Cloud providers step up consulting services

Lisa Larson, Rackspace VP of technical sales

At this stage of the game, most companies know at least some of the benefits of cloud computing —  the ease of capex vs. opex budgeting, simpler rollout of standard applications and processes, etc. But many are still not sure which applications and data should move first, which should be entrusted to a private as opposed to a public or hybrid cloud, and which should absolutely, positively, stay in the data center.
There’s nothing a like a little high-level handholding to make a cloud move a little less scary and that’s why Rackspace (s rax) is beefing up its customer advisory services and cloud service providers in general are lining up systems integrators to help customers make the transition. These integrators, in theory, provide vendor agnostic consulting and implementation services to big IT buyers — although many of them also field vendor-specific practices.
Rackspace is launching a cloud-readiness assessment program to help customers who want to do cloud figure out which of their applications and data should make the move first, said Lisa Larson, VP of technical sales for the San Antonio, Texas,-based hosting company and cloud service provider. Rackspace architects can walk customer reps through their budget and timeframe, review their current applications and come up with a deployment roadmap.
A new IT Evolution program brings in the customer’s CIO, the CIO’s direct reports, plus leaders in non-IT business units to discuss cloud strategy — which workloads should go to public, private or hybrid clouds (all of which would be, in this case, powered by Rackspace of course.)   The assessments are paid engagements,  although there is a free half-day workshop, Larson said.
It’s an interesting time to be in the cloud computing infrastructure business. More companies definitely feel the need to put at least some of their storage in the cloud  — how else to describe the explosion of business-focused cloud storage companies? But there is still a ton of customer concern about where sensitive data should reside and essential compute loads should run.

Sorting it out: What goes to which cloud?

Larson said the rule of thumb is to put test and development into the public cloud first. E-commerce  applications are suited for a hybrid model that lets the front end takes advantage of the utility-based pricing of the public cloud while the backend technology for handling PCI and compliance remains in a secure private cloud.
Third, standard productivity applications —  like email and Sharepoint (s msft)  should go next , with Sharepoint probably best for a private cloud and email going either public or private.
Last to move beyond the data center are truly mission critical applications that run the business –the SAP (s sa) or other ERP system, for example, as well as the rest of the financial applications.

Bringing in reinforcements: SIs

Rackspace and giant public cloud competitor Amazon (s amzn) are also working more with systems integrators — third parties that advise large companies on their IT game plans — to help customers navigate the cloud shift. Amazon has cultivated ties with Accenture(s acn), Deloitte, and Capgemini for some time. Rackspace also works with Accenture, HCL and Wipro.
There is a much more deliberate effort by AWS now to work with these types of partners,” said Forrester Research analyst James Staten. “The push is to help these partners understand public cloud and help influence their enterprise customers to see the security and maturity of it, help with the Uneven Handshake and bring them on board.”
Capgemini was one of the first global system integrators to come aboard with AWS in 2008, then Accenture and Deloitte. “The rest are following the money,” Staten said.
David Ryan, CTO of integrator  General Dynamics IT said there is a broad array of use cases that can go to the public cloud– disaster recovery, research and development, software development and batch processing included.
But any truly sensitive data needs to remain under lock and key — in the company data center. “Right now, even in those use cases, sensitive data still stays in-house. There is a big challenge of indemnity that I think [cloud service providers] have to get over before we see things move heavily into the public space, at least from a government perspective.”
Feature photo courtesy of Flickr user Pernell