Cloud computing: From infrastructure to applications

Tikiri Wanduragala

Thursday 30 March 2017

Tikiri Wanduragala, Lenovo’s EMEA x86 Server Systems Snr. Consultant, outlines a major shift in the cloud market and how Lenovo is helping customers make the change.

Let’s talk about the cloud – hybrid cloud, to be precise. It’s something I’ve touched on a few times before, but I thought it would be worth exploring in a bit more detail, specifically where I feel Lenovo sits within this great technological change.

About five or so years ago, there was a massive move to the cloud. The big cloud providers could offer IT infrastructure on an industrial scale, so it simply didn’t make sense to own your own IT. The attraction was price and moving from capex (capital expenditures) to opex (operative expenses). There were a lot of potential cost savings, but also a shift in the complete model – the whole idea of buying IT as a service started coming into play.

Legislation changes the economies

Then, within the last two or three years, new legislation changed things. Because of restrictions about where data can be moved – offshore, for example – as well as legal and compliance issues, cloud providers could no longer build industrial-scale clouds the size of 10 football pitches and serve all customers from there. Instead, clouds had to be built in different sizes all over the world. That changed the economies of the cloud.

At the same time, we started to see a shift in the usage of cloud computing. Initially, the main usage model for cloud was DevOps and peak load, meaning piloting new projects and dealing with surges in demand, respectively. Both made more sense on cloud infrastructure rather than internally. This gave massive-scale vendors like Amazon a huge advantage.

The picture, however, has started to change. Customers and the market now realise that what’s really important is the applications, as that’s where the business logic is. That means the cloud has to become far more sophisticated. It’s not just about raw compute power – it’s about running sophisticated applications.

Opportunities for application vendors

With this in mind, there is now an opportunity for application vendors to start attacking the cloud market. That’s why we’re seeing SAP, Microsoft and other application vendors pushing their cloud – Azure Stack, for example. Azure is Microsoft’s primary cloud, and Stack is a cut-down version of it that can fit inside a customer’s data centre. It will be a direct mirror between the two – when you want to move stuff to the cloud you can, and when you want to keep it local you can.

This hybrid cloud model is potentially the best of all worlds, as it gets around the compliance and security issue. There’s a mad dash for it at the moment, and corporations like Google and Amazon are at a disadvantage. They don’t have the application lock-in that the likes of Microsoft, Oracle and SAP do. Moving forward, cloud will definitely be at the centre of every IT infrastructure. But now you will also have the option of a hybrid cloud, which provides far more power and flexibility.

Going the way of Netscape?

As the market undergoes this major transition, industrial-scale vendors need to ask themselves what they should do about it. How do they become relevant in a customer’s data centre when they don’t have an application footprint?

This trend is something we’ve seen many times over, in which the early leader isn’t ultimately the winner. Think Novell being an early dominant player in the server market, or Netscape Navigator being the first widely adopted web browser. As technology matures and is better understood, what is offered by the early players isn’t exactly what the market needs.

So where does Lenovo fit in this shift to hybrid cloud? We manufacture our own servers, so we can customise machines to give customers everything they need for their own hybrid cloud in their data centre.

Focus on the servers

The fact that we’re very focused on servers is an advantage in the hybrid cloud market. Storage and networking are both huge parts of a hybrid cloud model, but from a software-defined point of view. Thanks to Lenovo’s many partnerships, we can add the latest software-defined technologies for both networking and storage. Other vendors have a legacy hardware business that is threatened by that, which may cause issues for them.

Ultimately, the hybrid cloud is a very powerful model of infrastructure. It addresses the major problems of a classic cloud deployment – compliance and security, mainly – and means you can keep it all under your control.

It all links back to what I previously said about ThinkAgile – it gives businesses that out-of-the-box configuration, right from the factory. This is all happening right now and will grow over the next 18 months or so. Three or four years ago people were messing around with this idea, but the market hadn’t crystallised then. It has now.

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