South African cloud services get less nebulous

Cloud computing offerings from vendors have divided into two camps: those in which the vendor controls the entire stack from top to bottom with large potential benefits in integration and performance but at a risk of lock-in, and those that have a mix and match approach where freedom to choose components and services comes first, but with more integration and tweaking work possibly needed.

Is one or the other approach the winner? Or will there be room for both? Does the definition of cloud exclude a top-to-bottom implementation by a single vendor, or does it not matter? Brainstorm asked a number of local vendors and service providers to explain their cloud offerings. Marc Dijkstra, solution architect at Symantec SA, says his company has 14 or 15 products on the cloud portfolio spread around its 16 data centres worldwide.

 “Locally, we have put nine metric tons of equipment into Internet Solutions’ data centre, with the services being pushed through our channel,” he says. “In this country, we offer e-mail cleansing, archiving and encryption, content control as well as online backup through managed through a single console front end. This has been live since February 2011. We own and operate it and IS do the power and infrastructure.”

It’s not what’s inside

 Over time, the underlying infrastructure becomes irrelevant. 

Peter Bensch, VP and MD of Oracle South Africa, says Oracle is busy building end-to-end cloud solutions together with its partner base.

“We have HR solutions that stretch from the HR application right down to the silicon.”

Julian Liebenberg, GM of the Business Connexion group, also has a solution stack with a high-level top layer.

“We start the stack at the business process level. For payroll solutions, it’s not just about the payroll system itself but also operating the payroll and capturing the tax returns and so on. Business Connexion operates this from our data centres. It’s good to offer an e-mail service but because e-mail is so integrated these days, how close do you put that e-mail to your SAP, for instance? A selective cloud service provider model where your SAP system is in Germany and your e-mail is somewhere else won’t work.”

Eugene van der Merwe, executive for infrastructure services at UCS Solutions, says UCS has been putting together a full stack using a single vendor for the last two years and agrees that the closer the systems are to each other, the better, but there are still challenges.

“Keeping the business process within corporate governance has been quite a challenge. By keeping systems closer, we’ve found that there’s a lot of data because managed services in the cloud generate a lot of it.”

Dennis Li, senior marketing manager for eastern and southern Africa at Huawei, says his company can provide a cloud offering from the cloud through the data pipe down to the device.

“We have our own device company, our own networking company that manufactures wireless and wire line networks, and we make our own servers and storage. But we co-operate with Citrix to provide our desktop infrastructure. For the application part, we co-operate with Oracle and other application partners.”

Vendor balancing act

Many hands

 No single vendor can own the stack. 

Cisco’s strategy is about providing enabling technology to service providers, says Rory Green, product sales specialist for data centre solutions at Cisco SA.

“The only exception is WebEx, which we own and run ourselves. One of our stated strategies is not to compete with service providers.”

Many of the large players are moving into some form of direct cloud service, both to assist their large customers and to compete with their rivals. Rudie Raath, country manager for technology services consulting at HP South Africa, explains how this works.

“Infrastructure as a service (IaaS), software as a service (SaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS) are the three legs that cloud stands on. From a vendor perspective, I think the top-tier vendors do support their base and help them to be enabled but you do see some form of cloud being offered directly by them. By doing this, we can help customers of ours such as BCX expand their service offerings while we still retain an aggregation layer that allows us to pick and choose between private cloud, public cloud and the traditional model. You want to be versatile and you want to be able to move.”

 Can a single company own the entire cloud stack? Jonathan Clarke, alliances manager at EMC South Africa, doesn’t think so.

“No single vendor can own the whole stack. You have a hardware stack, the software and the application. It’s how you come together and partner with the different vendors in the industry. Service providers are in a better position to control the stack to their customers by partnering. Cloud has had a very slow uptake worldwide and the more that we can collaborate as vendors, the bigger the benefit to the customers.”

Michael Zakariudakis, solutions architect at Dell SA, agrees and notes that the market will push back on any perceived monopolies.

