Cisco Partners: Business Objectives Drive Cloud Conversation

That was one of the conclusions reached by a panel of Cisco partners during a discussion of cloud computing trends at Cisco Live in Las Vegas this week. Most enterprises are ready for cloud infrastructure, the partners said, but how quickly they make the leap is a case-by-case scenario.

"The cloud is evolutionary," said Wyatt Starnes, vice president of advanced concepts at Harris Corp., the Melbourne, Fla.-based solution provider giant. "It's a transition of the delivery model and enterprises that started the process toward application virtualization are further down the road of where virtualization occurs and outsourced processing occurs."

"It's a migrational path," he added. "It's not a jump you sort of make in one day."

Phil Harris, senior strategic advisor for VCE, the cloud data center company formed by Cisco and EMC with help from VMware and Intel, said that one of the key benefits of cloud computing is that enterprises don't need as many different software systems. But to avoid the same problems in virtual environments as exist in physical IT environments, applications have to be purpose-built for the cloud.

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"Virtual buckets are really no different than physical buckets, they're just a little bit more flexible," Harris said. "We have to think about how to build apps differently in the cloud."

It's a psychological transformation in employees as much as it is a technology transformation, Harris argued. When workloads are placed in the cloud, for example, functions common to data center infrastructure such as proof-of-retrievability also change. That can take some getting used to, panelists agreed.

"It's a quality of service statement," said Starnes. "It's a lot more than security. It's availability, performance, everything that's involved from a client point of view."

For some companies that have already been through IT budget cuts, the migration to cloud can be an expensive proposition -- it is, in many cases, an infrastructure change whose upfront investment may not pay immediate dividends in the short-term.

"It's not consistently less expensive, it's often more expensive," said Lawrence McNutt, COO of Special Order Systems, a Loomis, Calif.-based solution provider and Cisco partner. "These are companies that in many cases have trimmed their IT expenses very well -- they're already under-spending, and the cost actually goes up because they're [investing] with cloud providers."

"There is often a bounce before the amortization actually kicks in," VCE's Harris agreed.

Joe Crawford, executive director of Verizon Cloud Services, said the changeover in many cases has to be gradual, and its incumbent on partners to set customer expectations about how quickly they can embrace cloud technologies.

"A lot of the time what we get asked is, 'how do we start,'" Crawford said. "It's not an event. It's a journey."

Lew Tucker, Cisco's CTO for cloud computing, said that service level agreements (SLA) will change for cloud computing solutions, to reflect the economics of how companies are using compute power.

"I believe inherently that we can be much more measurable in what we use computing to do," Tucker said.

"We do need to re-think SLAs," said Harris' Starnes. "Sometimes, in traditional data center terms, that's CYA [cover your a--]. We have to shift the thinking and deliver against the promise. The promise of an airline is to get you from point A to point B safely. We have to start thinking that way as we move into clouds."

VCE's Phil Harris said 32 percent of most enterprise' IT budgets are spent on change control. If cloud computing does change how resources are accessed, a lot of that cost goes back to IT to invest in better applications. Harris, too, agreed that the transformation is gradual.

"You have to start thinking about very straightforward workloads that can not only be virtualized but inherently changed," VCE's Harris said. "It sounds like the Big Bang Theory, but the reality is, Big Bang never works very well. Think of the notion of where it can make sense and then grow it in concentric circles around that."

The debate over cloud standards, the panelists added, won't slow down how fast the technology is embraced.

"We want to have policies. The particular syntax around it, that's up for debate," said Cisco's Tucker. "We will get through this little period of trying to decide ad hoc standards, but it's not getting in the way of doing anything real today."