Why Network Providers Offer a Compelling Path to the Cloud

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1 Cloud Cover Why Network Providers Offer a Compelling Path to the Cloud By Johna Till Johnson President, Nemertes Research Executive Summary It s time to take cloud procurement seriously. As enterprise organizations increasingly assess cloud services either in addition to, or instead of, in-house data centers and application development, selecting the right cloud provider becomes critical. As with any outsourcing arrangement, IT organizations should assess a provider s corporate strength and stability; ability to serve as a strategic partner/trusted advisor; caliber of customer service; and quality of infrastructure. Above and beyond that, though, IT professionals should pay close attention to a cloud provider s options and alternatives when it comes to providing network services. In particular, they should be certain to assess the offerings of telecom providers, which can offer specific advantages based on owning and delivering end-to-end network services. The Issue IT professionals are increasingly looking to cloud services as a way to augment or replace their internal infrastructures. Whether platform-as-a-service, software-as-a-service, or infrastructure-as-a-service, cloud services offer the promise of increased agility and pay-as-you-go service delivery. These capabilities sound great, and in fact, cloud users report relatively high levels of satisfaction with their services. This means, however, that IT pros should prepare to conduct thorough assessments of cloud providers, with an eye towards ensuring top-caliber services. Critical characteristics in a provider include company strength and stability; the quality of network, server, and storage infrastructure; and the ability across a network, the strength, quality, and diversity of network technologies and services available for connecting to the cloud service provider (CSP) is especially important. Nemertes Research 2011 ± ± ± DN1446 1

2 What is the Cloud? Despite all the talk about cloud services, there s plenty of confusion about what these services actually are. It can be helpful to envision a spectrum that begins with users owning and operating their own hardware, software, services, and physical facilities (sometimes called build your own data center, or BYODC) and stretches to software-as-a-service, in which the users owns nothing but data and procures software via a Web browser (as, for example, with Salesforce.com). For every infrastructure layer, IT professionals can choose to own and manage the infrastructure, manage it without owning it, or neither. (In Figure 1, next page, the blue bars represent ownership and the green bars represent management). The spectrum therefore comprises four discrete infrastructure categories: ± Build-your-own data center (BYODC), which is the traditional scenario in which corporate IT owns and manages all components, which are located in the company s facilities. ± Colocation, in which the IT department owns and manages hardware and software that is located in the provider s facility. ± Managed hosting, in which the provider owns and manages the physical hardware and infrastructure and virtual environment, and the IT department takes varying degrees of control over the applications, middleware, and operating systems. ± Cloud services, which can be further segmented into Infrastructure-as-a- Service (IaaS), Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS), and Software-as-a-Service (SaaS). Figure 1: Cloud Services Demystified Nemertes Research 2011 ± ± ± DN1446 2

3 With IaaS, the provider offers virtual infrastructure, typically a hypervisor environment fronting computing and storage resources, and the user owns and manages the virtual servers, operating systems, middleware, and applications. With PaaS, the provider offers the layers up through the operating system and middleware, and the user owns and manages the applications. And with SaaS, the provider offers the application, and users own and manage none of the infrastructure. Key drivers for cloud services vary by type of service, but across the board, users turn to cloud services for two key reasons: Agility, and the ability to consume just what they need. That s why 41% of companies say they re deploying or planning IaaS/PaaS by the end of Desired Characteristics of Cloud Providers The critical issue that IT professionals need to keep in mind when assessing cloud providers is that procuring cloud services is no different from procuring any outsourced service. In other words, cloud service procurement needs to be considered a strategic investment, not simply a commodity purchase. This distinction seems minor, but is in fact key. IT professionals often fall into the trap of assuming that since compute cycles and storage are commodity technologies, procuring them is a commodity procurement. That s entirely false: When, and how much, to rely on cloud services is a critical strategic decision for most IT departments, and affects everything from long-term hiring and staffing to operational processes. Moreover, it s a decision that crosses technology towers within the IT department. Although computing and storage traditionally fall within the server and data center purview, cloud services also affect (and heavily rely on) network services. So not only should IT professionals take the cloud service procurement decision seriously, they should seek to engage participants from across the organization, including applications developers (whose ability to develop apps may be affected by cloud decisions) and managers, security professionals (who may have specific requirements for privacy and security controls) and network managers (who will be called on to ensure delivery of cloud services) as well as the data center and server specialists. Precisely because cloud service procurement is so strategic and far-reaching, IT professionals are wise to envision, and select, cloud providers that are more like trusted advisors than commodity suppliers. Trusted advisors are at the far end of the spectrum that begins with commodity suppliers; for IT professionals, a trusted advisor is the provider that gets called in to assist with strategic planning and architecture, and who participates more as a partner than a simple vendor. In the IT space, trusted advisers tend to be large telecoms, systems vendors, and software providers. Nemertes Research 2011 ± ± ± DN1446 3

