EMC faces cloud computing 'frienemies'

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EMC faces cloud computing 'frienemies'

As some of the fog surrounding the elusive cloud computing phenomenon evaporates, vendors are fast moving into the emerging territory.

Analysts attribute the cloud computing push to a rise of data-intensive applications, data centre pressures, and mobile and networking technologies.

And with technology behemoths such as Google, Microsoft and IBM leading the charge, cloud computing could be shaping up to be an industry-changing technology.

According to EMC’s Vice President of Technology Alliances, Chuck Hollis, cloud computing is not a fad -- it is the way of the future.

“Cloud is probably the most exciting thing happening in IT today, and also the most scary,” he said.

“For us, cloud is the natural evolution of the decomposition of IT.”

Speaking at the EMC Inform forum in Sydney last week, Hollis likened the current state of technology to how power was distributed among manufacturers in during the industrial revolution.

Just as manufacturers moved from using on-site power plants to nationwide power grids in the past, Hollis expects technology companies to move from on-premise solutions to cloud-based distributed computing power in the near future.

Already, consumers and businesses should be familiar with the concept of cloud computing through the Google search engine, which gives users access to Google’s powerful search servers via the internet, Hollis pointed out.

Enterprise uptake of cloud computing is also said to be enabled by the recently-popular concept of virtualisation, which enables organisations to dynamically balance server load and resources.

By providing a standardised service that looks and performs similarly for multiple users, cloud-based solutions are expected to produce economies of scale, reduce purchasing costs, and simplify IT maintenance.

“We believe that virtualisation in all its forms is fundamentally changing the economics of computing,” Hollis said.

“There is a business value created by giving IT organisations what they need, when they need it.”

“Whereas historically, we’ve thought in terms of buying technology, now it makes sense to consume it over the wire,” he said.

“We can’t go back to how things were before.”

According to Gartner Research Fellow and Vice President David Cearley, vendor dominance in the cloud computing market will be decided by which platform is most successful at attracting independent software vendors and developers.

Speaking at an Emerging Trends and Technology Roadshow in Sydney earlier this year, Cearley named Amazon, Google, Facebook, Salesforce, Microsoft, and IBM as vendors that are leading the charge towards computing in the cloud.

Just as Microsoft won a majority of the software market share by establishing Windows as the primary ecosystem for Independent Software Vendors to develop new software and applications, Web service providers currently are battling to establish dominance in the cloud computing market, he said.

“Vendors are battling for ultimate control of business computing in the next decade,” he said. “Proper use of the infrastructure stack and related Web services will be key for ‘megavendor’ success.”

But EMC’s Hollis expects competition in the cloud computing arena to be less of a winners-versus-losers game as it is an opportunity for competitors to support and build on each other’s successes.

Hollis named Google as a cloud computing market leader in the consumer arena, and Microsoft as a leader in the SMB market.

He described both Google and Microsoft as “partners” and “frienemies” in a “co-opetition” (corporative competition) for the cloud.

EMC could provide long-term information management for Microsoft’s cloud computing services, he said for example.

“In my view, it’s not going to be about which cloud; it’s [the future] going to be all the clouds,” he said. “I think there’s going to be multiple clouds for different markets.”

“Just like in the technology world where no one vendor has everything, in the cloud, it may not be the case of ‘ether/or’ as much as it is ‘and’,” he said.

Gartner predicts that by 2012, 80 percent of Fortune 1000 enterprises will be paying for some cloud computing services, and 30 percent will be paying for cloud computing infrastructure services.

But despite the potentials of cloud computing, industry spectators expect there to remain a demand for on-premise technology for certain business-critical applications.

Hollis described the difference between “core functions” and “context functions”.

Core functions were said to include: securing strategic advantage for an organisation; obtaining market differentiation; and protecting customers’ confidentiality.

Context functions were described as “basic IT housekeeping tasks”, such as maintaining databases and ensuring all systems are up and running.

“IT is getting clogged with all these things that have to get done and nobody wants to do,” he said.

“On that other [context] list, we think you’re going to get your cloud services to do that,” he told partners and customers at the forum.

According to Steve Leonard, Asia Pacific President of EMC, Asia is likely to lead the push towards cloud computing.

In developing markets such as India, Leonard expects the evolution of technological services to echo the development of telecommunications infrastructure.

India has leapfrogged the need for wired communications infrastructure by deploying wireless access points and mobile services instead, he explained.

Similarly, cloud computing could give start-up organisations the option to consume technology over the wire, bypassing the need for costly software and hardware purchases.

“We think that Asia generally would be leading this in terms of a trend,” Leonard said. “India will be a major provider and domestic consumer of cloud services in the next two to three years.”

If cloud computing takes off in the Asia Pacific region, the Australian economy could stand to gain by housing vendors’ data centres and positioning itself as an exporter of information.

Leonard highlighted market maturity and the opportunity to leverage an English-speaking market in an Asian location as attractions for organisations looking to invest in data centres in Australia.

“We certainly would see Australia as a potential exporter of knowledge,” he said, mentioning that EMC currently is “in discussions with governments” about potential locations for its data centres.

Hollis explained that EMC’s decision of where to locate its data centres relies heavily on government policies surrounding the export of information.

Likening current data transfer restrictions to European trade restrictions in the past, Hollis said cloud computing service providers require the ability for information to move transparently across borders to ensure uninterrupted, reliable service.

“Before we see mainstream adoption of cloud, you need to be able to trust that it’s going to be there when you need it,” he said.

“The cloud is not theoretical; there are people out there making money from it today,” he concluded. “The future is here; it’s just not evenly distributed.”

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