A CTO’s take on cloud

As Capgemini’s CTO for North America, Joe Coyle hears an awful lot about cloud computing. He hears it from customers that want to evaluate cloud solutions and from vendors that want to win that business. Capgemini, a $12 billion global systems integrator, has relationships with all the major vendors and many enterprise customers, so it’s interesting to hear what Coyle has to say about the current state of the market.

Here are my main takeaways from a recent conversation with him.

1: IBM is cloudier than you think.

Big Blue has a pretty potent set of cloud options but it’s going about its business very cleverly. Given it’s big-iron heritage, IBM rarely talks about the hardware component of its cloud portfolio, Coyle said.

“They’re attacking this from a software perspective. They’ve taken Tivoli and are building this software umbrella so that you can take whatever you’re running in your data center now and put all or part of it in a public or private cloud,” he noted. IBM’s 2010 acquisition of Cast Iron also give it a slick appliance that lets customers integrate in-house apps with SaaS applications running outside.

He doesn’t see IBM cloud penetrating a ton of new smaller businesses, but for many existing IBM shops — and there are a ton of them — IBM cloud is a no brainer.

2: Microsoft Azure has a tough row to hoe

Coyle is of two minds on Windows Azure, the platform-as-a-service (PaaS) underlying Microsoft’s cloud strategy.

“Azure’s been a bit of a disappointment,” he said. “When Microsoft briefed us on it years ago, all the national [systems integrators] were chomping at the bit. But then it stumbled.”

“Then the message was the software would only run on Azure. That’ s fine, but by that point, the world had moved on, companies were already using Amazon,” he said. The usual argument that Azure is a PaaS while Amazon Web Services (AWS) is Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) simply doesn’t matter to most customers. The big AWS draw is they know they can deploy their applications on AWS now and move them to another hosted or in-house data center, later.

On the plus side, the Azure technology is solid and, unlike previous Microsoft development technologies, forces developers to follow the rules — they can’t design software services that misbehave. ”Azure is extremely powerful and if [Microsoft] can get its act together people will try it,” Coyle said.

But overshadowing all that technical mastery is the perception of Azure as a closed platform — despite its multi-language support.  Microsoft’s single biggest problem is customer suspicion that it will use Azure to lock them into the next wave of Microsoft technologies, essentially replacing the Windows/Office upgrade cycle.

“I’m not saying it’s true, but it’s what people think,” Coyle said.

3: Amazon is Amazon

Amazon Web Services are what they are: extremely flexible and leading the league in public cloud. AWS suffered a couple black eyes in 2011 with an embarrassing four-day outage in April and then a widespread reboot glitch later in the year.

Coyle is pretty forgiving of these miscues. The April outage, he said, was largely due to people  implementing their work incorrectly, something that AWS tried to fix manually. There are things you can do now in AWS to prevent this stuff, to build in more reliability and redundancy, although users will have to pay for it, he said.

The bottom line? Glitches and all, Amazon is the incumbent public cloud power and will stay that way, he said.

4: OpenStack as big-time cloud disruptor

Coyle is also bullish on the OpenStack movement, which is building a standard cloud foundation out of open-source tools. Initiated by Rackspace and NASA, it’s achieved critical mass with nearly every IT provider — from Dell, to HP, to Cisco, to Citrix — aboard and Rackspace offloading management to a more neutral OpenStack Foundation. 

“OpenStack will change the world of cloud computing. As a lot of smaller companies look to build their own clouds, this will be a natural choice,” Coyle said.

Who stands to lose if that’s the case? Ironically, the Dells and HPs of the world — all of which are building their own clouds. “Why do you think they joined?”  His feeling is these hardware companies — many of which are also slated to run Azure in their data centers are hedging their bets here.

Will OpenStack affect Amazon? “No. Amazon is Amazon,” he said.

5: CIOs are getting over cloud phobia

It’s taken time, but the economics of cloud computing are too good for CIOs to ignore, Coyle said. Any doubts they had about moving at least some corporate data to an outside cloud storage provider, for instance, have evaporated in recent months.

And they’re getting emboldened to do more than storage. The advent of Hadoop and NoSQL technologies means that companies sitting on historical data could actually get some use out of that stuff sitting on tape or in platters somewhere, he said.  Uploading that information, and massaging it with the latest analytics means that historical data can be used to test assumptions and new models, for example, seeing what a price change means to sales over time.

Wringing real value out of old data is a pretty good proposition for most CIOs.

Cloud photo courtesy of Flickr user kevin dooley.

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