News

Cloud on the horizon

Source: ITWEB


Gean Boegman, associate director of Ovations Group.

Gean Boegman, associate director of Ovations Group.

The hype around cloud computing has swept the globe, but adoption rates appear to be slower in some markets than in others. South Africa is a case in point: current perception is that while consumers have adopted cloud en masse, knowingly or unknowingly, businesses have been more reticent about putting valuable corporate data in the cloud.

 

But this is about to change, according to Lise Hagen, research manager for IDC. Referring to that company's annual predictions, she says 2015 will be the year that cloud stops being a technology discussion and becomes a business discussion in SA.

Hagen adds that this means the discussion will move on from security and connectivity, and begin to centre on delivering business value. She thus asks the roundtable panel how business value can best be demonstrated.

 

Linda Morris, customer experience director with Smart Technology Centre, believes value to the business is best illustrated through business continuity. "It's a multifaceted issue," she says, "but simply, previously using a tape-based backup, recovery could take days. If you're on the cloud at the moment, recovery can take two hours, if not less."

Nkosi Kumalo, executive head of product division: cloud computing at Vodacom, suggests it's a mind shift. "I don't think people have to think very hard about cloud, but think about what it is they want to do in their business, deliver with technology, and then think about how they buy the technology."

 

 
Johann Els, senior open source specialist at SUSE, believes the size of the customer affects the conversation and, by implication, how business value is perceived and demonstrated. "Smaller companies are quicker to adopt cloud technology," he says.

 

Xhead =Business drivers

By contrast, he adds, larger organisations have the legacy to consider. However, he believes a new software development method called DevOps is changing attitudes and driving companies to adopt cloud technology within their own data centres. From there, presumably, it's but a short step to wholeheartedly embracing the cloud.

 

Hennie van Tonder, head of product with MWEB Business.

Hennie van Tonder, head of product with MWEB Business.

Gean Boegman, associate director of Ovations Group, interjects that businesses typically require services quite specific to their way of operating. "If you have an environment that can host these processes in the cloud, it (will almost inadvertently provide business) benefit," he says.

 

Jacques Viljoen, senior cloud architect for Datacentrix, has a different perspective: "In order to give value to businesses, we need to understand what it is they want to do; we need to understand what drives the business. We also need to understand where they are in their technology cycle," he says.

Experience, he continues, has shown that the best time to broach the subject of introducing cloud is when a company is approaching a technology refresh cycle. Viljoen suggests that positioning a cloud move against a major hardware or software purchase or upgrade makes the business value that much more apparent.

 

In order to give value to businesses, we need to understand what is it they want to do.

 

At this point, Mark Reynolds, partner and general business lead of VMware southern Africa, takes issue with the assertion that cloud adoption in SA is slow in the enterprise sector. Contending that local corporates are far from reticent, he says the key is to understand what people are looking for from cloud.

 

"You can position it how you like, which application they take... how to make those decisions. But, at the end of the day, what they need is continuous service, and if you're able to provide that, you're able to provide business value," says Reynolds.

Tackling SMEs

Representing a distribution company that operates through 3 500 resellers, Leane Hannigan, cloud solutions director of Westcon Group Southern Africa, comes at the issue from a different angle. The point she makes is that it's through that reseller base that many SMEs should encounter cloud computing solutions.

 

Jacques Viljoen, senior cloud architect for Datacentrix.

Jacques Viljoen, senior cloud architect for Datacentrix.

The problem, she adds, is that many resellers are still pushing the lucrative ‘on-premises' computing model, because it's what they understand and it's how they derive their revenue.

 

"It's about converting them. They get (cloud), they understand it, because a lot of them are technologists," says Hannigan.

The problem, she adds, is that on-premises software licensing and hardware is lucrative. Cloud solutions are only lucrative in 18 months, and on more of an annuity basis. Because of the cash flow implications, she sees her role as providing financial modelling to help these resellers transition their business from one point to the next. "I help resellers to embrace and adopt, but not too quickly," she says.

 

...the complexity of the requirements doesn't necessarily align with the size of the company.

 

Hennie van Tonder, head of product with MWeb Business, agrees and says the sales cycle for cloud is longer than for on-premises equipment and software. Furthermore, he notes while many SMEs are going for cloud, they typically have quite disparate requirements.

 

"We constantly segregate the market, based on the size of the companies, but the complexity of the requirements doesn't necessarily align with the size of the company," he adds. "It's (also) about understanding where they want to be three, four years from now; it's not trying to save them something on the bottom line within the first financial year."

Gradual approach

Kumalo suggests uncertainty around the definition of cloud computing is problematic. A standard definition agreed to by all, he says, would make it much easier for decision-makers to actually make the decision.

