Enterprises heading for the cloud [Khaleej Times (United Arab Emirates)]
(Khaleej Times (United Arab Emirates) Via Acquire Media NewsEdge) Cloud computing is a real innovation in the logic of how IT is sourced and managed, and how services are delivered and consumed. It is emerging as a major disruptive force for the UAE IT and business executives alike. Many rightfully consider it to be the most important trend of the decade.
The next three years will see cloud computing mature rapidly in the UAE as enterprises come to grips with the opportunities and business benefits that it represents. Enterprises have already started to investigate cloud for a variety of reasons: It can be used to lower IT costs; it is also an effective way to boost IT effectiveness; it will help boost innovation.
Enterprise IT executives now understand the new logic that cloud computing offers. Some of the characteristics of 'cloud logic' include: Making it easy for customers to buy the service online; enabling simple and automated online provisioning; making the service catalogue and its architecture, pricing and performance transparent; offering standardised configurable services and Application Programming Interfaces (APIs); enabling customers to self-serve and peer support; evolving the service iteratively based on actual user behaviour data; engineering for best practice and lowest operating costs; providing seamless scalability and resilience.
These essential characteristics of cloud are what distinguish it from other hosted ICT services models. The requirements of on-demand self-service, place some considerable demands on the cloud infrastructure. There is a need for online customer portals for ordering services, automation of enablement processes, and end-to-end management of the entire infrastructure, including compute, storage, security, and the network.
The requirement for measured service and rapid elasticity means highly flexible provisioning and billing, which corresponds to the real-time resources consumed and allows service providers to offer creative and differentiated billing models. It is common to see cloud computing services with no setup charges or fixed contract terms.
Broad and fast network access is a key aspect of cloud computing, which not only means standard networking options such as the public Internet, but also enterprise-grade networking technologies from du such as managed MPLS VPN and carrier Ethernet.
Navigating a way to the cloud
UAE businesses in all sectors have not been slow in adopting this emerging technology option. There is general agreement among early-adopter CIOs that cloud technology comes with its own challenges and concerns. There are issues about integration of cloud services with legacy data systems, challenges around governance and risk management, and concerns over data integrity, data security and data recovery. These all feature as perceived obstacles to cloud services adoption.
The benefits far outweigh these drawbacks however. There are huge advantages in being able to access cloud-based resources that can be provisioned at speed and turned off, or released when not needed. There are quantifiable capex benefits of using a shared cloud infrastructure, available at any scale and with a lower cost footprint than on-premise options. Early adopters have been drawn to the notion that application services can be delivered to different internal business groups, trading partners or suppliers provisioned from a single, remotely managed implementation.
It is evident that CIOs want their cloud providers to deliver genuine business solutions and integrated business services, rather than try to sell them point products and disparate services. It is why many are looking to enterprise communications service providers, who can draw on and extend their existing telco service capabilities and strengths. Telcos are also in a unique position to provide business-grade cloud computing services, combining both private IP networking and cloud computing platforms with quality of service (QoS) guarantees and end-to-end SLAs. This is an important component of a bigger picture: to provide a more integrated portfolio of managed networking and managed IT solutions, backed up by end-to-end SLAs and access to professional services. The local telco service provider can play a number of roles in the market for cloud services, including that of trusted supplier of enterprise-grade services to SMEs and national enterprises, and/or as a provider of wholesale cloud services to other ICT service providers and channel partners.
Telecom providers already offer solutions such as web hosting, email hosting, managed security and cloud-based data centre services. They are also able to offer communications and collaboration applications from the cloud. The software-as-a-service (SaaS) model lends itself well to Unified Communications, where a suite of integrated communications and collaboration applications can be provided from a cloud service, which can include: Audio and web conferencing; desktop videoconferencing; email; enstant messaging; enterprise IP telephony (e.g. IP PBX features) and IP contact centre; mobility features, e.g. fixed–mobile integration features; document-sharing and workspaces; enterprise-grade social networking.
Applications are supported by common directories and presence features, and can be accessed from a variety of fixed and mobile devices. Many standalone applications have been available for a number of years, such as WebEx for audio and web conferencing. More recently, suites of communications and collaboration applications have also emerged; one example is Microsoft's Business Productivity Online Suite (BPOS), and its successor Office 365, which incorporate several applications including email, web conferencing, instant messaging, and document collaboration. Voice feature offerings have so far been mainly limited to audio conferencing, but we will increasingly see further voice features added, including enterprise-grade IP telephony (IP PBX features). As pointers to current best practices, these considerations should help shape executive thinking about the potential of cloud.
Cloud computing's focus on cost is part of a wider cost scrutiny effort
Software vendors have always offered their wares on the promise that they will cut costs or boost productivity. The lure of cost savings usually turns out to be a triumph of hope over experience, though. Cost savings are now a more explicit and definite objective. Many organisations are strengthening benefit realisation processes that increase executive accountability for cost-saving targets. This is flowing through to an increasing interest in cloud computing from early technology adopters.
The author is the chief commercial officer of the Emirates Integrated Telecommunications Company, which is popularly known as du. Views expressed are his own and do not reflect the newspaper's policy
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