Little Fluffy Clouds Part 3
The interesting thing was that, although the focus was on "managed services" in fact, the real buzz was around the cloud. It seems that the term "managed services", which used to mean physical connectivity mediated by SLAs, or IP VPNs and the like, has really morphed into the vogue-ish term, "Cloud Services." Basically, anything that is not on the customer premises is now considered the cloud, which encompasses both traditional managed services as well as emerging offers such as outsourced data centres and hosted CRM.
This is interesting as it illustrates how an idea can rapidly spread to embrace similar but related concepts, but it also highlights potential opportunities for network operators to play an active and defining role in cloud computing.
Of course, at a fundamental level, network operators can choose to offer their own hosted services and we see many actually doing so - particularly in the domain of hosted voice. Then there are competitive service providers with no network assets who can deliver similar services. Further, network operators may choose to offer non-traditional services, but in doing so there is the risk of competing with more established players who have greater experience and expertise in doing so.
But there is another avenue to explore. For any service to be delivered effectively over the clouds, it has to perform and behave exactly as the user expects. It all goes back to basic service expectations: for those of us who still have a traditional landline (which, frankly, is still a huge number of us), we know that when we lift the handset, we will obtain dial tone and can place a call. It just works. There will be similar expectation for users of cloud services, particularly for those who are paying for a particular service. How can this service delivery and execution be guaranteed?
It's all very well for a free service to be inconsistent - most of us as consumers or adventurous early adopters will tolerate this. But business users will not. They will expect, not unreasonably, that their service package is available when they want, is secure and performs as expected. After all, in the old managed services world, this is exactly what they go: managed services that perform as promised, backed by Service Level Assurance guarantees. Why would they expect anything less from the cloud services of today and tomorrow? In the famous words, it should do "exactly what it says on the tin". And, we need business users to embrace cloud services at all levels of the enterprise, from SMEs to multi-nationals, if the cloud services market is to flourish and realise its expected potential.
How will service providers without network assets achieve this? If they can't, there may be a backlash against the hosted model. If the cloud services market is to generate the expected returns, increasingly demanding user expectations will have to be met. Is this where network operators can provide clear differentiation? Does owning the network infrastructure enable them to offer something of value, both to enhance and support their own cloud offers, but also - and more importantly - to support an ecosystem of remote service providers who do not have network infrastructure but who may have an amazing and attractive service but no control over it's delivery? We don't know yet, but it's going to be interesting finding out and, of course, we will continue to share our experiences with you.