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Can IBM Build a Strong Cloud Partner Ecosystem?

May 4, 2011 1 comment

Despite all of the hand wringing surrounding Amazon.com’s service outages last week, it is clear to me that cloud computing is dramatically changing the delivery models of computing forever. We simply will not return to a model where organizations assume that they will consume primarily their own data center resources.  The traditional data center certainly isn’t going away but its role and its underlying technology will change forever.  One of the ramifications of this transition is the role of cloud infrastructure leaders in determining the direction of the partnership models.

Traditionally, System vendors have relied on partners to expand the coverage of their platforms. With the cloud, the requirement to have a strong partner ecosystem will not change. If anything, partners will be even more important in the cloud than they have been in traditional computing delivery models.  This is because with cloud computing, the barriers to leveraging different cloud-based software offerings – platform as a service and Software as a Service are very low. Any employee with a credit card can try out just about anything.  I think that the Amazon.com issues will be seen in the future as a tipping point for cloud computing. It, in fact, will not be the end to cloud but it will change the way companies view the way they select cloud partners.  Service management, scalability, and reliability will become the selection standard – not just for the end customer but for partners as well.

So, I was thinking about the cloud partnership model and how it is evolving. I expect that the major systems vendors will be in a perfect position to begin to reassert their power in the era of the cloud.  So, I decided to take a look at how IBM is approaching its partnership model in light of cloud computing.  Over the past several months, IBM has been revealing a new partnership model for the cloud computing market.  It has been difficult for most platform vendors to get noticed above the noise of cloud pioneers like Amazon and Google.  But this is starting to change.  It is not hard to figure out why.  IBM believes that cloud is a $181 billion business opportunity and it would like to grab a chunk of that opportunity.

Having followed IBM’s partnering initiatives for several decades I was not surprised to see a revamped cloud partnering program emerge this year. The new program is interesting for several different reasons.  First, it is focused on bringing together all of IBM’s cloud offerings across software, developer relations, hardware, and services into a single program.  This is important because it can be intimidating for an ISV, a Value Added Reseller, or a systems integrator to navigate the complexity of IBM’s offerings without some assistance.  In addition, IBM has to contend with a new breed of partners that are focused on public, private, and hybrid cloud offerings.

The new program is called the Cloud Specialty program and targeted to cover the entire cloud ecosystem including cloud builders (hardware and software resellers and systems integrators), Service Solution Providers (software and service resellers), Infrastructure Providers (telecom providers, hosting companies, Managed Service Providers, and distributors), Application Providers (ISVs and systems integrators), and Technology Providers (tools providers, and appliance vendors).

The focus of the cloud specialty program is not different than other partnering programs at IBM. It is focused on issues such as expanding the skills of partners, building revenue for both IBM and partners, and providing go to market programs to support its partners.  IBM is the first to admit that the complexity of the company and its offerings can be intimidating for partners.  Therefore, one of the objectives of the cloud specialty program is to clarify the requirements and benefits for partners. IBM is creating a tiered program based on the different types of cloud partners.  The level of partner investment and benefits differ based on the value of the type of partner and the expectation of those partners.  But there are some common offerings for all partners. All get early access to IBM’s cloud roadmap, use of the Partnerworld Cloud Specialty Mark, confidential updates on IBM’s cloud strategy and roadmap, internal use of LotusLive, networking opportunities. In addition, all these partners are entitled to up to $25,000 in business development funds.   There are some differences.  They include:

  • Cloud builders gain access to business leads, and access to IBM’s lab resources. In exchange these partners are expected to have IBM Cloud Reference architecture skills as well as cloud solutions provider and technical certification. They must also demonstrate ability to generate revenue. Revenue amounts vary based on the mix of hardware, software, and services that they resell.  They must also have two verified cloud references for the previous calendar year.
  • Service Solution Providers are provided with a named relationship manager and access to networking opportunities. In exchange, partners are expected to use IBM cloud products or services, demonstrate knowledge and skills in use of IBM cloud offerings, and the ability to generate $300,000 in revenue from the partnership.
  • Infrastructure Providers are given access to named IBM alliance manager, and access to business development workshops. In exchange, these partners are expected to use IBM’s cloud infrastructure products or services, demonstrate skills in IBM technology. Like service solution providers they must use and skills in IBM cloud offerings, have at least $300,000 a year in client references based on two cloud client references
  • Application Providers are given access to a named IBM alliance manager, and access to business development workshops. They are expected to use IBM cloud products or services, have skills in these technologies or services, and a minimum of $100,000 a year in revenue plus two cloud client references.
  • Technology Providers get access to networking opportunites, and IBM’s cloud and services assessment tools.  In exchange, these partners are required to demonstrate knowledge of IBM Cloud Reference architecture, have skills related to IBM’s cloud services. Like application providers, these partners must have at least $100,000 in IBM revenue and two client references.

