For some, cloud computing represents a return to the era of the mainframe, when dumb terminals connected to central computers serving thousands of users.
This, of course, is a gross over-simplification of a revolution that is happening in computing, one that will turn the IT department – and IT staff careers – upside down, but which promises more flexible and adaptable computing power.
“If you look at the next five to seven years, most organisations will be in the cloud,” says Josko Grljevic (pictured), head of information systems at TheTrainline.com. “But it will be very difficult to differentiate yourself in the cloud unless you do something smart.”
Nevertheless, TheTrainline.com is currently considering a shift to a public cloud so that it can hand over management of the physical server hardware to a specialist cloud hosting organisation, such as Microsoft Azure or Rackspace, thus freeing up Grljevic’s team to focus on applications.
Likewise, Stephen Anderson, datacentre engineer at Intel IT Engineering, believes that cloud will become the norm within the next five years. “We will have a federated, open cloud so that we can seamlessly link everything, everywhere, whenever we require it,” says Anderson.
Intel spent over a decade moving its systems to an internal cloud. “Our journey to the cloud has been going on for about 12 years,” says Anderson. “We originally started with a horrible, post-millennial sprawl of servers that we moved to shared services. In the mid-2000s, we ‘did’ virtualisation and then moved into the ‘full cloud’ in about 2009.”
However, because Intel remains reluctant to host its intellectual property – from customer information to proprietary semiconductor technology – outside of its firewall for security reasons, Anderson sees the public cloud being used more for extra compute power and capacity at Intel, rather than for hosting and running core data and applications.
Vendor lock-in: going up (not down)
There could be other reasons, too, for Intel and other companies’ unwillingness to adopt the public cloud – such as fears of vendor lock-in and the reluctance of software vendors to license their products under cloud-friendly tariffs.
“Every cloud provider wants to leverage and extend their ‘reach’ with you. So, we have Microsoft email and Microsoft absolutely wants to push its whole collaboration suite,” says John Harris, vice president of global strategy at pharmaceuticals giant GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).
At the same time, though, Salesforce.com has its own suite of social collaboration tools, which it also wants to push on customers. In addition, collaboration tools such as Yammer – recently acquired by Microsoft – have also infiltrated the workplace under the IT department’s radar, adding to the complexity.
“In the traditional space, your software vendors stay where you put them – you are kind-of locked in. But in the cloud space you find that once you have brought them in, their footprint gets extended,” says Harris. And if they can’t get in via the IT department, they may get in round the back via some other department instead.
A key consideration for GSK when it adopted Office365, adds Harris, was that it should be easy to bring everything back in-house – re-establishing a Microsoft Exchange server is not difficult, and the data can easily be migrated. But how easy would it be to migrate email from Google, the main alternative to Microsoft that GSK considered?
In a similar vein, the same vendors that are only too willing to scale up, are not so keen to go in the other direction, says Rocco Labellarte, director of operations at LGSS, a shared services initiative between Cambridgeshire and Northamptonshire county councils.
“We have a cloud service with a major supplier and it’s pretty good in terms of service provision,” says Labellarte. “The challenge we have at the moment, which we are having with major vendors – Oracle, Microsoft and others – is that the scaling is in one direction only – up,” he says.
Software vendors, he adds, are happy to add extra capacity straightaway – at a price, of course – but do not have a provision for reducing that service – and price – equally flexibly.
That is a hurdle they will need to overcome if they are to persuade potential customers to embrace the public cloud.
Likewise, many software vendors’ licensing policies, after more than a decade of server virtualisation, still remain wedded to old-style licensing models, and inflexible and unfriendly to the cloud.
“We have been trying to get the likes of Microsoft and Oracle to change their models,” says Labellarte. “They nod their heads and say, ‘Yes, absolutely’, but when they come to do it, they haven’t the time.”
Newer, pureplay cloud service providers, adds Harris, are unencumbered by this legacy baggage and tend to be more accommodating.
“If you look at Workday for human resources, it knows that it has to think like a cloud company. It knows that scaling up and down is part of the offering,” says Harris.
He adds: “If you buy Oracle, SAP or one of the traditional players also offering HR services, it feels more like they only want to go in one direction.”