Five Ways To Get A Piece Of The Cloud Market

If you're an IT solution provider not into cloud computing, you're letting a substantial chunk of change pass you by. Spending on public cloud computing generates $21.5 billion in revenue according to IDC, and that number will balloon to $72.9 billion by 2015. You've got to play to win, as the saying goes. Here are five ways to approach that very lucrative market.

1. How To Sell Cloud Computing, Even If It's Not Your Core Competency
So you've read the tea leaves and know you want a piece of the cloud computing segment. Your SMB customers are now starting to ask whether they should move certain business assets to the cloud, as their larger competitors have done already. The move toward the cloud is growing, with IDC projecting compound annual growth rate of more than 25 percent, so if you don't provide what your customers are asking, then your competition will.

Action items:
• Educate yourself on what the different cloud offerings are and the benefits they provide. Vendors can be very helpful in assisting with this educational process.
• Determine how cloud services can complement your own offerings. By figuring out how what you already do can complement a cloud service, you've designed a new offering. Now, you're bringing something to market, rather than reacting to it. You're playing offense, not defense.
• Consider partnering with an experienced provider. That will round out your company's knowledge and understanding, as well as experienced customer service.
• By wrapping cloud services around products with which you are already familiar, you're creating a value-added package that is uniquely designed for your customers. You're also bundling products; it's the same concept as a fast food "value meal." As Robert Fuller, vice president of worldwide channel sales at Rackspace, notes in his How-To article, change your mindset and think about cloud computing as a way to be proactive with customers, rather than just reactive. ’In presenting a new offering,’ writes Fuller, ’you’re given the opportunity to strengthen your relationship with your customers by acting as a trusted advisor – solving problems before your customers even know they have them.’

2. How To Integrate Cloud Computing Into Service Offerings
Now that you've familiarized yourself about what cloud computing is, and how as an IT solution provider it makes sense to create some unique offerings, it's time to figure out just how to do that. If you have a virtualization practice right now, the cloud is just an evolution of what you are already doing. (If you don't, start by offering virtualization, something that makes particular sense if you are currently in the storage space.) One way to look at the cloud is as "virtualization 2.0." Virtualization brought capital expenditure savings, but now it's time to look at how you can reduce customers' operational expenses by moving to the cloud. Pete Malcolm, CEO of Abiquo writes in his Channel Voices blog, ’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.’ Solution providers will increasingly be tasked with providing insight and advice for cloud-based solutions as customers continue to look for ways to reduce costs.

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"The best thing providers can do is include the cloud as part of broader solutions. Don’t change the approach you are taking to your customers, but make sure you can augment your current offerings with cloud-based solutions," said Margaret Dawson, vice president of marketing and product management, Hubspan. "For example, if you are doing a major network build out, can you leverage the cloud for any elements of that. Or, if you are building a new application for a customer, take the opportunity to develop an agile Web-based application. If your company is a strong .NET shop, then make the plunge into Microsoft Azure to leverage your core competency and still move to the cloud."

Action items:
• Your service offerings will need to accommodate a multi-hypervisor environment. Start now to bring on established hypervisor vendors and cloud-centric emerging players.
• IT solution providers should look to offer insight around deploying infrastructure aligned to business policies. They should be able to provide cost effective choices on where and how applications should be deployed, either onsite or in a cloud.
• Automate and orchestrate using REST, which solution providers can use to build Web sites that are easily read and used by machines. (REST is a set of principles that define how Web standards, such as HTTP and URIs, should be used.)

3. How To Use Cloud Computing For Disaster Recovery
Many storage VARs are familiar with virtualization and are actively engaged in that segment. Storage VARs are also frequently in the disaster recovery segment, and cloud computing can play a big role in DR planning. Cloud solutions are a natural fit for DR, because they store information offsite and are easily accessed in a time of crisis. With cloud-based disaster recovery, the IT solution provider can restore the physical or virtual environment, and end users can get back to work immediately. As Tom Kiblin points out in his online blog, disaster recovery in the cloud is offering companies more options to restore data quickly and effectively than with a traditional disaster recovery model. In addition, cloud-based DR is a cost-effective alternative to other options.