What does IBM want? IBM’s goals with the cloud specialty program is to make it as attractive as possible for prospective partners to chose its platform. It is hoping that by offering financial and technical incentives that it can make inroads with cloud focused companies. For example, it is openings its labs and providing assistance to help partners define their offerings. IBM is also taking the unusual step of allowing partners to white label its products.  On the business development side, IBM is teaming with business partners on calls with prospective customers.  IBM anticipates that the impact on these partners could be significant – potentially generating as much as 30% gross margin growth.

Will the effort work? It is indeed an ambitious program. IBM will have to do a good job in explaining its huge portfolio of offerings to the prospective partners. For example, it has a range of services including CastIron for cloud integration, analytics services, collaboration services (based on LotusLive), middleware services, and Tivoli service management offerings.  In addition, IBM is encouraging partners to leverage its  extensive security services offerings.  It is also trying to encourage partners to leverage its hardware systems. One example of how IBM is trying to be more attractive to cloud-based companies like Software as a Service vendors to to price offerings attractively. Therefore, it is offering a subscription-based model for partners so that they can pay based on usage – the common model for most cloud platform vendors.

IBM is on the right track with this cloud focused partner initiative.  It is a sweeping program that is focused on provides a broad set of benefits for partners. It is pricing its services so that ISVs can rent a service (including IBM’s test and development cloud) by the month — an important issue in this emerging market.  It is also expecting partners to make a major investment in learning IBM’s software, hardware, and services offerings. It is also expecting partners to expand their knowledge of the markets they focus on.

HP’s Ambitious Cloud Computing Strategy: Can HP Emerge as a Power?

February 15, 2011 4 comments

To comprehend HP’s cloud computing strategy you have to first understand HP’s Matrix Blade System.  HP announced the Matrix system in April of 2009 as a prepackaged fabric-based system.  Because Matrix was designed as a packaged environment, it has become the lynch pin of HP’s cloud strategy.

So, what is Matrix?  Within this environment, HP has pre-integrated servers, networking, storage, and software (primarily orchestration to customize workflow). In essence, Matrix is a Unified Computing System so that it supports both physical blades as well as virtual configurations. It includes a graphical command center console to manage resource pools, physical and virtual servers and network connectivity. On the software side, Matrix provides an abstraction layer that supports workload provisioning and workflow based policy management that can determine where workloads will run. The environment supports the VMware hypervisor, open source KVM, and Microsoft’s Hyper-V.

HP’s strategy is to combine this Matrix system, which it has positioned as its private cloud, with a public compute cloud. In addition, HP is incorporating its lifecycle management software and its security acquisitions as part of its overall cloud strategy. It is leveraging the HP services (formerly EDS) to offer a hosted private cloud and traditional outsourcing as part of an overall plan. HP is hoping to leveraging its services expertise in running large enterprise packaged software

There are three components to the HP cloud strategy:

  • CloudSystem
  • Cloud Services Automation
  • Cloud Consulting Services

CloudSystem. What HP calls CloudSystem is, in fact, based on the Matrix blade system. The Matrix Blade System uses a common rack enclosure to support all the blades produced by HP. The Matrix is a packaging of is what HP calls an operating environment that includes provisioning software, virtualization, a self-service portal and management tools to manage resources pools. HP considers its public cloud services to be part of the CloudSystem.  To provide a hybrid cloud computing environment, HP will offer compute public cloud services similar to what is available from Amazon EC2.  When combined with the outsourcing services from HP Services, HP contends that it provides a common architectural framework across public, private, virtualized servers, and outsourcing.  It includes what HP is calling cloud maps. Cloud maps are configuration templates based on HP’s acquisition of Stratavia, a database and application automation software company.

