Not so long ago, the battlegrounds seemed well and truly set. On one side you had the public cloud providers: established market leader Amazon Web Services (AWS) alongside fast-growing competitors Microsoft Azure and Google with its Google Cloud Platform (GCP). On the other side: the incumbent vendor giants, flying the flag for private cloud and on-premise infrastructure, supported by regional and global managed hosting providers.
Relations between the two camps have often been strained, not least in the channel with partners of AWS and Azure claiming that managed hosting providers don't have a hope of keeping up with the innovation of public cloud providers. Managed hosting providers meanwhile questioned whether the US public cloud giants can be trusted to keep data out of the hands of the US government, and whether they actually are cheaper than the alternatives.
But have these tensions now started to thaw?
The likes of HP, Dell, and VMware all had a crack at the public cloud but abandoned it at various points over the last few years.
Dell launched its own public cloud in conjunction with VMware in 2011, and had plans to launch a public cloud platform built on open source software, but scrapped both in 2013. A post-spilt HP launched Helion in 2014, before "sunsetting" the platform at the start of 2016 to focus on private cloud. Cisco killed its Intercloud service in March.
VMware meanwhile launched its vCloud Air offering soon after Dell pulled the plug on its own plans, but sold this to French firm OVH earlier this year, following its mega partnership with AWS - one of a number of partnerships popping up across the industry. Essentially, the solo efforts of the vendor heavyweights have been wound up in favour of collaborations with the public cloud leaders.
Calling a truce
These collaborations go hand in hand with a term that is becoming increasingly common: ‘multicloud'.
Michael Dell used his keynote at Dell EMC World in May to talk up multicloud (despite still sticking the boot in and claiming that public cloud is twice as expensive as on-premise solutions). Dell also recently partnered with Microsoft to bring the ‘Dell Cloud on Azure Stack' solution to the channel.
"We're talking about a generational change here where in five years' time those datacentres are not going to be particularly relevant. Colocation will still be needed, but the writing is on the wall"
Nathan Marke, Daisy
At VMworld in August, VMware COO Sanjay Poonen claimed the vendor was now the leader of multicloud, having announced deals with AWS, Google, Microsoft and IBM. These partnerships, and others, seem to suggest the war is over.
At Microsoft's partner event in Washington, CEO Satya Nadella declared: "It's no longer the debate even of ‘is it private versus public?'
"In fact, it's clear as day that what is needed is more distributed computing infrastructure - that true hybrid computing fabric."
Even some of the more vocal opposition to the public cloud seemed to have mellowed.
Lawrence Jones, chief executive of rapidly growing managed hosting provider UKFast told CRN that he envisages his firm partnering with the likes of AWS and Microsoft in the future, driven by customer demand more than anything else.
Jones has been, and still is, sceptical of some of the claims made by the American providers - principally that they offer a platform cheaper than the alternatives, and that data stored for UK firms is completely out of reach of the US government.
"It'd be foolish to say I'd never sign agreements with the likes of AWS and Azure to help certain clients, but we've nothing solid in place at the moment," he said.
"We're a very fast network so we're built for e-commerce and high bandwidth sites - websites that maybe people do TV advertising campaigns on and are pushing large volumes of hits. That is expensive hosting if you go on some of these bigger platforms, so I think there is safety in numbers.
"AWS has been built on the fact it's got a very solid partner programme - it has thousands of partners all recommending it and they all get a cut of the revenue, but when customers really see that it's very, very expensive. Of course they will bounce back and look for other alternatives.
"We're seeing that right now - a second generation where people have grown in Amazon because it's cheap as chips to start, but if you get bigger it's very, very expensive. We're seeing people say ‘we'll keep some of this tech on there because it's useful and they have some good features, but this engine room stuff we need to put with [you]'."
The price you pay
Understandably, pricing is top, or near the top, of the list of priorities when customers consider whether to take the plunge and begin moving to the public cloud - but the issue of pricing is just as prevalent among partners themselves as it is in their customer base.
The start of the decade came with a trend of managed service providers investing in their own datacentre capabilities, offering hosting services for their customers. This trend has reversed over recent months, accelerated by the first public cloud datacentres arriving on UK shores.
£600m-plus service provider Daisy recently announced an overhaul of its approach, forming a tight partnership with Microsoft Azure that will see it shrink its own datacentre presence over the next few years in favour of a multicloud approach built around Azure and its own private cloud in its datacentres.
Nathan Marke, CTO at Daisy, said the firm will look to reduce its 11 datacentres over the coming years, to "a few" facilities that Daisy itself doesn't own but leases from other providers.
He said the rise of the public cloud has come in tandem with a growing influence from dominant colocation datacentre players such as Equinix, which operate on such a large scale that even players like Daisy can't compete with the financial model.
"Five years ago there was a big trend for managed service providers to invest in local datacentres and we all spent a lot of money on these services and the platforms inside them," he said.
"But the fact of the matter is that if you do a straightforward analysis and go down to the lowest common denominator of datacentre costs, we look at KVAs (kilovolt-ampere) - the units of power consumption - and you look at the big providers such as Equinix that build out these big datacentres, you just can't get close to them."
Rackspace is often cited as a textbook example of a firm that has shifted from a hosting provider model to one of a managed service provider, and is often referred to by AWS as a company for partners to aspire to - indeed both Marke and UKFast's Jones both referred to Rackspace as a firm that has had to adapt and move with the times.
However, Marke claimed that it is important for partners to not entirely abandon their on-premise business in favour of public cloud. He said that datacentre businesses will remain profitable for the time being, but that firms need to be willing to go where customers' demands take them.
"Our datacentres are quite profitable and we've invested in them at some cost, and we have customer revenue there," he said. "We're talking about a generational change in technology here where in five years' time those datacentres are not going to be particularly relevant. Colocation will still be needed - public cloud won't be everything for every customer for another decade because of the complexity - but the writing is on the wall.
"The fact of the matter is you have to be led by your customers and their requirements. The big demand from customers at the moment is to leverage public cloud for certain things, but the big miss with public cloud at the moment is really strong integrations into the old IT. That's the bit that is missing."
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