Most organisations will find a balance between public and private cloud, and will take an evolutionary approach that makes the most of the systems they’re currently using.
That’s the view of Dell Ireland, which previewed its own cloud and IT services capabilities at a recent briefing in Dublin.
Virtualisation is widely considered as the first step towards a private cloud environment, where an organisation has the advantage of more scalable and flexible IT systems without the risk of data being exposed on the public internet.
Part of the problem is that some organisations don’t move all of their systems to a virtualised or cloud environment either because they’re not suitable for virtualisation or because the business is reluctant to move critical infrastructure.
Often, when this happens, organisations then don’t see the value they anticipated from making the switch, claims Dell Ireland’s general manager Dermot O’Connell.
“Like any technical product or solution you buy, some of it is in the intrinsic functionality of the product and the rest is making sure you adapt it to your processes and procedures,” he says.
Technology that can manage physical and virtual machines from a single pane lets companies move to cloud computing without having to make an all-or-nothing decision. Through its acquisition of Scalent, Dell now has technology that combines the management consoles of physical and virtual machines, giving IT administrators a single view across all of their systems.
He points to other challenges for the cloud, such as making sure different applications running on different platforms can communicate with each other. “If you put our CRM system in the cloud, how does it talk to your production system to make sure your customer orders are getting through?” O’Connell asks.
Cloud computing challenges
According to Connell, the issue with the cloud becomes one of “how do you manage a virtual machine sprawl that could cause as many problems as physical machines”? In some cases, this is because organisations have certain systems that aren’t suited to the cloud, or that shouldn’t move for confidentiality reasons.
Security is repeatedly cited as a major obstacle to adopting cloud computing but O’Connell believes this is a perception issue. “Salesforce.com has been incredibly successful and I would argue a company’s pipeline and customer data is its most valuable asset … Security is an objection rather than being the problem,” he says.
Dell’s operation at Cherrywood in Dublin was the company’s first cloud centre of excellence to be operational. It’s intended as a showcase for customers across Europe to visit and see simulations of what their own infrastructure might look like in a cloud environment.
Over the past number of years, Dell has also been moving away from focusing purely on hardware to positioning itself as a broad IT services provider through acquisitions such as Perot Systems, Boomi, Secureworks, MessageOne, EverDream and SilverBack.
O’Connell says the company has landed some “significant” services deals in sectors like financial services and utilities, and is seeing “huge interest” in the education market for cloud offerings.
“Services as a part of our business has been growing multiple times faster than our hardware business,” he says. “The leading indicator is the discussions we’re having with customers have changed a bit from ‘how many PCs do you want’ to a completely different conversation about ‘what are you trying to achieve with your IT’?”
Hardware still remains a significant part of the company’s business. According to data from IDC, Dell had more than 60pc share of Ireland’s server market during Q4 2011.
O’Connell says the reason is due to Ireland becoming a hub for many new data centres. Dell’s server volumes doubled from the start of 2010 to the end of 2011, despite the general market flattening or remaining static because conventional businesses had been virtualising and therefore reducing the number of physical servers they need. “Customers who had 400 servers now have 40 or even 20,” says O’Connell.
Systems that automate some of the manual maintenance work – such as Dell’s recently launched 12G servers, free up IT staff to work on more innovative projects that make a direct contribution to the business.
“If you look at the way IT has become a bigger part of work, we expect IT to be at the leading edge,” says Connell, who says that’s hard to achieve if too much of an IT department’s time is spent on low-value administration tasks. “Managing IT systems is maybe something the computer should be doing, not the humans,” he adds.
Dell is also trying to position itself in the gap between corporate computing and the trend towards consumer-type devices making their way into the workplace.
Last week, it released the XPS 13 ultrabook, which aims to marry business needs with punter-friendly features like a thin, light housing and all-day battery capacity. Dell also plans to take a piece of the growing bring-your-own-device (BYOD) trend, with O’Connell confirming the company is set to unveil a line of tablets and smartphones later this year.