How do companies regard cloud computing in practice? What are the factors that drive them (not) to get onboard? One decided to find out. Six organizations discussed their vision of cloud computing and their initial experiences in this area.
In the ICT-world, cloud computing is the topic of the day. Cloud computing is the architecture concept behind a wide range of services, offered according to the principle of Software-as-a-Service. In practice, the area of application is actually much broader: the concept is applicable to infrastructure, applications and data. Cloud computing changes the role of CIOs: they no longer have to spend as much time with infrastructure, but will need to spend more time on negotiating about the management of SLAs. How is cloud computing working for our companies?
Service is the priority
“We started with server virtualization in the late 1990s,” begins Frans Van de Ven, IT-manager at DHL. “We gathered the servers from different countries into a single datacenter. Cloud computing takes this a step further.” A more efficient organization of IT – preferably with high quality, at a good price – is the startingpoint. “We see it as our task to supply the services that businesses need”, asserts Geert Beyen, IT Operations Manager at Kluwer. “How we organize that concretely is not important for that business. We use a mix of private and public clouds.” At the federal government, the lay of the land is completely different. Each government department has its own IT-strategy, with its own infrastructure. “The question is whether an IT-department should offer all the services itself,” notes Frank De Saer, CIO of the Federal Department for the Economy. “Should we invest in our own infrastructure? The CIO of a governmental department needs to focus, in the first place, on business and innovation. The service provided to citizens and companies, in the end, that’s what it’s all about.”
SLAs are important
Switching over from a decentralized environment to the cloud in one fell swoop seems to be a bit much. “You can’t accurately estimate the advantages of cloud computing if you’re not able to make the comparison with working with a datacenter of your own,” comments Hans Denijs, IT-manager at VPK. “That is why we fairly recently constructed our own datacenter, in which we brought together the infrastructure from the different countries. We noted that the local branches were a little more reluctant to transfer the business-critical applications to the datacenter.” If there is an incident, local business divisions like to have someone to contact on-site. If everything is taken care of in the faraway data center, or is as good as completely intangible in the cloud, that’s not possible of course… that’s why SLAs are so important. “Actually, that’s really a perfect argument in favor of the cloud,” says Jean-Marie Van Cutsem, IT Operations Manager at Isabel. “The network and the communication determine the success of that model. In that case, as a company, you’d better choose a partner on whom you can rely.”
Bandwidth determines everything
It is true that the entire idea of cloud computing stands or falls with the capacity and the availability of the network. “The further evolution of cloud computing is leading to a situation in which the bandwidth of the network determines everything,” comments Filip Tersago, Unit Manager at Belgacom EBU. “In principle, a company should not need anything more than that bandwidth.” When all the rest of the IT-environment is also located within the cloud, the concept begins to take on the status of a utility. “Yes, that is the direction in which we’re moving,” affirms Joeri Swennen, Unit Manager at Belgacom EBU. “We are noticing that already in the reactions that cloud computing generates. More and more of these reactions no longer have to do with the infrastructural side, but are very specifically about SLAs at a fair price with a high degree of flexibility.”
The fact that cloud computing is becoming a growing focus of attention right now seems to be no accident. “It is clear that the economic crisis is accelerating the adoption of cloud computing,” explains Tommy Van Roye, IT-manager at Picanol. “In itself, the idea is nothing new at all. To my mind, it’s a new form of outsourcing.” The notion that IT will ultimately evolve into a utility is something he doesn’t believe. “There will always be services that remain internal, simply because they are too business-critical.” Also, at Isabel, the expectation is that a hybrid model will win out in the end. “It’s easier to purchase a service than hardware,” remarks Jean-Marie Van Cutsem. “For two of our five datacenters we use a ‘managed services’-model. When we soon migrate our ‘fat client’-application for businesses and banks to a Web-based application, that is going to require greater performance and flexibility from the datacenter. The only thing is that it’s not easy to estimate in advance what exactly will happen. The fact that we work with managed datacenter services offers the advantage that, for the sake of the migration, we don’t need to unnecessarily purchase a lot of extra capacity, which would have been the case with a datacenter of our own.” Probably most organizations will ultimately arrive at a mixed solution. “A part moves to the cloud, other services are carried out through managed services, while others remain internally managed,” adds Geert Beyen. “It is always going to be a question of weighing the need, price, quality and available expertise.”
IT-manager becomes gatekeeper
As more infrastructure, applications and data disappears into the cloud, the role of the IT-manager is going to change. “A part of the operational concerns will be removed,” says Hans Denijs. “The IT-manager will have more room to consider the strategy. He will become a new gatekeeper for the introduction of new technology.” At the same time, he will shed his own dependency on expertise. In the past, when an infrastructure expert left the company, that used to lead to big problems. That’s not going to be an issue anymore in the cloud. The expertise is all on the side of the partner. What then will become of the role of IT as a differentiator? Won’t this be lost when companies all start getting the same services from the same partners, via the cloud? “That’s a difficult thing to predict,” cautions Tommy Van Roye. “Are we going to sell more looms when we organize our IT via cloud computing? In practical terms, that’s not something that you can calculate. The advantage is going to be primarily in the extra flexibility. That is something that ought to be measurable at the operational level. In this way, you could assert that IT-costs per loom are going to drop.”
“Still, it doesn’t seem wise to look at cloud computing strictly in terms of the costs,” points out Frank De Saer. “Availability and quality are also important. At the government, it is often no easy task to guarantee round-the-clock support for certain services for citizens -Web-based applications, for example. For us, an important value of cloud computing might be in this aspect.” Better support for the end user is easier to organize via cloud computing. Frans Van de Ven: “In an international environment, it is easier to organize that centrally, with the same level of quality for the entire company.” Integration is also a key point of cloud computing, certainly for the government. “Local customization of applications then becomes easier through the cloud”, notes John Myklebust, Director Datacenter Services at Belgacom EBU. “The added value might be in an ecosystem of expertise that makes it possible for government departments to be linked with one another, via the cloud.”
The right partner
As cloud computing gains more traction, the role of the partner becomes increasingly important. Partners have a big responsibility. They have to be flexible, provide quality and do this at a good price. “It seems logical to me that a partner should be both telecoms operator and IT-provider at the same time,” adds Hans Denijs. “Connectivity and service are inseparably bound up with one another. But still, it might not be a bad thing to start thinking now already about congestion. If everyone leaves for work in Brussels at the same time, then we get traffic jams. What about when more and more of our IT-activities are soon running over the partner’s datacenter?”