The cloud services explosion

If you follow cloud computing, you're no doubt familiar with software-as-a-service, typically associated with Salesforce.com, or infrastructure-as-a-service, which was pioneered by Amazon.com. But how about CaaS, SECaaS, DaaS, MaaS and BaaS?

According to industry consortium The Open Group, these new "as-a-service" acronyms fall into the category of XaaS (pronounced "zass"), a generalization for all cloud-related services per the NIST definition.

Hendrickson keeps on truckin' with UCaaS

XaaS describes any service that can call up reusable, fine-grained software components across a virtualized cloud network. And if you add up the market forecasts for applications, application infrastructure and systems infrastructure to be delivered as public cloud services by 2015 worldwide, the XaaS market will reach more than $40 billion.

The most common examples of XaaS are software as a service (SaaS), infrastructure as a service (IaaS) and platform as a service (PaaS). But the "as-a-service" surname is proliferating at a dizzying rate. Here are just some of the services now available in the cloud:

n storage as a service (another SaaS) n security as a service (SECaaS) n database as a service (DaaS) n monitoring/management as a service (MaaS) n communications, content and computing as a service (CaaS) n identity as a service (IDaaS) n backup as a service (BaaS) n desktop as a service (DaaS)

David Lounsbury, CTO of The Open Group, is not a big fan of the XaaS designation. He notes that his group has been pushing a service-oriented architecture (SOA) model of computing for more than a decade and points to the recently released Service-Oriented Cloud Computing Infrastructure (SOCCI) framework as a guide to how SOA and the cloud are in natural alignment.

"When does this stop being about a cloud frenzy, and just settle down into being a practical way to do business on a day-to-day basis?" asks Lounsbury.

No matter the frequency with which service providers continue to slap the "-aaS" tagline on their product descriptions, industry watchers, practitioners and users contend that the practice of implementing XaaS in the future will have more to do with customers aligning their existing business practices with the basic tenants of cloud than it does with how providers may be bundling -- or naming -- their services.

 

The cloud services explosion

Hendrickson keeps on truckin' with UcaaS

Microsoft delivers missing Lync for telemed project

 

"Cloud is more about how you consume technology to fit your business processes and less about technology itself," says Tiffani Bova, vice president with Gartner Research. IT professionals are not sitting around wondering what type of physical server their cloud applications are running on, contends Bova. Rather, they know they can easily access those applications in the cloud and now are deciding how to build up provisions around them that address things like intelligent business processes and security and governance parameters.

Edward Newman, global practice director for Private Cloud Services at EMC Consulting, says his firm has spent the last five years trying to get clients to think more about IT services and less about individual components of the cloud infrastructure. Enterprise folks are listening. "Just as we see the DevOps side of enterprise IT looking to the cloud to get a more agile application development environment, we see the same sort of thing in the IT service management side," Newman says.

He adds that enterprise clients are taking a hard look at IT services that were previously running in redundant silos throughout their organizations and turning to the cloud as the means for delivering those services more coherently and economically across their organizations.

Energy Plus, a Philadelphia-based business unit of NRG Energy, is an online energy retail services company that supports 185,000 customers in eight states and 100 partners in its rewards program, primarily in the cloud.

CIO Hugh Scott explains that 18 months ago the company made the decision to move from a colocation facility operated by SunGard into the cloud. The company tested cloud offerings from both Microsoft and Amazon and ultimately went with SunGard's Enterprise Cloud and is currently running the bulk of its business processes there, including all of its public-facing Web operation, direct marketing applications and its enrollment engine.

"I doubt that we'd ever put the secret sauce up in the cloud -- for us that would be our back-end awards program -- because we would not want to run with a commoditized version of that. But everything else is up for discussion. We'll jump at cloud-based offerings that can help up grow quickly and give us more flexibility in our business practices," Scott says.

Joseph Coyle, CTO of IT consultancy Capgemini, contends there are several XaaS categories that are becoming popular in the midsize enterprise because they are either easy services to outsource (UCaaS); they have become a requirement if IT has chosen to operate in the cloud (MaaS); or are more mature than the word on the street gives them credit for, like network as a service (NaaS).

UCaaS is an easy jump

Gartner analysts predict the UCaaS (unified communications-as-a-service) market will reach $2.2 billion this year. While the longer-standing CaaS market segment comprises mainly cloud-based VoIP offerings, the UCaaS offerings pull Web conferencing, unified messaging, video, collaboration and presence services into the cloud mix.

According to Gartner research director Daniel O'Connell, UCaaS is a logical business process to outsource, especially if an enterprise is highly distributed and looking to upgrade from a legacy PBX. "With a UCaaS contract, you wipe out the capex expenses, a third party can supply the service more cheaply than you can build it, and the internal staffing requirements will be very low," O'Connell says.

Ken Strohschein, vice president of IT for Great Expressions, a chain of 170 dental clinics which employs 2,300 people in Michigan, Georgia and New York, made the decision two years ago to use West IP Communications' VoiceMaxx cloud offering with full PBX functionality, advanced enterprise and personal call management tools and leading-edge unified communications features.

"We grow by acquisition. Two years ago, we had 67 contracts across nine providers and had 25 different PBX systems running," explains Strohschein. "The decision to use a cloud-based unified communications system was an easy one to make as we moved to consolidate our telephony services."

Great Expressions did have to make some modifications to its underlying network infrastructure in order to implement cloud-based telephony service to all of its clinics. But the company is saving upwards of $40,000 per year and is enjoying a unified monitoring window into its overall UCaaS services that it could not get previously.

