Over the past decade we have seen an incredible number of changes in the IT landscape. At first it was blade technology, allowing us to minimize our rack footprint and cut down on environmental costs. The next wave provided us with virtualized technology, capitalizing our existing data center purchases (i.e., blades, SAN, etc.) and allowing us to minimize our data center environments while providing more options for redundancy, high availability, etc.
Over time we have seen the increase in virtualized technology throughout the data center. This transformation to a more virtualized and highly available technology took time. As with any new technology there were early and late adopters. New technologies emerged during this latest transformation that grabbed the data center market. Some of the strongest players included VMware with its virtualized product suite for type 1 hypervisors, data center management, etc. Some of the supporting technologies and products emerged such as Cisco with their UCS chassis and Nexus line of switches.
We’re now at a crossroads between the end of the product lifecycle for most IT environments with their virtualized platforms and data center expenditures. As this occurs, we’re now shifting focus to the third wave of technology transformation—the cloud.
What Is the “Cloud”?
The cloud is classified by a variety of acronyms that can equate to an alphabet soup, which is confusing to most folks as new offerings pop up. For the sake of this conversation, we’re going to focus on the top three focus areas of the cloud:
Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS): This provides customers with the ability to launch virtual machine instances, storage, etc., within a provider service. There are multiple providers available such as Windows Azure, AWS, Rackspace, etc. The two largest providers in this space are Microsoft (Windows Azure) and Amazon (Amazon Web Services).
Platform as a Service (PaaS): This provides customers with the ability to launch platform services such as a storage instance for archiving or a SQL database. This services does have a small amount of crossover with IaaS depending on the features you’re looking for, but for the most part this service offers a new and different type of cloud offering. Do you just need to launch a SQL database without managing a server? Well then PaaS is right for you.
Software as a Service (SaaS): This is probably the most common solution customers are looking for in today’s cloud space. SaaS are offerings like Office 365 that allow your messaging, collaboration, and other suites to be hosted by a provider (in the case of Office 365, this would be Microsoft). There are many solutions out there for your business in this space.
Who Are the Top Providers of Cloud Platforms?
This depends on which technology fits your business requirements, which market analysis you look at, etc. There are different market leaders for different spaces. The most popular train of thought includes the following providers for cloud offerings:
Amazon Web Services (AWS): Amazon is currently the leader in this space, with Windows Azure nipping at the heals. AWS was first to market with the IaaS platform and has grabbed a majority of the market share related to IaaS.
Windows Azure (Microsoft): Windows Azure has quickly gained traction in the IaaS market and has been consistently listed over the past two years as a top provider within this space. Windows Azure has been gaining ground on AWS and it’s only a matter of time before they become a 1A and 1B provider.
Varies: Depending on your solution and needs, there are a variety of providers such as Rackspace, GoDaddy, VMware, etc.
Windows Azure: Windows Azure was the first to market with its PaaS offerings. Initially during its first GTM, Windows Azure was built on the premise of PaaS offerings as opposed to IaaS. While AWS focused on IaaS, Azure focused on PaaS. Windows Azure has the most mature PaaS offerings within the space.
AWS: Amazon quickly began to make up ground on PaaS offerings over the past couple of years, now offering most of the services that Windows Azure offers.
Microsoft: Microsoft has had incredible success in launching its Office 365 platform, which includes (depending on licensing) the office suite, messaging services, Skype/Lync, SharePoint, and other services within a hosted model.
Google: Google had early success in launching its Google Apps platform, which allowed business to have a hosted, private version of its messaging services and collaboration suite. Over time, Google has lost market share to Microsoft within this space as more customers turn to Microsoft.
Intermedia and Others: There are quite a few third-party providers of SaaS services, depending on your needs. Since we’re focusing primarily on the messaging/collaboration aspects of SaaS in this post, we’ll focus on Intermedia as the third provider within this space. Intermedia provides Microsoft Technologies, hosted by a provider other than Microsoft. Their solutions are similar to Office 365, but owned and operated by Intermedia.
How This All Fits In…
As discussed in the first section about the new waves of technology that cycle through our businesses over time, the cloud appears to be a wave to stay. As we look for new ways to cut costs throughout our organizations, improve our uptime without purchasing new equipment, the ability to scale on demand, etc., the different solutions provided by the cloud allow us to provide these services within our own data centers at a fraction of the cost.
Some of the biggest concerns technology leaders have about cloud technology is the data management, security, and ease of use surrounding the different platforms. Most of the vendors that have provided these services within the top-three provider list have addressed 90% or more of the concerns raised by customers.
For example, Microsoft has a security center dedicated to its different cloud platforms that addresses the data management, certifications, and compliance requirements for each of the offerings. Do you have a requirement that your data cannot leave North America? Not a problem. Want to know your data is managed safely by teams within the provider? Not an issue—most providers detail their internal data center operations.
Aside from the security, compliance, and management concerns, there are concerns about cost and operations relative to your internal organization.
For the operations component, you can set up a hybrid cloud environment, which consists of:
Seamless Authentication Integration: Administrator and users can utilize one set of credentials to access both environments (i.e., SSO)
Ability to move applications and services between both environments to provide flexibility, scalability, etc.
Leverage services and assigns them to on-premise environments
One of the biggest challenges and concerns I consistently hear from internal technology leaders about cloud operations is the management and training. The simplest answer I’ve consistently provided is that it’s the same technology, just hosted in someone else’s data center. Once your hybrid environment is configured correctly and the correct enterprise management solution is implemented, it’s a relatively simple management task.
Cost can be a tricky topic. On average from my experience I have seen about a 20-25% savings from moving to a cloud-based solution. While you’re saving on on-premise costs, there’s additional cost savings and trade-offs. Cost savings and additions can be managed by the different agreements you may have in place with a provider. I recommend providing a detailed cost analysis for specific applications that may be required to scale on-demand (i.e., web services, databases, etc.). Start small with cloud adoption and gradually increase your footprint as you become more comfortable with your existing environment.
Do you want to explore options for extending your infrastructure to the cloud? Credera has extensive experience in designing, planning, and implementing cloud solutions. If you have questions about this blog post, points of view, or IT infrastructure, please leave a comment below, tweet us @CrederaIT or contact us online.