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How To Integrate Cloud Computing Into Your Offerings

How to grow your business by offering cloud computing solutions

If you have a virtualization practice, the next logical step may be for you to start offering cloud computing to your customers. Here, the CEO of Abiquo looks at the cloud as way to continue to evolve your business, helping it to grow and adapt to changing customer needs. — Jennifer Bosavage, editor

I just saw a TV ad where a mother solved her family photo issues by “going to the cloud.” While a bit far fetched, it’s an indicator that cloud has definitely entered the mainstream and is here to stay. But the ad itself is both a testimony to the cloud value proposition and the fact that it’s an unbounded solution. If you listened to the pundits, the benefits of cloud cross numerous dimensions including cost, agility, scalability and availability – which ultimately drive business benefits for your customers. The common wisdom is that the “how” and “where” of the cloud is generally irrelevant to the user of the cloud resources, so the fact is that businesses want to consume cloud services like they have come to expect in their personal lives. IT teams are looking for ways to optimize that delivery while maintaining control. The growing expectations in ease of use, availability, cost and much more from the business unit raises the bar in terms of delivery from IT. That is where the solution providers, consultants, MSPs and other channel experts can help.

According to Gartner, “Cloud computing is just topping the peak, and private cloud computing is still rising.” It’s fairly early in the hype cycle and there tare still many unanswered questions about cloud. In addition, the various layers of the xaaS stack are constantly in flux (I just read about a Cloud PaaS startup– isn’t that redundant?) so you need to be flexible in evolving the scope of your service offerings as the customer needs, and associated cloud technologies, evolve.

I will assume that you have a virtualization practice today and in this context the cloud is just an evolution of what you are already doing. In terms of transformation of the IT infrastructure to a cloud model, the area that is the most disruptive to your business is at the Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) layer. IaaS is first and foremost about abstracting away the compute, storage and networking resources from the physical hardware that underpins it. Just like virtualization “drags” significant professional services opportunities for you today, the evolution to a private cloud for your customers will present similar opportunities. But just like virtualization forced you to transform your business model, with vendors that you represent and service offerings that you provided, to custom build solutions for your customers, the cloud will present similar challenges. In effect, you should look at the cloud as “Virtualization 2.0” – while there are changes that need to be implemented to be successful, consistent evolution of your service offerings will allow your business to better adapt.

First, let’s look at the virtualization vendors and their cloud computing offerings. Both industry analysts and customers will tell you that VMware is the leader in the server virtualization space – and for good reason. But even without cloud, VMware’s early lead in this market will eventually be chipped away by the deep pocketed competitors in this space – pricing pressure and “good enough” features will drive toward this heterogeneous environment. Add the distinct influence that Citrix and Microsoft are able to assert in the desktop space, as well as the variations in hypervisors and cloud offerings being used by test and development teams, and it all adds up to a future filled with heterogeneous environments. The transformation to cloud will just hasten this move, so you must be prepared for a day in the not-too-distant future where you will have to address mixed hypervisor environments serving the business, both on and off premise. As a result, your service offerings will need to accommodate a multi-hypervisor environment, enabling your customers to optimize on IT and business goals, as well as avoid vendor lock in.

Cloud computing also brings the concept of self-service IT to the forefront. The argument with Virtualization 1.0 is that while it brought tremendous capex savings, the opex savings have been debatable (and in certain instances, the opex increase completely neutralizes the capex savings.) The hope with cloud computing and the self-service model is to cut out “the middle man” (in this case anyone in IT) from individual transactions and move to a model where IT is just a utility that users consume on demand. Traditional hypervisor and management vendors will certainly enable services revenue for you as you try to build a private cloud by piecing together dozens of acquired technologies, with integration issues and different GUIs, but that type of service doesn’t add value to your customer. To enable true value-added services, partners should look to offer insight around deploying infrastructure aligned to business policies, and enabling cost effective choices on where and how applications should be deployed, either onsite or in a cloud. This type of strategic consulting enables IT to run their business with the control they want, the service customers demand and the expectations on price and performance the business needs.

Additionally, your ability to automate and orchestrate cloud specific use cases via RESTful API access will allow you to fulfill customer needs as desired. As a solution provider, the ability to bring a range of cloud service offerings that stitch together stable and open virtualization with adequate customization capabilities will be critical to ensure success as we progress towards Virtualization 2.0.

On-ramping both established hypervisor vendors and cloud centric emerging players now, plus expanding in-house expertise around RESTful API, will ensure a solid foundation as customers embark on their journey to the cloud.

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