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Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure are establishing data centres in India, which they say reduces latency and makes services speedier for the thousands of small- and medium-sized firms, especially start-ups. Photo: Raj K. Raj/HT
Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure are establishing data centres in India, which they say reduces latency and makes services speedier for the thousands of small- and medium-sized firms, especially start-ups. Photo: Raj K. Raj/HT

Who should be your cloud driver on the digital highway?

The size of the firm, dependency on cloud computing, operating speed and integration issues make selection of a cloud computing services provider all the more tougher

Mumbai: It’s not an easy task to choose a cloud computing services provider, especially when companies like Amazon Web Services Inc. (AWS), Microsoft Corp., International Business Machines Corp. (IBM), Hewlett-Packard Co., Dell Inc., Oracle Corp. and VMware Inc. are pulling out all the stops to win customers in India.

Further, the size of your company plays a big factor. To make the choice tougher, AWS and Microsoft, which offer infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) and platform-as-a-service (PaaS), are also establishing data centres in India, which they say reduces latency and makes services speedier for the thousands of small- and medium-sized firms, especially start-ups, in India, many of which are cloud-first or cloud-only companies.

IaaS and PaaS are cloud delivery models. While IaaS lets you set up virtual servers and storage in someone else’s data centre, PaaS offers a set of tools and services which make it easier for developers to build an application regardless of the servers they’re running on. The third model—software-as-a-service, or SaaS—ensures that companies only pay for services they use.

Cloud computing, or the ability to deliver services over a network like the Internet, has traditionally been perceived as a technology solution to save costs on storage and speed up delivery of services. Moreover, the common perception is that public clouds (typically on the Internet) are for non-sensitive workloads, while private clouds (known as on-premise because the servers are housed inside a company) are for more sensitive stuff.

However, most companies today seem to prefer a hybrid—using both on-premise and public clouds, according to Verizon’s State of the Market: Enterprise Cloud Report 2016.

The report points out that everything—from spreadsheets to enterprise resource planning, customer relationship management (CRM) and payroll software—is now available in the cloud on a subscription (SaaS) basis. This is prompting companies to buy services rather than install their own servers.

Bringing services together in the cloud can help companies integrate systems and data, accelerate innovation, and align business and information technology strategies, according to the Verizon report. However, it’s not enough to think “cloud first". To derive significant competitive advantage from the cloud, the report says that companies need to think of ways to leverage the cloud to enable digital transformation, change the way they do business, and disrupt the market.

Whether it’s developing Internet of Things (IoT) services, increasing the use of mobility or creating new customer experiences, cloud is often an important enabler. It’s not surprising, then, that technology companies now want users to see the cloud as intelligent or smart, and one that can power advanced services like machine learning, or using statistical models to analyse data, and IoT.

By 2018, half of all consumers will interact with services based on cognitive computing on a regular basis, according to research firm International Data Corp.

All these factors make the selection of a cloud computing services provider all the more tougher.

In January, RightScale Inc. surveyed 1,060 technical professionals across a cross-section of organizations about their adoption of cloud computing. The respondents listed AWS, Google Cloud Platform, Microsoft Azure and IBM SoftLayer as the top public cloud providers.

AWS, according to RightScale’s 2016 State of the Cloud Report, continued to lead in public cloud adoption, with 57% of respondents currently running applications on this cloud. Microsoft Azure IaaS and PaaS both showed increased adoption, narrowing the gap with AWS.

Among enterprises (with more than 1,000 employees), AWS widened its lead over last year, now with adoption at 56% compared to 50% in 2015, the report said. Microsoft Azure IaaS and PaaS came second and third at 23% and 17%, respectively.

The RightScale survey also shows that adoption of private cloud is growing across all providers. Across all sizes of organizations, 44% of respondents use VMware’s vSphere environments as private clouds. OpenStack and VMware’s vCloud Suite tied for the second spot at 19%.

Among enterprises, the report added, current private cloud usage was skewed towards traditional vendors—VMware vSphere (60%), vCloud Suite (29%) and Microsoft System Center (22%). This included respondents who view their vSphere environment as a private cloud—whether or not it meets the accepted definition of cloud computing.

Amazon.com Inc. pioneered the concept of the cloud about a decade ago with AWS. Its cloud business, which counts Netflix among its biggest customers, continues to do well, and is expected to garner $10 billion in revenue this year, according to Andy Jassy, chief executive officer of AWS.

AWS counts about 75,000 Indian start-ups and enterprises among its customers, according to Jassy. To allow these firms to run their technology applications from the AWS cloud infrastructure in India, and provide even lower latency to India-based end-users while retaining data sovereignty, the company announced a cloud hub in Mumbai last month, its sixth in the Asia-Pacific region.

However, it was Microsoft that was the first public cloud provider to offer services from data centres in India. The company announced the availability of its three data centres located in Mumbai, Pune and Chennai in September 2015. The company has a complete portfolio of cloud services—Microsoft Azure, Office 365 and Dynamics CRM Online.

Microsoft and its partners use tools such as Azure Machine Learning, Azure Analytics, Power BI (business intelligence) among others, to develop solutions that have been deployed across verticals like retail, e-commerce and banking. In the first six months of launching cloud services through local data centres, Microsoft claims to have seen 50 of the top 100 firms listed on BSE adopt its cloud to drive digital transformation of their businesses.

So is it better to have a single cloud vendor or multiple ones to spread the risk and avail of more discounts?

Jassy of AWS understandably favours the “single vendor" approach. “It’s painful for anybody to manage multiple stacks or platforms. It’s really time-consuming. It’s a lot of waste of money, people and resources... It also dilutes the buying leverage of companies because all providers have volume discounts. If you have to split across providers, it just gives you less leverage," he said in an interview on 29 June.

Greyhound Research, however, is “strongly opposed" to the single-vendor approach advocated by AWS and believes “it’s imminent for CTOs (chief technology officers) and CIOs (chief information officers) to use a multi-vendor approach on the public cloud".

The research firm believes that while the announcement of AWS setting up a cloud hub in Mumbai “does well to highlight the India opportunity for the Public Cloud, AWS is a tad late to the market".

According to Sanchit Vir Gogia, chief analyst and CEO of Greyhound Research, AWS has also done a better job than Microsoft in managing its ecosystem of independent software vendors. “We at Greyhound Research believe AWS’s local data centre will considerably impact companies like Microsoft and IBM (more former than latter) who are also aiming to bite into the same pie," he said.

Gogia added, though, that “AWS will have to make solid changes to their DNA of catering primarily to the start-up audience. Selling to enterprise customers in India, particularly the BFSI (banking, financial services and insurance) and government sectors, will require AWS to think and behave differently and use best practices from the likes of IBM, who have over the years championed enterprise sales."

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