It is easy to see cloud computing as a mere fog of confusion that can only threaten the channel.
Yet there are different types of cloud. Arguably, cloud computing began with SaaS years ago, which has been exemplified by stellar CRM success Salesforce.com.
SaaS means that a fully managed application – CRM, ERP, service desk or even Microsoft Office – can be delivered without owning the software or the hardware on which it runs.
Since 2007, we have also seen Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). With IaaS, cloud service providers can monitor resource use and bill the customer based on units used – whether these are processor cycles, megabytes of bandwidth, storage read/writes or numbers of virtual machines.
Platform as a Service (PaaS) builds on IaaS. It enables organisations to build their own applications and support their own business needs in the cloud. You can take an idea from drawing board to delivery in weeks, rather than months or years, because you no longer have to build your own development platform and environment first.
PaaS environments offer templates with operating systems, software infrastructure components, web and application servers, and databases.
Public versus private cloud
Public clouds use IP networking to transport, store and provide IT infrastructure, and do not necessarily require secure access.
Private clouds are contained within a closed infrastructure, perhaps belonging to a defined set of organisations or an external provider.
Many think much of the growth in the next few years will be in hybrid cloud computing set-ups that combine public and private cloud offerings.
Cloud may go mainstream within the next two years as large hardware and software players like IBM, Microsoft and HP increasingly roll out cloud offerings.
One option for resellers is development and roll-out of their own cloud services. Cloud aggregation may be a good entry point for channel players. Cloud aggregators are businesses that provide integrated cloud and management services.
Others could help vendors with cloud support or maintenance services. For many who are already offering remote updates, upgrades and maintenance services, this may simply be about making these services more robust, repeatable, scalable and transparent around customer charges. The lines between hardware, software and cloud service providers blur.
Networking support resellers may actually find they have a bigger market to address. Enterprises that transfer some of their IT infrastructure onto the cloud without proper planning will find they have merely spread their IT problems beyond their own office walls.
These firms will need an IT partner they trust and who understands hybrid cloud infrastructure to help them manage it better.
Cloud also enables smaller businesses to access enterprise-class technologies they previously could not afford to buy and maintain. They may represent a whole new market for enterprise-class offerings.
It is also easy to see savvy channel players cashing in on cloud in other ways. Work will include rebuilding (service-oriented architecture work), business process modelling and management and specialist training for in-house IT teams.
For those hard-wired into specific vertical markets, there are already sector-specific public clouds emerging – for example, the government's G-Cloud for shared public sector services.
There will also be opportunities to resell pricing plans for cloud-based services and help organisations match plans to actual predicted use, as many deals become offered through longer contractual tie-ins.
It may be possible to halve IT infrastructure services costs by effectively buying resources in advance of requirement. To offer these sorts of services, integrators may need to be involved at the heart of customers' IT organisations.
It may be the opportunity they are looking for to lock in the customer as a valued IT partner as these procurement cycles become more critical.
Providers will compete to offer more and more favourable Service Level Agreements (SLAs), underpinned by specialist technology knowledge and skills.
There is an opportunity to partner with SaaS, IaaS and PaaS providers to be first in line to support interoperability failures, perform essential maintenance and the like.
There are also opportunities for infosecurity, disaster recovery, compliance and risk specialists as worries about cloud security continue to be voiced.
Cloud services providers will also try to differentiate their offerings by underpinning them with more robust security infrastructures.
Some critics have pointed not just to a loss of control of data, worries over security and SLAs but also the fact that the UK's infrastructure is not yet fit for public cloud projects. However, this will change very soon. The UK is building one of the largest datacentres in Europe on a 66-hectare site in North Lanarkshire, fuelled by a nearby ‘energy for waste’ plant, for larger, and greener, cloud service businesses like Amazon and Facebook.
In addition, BT is finally rolling out fibre UK-wide. In a couple of years, broadband resources will no longer restrict cloud. WAN optimisation technology from Riverbed will continue to keep data speeding through private clouds, and will increasingly support efficiencies in the datacentre itself.
And for those already supporting the datacentres of larger organisations, there is a real opportunity helping these datacentres upgrade to robust private cloud hubs.
Further opportunities will flow for IT service management and governance specialists, especially when you consider the implications of storing sensitive customer and corporate data in datacentres all over the world where it may be subject to different laws.
The trick to succeeding in a cloudier world, in my opinion, is to begin planning entry to market with unique and properly-resourced cloud-linked products and services, even if that means collaborating with others.
James Hall is marketing director at Teneo
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