A break in the clouds

25 Nov 2010

Within two years, cloud computing is tipped to be mainstream in the business world. Are Irish businesses ready for the biggest upheaval yet in IT?

The cloud era has begun. Businesses and government bodies should be finding ways to cut corners, boost efficiency and at the same time run the most flexible and agile organisations possible. What is the cloud?

Well, if you are used to internet services like iTunes, Facebook, Hotmail, Gmail, Google Docs or Salesforce.com, you would know that, equipped with an internet browser or a smartphone, you can visit your own internet zone whenever you like to access your own private information.

Expand this premise into the business world and the opportunity for organisations to offload expensive IT processes and store and back up information in their own private internet cloud is compelling.

Jeremy Showalter, Microsoft Ireland’s information worker business manager, explains that Microsoft has unveiled Office 365, which brings Microsoft Office, SharePoint Online, Exchange Online and Lync Online into the cloud. Office 365 lets users work from anywhere, while collaborating with others in and outside their company securely. It works with most browsers, smartphones and desktop applications which support ActiveSync.

“Office 365 is software-as-a-service. It brings what we call our communication collaboration software to the cloud – products like Exchange, SharePoint, the new Lync, which is our new office communications server. It is part of our big future in terms of what we see
going to the cloud.”

Showalter says this fits with Microsoft’s three screens vision – PC, smartphone, TV – of ubiquitous computing.

“When we talk about productivity, we talk about the best experience across the PC, the phone and the browser and so this is definitely a step in the direction to bring that about. For example, Windows Phone 7 comes with an Office hub right in that phone, so you have that experience.”

shape of cloud

Fraser Furlong, sales manager with Irish IT services firm Ergo, a Microsoft partner, says there is a growing appetite for deploying cloud technology in large and small Irish firms.

“People are coming from a background of shared services, particularly in the corporate space. Many have adopted virtualisation and centralisation strategies, so the step to envision what is the cloud is quite an easy step to make now,” he explains.

Masses of Irish people who tune in or log in every week to watch The X Factor on TV3 and may watch highlights or tweet or post Facebook messages aren’t aware that they are contributing to the cloud computing revolution. The lean and agile nationwide broadcaster makes prolific use of internet cloud and storage to ensure a ubiquitous experience for viewers via TV, smartphones or PC. TV3 deployed a cloud hosting platform in conjunction with SunGard Availability Services, the new owner of Hosting 365.

“We approached TV3 and they said a revamp of the website was something they were looking at in terms of providing content and a tailored solution to viewers,” explains Kevin O’Connor of SunGard. “We analysed their requirements and looked at web and content services. What we ended up deploying and designing for TV3 was, in essence, a hybrid cloud solution.

Peter Clerkin, head of online, TV3, adds: “From an online angle, TV3 is very lucky to have key shows like The Apprentice and The X Factor. From a user perspective, when we look at those shows and bring them to an online environment, we need solutions like the cloud infrastructure to be able to handle sudden bursts of traffic for shows like The X Factor.

“Once it gets broadcast on Saturday night or Sunday or even in terms of getting voting numbers to vote for particular performers, we need a strong and robust hosting infrastructure in place. That’s why we looked at cloud infrastructure being an ideal solution for that,” he says.

“I think there is an awareness of the cloud among Irish enterprises but there is a lack of understanding of the impact it can have and what it can do for their business – this is going to be the next stage in Ireland’s cloud journey. A more pragmatic education is what they
want,” says Aidan Donnelly of Servecentric.

Managed services via cloud

Through its Kloudcentric technology, Servecentric has enabled firms like accountancy IT provider Advent to offer managed services to its customers via the cloud.

“Conceptually, it means businesses are beginning to understand they don’t need to have servers in their computer rooms, and we have been facilitating that for years around the outsourcing of IT, but what this does is it takes it on to the next level,” Donnelly says.

Dublin and Cork-based Trilogy Technologies has enabled organisations like the European Rugby Cup (ERC), the governing body for the Heineken Cup and Amlin Challenge Cup, to digitise all ERC games in a virtual environment.

Trilogy’s managing director Edel Creely says that the cloud is not a panacea for problems a business may have and each and every deployment needs to be handled on a case-by-case basis.

“Some of the greater advantages are cost savings from the cloud, ease of doing business, deploying new computing systems and applications for that business.

“But one also has to look at the implications of change for those businesses. So whether cloud computing can deliver immediate advantages or not, that needs to be investigated on a business-by-business basis,” she says.

Cloud benefit

Jeff Nick, chief technology officer of storage giant EMC, which employs more than 2,000 people in Cork, says that one of the major advantages of the cloud is security.

“Cloud computing and mobile computing go hand in hand. In terms of applications and security, security can be enforced within the information, in the device and access point and policies can be applied wherever the data is being served.”

Nick says one of the key areas that will benefit from the cloud is healthcare. EMC’s consulting division recently centralised a vast IT infrastructure using the cloud for Belfast Health and Social Care Trust, an organisation employing 20,000 people and serving 340,000 people in Northern Ireland.

As we rumble into a challenging 2011, could cloud be one of those areas to help organisations repurpose themselves and reduce waste?

“One of the main advantages of cloud computing for SMEs is it allows them to focus on their business instead of getting sidelined by IT,” points out Cisco Ireland managing director Kim Majerus. “Small businesses have embraced cloud services for their ease of use as well as the ability to access technology innovations that might have been out of reach due to the IT investment required.

“The cloud has enabled a lot of new technologies and capabilities that can be delivered to small businesses in a subscription payment model that makes sense for them. Cloud computing can also give small business owners a competitive advantage by making their company’s IT more flexible,” Majerus adds.

Siliconrepublic has embarked on its Cloud Centre campaign to better inform businesses about opportunities in cloud computing. To visit our Cloud Centre, click here.

John Kennedy is a journalist who served as editor of Silicon Republic for 17 years