11:20 AM -- Every time I'm around enterprise IT folks who are talking about cloud services, as I was at September's Cloud Connect in Chicago, much of the discussion centers on open platforms, open APIs and avoiding "lock-in."
But my ongoing conversations with service providers developing cloud services point in a very different direction. Each cloud operator seems to be marching to its own internal drummer, earnestly working to deliver what its customers want but not approaching anything that resembles a cookie-cutter approach.
Here are three examples of recent conversations:
AT&T Inc. has a very robust and diverse portfolio of cloud services and was named by Frost & Sullivan as the most widely used networking provider for connecting private clouds. But John Potter, vice president, Hosting, Applications and Cloud Solutions for AT&T, is focused on the network, and how cloud has become an extension of AT&T's global VPN network.
Without the network to provide pervasive secure connections, the early virtualization of data centers runs out of gas with utilization at 50 percent -- an improvement over the 15 to 20 percent server utilization that originally drove virtualization and the creation of private clouds, but still not enough, says Potter.
Clouds have thus evolved into well-defined categories of public, private and hybrid that reflect the kinds of networking used for each. Hybrid clouds, for example, allow for more efficient asset utilization but offer the security of a VPN.
"Our hybrid cloud services extend the value of the VPN and enterprise-grade networking, with the performance, security and scalability that we have developed for our networks, but also reduced overall complexity," Potter says.
Cloud services also drive new network requirements, he concedes, since it makes little sense to underpin a dynamic cloud service with a static network. AT&T has worked hard to enable its network to "instantaneously provide the network capacity to meet the needs of the cloud," on an automated basis, Potter says.
He prefers not to detail the "hows" of doing that, other than to say he has "a lot of appreciation for how complex that is."
For AT&T, the network and the cloud become one thing as part of the value the company expects to deliver to multinational customers, and managing those complexities is at the heart of what the company does. That remains true even as it evolves to support things such as open application programming interfaces (APIs) and to enable mobiles apps whose unpredictable demands make them a perfect fit for the flexibility of an enormous cloud.
Scott Cain looks at BT Global Services's cloud portfolio from the perspective of a man with a wealth of experience in the consumer packaged goods arena, and an understanding of what has evolved into a disconnect between traditional IT departments and the lines of business they serve.
He has the audacity to think a global telecom operation like BT can actually help seal that gap, providing a managed service that neither usurps nor gets held captive by the IT department.
So BT's approach to cloud is first to understand the business itself and the problem it is trying to solve or the process improvement that can be made.
"If you look at manufacturing, sometimes a very small process improvement can have an enormous impact -- a 1 percent improvement or reduction in cost can pay for the IT costs involved two or three times over," Cain says.
But with IT department budgets stretched to the budgetary limit in terms of both capital expenses and man power, these process improvements are rarely top priority.
"What we can do is get closer to the business and make that connection, so that when it comes time to present that expense, we have the VP of marketing standing next to the CIO," Cain says. "That doesn't happen today."
So the focus for BT's cloud services is developing solutions for its large business customers and then taking those solutions to others in that industry vertical. The network is unimportant -- but it's not the lead item.
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