The hype around cloud has diversified to the point where the term is being used to mean whatever anybody wants it to mean. Today you can see cloud used to refer to anything from hosted servers for entire businesses to file-sharing smartphone apps.
Providers must be aware of the increasing vagueness of the term 'cloud'. If they are to deliver true value through a cloud solution, then they must recognise the fact that enterprises increasingly need cloud solutions that give them more specific tools and applications, than just public or private storage.
There has been talk recently of cloud computing entering a 'second phase' - but the momentum driving this new chapter is undoubtedly consumer cloud services, not business solutions. Employees are using consumer cloud services in the workplace to help them with remote working and file sharing regardless of whether the business is ready to deploy its own cloud solution.
Take advantage of new working practices enabled by cloud
Of course, for enterprises and IT departments specifically, this is not a desirable development. Sharing potentially sensitive and private information over public consumer cloud storage platforms on all manner of work and personal devices is far from ideal but, as so often happens, consumer demands are driving business needs.
As a result, an increasing number of enterprises are looking towards business cloud solutions, so they can be sure that employees are storing and sharing data securely at the same time as, allowing them to take advantage of new working practices enabled by cloud technology.
However, for a small and medium sized business, a fully-fledged private cloud solution is likely to be too much of a cost burden or just overkill considering the actual needs of the business and its employees. At the same time, businesses with tight IT budgets may need a scalable solution that they can trial before committing to a more complete package.
Strictly defined public, private, hybrid and community clouds are coming to an end
Storage companies and channel providers are under pressure to deliver far more flexible, customised business cloud services than they have previously. The days of strictly defined public, private, hybrid and community clouds are coming to an end.
Instead it's about providing more bespoke solutions so that a business and its employees get exactly the right balance to suit its individual needs. That is how a cloud provider can deliver genuine quality and value to a business.
The cloud market is undoubtedly growing and there is still an opportunity for partners and vendors to educate businesses on what the cloud really means for them. At the same time vendors and channel partners are going to need to offer solutions with more flexibility, customisation and scalability to really deliver the benefits that enterprises want from the cloud.
Scaling down is going to be as common as scaling up
Scaling down is going to be as common as scaling up, and this is a reality we will have to get used to. On the other hand there is a big opportunity in helping businesses understand where cloud may not be appropriate and in recognising the merits of alternative storage solutions.
I see us moving towards a market where customers increasingly expect cloud providers to offer sound consultation as well as infrastructure and support. When I say consultation I mean real advice explaining in simple terms the benefits and constraints of each solution and where mixing and matching may be advantageous. One-size-fits-all off-the-shelf solutions are not going to be enough.
Furthermore, it is going to be critical for cloud providers to work far more collaboratively with their customers. Enterprises are entitled to expect a provider to work alongside them to find a solution that suits them in terms of what it provides, how much it costs and also how they pay for it. For example, what are the advantages and disadvantages of usage-based model as opposed to a subscription-based model?
Cloud-based solutions are becoming more sophisticated all the time. For enterprises, the quality of the solution is paramount and you need to be sure that the solution you are getting is scalable and built to last.
Ultimately the end goal for all cloud providers is to ensure that any solution is delivering real value to businesses.
About the Author
Natalie Stewart, is Product Manager at Node4 the data centre and communications specialist. Launched in 2004, the company has grown rapidly in the past nine years through its comprehensive service offering and the growth in demand for hosted IT from UK businesses. Its core solutions include cloud, colocation, managed hosting through cloud and virtualised environments, connectivity, SIP trunking and hosted telephony. It has four state-of-the-art data centre facilities; two located in Derby, one in Leeds and one in Northampton, which offer the latest in security technology, ensuring that mission-critical applications are always available.