Optimizing Cloud Infrastructures, Driving Business Innovation

Feature Story

Optimizing Cloud Infrastructures, Driving Business Innovation

By Erin Harrison, Executive Editor, Cloud Computing  |  October 16, 2012

This article originally appeared in Cloud Computing Magazine Q4 2012

“Realizing the true benefits from cloud requires a determination of the organization’s readiness and a sound corporate strategy and buy-in from the business.”

With the ever-increasing number of cloud infrastructure providers, businesses are now able to choose from a variety of options to align their cloud strategy with their specific business needs. The cloud drives business innovation by being infinitely scalable, completely secure and able to turn on a dime to innovate without any interruption of service or extra cost to customers. 

A market study of over 600 companies conducted by cloud management provider RightScale reveals how businesses are approaching cloud computing and what priorities they set for implementing their cloud strategies.

“Cloud infrastructure now dominates as the architecture for ‘the new IT’ – and companies big and small enjoy an unprecedented variety of options for deploying the best cloud solution to meet their business needs,” said Michael Crandell, CEO at RightScale. “No one-size-fits-all approach will work for everyone, which is why it’s important to choose a platform that will allow you freedom of choice now and into the future as you decide where and how to leverage infrastructure-as-a-service cloud providers.”

With adoption of cloud computing rising, businesses are becoming more sophisticated in their strategies for leveraging cloud technologies, according to the study. More than 68 percent of survey respondents report that they are pursuing a multi-cloud strategy and 53 percent of respondents are pursuing a hybrid strategy that includes a combination of public and private clouds. 

Regardless of which cloud model an organization implements, optimizing the cloud is critical in achieving innovation and cost-savings goals, according to Ravi Thakur, vice president of services and support at cloud-based software provider Coupa.

For example, Coupa’s spend optimization platform helps companies gain visibility into spending and save money with a direct impact on the bottom line, he says. Coupa’s Procure to Pay platform provides solutions from procurement to invoicing including RFQs, contracts, requisitions and POs to budgets, invoicing and inventory management. Coupa also offers expense management for expense reporting, budgets and auditing.

“Coupa was built from the ground up on the cloud, it has features in common with other well-known cloud players: 100 percent usability just like Facebook (News - Alert) and Amazon, proven scalability and built-in redundancy similar to Netflix, and its subscription-based, no hardware, pay only for what you use is akin to Google (News - Alert) Apps,” Thakur said. “Finally, it’s multi-tenant and single code base structure reminds users of Yelp.”

Coupa customers are typically up and running within months, reducing “maverick spend” by at least 50 percent, and most save nine to 11 percent the first year, he adds.

“This speed to 100 percent adoption within customer companies is resulting in a 100 percent win rate over non-pure – and not entirely – cloud solutions like Ariba,” Thakur explained.

Strategically, once organizations decide to shift to cloud, companies need to determine the business needs – not just the IT needs – of the organization and the best cloud infrastructure to support that, according to Nnamdi Orakwue, vice president for Infrastructure Cloud Services at Dell.

“They may select a secure on-premise cloud infrastructure; using a converged infrastructure of servers, storage, software, networking and management services or even private cloud technologies like our OpenStack solution,” Orakwue explained. “Both allow for maximum control and security over data while bringing the agility benefits of cloud.”

Alternatively, they might choose access to public cloud services, helping supplement businesses to augment their fixed compute assets to satisfy the peaks and valleys of workloads.

“In assessing the best cloud infrastructure, customers must think through the workloads they are running and the variability in demand characteristic of their specific workloads,” Orakwue added. “Once the workloads are well understood, customers may need a hybrid or bursting solution to get the benefits of both public and private, and will require multiple layers of security and connectivity for on or off premise clouds.”

In order to truly optimize cloud infrastructures to drive business innovation, businesses need to first decide whether it is going, strategically, for a mixture of private and public (a.k.a. hybrid) cloud, or if it can achieve its goals with public-only or private-only infrastructure, says Gilad Parann-Nissany, founder and CEO at Porticor.

“This is not just a cost analysis but even more an analysis of flexibility and future needs. Once having chosen the correct mix, the next step is to learn by doing a few projects, and to define the business and technology mix that will be repeatedly used by the business in all its projects,” Parann-Nissany explained. “In this discussion, all the businesses we are talking to include a security component, which again is best learned by doing and then scaling up.”