4 Figure 2: The Service Provider Spectrum In addition to seeking trusted-advisor partners, IT professionals should consider specific factors that affect the overall relationship. These include: ± Financial stability. Is the provider a financially stable organization, or a fly-by-night startup? ± Global footprint. For global organizations, or those with a global client base, the provider s ability to operate in multiple geographies is critical. ± Billing flexibility. Companies that want the flexibility to deliver both line-of-business and centralized billing should consider providers that can offer both, and can transition between the two as needed. That is, some organizations want the ability for business units to charge individually for their cloud usage, either in addition to or instead of, funneling charges through a central IT organization. ± Service-level agreements (SLAs). The single most important selection criterion for outsourced relationships is the quality of the SLAs, as noted below. IT professionals should seek out providers that offer effective service-level agreements covering the availability not just of the cloud services, but of the network infrastructure required to reach them. ± Customer support. Effective customer support requires a range of services, including user help desks, online customer portals, online trouble ticketing, and proactive reporting. ± Managed and professional services. Many times, companies require assistance integrating cloud services into their existing infrastructure. Nemertes Research 2011 ± ± ± DN1446 4

5 Providers should offer a range of managed and professional services to assist. ± Security. The provider should be able to guarantee security and confidentiality of all data and infrastructure services (including network services). ± Figure 3:Outsourcing Success Factors (5 is highest)! Network-Specific Concerns Additionally, cloud services represent unique challenges when it comes to networking. As noted, the quality of the service delivered depends not just on the quality of the service offered (computing and storage horsepower, SLAs, and so on) but also on the ability of the network to deliver these services effectively end-toend. Yet cloud providers often position the network as a non-issue, which misses the critical role that the network plays in ensuring effective service delivery. Too often, IT professionals overlook the network s role when assessing cloud offerings, incorrectly assuming that best-effort Internet should be acceptable. Yet a poorly performing network results in sub-optimal services and if the cloud Nemertes Research 2011 ± ± ± DN1446 5

6 provider can t control the network infrastructure, it can t credibly promise top-tier service delivery. Although storage and computing services may, in fact, be commodities, the relationship between the cloud provider and the network is a true differentiator. Critical elements in assessing a cloud provider s network capabilities include: ± Network ownership. Does the cloud provider own and operate its own network, or do users need to engineer their own network connectivity ± Public and private network support. Companies are deploying cloud services in a range of configurations. With private connectivity, all users connect via a private WAN. With public connectivity, some or all users connect across the public Internet. A provider should be able to support both. ± Access connectivity. The quality of the access circuits is a critical factor, particularly in the private-network scenario. Can the provider deliver high-quality access connectivity, covered under SLAs? ± Network technology. Can the provider offer a range of solutions, from public Internet through QoS-enabled MPLS and Carrier Ethernet, at a range of bandwidths, from T1 to multigigabit/s? ± Network bandwidth and capacity planning. Can the provider recommend appropriate network bandwidths to match the cloud services, and are those bandwidths available from the provider? ± Application delivery optimization (ADO). Does the provider have access to application delivery optimization capabilities to ensure that missioncritical cloud-based applications can continue to function properly even in the event of congestion or outages? ± Disaster recovery. Can the provider survive both site and network outages? Are there alternate routes to cloud facilities should the network fail? ± Connectivity to branch offices. Can the cloud provider work with local exchange providers to ensure optimum connectivity to branch offices? Or do users need to backhaul connections to the cloud services across their pre-existing WANs? Because so many of these issues involve the ability to deliver end-to-end networking, network providers have inherent advantages when it comes to providing cloud services one reason IT professionals should consider these companies when seeking cloud solutions. Conclusions and Recommendations As cloud services become more strategic to IT organizations, IT professionals need to think about the characteristics they look for in providers. Ideally, IT professionals will approach the procurement of cloud services as they would any other outsourcing arrangement, by treating the provider as a strategic vendor or trusted advisor, crafting watertight service-level agreements and Nemertes Research 2011 ± ± ± DN1446 6

7 contracts, and above all, assessing the network capabilities (not just the storage and computing capabilities) of the provider. Key recommendations include: ± Remember that cloud services are not commodities (although computing and storage may be). Assess the ability of potential cloud providers to serve as strategic partners/trusted advisors. ± Approach a cloud service with the same care and attention to detail that you would any outsourced relationship. Pay special attention to SLAs, contract terms and conditions, and support for privacy and security. ± Pay close attention to a provider s networking capabilities. In particular, look at the following issues: o Network ownership o Ability to deliver SLAs that include access circuits o Ability to deliver both public-network and private-network services. o Network technology portfolio (MPLS and CE as well as Internet). o Network bandwidth and capacity planning. Can the provider assist with planning network infrastructure? o Application delivery optimization (ADO). o Disaster-recovery capabilities. o Connectivity to branch offices. About Nemertes Research: Nemertes Research is a research-advisory and strategicconsulting firm that specializes in analyzing and quantifying the business value of emerging technologies. You can learn more about Nemertes Research at our Website, or contact us directly at Nemertes Research 2011 ± ± ± DN1446 7

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