Ever since the cloud burst onto the IT consciousness, the primary focus of most organizations has been to prepare for this new data paradigm. The thinking has been that the enterprise needs to be ready for the cloud or risk being left behind.
Lately, however, we’ve seen a subtle shift in attitude on the part of both the enterprise and the nascent cloud industry: It’s not the enterprise that needs to adapt to the cloud, but the cloud that needs to adapt to the enterprise. Across the board, from the large players like Amazon and Google to smaller ones like CloudSigma and DigitalOcean, the goal has shifted from providing the commodity resources that appeal to consumers to more specialized offerings that the enterprise values.
To be sure, there is no shortage of enterprise interest in the cloud already. According to IDG, nearly 70 percent of organizations today utilize cloud-based infrastructure or applications in some way, and IT spending on the cloud is currently averaging about 20 percent growth per year. The thing is, the vast majority of that activity consists of low-level workloads and bulk storage applications that generally go to the lowest bidder, which is usually one of the hyperscale players that can shave margins to the bone and still turn out a decent profit.
The real money in the enterprise can be found in higher-level, mission-critical services, and this is where the cloud has fallen short so far. A key cloud requirement for the enterprise is the support of mobile applications, which tend to feature more collaborative and data-sharing capabilities than standard workplace apps. However, according to a recent report from Netskope, nearly 90 percent of mobile-facing cloud apps are deemed unfit for the enterprise, primarily because they lack proper security and data protection. Indeed, more than one-third of all data policy violations are now taking place on smartphones and tablets, which is a testament to the growing popularity of these devices in the enterprise but also to the fact that they pose a substantial risk to vital data.
To gain mission-critical business from the enterprise, cloud providers will have to answer three questions, says SIOS Technology Corp.’s Jerry Melnick. First, how can they provide high availability and disaster protection without shared storage clusters? Second, will HA and DR capabilities inhibit the flexibility that the cloud is supposed to provide? And third, can the cloud support critical apps and data without adding risk, complexity and performance overhead? One possible solution to all this is the SANless cluster, which provides the failover and synchronization that the enterprise requires but on a more efficient software footing suitable for cloud infrastructure.
Of course, the question of mission-critical support is also the reason why so many organizations are bent on the deployment of hybrid cloud solutions. This is seen as a lifeline to leading platform providers like Hitachi Data Systems, which otherwise face a steadily diminishing market as cloud providers increasingly turn to commodity hardware solutions. With a hybrid cloud, the enterprise still maintains a fair amount of internal data infrastructure, some of which will require specialized hardware that provides the security and availability on which the enterprise has come to rely. In this way, the public cloud acts as a template for what the enterprise can do privately, with an entire class of systems and services designed to bridge the two sides to form a singular, integrated environment.
Still, as Robert Burns wrote: “The best laid schemes o' mice an' men / Gang aft a-gley.” (Oft go awry, for those whose Scots dialect is a little rusty.) Right now, the entire data center industry is in a state of flux, and cloud providers are keenly aware of the need to tap into the lucrative enterprise market. This is certainly an opportunity for traditional enterprise vendors, but it also serves the new generation of startups that are not quite so interested in preserving the status quo.
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.