The Gartner UCaaS Magic Quadrant report released late in 2011 failed to identify a clear leader in North America, which might deter larger enterprises from jumping in. The companies Gartner identified as challengers are Microsoft, Verizon, Cisco, Google, AT&T and West. The visionaries included M5 Networks (since purchased by ShoreTel), Thinking Phone Networks, Cypress Communications and PanTerra Networks.

"The problem with the market at this point is that the companies we believe have the ability to scale, don't necessarily have all the pieces of the complete UCaaS picture in place yet," O'Connell says. He added that Microsoft is poised to shake up this market as Office 365 gains traction, and if the Redmond giant can convince enterprise IT that its underlying VoIP technology can deliver the uptime enterprises require.

Microsoft is quick to rebut criticisms of its linchpin UCaaS technology -- Lync 2010. Group product manager B.J. Haberkorn notes that just one year after its release (that milestone hit in December 2011), Microsoft could boast that 3 million enterprise users were relying on Lync for their telephony services.

"The basic underlying telephony is pretty well understood across the industry. We didn't need to set out to solve that problem because it was already solved. Our customers are coming to us because they are looking for the cloud-based VoIP that has natural integration with their applications," Haberkorn says.

Monitoring/management as a service

One of the fundamental fears of enterprise IT moving to the cloud has been the lack of visibility into both the applications running there and the underlying health of the cloud networks.

"There is a huge opportunity for cloud service providers to serve up some real-time analytics of what is happening in the cloud," says Chris Smith, a marketing executive at Cambridge, Mass.-based Cloud Technology Partners.

Applications running in the cloud are by definition highly distributed across available computing resources. "So what that creates is an incredible dependency upon the application communications over the network in a way that we've never seen before," adds Molly Stamos, director of products at Silicon Valley startup Boundary, which is focused on providing continuous visibility into network and application traffic flows in public cloud environments.

Stamos stresses the real-time nature of her company's monitoring -- as opposed to other products that take a sampling of application health -- because "the difference between knowing what is happening with your application after two seconds of downtime versus five minutes could prevent a lot of lost revenue," Stamos says. Obviously, collecting data at this rate means Boundary also must offer a very high-capacity data analytics engine. Stamos contends the Boundary system can currently handle 17 billion records and the engineering team is looking to increase that capacity to a half trillion records per day by the end of the year.

HP, a longtime player in the enterprise network monitoring and management arena, contends that MaaS must support applications that span both public and private cloud and have ties to on-premise systems as well.

"Our customers are now operating in converged cloud networks and they need to have a single pane of glass with which to see how their hybrid applications are functioning and manage them accordingly," says Manoj Raisinghani, director of product marketing at HP.

There are a slew of startups also targeting a unified monitoring and management scheme across cloud platforms.

RightScale, a multi-cloud management company in Santa Barbara, Calif., that allows users to provision servers and applications across multiple clouds, says 68% of its customer cloud usage comes from customers using more than one cloud provider and cloud type. The company polled its customer base in April and May.

"It's a heterogenous world of layers and players, and to be useful as a management services provider, you've got to handle them all," says RightScale CEO Michael Crandell. Currently, RightScale's management service can tap into a baker's dozen of clouds including EC2, Rackspace, Microsoft Azure and HP Cloud Services.

RightScale customer Reza Rassool, CTO of Music Mastermind, says his company needs to stay as cloud agnostic as possible so that it can move operations to whatever cloud makes economic or technological sense. Rassool was completely satisfied with how the RightScale service allows his engineering team to manage work flow between the public cloud and Music Mastermind's private cloud. On his wish list, though, is a more consolidated view of application performance from the same dashboard.

Another player in the multi-cloud management arena is enStratus. James Urquhart, vice president of product strategy, argues that the hardest part about the multi-cloud management puzzle is not configuring applications across multiple clouds. "It is understanding the relationships between the components of the applications running in the different clouds. If I change something in the application running on Force.com, does that negatively affect something I've got running in the Amazon cloud?" Urquhart says. When pressed on whether enStratus would be pushing its management capabilities up the cloud application stack, he says that is the direction all cloud management vendors must be headed in order to remain relevant.

The network in the cloud

Generally speaking, the concept of NaaS allows carriers to deliver cloud-based networking services like routing, tunneling, quality of service, and network address translation using the Internet on a subscription basis without requiring customers to have on-premise gear dedicated to those functions.

Instead of having a networking staff that is doing things like configuring firewalls and provisioning servers to pass through certain types of networks, it's all handled in the cloud. There is a cost savings to taking up NaaS over maintaining a traditional network, but Capgemini's Coyle argues the main reason a large company is going to buy NaaS is because they want to get out of the IT business.

Traditional networking companies have only dabbled in the idea of NaaS. Cisco proposed NaaS parameters to the OpenStack open source IaaS project in the spring of 2011 but has made no announcements on the topic since. Cisco did, however, throw $100 million in financing at virtual networking startup Insieme in April. Juniper rolled out last fall what it calls Junosphere Lab, calling is a NaaS offering, but that service only gives customers subscription-based access to a virtual network testing lab, not a full-on networking service.

NaaS has been recently thrust into the cloud limelight since VMware scooped up virtual switch vendor Nicira for $1.26 billion late last month. That purchase price is 25 times more than the $50 million in financing Nicira had amassed to build its software-defined networking product and represents a huge bet for the server virtualization company on what the next big thing in cloud computing will be.

In an interview before VMware announced the acquisition, Nicira Vice President of Marketing Alan Cohen was already bullish on the prospects of Nicira's chances in the cloud. "I think the idea of infrastructure as a service will disappear as both local and cloud-based networking become simply, well, networking," Cohen says.

Burns is a freelance writer and editor who has over 15 years experience covering the networking industry. She can be reached at cburns1227@googlemail.com.

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