InsightaaS: It's clear to anyone who has an interest in cloud that the technology and scope of deployment has been evolving rapidly over the past few years. What is sometimes lost in the flurry of the immediate, though, are the longer-term trends that are reshaping what cloud is and does. Over the past several months, InsightaaS been researching the management transformations that will occur as a result of cloud's ability to reduce the cost and effort required to automate processes to (nearly) zero, and what this will mean to business and IT strategy in the future.
InsightaaS Principal Analyst Michael O'Neil will be introducing a new book in November focused on these changes. Entitled "The Death of Core Competency: A management guide to cloud computing and the zero-friction future," it combines a discussion of management options and imperatives with a cloud strategy framework and detailed analysis of key cloud activities and technologies. The book benefits from InsightaaS's close relationship with CenturyLink: it will be launched at a CenturyLink event in Toronto on November 3 (click here for no-cost registration, which includes a free day-of-launch e-copy of the book) and Canadian country manager Ash Mathur authored the book's introduction.
Before committing (virtual) pen to paper, Mathur participated in a far-ranging interview with InsightaaS. In it, he discussed the issues shaping cloud today, and the ways in which he sees cloud evolving in the future. What follows below is an extract from the interview transcript, containing some of the high points of the discussion; interested readers will find a link at the bottom of this article allowing them to download the full transcript.
InsightaaS: What changes are you seeing in customer approaches to the cloud?
Ash Mathur: Cloud is really becoming a management priority more than ever before. As a buzzword it’s something that has kind of taken on a life of its own, and as executives come to understand that cloud is an important trend in the industry they know need to pay attention to it and figure out what it means for their companies. So cloud has become both a technology enabler and also become a management priority, as technologies sometimes do. Whether it’s Big Data today, or the internet in the early days, these buzzword technologies become viewed as a panacea for making business outcomes more cost effective to deliver. I think that today, this is how the C level executives — CEOs, CFOs — look at cloud. IT executives today have a different perspective — their key questions around cloud are mostly about how they leverage the technologies that are out there, and how they can evaluate their current state and define where they need to go from a technology perspective, and develop a road map that helps them get there in a natural and low-risk way. Companies generally cannot jump directly from traditional infrastructure to public cloud, and a lot of the compelling functionality is delivered by the public cloud; this is the part of the cloud management equation that requires a vision of the future and a plan, a roadmap, to get there. A lot of people see the vision of public cloud when they think of what cloud can deliver, but I think that in many businesses, management really needs to start by considering information delivery in terms of infrastructure as a service, platform as a service and really, IT as a service — that’s really where the industry is going. What is the best way for IT executives to understand where they are today, and to build a plan around this vision of providing IT as a service — with all of the quick provisioning and application functionality and charge backs to the appropriate users — so that they can quickly deliver and deploy to what their business needs in a much more cost effective way than they are today?
InsightaaS: Does this trend towards more efficient, services-oriented or information delivery-oriented approach to cloud affect the kinds of services or solutions that your customers expect from you and/or the kinds of customers that are calling on you looking for help?
Ash Mathur: That’s really two questions. With respect to types of customers — really, I think all kinds of companies are interested in cloud: large, medium and small, from the big banks to the mid-sized companies that are looking to expand to the startups, we find a lot of interest in cloud across the board. In terms of the people we’re talking to, we approach non-IT people in addition to our standard IT contacts; the types of workloads that they want to deliver through the cloud are not limited to typical IT projects. We do see customers buying the standard application development environments that people have used cloud for, but now we’re also finding customers who are looking to run business units or sometimes their entire businesses on cloud. There are companies in Toronto that have really bet on our platform to offer their services to customers across North America and around the world — customers for whom we are the enabling platform. I think that’s a big difference between the business world today and five or ten years ago — without cloud as a platform there they would think through and invest in a traditional IT deployment model but now they can have us as that infrastructure to deliver their suite of services. I mentioned that we don’t deal with a lot of startups on a day to day basis but I know that when businesses are starting up they are thinking automatically of the cloud based platform as a delivery vehicle. Companies like CenturyLink are important to businesses moving to the cloud: we offer a rapid development and deployment environment, and we also provide all that orchestration, automation and accounting ability and capability — the management function that IT executives are looking for and business executives would want.
What you don’t want as a senior manager is to have a whole hodgepodge of different kinds of cloud deployments across a company. I look at the cloud as being a little like the web was maybe 15 years ago. You might recall back in those days, there were many different web projects going on and companies had many different web sites. You had large companies that would agonize over how they had hundreds of different web sites that didn’t talk to each other and didn’t have common branding and common look and feel; no one was really controlling and managing the content and how the sites were deployed. Every little business unit spun up their own web presence because it was easy and cheap to do and it fell within their budget and met their requirements, but at an enterprise level they were not able to leverage all those investments and make it part of their corporate strategy.
So I look at the cloud as being a lot like the web was many years ago in the sense that it’s also cheap and easy to procure — but can an enterprise harness all of the deployments or all of the needs across the different functional users, whether they are marketing people or service delivery people or IT developers or executives who want to spin up new offerings, and have it deployed consistently? I think cloud is relevant to business users and IT users across small and large companies because they are all looking to use it as a platform to provide their services in a cost-effective manner, to expand their reach so that they can deploy their services across North America or globally.
InsightaaS: I think that makes sense. In addition to providing processors and development environments and network connections and some power and security, what services do you find that those customers need from CenturyLink in order to be successful in spinning up support for their business activities?
Ash Mathur: Enterprises need services that support the issues that they need to manage as part of major initiatives: things like change management, user adoptions, training — for their own staff and potentially for customers as well, if they are accessing online services. If the deployment model is different and the application interfaces are different, customers need to think through the impact of these user interface and adoption changes. On the financial side, these are some of the things that change with cloud. For example, how are support services around cloud systems different from what is needed today? Frankly, the expectations are very high, and users and even IT executives expect these services to be available on demand 24/7. If there’s a problem, if the system is down, who do they call, and is that person familiar with the specific details of the customer’s cloud environment or not?
InsightaaS: If we ‘fast forward’ a little bit, it seems likely that most enterprises are going to have multiple types of cloud deployed: they’re going to use cloud-based infrastructure, they’re going to use task-specific SaaS applications to automate particular functions deployed against specific processes in many different parts of their company, and somehow they’re going to need to wrap all this stuff back together. As you’ve said, it’s one thing to hand out a credit card and automate a task, it’s another thing to wrap that into a strategy that allows for federated identity management and security across your entire environment, and that provides for backup so if one of your task automation SaaS providers goes down, you still know where the data is. Do you envision this leading to a kind of ‘ecosystem of clouds’ where CenturyLink provides core services and other companies provide complementary services that run on your infrastructure or snap into it?
Ash Mathur: I think the industry is evolving towards that that multiple cloud provider future and this whole federation of clouds… I’m hesitating a little bit because some of this is kind of directional and some providers have talked about that federated approach, companies like Cisco and HP, but as this evolves, each service provider will have a point of view and a set of services; at the end of the day customers will pick and choose who they want to work with and how they will access additional services from other clouds that are not part of their core service from their core service provider.
Eventually this will evolve into very much a federated model — a suite of services that people subscribe to or have access to, with central authorization and authentication to move across these different cloud services. It will be fairly seamless from a user point of view, beyond the fact that they will need to pick and choose who they get to. Under the covers, it will be fairly complex in terms of how technically all of these services connect to each other — how authentication and authorization is delivered to enable access to the right information for the right people at the right time. But that’s definitely where this is heading. At this point, this is more conceptual than reality, but I think the industry is definitely evolving in this direction.