No dumping

 Corporates with a big IT investment can’t just dump their data in the cloud. 

“Infrastructure, software and platform as a service are three very different things. The only way you can claim to own all of those three is to use your own technology at every stage, which locks everyone else out. Industry will kick back about something – the price point perhaps – and go another route. IBM tried it with its PC technologies. It had some of the best technologies and the industry kicked back and said no. Customers are looking for flexibility. They want to do things quicker and scale on demand. The biggest challenge then for vendors is that customers love the flexibility but ask how much guarantee they will get that they can move to another service provider in six months’ time if they’re not happy with the service. That’s not that easy to do today. It is theoretically, but practically you can’t move from Amazon EC3 to something else overnight.”

What’s clear is cloud is disrupting all sorts of aspects of the industry. Symantec’s Dijkstra says licensing needs to change, for starters.

“Software vendors are going to have to become more agile about how they license their products. I’ve seen ISPs and telcos decide that they’re going to offer their backup products as a service by using their existing infrastructure. That means the software they use must be licensable as a service.”

Dominic Oettl, director of cloud-based services at EOH, says the disruption goes beyond technology.

“The cloud is not just a change from a technology point of view but from a person and organisational point of view. What is IT’s function if it’s not checking how fast the drives are spinning and whether the lights are on? It’s about delivering business value.”

Oracle’s Bensch agrees.

“The role of the CIO will change. The CIO is going to be a board advisor and business enabler rather than a traditional CIO as we see today.”

Everything as a service

Mike Styer, country manager for NetApp South Africa, sees cloud as a natural consequence of technology moving away from hardware and towards services.

“I think cloud is a coming together of everything around service offerings. It started off as outsourcing – infrastructure, applications, hosting. Then you started to see some of those develop into service-oriented architectures and IaaS. Cloud is a lot of competencies that have been pulled together over a long period of time. This is why the SLA discussion is the single most important discussion about cloud. Irrespective of who owns the stack, it’s about best of breed. And there are constant attacks. If there’s VMWare in an organisation, then Microsoft will walk in and give it 20 free licences per server to try and drive it towards Hyper-V. And customers are looking for redundancy in their providers. As we see more and more cloud put in – companies putting in more cloud, aligning themselves with cloud and building up cloud teams – what we’re seeing in the marketplace is they’re looking for additional providers. Two of the big banks have just done it recently – they have moved to two storage providers.”

Lee Naik, senior director of IT strategy at Accenture, says cloud aggregators will be the ultimate result of this.

“The pressures for CIOs at the moment are cost-based or a move towards mergers and acquisitions to tighten up the ship. On the cloud journey, they want to consolidate, rationalise and then virtualise the back yard. They look at private cloud as a way of provisioning IT services under their control. On the provider side we’ve seen the history: from single source vendors to service aggregators to systems integrators. The next thing is cloud brokerages, which are another kind of aggregator. Who will be accountable? The customer will give an aggregator a yearly mandate to cut costs by 10% and improve efficiency by some other percentage. That means the service we offer as vendors will become commoditised. The real growth in cloud will be new services and new markets. It’s much harder to take cloud services and integrate them into an existing business.”

HP’s Raath says vendors need to adapt to this phenomenon.

Surprising results

“Customers are asking for rented infrastructure that can grow and decrease as they need demand. The problem comes in when they want it all on-site and full control of the infrastructure because then as a vendor, I don’t have control over what’s put down and how I optimise it. I get the feeling that we’re confused as vendors and we’re not listening to our customers. Cloud was there to optimise IT service delivery so that we can deliver a higher service at a lower cost.”

But where does the customer really stand? Symantec’s Dijkstra says a survey done by his company has some surprising results.

“We’ve just done some research and included South Africa for the first time and the results are fascinating. Is the customer ready? Our survey said that only 8% of the IT staff in the 3 800 organisations we looked at are ready for cloud. More importantly, 38% of the people who have moved for the reasons we’ve discussed – agility and lower cost – said they haven’t got the benefits. They haven’t got the efficiencies, the lower cost or the elastic flexibility. But this is a global phenomenon. Where they fall down is things like disaster recovery. It doesn’t matter what you have in the back end. If I’m not backed up, then if my SLA says I have 100% uptime, I don’t have a service.”