Cloud Service Automation.  The CloudSystem is intended to make use of Services Automation software called Cloud Service Automation (CSA). The components of CSA include a self-service portal that manages a service catalog. The service catalog describes each service that is intended to be used as part of the cloud environment.  Within the catalog, the required service level is defined. In addition, the CSA can meter the use of services and can provide visibility to the performance of each service. A second capability is a cloud controller, based on the orchestration technology from HP’s Opsware acquisition. A third component, the resource manager provide provisioning and monitoring services.  The objective of CSA is to provide end-to-end lifecycle management of the CloudSystem.

Cloud Consulting Services. HP is taking advantage of EDS’s experience in managing computing infrastructure as the foundation for its cloud consulting services offerings. HP also leverages its consulting services that were traditionally part of HP as well as services from EDS.  Therefore, HP has deep experience in designing and running Cloud seminars and strategy engagements for customers.

From HP’s perspective, it is taking a hybrid approach to cloud computing. What does HP mean by Hybrid? Basically, HP’s hybrid strategy includes the combination of the CloudSystem – a hardware-based private cloud, its own public compute services, and traditional outsourcing.

The Bottom Line.  Making the transition to becoming a major cloud computing vendor is complicated.  The market is young and still in transition. HP has many interesting building blocks that have the potential to make it an important player.  Leveraging the Matrix Blade System is a pragmatic move since it is already an integrated and highly abstracted platform. However, it will have to provide more services that increase the ability of its customers to use the CloudSystem to create an elastic and flexible computing platform.  The Cloud Automation Services is a good start but still requires more evolution.  For example, it needs to add more capabilities into its service catalog.  Leveraging its Systinet registry/repository as part of its service catalog would be advisable.  I also think that HP needs to package its security offerings to be cloud specific. This includes both in the governance and compliance area as well as Identity Management.

Just how much will HP plan to compete in the public cloud space is uncertain.  Can HP be effective in both markets? Does it need to combine its offerings or create two different business models?

It is clear that HP wants to make cloud computing the cornerstone of its “Instant-On Enterprise” strategy announced last year. In essence, Instant-on Enterprise is intended to make it easier for customers to consume data center capabilities including infrastructure, applications, and services.  This is a good vision in keeping with what customers need.  And plainly cloud computing is an essential ingredient in achieving this ambitious strategy.

Why we about to move from cloud computing to industrial computing?

April 5, 2010 7 comments

I spent the other week at a new conference called Cloud Connect. Being able to spend four days emerged in an industry discussion about cloud computing really allows you to step back and think about where we are with this emerging industry. While it would be possible to write endlessly about all the meeting and conversations I had, you probably wouldn’t have enough time to read all that. So, I’ll spare you and give you the top four things I learned at Cloud Connect. I recommend that you also take a look at Brenda Michelson’s blogs from the event for a lot more detail. I would also refer you to Joe McKendrick’s blog from the event.

1. Customers are still figuring out what Cloud Computing is all about.  For those of us who spend way too many hours on the topic of cloud computing, it is easy to make the assumption that everyone knows what it is all about.  The reality is that most customers do not understand what cloud computing is.  Marcia Kaufman and I conducted a full day workshop called Introduction to Cloud. The more than 60 people who dedicated a full day to a discussion of all aspects of the cloud made it clear to us that they are still figuring out the difference between infrastructure as a service and platform as a service. They are still trying to understand the issues around security and what cloud computing will mean to their jobs.

2. There is a parallel universe out there among people who have been living and breathing cloud computing for the last few years. In their view the questions are very different. The big issues discussed among the well-connected were focused on a few key issues: is there such a thing as a private cloud?; Is Software as a Service really cloud computing? Will we ever have a true segmentation of the cloud computing market?

