According to some systems integrators who service these enterprise customers, cloud is coming in a distinct pattern. It's either Software as a Service (SaaS) applications, like Salesforce.com, that service people-driven parts of the business, like sales and marketing, operations that aren't compute or data intensive, or its new applications, that are almost always fully-virtualized, delivered "cloud-style" and bolted on to an IT organization.
They say companies aren't transforming their IT infrastructure so much as they are adding elements that look like cloud. Routine complaints about a lack of trust in public cloud environments and conservative IT culture underpin this trend of fully-virtualized, highly-managed and automated applications delivered ensuite.
"We see the adoption as really aggressive," said Kevin Watkins, vice president of engineering at Presidio, a professional services firm that sells about $1 billion dollars a year of hardware, software and services. Watkins said adoption of virtualization and virtualization management went from tepid to red hot last year, roughly parallel to the rise in awareness of cloud computing, and was the default choice rather than traditional on-premise application deployments. "Any new apps and services will be virtual unless there's a reason not to, whereas two or three years ago, that was not the de facto." he said.
Why haven't more companies taken the next step and moved onto public clouds, in that case? Recent surveys from Enterprise Management Associates show high levels of awareness about cloud, and more than half of 800 respondents had made plans to utilize cloud computing principles going forward, but no more than 25% of enterprises were actually doing so. The great majority -- more than two-thirds -- of cloud usage was SaaS and the rest was in test and development. Most telling, only 11% had plans to use external clouds.
The Pew Research Center recently declared that public cloud computing will not be the dominant trend until the next decade. EMA surveyed IT buyers; Pew surveyed "technology experts and stakeholders."
Watkins said that's because despite excellent arguments for public clouds, IT organizations naturally prefer their own turf and their own stuff, and will remain if it's an option. "You can absolutely make the argument with empirical data that public transportation is more efficient, but people still buy cars," he said.
Watkins said another factor keeping services in-house was scale and user demands for performance. He said that a customer with 10,000 users on a corporate campus, for instance, already has in place a very good high-speed LAN and user experience is probably pretty fast. IT is unlikely to want to ignore that and shift to Web-based services for heavy-duty applications, since it wouldn't take advantage of existing infrastructure and add a point of failure, the Internet connection.
Another aspect holding up public cloud adoption, according to Watkins, is that all of his customers already have computers and IT services, and while cloud computing has many benefits, there's often nothing compelling enough to make a firm want to redesign a functional IT organization. Instead, they're looking at adding capabilities that make sense when they can. "We have yet to see folks redeploy existing assets. Instead, they deploy a new pod of hardware," he said.
He does see customers using Web services for the "low hanging fruit" like CRM and increasingly, email and other kinds of communication tools, but said business applications are just now coming into full bloom with virtualization, and they are staying in-house.
Forrester Research analyst James Staten says it's just a fact that most enterprises aren't ready to do either large-scale public cloud computing or internal private cloud systems. His take is that transforming into a cloud environment is such a fundamental, massive operational shift that it is simply out of the reach of most IT organizations. That's unpleasant news to cloud boosters, he said.
"One reality most of them don't want to hear is that if you want to turn something into a cloud, you're talking years," Staten said, adding that enterprises were buying what the market made available and made fiscal sense, and that was virtualized appliances, and IT products. Mainstream adoption of cloud is a long way off, he said. Although it's quite real, it's going to take a slow and deliberate path.
Eitan Bremler, product manager for application delivery firm Radware, said he sees the same pattern as Watkins in the enterprise. He said no one was unaware of cloud at this point, but there simply wasn't a lot of room to maneuver sometimes, especially if cloud ideas were encroaching on established territory. "There's a lot of politics; the IT guys don't necessarily want to give access," he said. "It will take time."
Aside from cultural resistance, Bremler said , there is a vast array of complications. Legacy hardware rears its head all the time, even when a customer wants to use virtualization.
A Radware customer, a large EU telecoms that Bremler declined to name, is collapsing three out of 12 European data centers into fully-virtualized and consolidated equipment based in the United States. But one reason they couldn't turn that into a private cloud was a pile of Hewlett-Packard OpenView servers that simply cannot be virtualized.
Their solution is basic: Radware is going to pick the servers up, bring them overseas, and install them next to the racks running the new virtualized server environment. Perhaps when those older servers are finally phased out, Bremler said, his client might look harder at making a true cloud environment, but that was well into the current decade. "In order to do a private cloud, you need to make a leap of faith into full virtualization. This is holding back private cloud." Bremlers aid.
Bremler said that new companies were the obvious candidates to use cloud, but larger enterprises were still digesting virtualization and data center consolidation. After that, services with value added would come before commodity cloud servers in broad adoption. "There's a very big opportunity in platform," he said, with services like Windows Azure or Force.com.