 

Johann Els, senior open source specialist at SUSE.

Johann Els, senior open source specialist at SUSE.

He suspects SMEs are adopting cloud solutions faster not because it's cloud, but because "it's cheaper, it's convenient, it's not painful to embrace; there's no migration, everything is there and they can switch it off next month if they want to. But, once you start talking about migrations, and timeframes, project management and all of that, it becomes different," he says.

 

Morris adds that the approach to cloud should be a gradual one. "The worst thing you can do is try everything off the cuff. It creates a very bad experience, because things do go wrong," she says. Instead, she advocates starting small, with high-impact quick wins, then gradually moving on to the more complex systems and applications.

After soliciting views on cloud adoption by different size companies, Hagen offers a succinct summary of the comments made. "Cloud is growing in South Africa, there's no doubt about that, and there's consensus around the table," she says.

 

It comes down to confidence; confidence in the experience is the first step of the journey.

 

She adds that different rates of growth are evident for different segments, from SMEs to enterprises, immature to mature organisations, innovative companies or laggards. But, the bottom line is that cloud is only another way, another channel of providing a service that's already available.

 

In this context, Hagen hit the panel with her last question: "Do you think cloud is being hyped, over-hyped, or should it now just be business as usual?"

 

Leane Hannigan, cloud solutions director of Westcon Group Southern Africa.

Leane Hannigan, cloud solutions director of Westcon Group Southern Africa.

For Kumalo, there remains a lot of confusion in the market about cloud, primarily because cloud means different things to different people. He suggests part of the problem is that the necessary skills around cloud are either completely absent or in very short supply – both at a supplier level and within potential customers.

 

Unsurprisingly, Kumalo says this has perpetuated the situation where the concept of cloud computing remains over-hyped.

Viljoen disagrees, saying he believes cloud is on the cusp of becoming business as usual. "It might not be there yet, but it's definitely very, very quickly getting there," he says.

Customers, he adds, want a flexible environment in which they can easily switch to a different supplier without the complexity and the lag induced by a complex procurement cycle and lengthy implementation window.

"What's important to them is that they're in control. They also want to be self-service; if they want something today, they want to go into a portal and (derive) the benefit (immediately)," says Viljoen.

 

Linda Morris, customer experience director with Smart Technology Centre.

Linda Morris, customer experience director with Smart Technology Centre.

Cloud is still complex, he adds, and many people don't understand what it actually entails. "Probably the most difficult thing for us as service providers is to make sure that our customers understand what cloud can do for them."

 

Van Tonder makes the point that nobody buys cloud just because it's cloud. "Everyone wants the business value. They just want a partner that (enables them) to leverage technology innovation, and cloud is technology innovation."

He also believes cloud vendors are missing a trick by not focusing on industry verticals. "We're just scratching the surface of possibilities for cloud in SA," he adds.

Xhead =Early days

Reynolds says cloud is an industry in its infancy. However, picking up on an earlier point, he adds that cloud doesn't have to be implemented in an all-or-nothing manner. "You can put your toe in the water, and see what it feels like," he says.

On the question of hype, he indicates that it is irrelevant. "It's the way we're going to go, hype or not," states Reynolds.

 

Lise Hagen, research manager for IDC.

Lise Hagen, research manager for IDC.

Hannigan has a different view: "What we're hearing is about the future and when something is as interesting and exciting as cloud, it will be talked about. So there is a hype in the market, but it's the right hype," she states.

 

Putting on her distribution hat once more, she says demand among SMEs is coming from the end-user. "Is it enough? No, because we need all the businesses out there, resellers, the potential future hosters, to start embracing it," says Hannigan.

Els is in the business-as-usual camp. "Within the open source community, we've been using cloud technology forever," he says. In business circles, he believes generational change will inevitably lead to the adoption of cloud technology.

Morris agrees that cloud is nothing new; it has just become more accessible. "It comes down to confidence; confidence in the experience is the first step of the journey," she notes.

 

Mark Reynolds, partner and general business lead of VMware Southern Africa.

Mark Reynolds, partner and general business lead of VMware Southern Africa.

Boegman reckons cloud is still all hype and the vendor approach is all wrong. "Cloud is just something in the toolkit that we've discovered could be very useful. It's just one of the different options available and from which customers can choose," he says.

 

One of the key the challenges to cloud adoption is organisational maturity, says Hagen. At the same time, she believes that "inspired leaders will be including technology as one of those enablers to achieve their goals".

It's normal to encounter resistance to change, she continues, but it's the people approach that's going to be the differentiator. "We're talking about technology, but, ultimately, it's about people, and how you empower them or educate them," she concludes.

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