3. From the vantage point of the market, it is becoming clear that we are about to enter one of those transitional times in this important evolution of computing. Cloud Connect reminded me a lot of the early days of the commercial Unix market. When I attended my first Unix conference in the mid-1980s it was a different experience than going to a conference like Comdex. It was small. I could go and have a conversation with every vendor exhibiting. I had great meetings with true innovators. There was a spirit of change and innovation in the halls. I had the same feeling about the Cloud Connect conference. There were a small number of exhibitors. The key innovators driving the future of the market were there to discuss and debate the future. There was electricity in the air.

4. I also anticipate a change in the direction of cloud computing now that it is about to pass that tipping point. I am a student of history so I look for patterns. When Unix reached the stage where the giants woke up and started seeing huge opportunity, they jumped in with a vengeance. The great but small Unix technology companies were either acquired, got big or went out of business. I think that we are on the cusp of the same situation with cloud computing. IBM, HP, Microsoft, and a vast array of others have seen the future and it is the cloud. This will mean that emerging companies with great technology will have to be both really luck and really smart.

The bottom line is that Cloud Connect represented a seminal moment in cloud computing. There is plenty of fear among customers who are trying to figure out what it will mean to their own data centers. What will the organizational structure of the future look like? They don’t know and they are afraid. The innovative companies are looking at the coming armies of large vendors and are wondering how to keep their differentiation so that they can become the next Google rather than the next company whose name we can’t remember. There was much debate about two important issues: cloud standards and private clouds. Are these issues related? Of course. Standards always become an issue when there is a power grab in a market. If a Google, Microsoft, Amazon, IBM, or an Oracle is able to set the terms for cloud computing, market control can shift over night. Will standard interfaces be able to save the customer? And how about private clouds? Are they real? My observation and contention is that yes, private clouds are real. If you deploy the same automation, provisioning software, and workload management inside a company rather than inside a public cloud it is still a cloud. Ironically, the debate over the private cloud is also about power and position in the market, not about ideology. If a company like Google, Amazon, or name whichever company is your favorite flavor… is able to debunk the private cloud — guess who gets all the money? If you are a large company where IT and the data center is core to how you conduct business — you can and should have a private cloud that you control and manage.

So, after taking a step back I believe that we are witnessing the next generation of computing — the industrialization of computing. It might not be as much fun as the wild west that we are in the midst of right now but it is coming and should be here before we realize that it has happened.

Why hardware still matters– at least for a couple of years

February 9, 2010 3 comments

It is easy to assume that with the excitement around cloud computing would put a damper on the hardware market. But I have news for you. I am predicting that over the next few years hardware will be front and center.  Why would I make such a wild prediction. Here are my three reasons.

1. Hardware is front and center in almost all aspects of the computer industry. It is no wonder that Oracle wants to become a hardware company. Hardware is tangible. It’s revenue hits the bottom line right away. Hardware can envelop software and keep customers pinned down for many, many years. New generation platforms in the form of hardware appliances are a convenient delivery platform that helps the sales cycle. It is no wonder that Oracle wants a hardware platform. It completes the equation and allows Oracle to position itself as a fully integrated computing company. Likewise, IBM and HP are focused on building up their war chest full of strong hardware platforms. If you believe that customers want to deal with one large brand..or two, then the winners want to control the entire computing ecosystem.

2. The cloud looms. Companies like Amazon.com and Google do not buy hardware from the big iron providers and never will. For economic reasons, these companies go directly to component providers and purchase custom designed chips, board, etc. This approach means that for a very low price, these cloud providers can reduce their power consumption by making sure that the components are optimize for massively scaled clouds.  These cloud vendors are focused on undercutting the opportunity and power of the big systems providers. Therefore, cloud providers care a lot about hardware — it is through optimization of the hardware that they can threaten the power equilibrium in the computer market.

3. The clash between cloud and on premise environments. It is clear that the computer marketplace is at a transition point. The cloud vendors are betting that they can get the costs based on optimization of everything so low that they win. The large Systems vendors are betting that their sophisticated systems combining hardware, software, and service will win because of their ability to better protect the integrity of the customer’s business. These vendors will all provide their own version of the public and private cloud to ensure that they maintain power.

So, in my view there will be an incredible focus on hardware over the next two years. This will actually be good for customers because the level of sophistication, cost/performance metrics will be impressive. This hardware renaissance will not last. In the long run, hardware will be commoditized. The end game will be interesting because of the cloud. It will not a zero sum game. No, the data center doesn’t go away. But the difference is that purpose built hardware will be optimized for workloads to support the massively scaled environments that will be the heart of the future of computing. And then, it will be all about the software, the data, and the integration.

