That's why AT&T's description of how it differentiates in the increasingly competitive world of cloud is all about a high degree of integration and security, mobile enablement, and ease of use for its business customers.
"What is key for us is the ability to leverage the cloud as part of a network service experience -- without a network you don't have a cloud," says Steve Caniano, VP of AT&T Hosting and Cloud Services. "By layering capabilities of cloud in conjunction with our network, we really think we can offer customers a different value proposition."
AT&T hasn't been touting its cloud capabilities as loudly as some competitors (Verizon Enterprise Solutions , can you hear me now?), but that may be changing. This month, AT&T unveiled five significant enhancements to its cloud strategy, including making it easier for customers to use AT&T VPNs to link to cloud computing, enhancing its cloud storage and cloud security capability, extending clouds to mobile applications and increasing work with third-party application providers. (See AT&T's Dapper Den for App Developers.)
The latter capability could become among the most important, says George Hamilton, cloud services analyst with Yankee Group Research Inc. )
"Success in this space is likely to mean being an aggregator of different cloud services," Hamilton says. Enterprises will want their cloud providers to not only offer their own services but be a service broker for other applications, and provide service level agreements and support around those apps as well.
Hamilton says a number of other service providers are stepping up to that challenge, and it looks like AT&T may be ready to do so, as well.
Caniano insists that hosting third-party apps is an area in which AT&T intends to shine, particularly when it comes to supporting mobile apps. Enterprises want to make their mobile workers more productive, by letting them use smartphones/tablets/laptops to access corporate applications and centralized repositories of corporate data, he says. (See AT&T Picks M2M Partners.)
But those same companies fear the security risks of all that mobility and easy access to corporate resources -- which is why they look to a company with network expertise as well as cloud services capability to handle security for them.
"Bringing together technologies such as a 4G network, more capability in the handheld and the ability to run apps on a strong platform is a natural for us and we are starting to make some announcements in that space," Caniano says. "One of the reasons they come to AT&T is because security is not an afterthought, but a core element of our network sources, part and parcel of what we do."
AT&T also believes that offering "virtual private clouds" -- cloud-based computing, storage or other services linked by a secure VPN -- will be a differentiator as well. In its recent announcement, AT&T and IBM Corp. (NYSE: IBM) joined forces to tout the power of IBM's Cloud Service Provider Platform combined with AT&T's VPN.
Caniano also believes AT&T has another advantage: its own use of cloud services internally, which gives the company a perfect proving ground for what it is now bringing to market.
"AT&T has one of the largest IT shops in the world because we are a big enterprise ourselves," he says. "We drink our own champagne -- it involves our network service but also our cloud services and we have a lot of learning opportunities we can gain from ourselves."
The main thing AT&T has learned, Caniano adds, is that cloud services will not be adopted wholesale. Enterprises have different systems on different life cycles and are likely to want some things to move into the cloud and some things to remain premises-based for years ahead, putting a premium on hybrid cloud strategies.
AT&T has also learned something about the corporate culture shift that cloud will require. Having access to cloud-based IT structures is changing the dynamic around applications deployment. AT&T is seeing business units act independently of their IT departments to try out cloud-based apps.
"It is an interesting cultural dynamic -- for the first time, these business units can build systems outside of the traditional domain of their IT departments," he says. "It will be interesting to see how that will shake itself out, whether IT folks will get threatened by that, or embrace it and see how they can address it."
For more on cloud service strategies of other service providers:
- Verizon Crashes Silos to Build Clouds
- Orange Touts Cloud Wins
- NTT Com Trials Mobile Cloud Service
- Docomo Links LTE to the Cloud
- BSNL Joins the Cloud Crowd
- Windstream Buys Hosted Solutions
- Colt, Unisys Team for Cloud Services
- Telefónica Gets Cloudy With NEC
- KT Launches Private Cloud