Channel Debates Proper Approach to Cloud Computing

Business users weigh external and internal cloud-computing options as channel partners position to supply needed service and support. The internal approach can be customized but is more expensive.

As they seek to save money in recessionary times, more businesses are considering cloud computing services as an internal play, as well as an external one. Whichever cloud-computing approach business users take, solution providers are likely to benefit because service and support will emerge as a crucial issue.

Businesses need to evaluate several factors before deciding which type of cloud  computing service to use, said David Malcolm, chief technology officer for Surgient, a virtualization automaton vendor that is itself a channel partner for HP (NYSE:HPQ) , Citrix (NASDAQ:CTXS), Microsoft (NASDAQ:MSFT) and other vendors.

Before settling on a cloud-computing approach, businesses must understand what they want to use the cloud for, whether the project is temporary or ongoing, what operating systems and applications are required, what tasks users want to perform, and the level of expertise of users, among other things, Malcolm said.

External cloud-computing solutions do not require a large upfront investment in technology and infrastructure, and businesses pay only for the resources they consume, Malcolm noted. Internal cloud computing solutions, on the other hand, require that companies shell out money upfront for the technology and infrastructure. However, they can be customized to suit users' requirements, and they offer guaranteed security and availability.

In either case, the businesses could wind up turning to channel partners to resolve service and support issues. If they use an external cloud computing provider, the users must be very technical because many such companies do not provide enough services to make using the cloud easy, noted Malcolm, who spoke in a conference call about cloud computing this week.

Often, business users plunk down a credit card and use an external cloud service such as Amazon's S2 because that eliminates the need to wait for IT to approve and fill their request and they can get up and running more quickly.

While that approach has been touted as improving business agility, it has its pitfalls. "If business customers start making these decisions in the cloud, the failures will be rampant since they don't often understand their service-level requirements," warned Gartner analyst Tom Bittman in a keynote speech at the Gartner Data Center Conference held this week in Las Vegas.

Also, service and support may be an issue because external cloud-computing providers could seek to shift the blame when their clouds crash, Malcolm said. Amazon, for example, did not inform users for up to two weeks its S3 cloud storage service crashed in February.

Internal clouds would resolve those problems because they would be managed by the company's own IT department, Malcolm said. However, they require that companies shell out money upfront for the technology and infrastructure. On the other hand, they can be customized to suit users' requirements, and they offer guaranteed security and availability.

Gartner's Bittman said large enterprises will create dynamic sourcing teams that will orchestrate services in the cloud to meet business needs. Members of such teams must be knowledgeable about both business and technology, a mix of skills Bittman described as rare.

Meanwhile, some vendors are preparing to handle both approaches to the cloud. At its annual user conference VMworld 2008, VMware (NASDAQ: VMW) unveiled the vCloud initiative, which will let enterprises federate internal datacenters with clouds offsite.

IBM (NYSE: IBM) is capitalizing on the scarcity of people knowledgeable about business and technology. It will extend its consulting and technology services to the cloud.

(This article was adapted from and edited by Al Senia.)

TAGS: cloud computing,Microsoft,virtualization,HP,VMware

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