3.

The DNA of the Cloud Power Partnerships

January 15, 2010 2 comments

I have been thinking  alot about the new alliances forming around cloud computing over the past couple of months.  The most important of these moves are EMC,Cisco, and VMware, HP and Microsoft’s announced collaboration, and of course, Oracle’s planned acquisition of Sun.  Now, let’s add IBM’s cloud strategy into the mix which has a very different complexion from its competitors. And, of course, my discussion of the cloud power struggle wouldn’t be complete without adding in the insurgents — Google and Amazon.  While it is tempting to want to portray this power grab by all of the above as something brand new — it isn’t.  It is a replay of well-worn patterns that we have seen in the computer industry for the past several decades. Yes, I am old enough to have been around for all of these power shifts. So, I’d like to point out what the DNA of this power struggle looks like for the cloud and how we might see history repeating itself in the coming year.  So, here is a sample of how high profile partnerships have fared over the past few decades. While the past can never accurately predict the future, it does provide some interesting insights.

Partner realignment happens when the stakes change.  There was a time when Cisco was a very, very close partner with HP. In fact, I remember a time when HP got out of the customer service software market to collaborate with Cisco. That was back in 1997.

Here are the first couple of sentences from the press release:

SAN JOSE and PALO ALTO, Calif., Jan. 15, 1997 — Hewlett-Packard Company and Cisco Systems Inc. today announced an alliance to jointly develop Internet-ready networked-computing solutions to maximize the benefits of combining networking and computing. HP and Cisco will expand or begin collaboration in four areas: technology development, product integration, professional services and customer service and support.

If you are interested, here is a link to the full press release.  What’s my point? These type of partnerships are in both HP’s and Cisco’s DNA. Both companies have made significant and broad-reaching partnerships. For example, back in 2004, IBM and Cisco created a broad partnership focused on the data center. Here’s an excerpt from a CRN article:

From the April 29, 2004 issue of CRN Cisco Systems (NSDQ:CSCO) and IBM (NYSE:IBM) on Thursday expanded their long-standing strategic alliance to take aim at the data center market. Solution providers said the new integrated data center solutions, which include a Cisco Gigabit Ethernet Layer 2 switch module for IBM’s eServer Blade Center, will help speed deployment times and ease management of on-demand technology environments.
“This is a big win for IBM,” said Chris Swahn, president of sales at Amherst Technologies, a solution provider in Merrimack, N.H.
The partnership propels IBM past rival Hewlett-Packard, which has not been as quick to integrate its own ProCurve network equipment into its autonomic computing strategy, Swahn said.
Cisco and IBM said they are bringing together their server, storage, networking and management products to provide an integrated data center automation platform.

Here is a link to the rest of the article.

HP itself has had a long history of very interesting partnerships. A few that are most relevant include HP’s ill-fated partnership with BEA in the 1990s. At the time, HP invested $100 million in BEA to further the development of software to support HP’s software infrastructure and platform strategy.

HP Gives BEA $100m for Joint TP Development
Published:08-April-1999
By Computergram

Hewlett-Packard Co and BEA Systems Inc yesterday said they plan to develop new transaction processing software as well as integrate a raft of HP software with BEA’s WebLogic application server, OLTP and e-commerce software. In giving the nod to WebLogic as its choice of application server, HP stopped far short of an outright acquisition of the recently-troubled middleware company, a piece of Wall Street tittle tattle which has been doing the round for several weeks now. HP has agreed to put BEA products through all of its distribution channels and is committing $100m for integration and joint development.

Here’s a link to an article about the deal.

Oracle  probably has more partnerships and more entanglement with more companies than anyone else.  For example,  HP has a  longstanding partnership with Oracle on the data management front. HP partnered closely with Oracle and optimized its hardware for the Oracle database. Today, Oracle and HP have more than 100,000 joint customers. Likewise, Oracle has a strong partnership with IBM — especially around its solutions business. IBM Global Services operates a huge consulting practice based on implementing and running Oracle’s solutions.  Not to be outdone, EMC and Oracle have about 70,000 joint customers. Oracle supports EMC’s storage solutions for Oracle’s portfolio while EMC supports Oracle’s solutions portfolio.

