private?

A little earlier I said that large companies are slow to take up public cloud applications however they are starting to see the benefits of a private cloud. A neighbour of mine who works for a large University was recently asked to sign off the purchase of a large amount of hardware for a Cloud application. He was naturally wary that the Cloud tag was being used as a label to justify a new hardware purchase.

But he needn’t necessarily have been suspicious. Private clouds can make sense in certain circumstances. For instance I have worked on enough projects at large customers to know that gaining access to hardware can be a slow process with delays of weeks or even months causing the project to stall.  Imagine instead if as you could access a web page, reserve some hardware and then have the required systems automatically provisioned, built and monitored. On top of that if the system could also track usage for internal chargeback then you really have a useful Private Cloud Application. The same applies for service providers who are offering cloud applications themselves. This sort of application or infrastructure on demand service can really save time and money.

Some Computer companies are starting to respond to this need and IBM for instance has recently released IBM Service Delivery Manager (ISDM). This is a cloud management platform that enables the data centre to accelerate the creation of service platforms for a wide spectrum of workload types with a high degree of integration, flexibility and resource optimisation with these core service management capabilities.

So is this the year of the Cloud? The widespread availability of cheaper networks and greater bandwidth coupled with the large variety of internet-connected devices indicates that we should be heading in that direction. However the day when an employee of a large FTSE 100 company can wander into work with their tablet, access their company’s documents and applications and at the same time look at their personal applications and documents at lunch time is still a way off.

But for SMB’s the age of the Cloud has started.  The current economic climate means that applications such as YourTivoli.com are bringing Enterprise level applications within reach of small companies whilst offering a relatively quick ROI.

As Winston Churchill said “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”

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