“Enterprise class” cloud
There seems to be an endless parade of hosting companies eager to explain to me that they have an “enterprise class” cloud offering. (Cloud systems infrastructure services, to be precise; I continue to be careless in my shorthand on this blog, although all of us here at Gartner are trying to get into the habit of using cloud as an adjective attached to more specific terminology.)
If you’re a hosting vendor, get this into your head now: Just because your cloud compute service is differentiated from Amazon’s doesn’t mean that you’re differentiated from any other hoster’s cloud offering.
Yes, these offerings are indeed targeted at the enterprise. Yes, there are in fact plenty of non-startups who are ready and willing and eager to adopt cloud infrastructure. Yes, there are features that they want (or need) that they can’t get on some of the existing cloud offerings, especially those of the early entrants. But that does not make them unique.
These offerings tend to share the following common traits:
1. “Premium” equipment. Name-brand everything. HP blades, Cisco gear except for F5’s ADCs, etc. No white boxes.
2. VMware-based. This reflects the fact that VMware is overwhelmingly the most popular virtualization technology used in enterprises.
3. Private VLANs. Enterprises perceive private VLANs as more secure.
4. Private connectivity. That usually means Internet VPN support, but also the ability to drop your own private WAN connection into the facility. Enterprises who are integrating cloud-based solutions with their legacy infrastructure often want to be able to get MPLS VPN connections back to their own data center.
5. Colocated or provider-owned dedicated gear. Not all workloads virtualize well, and some things are available only as hardware. If you have Oracle RAC clusters, you are almost certainly going to do it on dedicated servers. People have Google search appliances, hardware ADCs custom-configured for complex tasks, black-box encryption devices, etc. Dedicated equipment is not going away for a very, very long time. (Clients only: See statistics and advice on what not to virtualize.)
6. Managed service options. People still want support, managed services, and professional services; the cloud simplifies and automates some operations tasks, but we have a very long way to go before it fulfills its potential to reduce IT operations labor costs. And this, of course, is where most hosters will make their money.
These are traits that it doesn’t take a genius to think of. Most are known requirements established through a decade and a half of hosting industry experience. If you want to differentiate, you need to get beyond them.
On-demand cloud offerings are a critical evolution stage for hosters. I continue to be very, very interested in hearing from hosters who are introducing this new set of capabilities. For the moment, there’s also some differentiation in which part of the cloud conundrum a hoster has decided to attack first, creating provider differences for both the immediate offerings and the near-term roadmap offerings. But hosters are making a big mistake by thinking their cloud competition is Amazon. Amazon certainly is a competitor now, but a hoster’s biggest worry should still be other hosters, given the worrisome similarities in the emerging services.