Microsoft, like Oracle, has entanglements with most of the market leaders. Microsoft has partnered very closely with HP for the last couple of decades both on the PC front and on the software front. Clearly, the partnership between HP and Microsoft has evolved for many years so this latest partnership is a continuation of a long-standing relationship. Microsoft has long-standing relationships with EMC, Sun, and Oracle — to name a few.

And what about Amazon and Google? Because both companies were early innovators in cloud computing, they were able to gain credibility in a market that had not yet emerged as the center of power. Therefore, both companies were well positioned to create partnerships with every established vendors that needed to do something with the cloud.  Every company from IBM to Oracle to EMC and Microsoft — to name but a few — established partnerships with these companies. Amazon and Google were small, convenient and non-threatening. But as the power of both companies continues to –grow,  so will their ability to partner in the traditional way. I am reminded of the way IBM partnered with two small companies — Intel and Microsoft when it needed a processor and an operating system to help bring the IBM PC to market in the early 1980s.

The bottom line is that cloud computing is becoming more than a passing fad — it is the future of how computing will change in the coming decades. Because of this reality, partnerships are changing and will continue to change. So, I suspect that the pronouncements of strategic, critical and sustainable partnerships may or may not be worth the paper or compute cycles that created them. But the reality is that the power struggle for cloud dominance is on. It will not leave anything untouched. It will envelop hardware, software, networking, and services. No one can predict exactly what will happen, but the way these companies have acted in the past and the present give us clues to a chaotic and predictable future.

Tectonic shifts: HP Plus 3Com versus Cisco Plus EMC

November 18, 2009 4 comments

Just when it looked clear where the markets were lining up around data center automation and cloud computing, things change. I guess that is what makes this industry so very interesting.  The proposed acquisition by HP of 3Com is a direct challenge to Cisco’s network management franchise. However, the implications of this move go further than what meets the eye.  It also pits HP in a direct path against EMC with its Cisco partnership. And to make things even more interesting, it also puts these two companies in a competitive three way race against IBM and its cloud/data center automation strategy. And of course, it doesn’t stop there. A myriad of emerging companies like Google and Amazon want a larger share of the enterprise market for cloud services. Companies like Unisys and CSC that has focused on the outsourced secure data centers are getting into the act.

I don’t think that we will see a single winner — no matter what any one of these companies will tell you.  The winners in this market shift will be those companies can build a compelling platform and a compelling value proposition for a partner ecosystem.  The truth about the cloud is that it is not simply a network or a data center. It is a new way of providing services of all sorts that can support changing customer workloads in a secure and predictable manner.

In light of this, what does this say for HP’s plans to acquire 3Com? If we assume that the network infrastructure is a key component of an emerging cloud and data center strategy, HP is making a calculated risk in acquiring more assets in this market.  The company that has found that its ProCurve networking division has begun gaining traction. HP ProCurve Networking is the networking division of HP.  The division includes network switches, wireless access points, WAN routers, and Access Control servers and software.   ProCurve competes directly with Cisco in the networking switch market. When HP had a tight partnership with Cisco, the company de-emphasized the networking. However, once Cisco started to move into the server market, the handcuffs came off. The 3Com acquisition takes the competitive play to a new level. 3Com has a variety of good pieces of technology that HP could leverage within ProCurve. Even more significantly, it picks up a strong security product called TippingPoint, a 3Com acquisition. TippingPoint fills a critical hole in HP’s security offering. TippingPoint, offers network security offerings including intrusion prevention and a product that inspects network packets.  The former 3Com subsidiary has also established a database of security threats based a network of external researchers.

But I think that one of the most important reasons that HP bought 3Com is its strong relationships in the Chinese market. In fiscal year 2008 half of 3Com’s revenue came from its H3C joint venture with Chinese vendor, Huawei Technology. Therefore, it is not surprising that HP would have paid a premium to gain a foothold in this lucrative market. If HP is smart, it will do a good job leveraging the many software assets to build out both its networking assets as well as beefing up its software organization. In reality, HP is much more comfortable in the hardware market. Therefore, adding networking as a core competency makes sense. It will also bolster its position as a player in the high end data center market and in the private cloud space.

