The steady roar over cloud computing in 2010 shows no signs of quieting. After all, customers still want to reduce ongoing IT costs while creating more flexible, efficient, automated computing infrastructures.
The big partner opportunity in 2011 is to move customers from talking about cloud computing to actually implementing private clouds. Of course, transforming large portions of an IT infrastructure into a private cloud isn’t something that happens overnight—or even over a long weekend. It’s a gradual process that takes careful planning, testing and staged deployment to control the inherent risks and challenges.
Determining Where Customers Are
Obviously, you need to know where your customers are on the path to private clouds before you can offer them meaningful assistance.
In 2009, Forrester Research produced the Virtualization Maturity Model*, an excellent tool for determining where customers are on the path to virtualization maturity: just starting out with an initial virtualization trial, deploying an automated cloud infrastructure complete with chargeback and service level metrics, or somewhere in between.
Although solution providers can still find plenty of engagement opportunities in stages 1 and 2 (Acclimation and Strategic consolidation), for this post, I’m going to skip right to stages 3 and 4, where solution providers can have the most impact on their customers’ ability to build a private cloud. Throughout this post, I’ll outline several engagement opportunities where solution providers can really turn all that cloud talk into action.
Virtualized Data Center to a Private Cloud
In Stage 3 (Process Improvement) of the Virtualization Maturity Model, organizations are focused on improving core IT processes, so they can more easily manage the ever-expanding number of virtual machines.
The savvy solution provider sees this as an open invitation to begin a conversation about a private cloud. Why? Because a private cloud is built around an organization’s capacity planning, provisioning, budgeting, server management, security, compliance and other key processes. Therefore, a solution provider that helps a customer review, update, create or delete core IT processes, and make the customer pro-actively think about a private cloud while re-defining those processes, will be influencing the architecture of any future private cloud.
During this stage, a solution provider may also be able to deploy a simple private cloud in the customer’s test and development systems. This will help the customer get more comfortable with a cloud environment and will establish the solution provider as their cloud expert—which will have obvious advantages when the time comes for a full-scale private cloud deployment in a production environment.
In Stage 4 (Pooling and Automation), the customer is turning their processes into policies and then managing their virtual infrastructure through policy-based automation. For the solution provider, this stage presents the best opportunity to introduce an automated management (or cloud management) solution that allows the customer to treat their servers, storage and networks as a single pool of resources, with clear advantages to the IT staff. The clever solution provider knows that pooling the resources, however, is just part of the private cloud story. Accordingly, he will recommend a cloud management solution that couples automation with self-service provisioning and cost allocation—providing an agile, policy-based foundation for the private cloud implementation.
In Stage 4, the customer is ready to implement a fully functioning private cloud, even if they don’t realize it. If the solution provider has done a good job of defining appropriate processes and establishing a private cloud test environment (in stage 3) the implementation of an automated cloud management and provisioning solution will make the transition to a private cloud relatively painless.
However, implementation of a private cloud does not signal the end of the solution provider’s engagement opportunities. The customer will want to leverage their private cloud investment, and the solution provider can help them determine the best business services to start delivering via this environment. In addition, a solution provider can help the customer integrate business service management into the private cloud infrastructure and help deliver public cloud resources through the private cloud environment.
These are all profitable engagement opportunities for the forward-looking solution provider.
* Virtualization Management and Trends. Forrester Consulting commissioned study. January 28, 2010.