Backup specialist Attix5 has also been questioning its customer base on cloud readiness. Albie Gouws, GM of technical services at Attix5, says adoption is slow in the larger corporates.

“Most companies ask themselves: are they ready for the cloud? How much have they invested in their own IT and their own skills? They keep their important stuff close to them and then hosted Exchange, e-mail and archiving they move to the cloud. Backup is another service. They back up locally and mirror to the cloud. They don’t care where the data sits as long as there’s a copy somewhere that they don’t need to manage. So the adoption is slow. In the SME market, most of them don’t have the investment in skills or infrastructure so it’s much easier to offer them services in the cloud.”

Dell’s Zakariudakis says the larger companies are a much harder sell for very good reasons: governance and legislation.

“We’ve been delivering virtualisation and services on demand for years, just in different ways. The SME space doesn’t typically have corporate governance and some of them don’t even do backup so it’s a no-brainer for them to buy backup out of the cloud. But corporates with a big IT investment can’t just dump all of their data in the public cloud. If I own it and it’s governed by some kind of Act, then it stays in my data centre on my footprint. And those are the biggest questions from the corporate side: where is my data living and do I have complete control?”

BCX’s Liebenberg says he often has customers express concern about where their data is kept.

“But those same customers use BlackBerrys. That data isn’t here. Those customers that get really smart are no longer looking at traditional endpoint security, but rather at data protection. But sometimes the encryption keys for that data come from the US and the companies have to, by law, provide the decryption keys to the authorities. There are countries at war with the US using US-based technology. The locality issue is at a whole different level.”

UCS Solutions’ Van der Merwe says it’s all about education.

“We’ve been doing virtualisation for our customers since 2007 and we have some serious corporates on it. So for five years, they have had off-book hosted and fully-managed infrastructure. We term it private cloud because the tenancy is completely private to each customer and because customers like retailers require different resources on a daily basis. We have seen questions about where the data lives and the processing capacity: is it within the country’s borders? Where is the switching system? Can my system process high-end amounts of data? Education and choice become very important in these cases.”

Disappearing technology

Oracle’s Bensch says the industry is still at the early stages of cloud.

“We have implementations where the customer owns the application and we provide the platform in one data centre. The storage is scalable and flexible and so is the application. We’ve been doing that for 12 years and we have 12 million users on it. Is that cloud? No, because it needs to be a pay-as-you-go service that’s flexible to the customer and it needs to be cheaper than how it used to be done.”

And the question of who owns the technology is ultimately irrelevant. Louis Pienaar, portfolio manager of hosted services at Vodacom Business, says that to the customer, the underlying technology doesn’t matter.

“When we started off with our public cloud offering, we looked at different vendors to see who could give us the best scale. Eventually over time, the underlying infrastructure, including the hypervisor, became irrelevant. Ultimately, customers were driven by the SLA and the uptime they required and based on that, we would put them on whichever platform was suitable.”

EOH’s Oettl says these changes are shaping the way his company does business.

“We’ve taken a step back from the technology and started to say that we don’t sell time, we sell IT as a service. It’s all the components coming together: traditional infrastructure, networking, storage, virtualisation with a strong focus on enterprise applications and, higher up the stack, into business process outsourcing. All of that coming together is shaping how we think about cloud.”

EMC’s Clarke says the hardware is already irrelevant.

“CIOs need to align themselves to the cloud journey, to accelerate it and reduce the risk. The iPad is a helpful analogy. No one cares what processor, memory or storage is inside. This tablet has to do a job for me. Can it run my application? Yes or no? You don’t care what the hardware is as long as it’s doing the job. And customers are doing the same thing with cloud. They want a less risky accelerated journey to where they need to be.”

Source: IT Web.Co – 22 Feb 2012