Cisco, on the other hand, is coming from the network and moving agressively into the cloud and the data center market.  The company has purchased a position with VMWare and has established a tight partnership with EMC as a go to market strategy.  For Cisco, it gives the company credibility and access to customers outside of its traditional markets. For EMC, the Cisco relationship strengthens its networking play.  But an even bigger value for the relationship is to present a bigger footprint to customers as they move to take on HP, IBM, and the assortment of other players who all want to win.  The Cisco/EMC/VMware play is to focus on the private cloud.  In their view a private cloud is very similar to a private, preconfigured data center.  It can be a compelling value proposition to a customer that needs a data center fast without having to deal with a lot of moving parts.  The real question from a cloud computing perspective is the key question: is this really a cloud?

It was inevitable that this quiet market dominated by Google and Amazon would heat up as the cloud becomes a real market force.  But I don’t expect that HP or Cisco/EMC will have a free run. They are being joined by IBM and Microsoft — among others. The impact could be better options for customers and prices that invariably will fall. The key to success for all of these players will be how well they manage what will be an increasingly heterogeneous, federated, and highly distributed hardware and software world. Management comes in many flavors: management of these highly distributed services and management of the workloads.

Is cloud security really different than data center security?

October 30, 2009 7 comments

Almost every conversation I have had over the past year or so always comes back to security in the cloud.  Is it really secure? Or we are thinking about implementing the cloud but we are worried about security.  There are, of course, good reasons to plan a cloud security strategy. But in a sense, it is no different than planning a security strategy for your company. But it is the big scary cloud! Well, before I list the top then issues I would like to say one thing: if you think you need an entirely different security strategy for the cloud, you may not have a comprehensive security strategy to start with.  Yes, you have to make sure that you cloud provider has a sophisticated approach to security. However, what about your Internet service provider? What about the level of security within your own IT department? Can you throw stones if you live in a glass house (yes, that is a pun…sorry)?  So, before you start fretting about security in the cloud, get your own house in order.  Do you have an identity management plan? Do you ensure that one individual within the data center can’t control all of the data within a single environment to minimize risks? If you don’t have a well executed internal security plan, you aren’t ready for the cloud.  But let’s say that you have fixed that problem and you are ready to really plan your cloud security strategy. So, here five of the issues to consider. If you have others, let’s start a conversation.

security police

1. You need to start at the beginning with understanding the characteristics of your cloud provider. Is the company well funded? Is its data center designed with security at the center? Your level of scrutiny will also depend on how you are using the cloud. If you are using Infrastructure as a Service for a short term project there is less risk than if you are planning to use a cloud to store important customer data.

2. How is your cloud provider implementing security in a multi-tenant environment? How do they ensure that one customer’s data doesn’t impact another customer’s data?

3. Does your cloud provider give you the ability to monitor security of your data in the cloud? This will be important both for compliance and to keep track of your own security policies.

4. Does your cloud provider encrypt your critical data? If not, why not?

5. Does your cloud provider give you the ability to control who is allowed to access your information based on roles and authorization? Does the cloud provider support federated identity management? This is basic security best practices.

Now you are probably saying to yourself that this isn’t rocket science. These are fundamental security approaches that any data center should follow. I recommend that you take a look at a great document published by the Cloud Security Alliance that details many of the key issues surrounding security in the cloud. So, I guess my principle message is that cloud security is not different than security in any data center.  But the market does not seem to understand this because the perception is that a cloud is somehow not a data center that can be secured with regular old security. I think that we will see something interesting happen because of this perception: cloud vendors will begin to charge a premium for really good security.  In fact, this is already happening.  Vendors like Amazon and Salesforce are offering segregated implementations of their environments to customers who don’t trust their ordinary security approaches.  This will work in the short term primarily because during this early phase of the cloud there is not enough focus on security. Long term, as the market matures, cloud vendors will have to demonstrate their ability to provide a secure environment based on basic security best practices. In the meantime, cloud vendors will rake in the cash for premium secure cloud services.