"We've seen that many small and mid-sized businesses do not have a disaster recovery plan in place, often due to the cost of maintaining the service. With disaster recovery in the cloud, enterprise-grade recovery of production environments is now an option for the SMB market," Eric Webster, chief revenue officer at IT solution provider Doyenz, said. "With a cloud-based disaster recovery service, infrastructure costs typically covered by the IT consultant -- such as hardware, bandwidth, data center, cooling, heating -- are absorbed by the cloud provider and included in the monthly fee you pay for the capacity you are utilizing in the cloud. Tasks that previously had to be done on-premise -- testing to see if software upgrades will be successful, for example -- can now be done in a dedicated environment in the cloud without impacting production."

Action items:
• Discuss with your customer what the acceptable amount of data loss would be, measured in time. Then talk about the suitable amount of time that can transpire before a business process is restored in order to avoid a break in business continuity. Ask, "To what point in time does the data need to be restored?"
• Determine which business processes should be backed up most frequently. IT solution providers can create a customized tiered system within the cloud that can more frequently backup certain applications. Traditional backup doesn't generally provide that level of customization.

Next: Two More Ways To Get Into Cloud Computing

4.How To Get Ready for Cloud — And Keep Your Customers Safe
Conjuring up an image of the word "cloud" generally results in a translucent, nebulous image -- one that is pretty much the antithesis of what one thinks of when thinking of security. Ironically, cloud computing manages to be the fastest growing technology in the industry, while at the same time be one of the least understood, notes Geoff Webb, director of product marketing at Credant Technologies, in his Channel Voices blog. The very characteristics that make the cloud appealing for storage and disaster recovery -- for example, its flexibility and a ubiquitous nature -- can make it downright scary for someone trying to lock down and secure sensitive information. But an old security technology is making the grade: encryption.

One of the critical aspects to encryption is key management: Who has access, and where and how are they stored are top concerns. If your expertise is not encryption, partner with a vendor that can train you, or with another solution provider.

"Traditional means of securing data continue to be via the implementation of virtual private networks, which encrypts the communications of data between locations and encryption of the data; however, cloud computing makes these traditional methods more cumbersome," Jerry Irvine, CIO of Chicago-based Prescient Solutions, said. "Additionally, data encryption is provided by most Cloud providers. Depending on the methods and specifics of the encryption types and algorithms being used, this provides protection of data should external applications or malicious entities gain access to the Cloud based, publicly accessible data of our clients. However, encryption keys, etc. may be managed by the cloud provider, making it possible for devices or users internal to the cloud provider to corrupt or obtain data access." Therefore, a clear policy of who has access to what information and systems is vital.

Action items:
• Select a vendor or solution provider that has partnered this way before.
• Learn about your partners cloud strategy. Will this partner be able and willing to bring you up to speed?
• Ask about regulatory and compliance issues they have faced, and also ask whether they understand your particular environment. Get examples.
• Research your prospective partner. Do Internet searches, but be sure to call their customers. Ask for referrals. Interview the company. Determine whether it has the capability to provide secure key management even in highly complex environments. Can it integrate encryption management for cloud services (including private cloud) into the broader enterprise infrastructure?

5. How To Integrate High Performance Computing On the Cloud
High performance computing can be moved to the cloud, which offers not only the cost savings associated with cloud computing, but the supercomputer power that defines HPC. HPC may never become pervasive, since supercomputing is so specialized(from hardware to service support to applications, writes Aninda Bose, head of strategic sales and marketing at NIIT Technologies in his guest blog. However, concerns may be systematically addressed as a greater number of users demand increased efficiency.

Action items:
• Develop applications that are elastic in nature and can scale with relative ease.
• Apps should be low in latency. High security apps, for example, can take a lot of resources and can slow systems down. HPC speeds things up; within the cloud the infrastructure needs to offer sufficient support.
• The HPC architecture should be based on "loose coupling." That way, each computer note is independent and has its own storage data. To increase scale, the number of nodes are increased.