Cloud computing: Who's confused?

Marc Thaler

LONDON – How do you define cloud computing? Equally important, how do the customers whose IT services you manage define the term?

There’s a good chance those definitions are different.

Vanishing-Cloud“Cloud seems to be giving us a bright future and opening new doors,” Seth Robinson said Monday during his MAX EU Customer Conference breakout session at the Hilton Heathrow Airport Terminal 5 hotel. “But there’s a flipside to this ... and it’s mostly around confusion, around terminology.”

Robinson, CompTIA's director of technology analysis, said there’s confusion carry-over into the channel. Citing CompTIA research, he said three times as many channel firms consider themselves “born in the cloud” as compared to a year ago.

“Even though,” he said, “their infrastructure may still be very traditional.”

The good news is confusion can be cleared up. Education – for managed service providers (MSPs) and customers alike – is everything. But that education might not be in the area you think.

“The point is not, ‘Let’s all use the right terms.’ I think we’re beyond that,” Robinson said. “What’s important is matching people with the service they need and the infrastructure that’s available.”

Robinson painted this picture by revisiting the early days of the Internet – before it was used as a business tool. He showed how the current storyline for cloud computing is similar.

Years ago, Robinson said common questions were “What do we do with the Internet?” and “How do we sell the Internet?” Ultimately, companies built networks that had to connect with the web. This created new needs:

Network services had to be provided.

Security became a necessity.

An online presence to share information, and sell products and services, was also essential.

“All of those things were enabled by the Internet,” Robinson said.

Fast forward to today. Replace “Internet” with “cloud computing.” What are companies doing to ensure its use as a business tool?

They’re building networks. They’re recognizing the need for increased security, particularly as it relates to business-critical data. The rise of mobile device-use in the workforce has also prompted the need to add a wireless component to corporate networks.

“With all these components, this is where I think cloud starts to disappear,” Robinson said. “They’re not going to be talking about ‘cloud.’ They’re going to be talking about ‘How my infrastructure runs.’”

To that end, Robinson outlined four business models MSPs apply:

  • Build – Creating a private cloud for the customer. Robinson said it’s the most “hands-on” approach MSPs can take.
  • Provide/provision – Here, the MSP hosts a private cloud. Robinson asked how many attendees resell Office 365 and “wrap value” around that service.
  • Enable/integrate – Incorporate the cloud application with other elements in the IT environment.
  • Manage/support – This is where Robinson sees momentum building. In this setup, it’s possible to monitor various areas of the business and quickly address issues as they arise.

“The focus will shift to cloud-enabled operations,” Robinson said. “We’re not going to say, ‘I need cloud.’ We’re going to say, ‘I need the software that makes me available to this market.’”