The cloud industry has reached a level of maturity that is causing many enterprise executives to think of it as more than just a convenient means to offload general purpose data responsibilities. Increasingly, the cloud is being asked to provide more specialized services geared toward specific functions within the business model or even entire industry verticals.
The so-called “community cloud” concept, in fact, is gaining popularity at a steady clip. This is where clouds are established by and for key users – such as government, health care and finance – and then optimized for the specific workloads generated by the community. According to TechNavio, the global community cloud market is on pace to hit compounded annual growth of 36 percent for the remainder of the decade. The key advantage is that by serving a collection of like-minded clients, the community cloud can improve on the standard multitenant model to produce more efficient distribution of resources and a more integrated application and support stack in support of increasingly tailored services.
Service providers, in fact, are starting to pitch various “as a service” offerings to key industry verticals in the effort to carve out increased market share. Voice4Net and TeleSpeak, for example, are pitching their new Unified Communication as a Service (UCaaS) collaboration, WebRTC, to emerging industries like telehealth and remote learning, which the companies say will benefit from the “SimCity-like” virtual environment generated by the service’s 3D GUI. At the same time, it features a number of real-time APIs that allow users to interact directly with a range of legacy systems and development tools.
The problem with community or vertical clouds, however, is the lack of flexibility that comes with pre-defined data environments, says NetSuite’s Jim McGeever for Diginomica. As once distinct industries like manufacturing and e-commerce become increasingly integrated, a tailored cloud may end up inhibiting the business model rather than opening it up to new possibilities. An organization that finds itself with a cloud that is optimized for current business needs might be slower to react as those needs change and new opportunities arise. To be sure, new clouds can always be spun up to address new challenges, but the enterprise will still need to keep a careful eye on its cloud environment to make sure it is enabling, not restricting, the kind of flexibility required of the digital economy.
Along with key industry verticals, the cloud is also spawning solutions aimed at standard industry functions. Adobe, for example, is up and running with the Marketing Cloud, a collection of tools and services designed to help businesses organize information and craft their message. The idea is to use the dynamic capabilities of the cloud to provide more content-aware marketing and sales programs that can update promotions, events and even target audiences, in real time, which should give users a better handle on where, when and how to pitch prospective customers with key offerings. It’s the difference between crafting a social media marketing campaign and then releasing it en masse at a pre-determined moment, or automatically triggering it as an individual enters the automotive shop or bookstore.
Scalability and flexibility are the most favorable aspects of the cloud, but at the end of the day, organizations want solutions that work, preferably without a lot of complexity and upfront integration challenges. Community clouds, vertical clouds and other offerings that are tailored to specific workloads will no doubt prove to be a boon to many knowledge workers, but it is important to remember that simply running the same old processes on the cloud fails to take full advantage of the technology being offered.
For CIOs, the challenge will be to view the cloud with one eye looking to solve the problems of today and the other on the lookout for the opportunities of tomorrow.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata, Carpathia and NetMagic.