Dell believes that what is defined today as hybrid cloud will be the end state for most of its customers. 

“Said another way, in the long run, we believe customers will not differentiate between public or private clouds. The SW orchestration layer will advance to the point that the customer will effortlessly move data between his/her on-premise cloud and public clouds with such ease and efficiency that it will feel like a unified, seamless experience,” said Orakwue. “Hybrid balances choice and the needs of the business against cost, flexibility and risk. Workloads and data can be moved from private to public as needed during peak capacity, seasonal or cyclical spikes.”

While public cloud is still the most adopted model (in some customer segments), many organizations will see the value in seamless integration between their public and private clouds. Dell has focused on developing and acquiring integration solutions that ensure secure, integrated access to applications and data – from physical to virtual, and virtual to cloud, according to Orakwue.

“Specifically, we are helping our customers build, operate and manage their private data center using Dell’s state the art hardware combined with software and services,” he said. “In the public cloud space, we have a thriving business supplying infrastructure to large, hyper-scale cloud companies with our DCS offerings. In addition we offer secure public cloud, access to business process applications (SaaS (News - Alert)), integration of applications through Dell Boomi and services to tie it all together. We are building multiple layers of security into our clouds based on the technology from Dell SecureWorks, Dell AppAssure, and through our partnership with TrendMicro and others.”

Cloud enables new scenarios, adds Parann-Nissany, in that infrastructure can be automated, and can be brought up and down as necessary, which enables a “campaign” approach to many business problems, he says.

“The fact that cloud is global enables a global approach. The fact that cloud is flexible and elastic enables a succeed and then scale up approach. Bringing these business benefits to the cloud (both public and private) is what Porticor’s security, encryption and key management solution is all about,” Parann-Nissany added.

In the end, customers want agility and choice of technologies to meet their desired business outcomes and end users want self-service and mobile solutions, according to Orakwue. The key attributes Dell works with IT to evaluate are:

Integration: Enterprise customers are looking for a higher degree of security and application integration than provided by most commodity clouds. Adopting cloud brings new challenges with applications. Dell Boomi AtomSphere connects vendors and customers of SaaS, cloud, and on-premise applications via a pure SaaS integration platform, which does not require software or appliances.

Security: The integrity of data is a huge concern for our enterprise customers. Hence our Dell Cloud solutions are based on technologies from Dell SecureWorks, SonicWall, partnering with Trend Micro (News - Alert) and others.

Virtualization: Most customers have already started building private cloud infrastructure through virtualization. There is incremental value in using public cloud to increase compute capacity and access business applications.  

As Orakwue summarizes, “Realizing the true benefits from cloud requires a determination of the organization’s readiness and a sound corporate strategy and buy-in from the business.”

Realizing the True Benefits of Cloud

Understanding and implementing cloud can be daunting but the benefits can be well worth the time:  

Agility to scale up or down based on immediate business needs: The ability to provision and access significant resources on demand helps companies to quickly scale up and down to meet changing needs. In addition to optimize IT spend by scaling up or down instead of having to spend for maximum capacity, this extra flexibility enables the business side of the house to treat IT as more a dynamic, agile resource for supporting new, fast moving business models and ideas.

Better Utilization of IT Personnel: Rather than spending much of their time managing the daily mundane tasks of caring and feeding an IT infrastructure, IT personnel can spend more of their time dealing with strategic activities.

Move expenses from CAPEX to OPEX (News - Alert): Cloud computing allows the sharing of IT resources, so IT costs can be funded as an expense rather than as a large upfront investment. 

Meet the Changing Requirements of a Mobile Workforce: Cloud enables access to data from multiple devices including laptops, tablets or smartphones, anywhere and anytime. With “consumerization of IT” companies are going as far as giving their employees the ability to buy their own devices. Mobility in the workforce is seen to drive end-user productivity and connectivity between all aspects of the business. 

Even the Playing Field: The capabilities of cloud computing mean that smaller businesses can access IT services that were previously only affordable to large corporations with high CAPEX budgets. Without having to procure dedicated hardware and datacenter space, smaller companies can match their IT spend the business demand rather than having to budget for maximum usage with large up-front capital investment. Additionally, the agility that cloud brings gives companies small (and large) increased agility from speed, for example, setting up an IT infrastructure can happen days instead of weeks or months.

Edited by Braden Becker
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