Cloud hosting technology passed an important milestone at some point during the last few years, from hype, experimentation and testing to earnest adoption by enterprises and even small businesses.
Providers of public cloud offerings have seen the movement reflected in their growth, while more traditional managed hosting providers might have seen this reflected in the number of their customers turning to Amazon’s cloud offerings to host certain of their workloads.
Even those hosting providers that haven’t seen a flood of customers putting workloads on public cloud services may just lack insight into what their customers are doing – they may not be telling you about their need for infrastructure as a service because they know you don’t offer it.
RightScale, a leader at the cloud orchestration layer, has been a driving force in that general shift of production workloads to the cloud, given the role its cloud orchestration software plays in the consumption of public cloud services by enterprise customers.
In predicting the trends driving the cloud market in 2013, RightScale labeled that over-arching trend, “from secret to strategic,” meaning that in instances where cloud resources had previously been used by enterprises on discrete projects, early adopters are now building out more comprehensive cloud strategies, and visionary companies, it says, are adopting a cloud-first approach.
For cloud consumers using RightScale to monitor cloud resource usage, keep tabs on SLA performance, and otherwise generally manage their usage, the platform often becomes the panel through which they understand and consume cloud, making it a key factor in their purchasing decisions. So, for service providers offering public cloud resources, delivering something that is compatible with RightScale, and recognized within the RightScale environment as a choice is a major priority. Both Rackspace and SoftLayer, for instance, have publicized their partnerships with RightScale.
SoftLayer announced in April that it had partnered with RightScale to offer the cloud management console as a tool to its customers, and to enable RightScale users to deploy SoftLayer cloud resources.
Last month, RightScale spoke to the WHIR about its expectations for the coming year, offering some very specific predictions for trends and movement in the cloud space, and some more general thoughts about how those may impact more traditional managed hosting providers – a segment that is becoming more of a market for Rightscale as the companies involved increasingly look to Rightscale as a management interface they can supply to their own customers.
“The ones that are coming to us feel a little bit caught – actually, it’s not a little bit, it’s a lot caught – in this changing world, where suppliers like Amazon are out there providing essentially a self-service interface to infrastructure” says Rightscale CEO Michael Crandell, in an interview with the WHIR. “Nowadays, Amazon supplies support. It’s still not what a managed service provider would offer, but it’s impacting their world in a pretty big way.”
Crandell says managed service providers are considering building products to compete with Amazon directly (as in the Rackspace or SoftLayer examples), and many of them are finding that to be a difficult, if not impossible task. “It’s much more of a software problem than folks might imagine,” says Crandell, “and you need software developers.”
That “software problem” is diminishing as commercial and open-source solutions emerge that hosting providers can use to build out infrastructure that can support EC2-like solutions. However, those solutions have the same requirements in terms of capital expenditure.
Other managed hosting providers have begun really looking more closely at the possibility that their value propositions have a lot more to do with the layer of management and services they place on top of the infrastructure than it does with the infrastructure itself. This opens up all kinds of interesting possibilities related to layering those management and services offerings on top of third-party infrastructure, and leads directly into one of RightScale’s published predictions for 2013 (a trend it noticed gaining considerable steam in 2012): the multi-vendor cloud model.
Multi-cloud is the new normal, says Crandell, in the companies predictions, and in conversation, referring not just to the public-and-private combination most frequently described by the term “hybrid cloud,” but also to a public-plus-public hybrid model in which they consume public cloud resources from multiple suppliers, for geographic, performance, or compliance reasons.
“In a survey we did last spring,” says Crandell, “68 percent of the population we spoke to said they wanted to consume more than just one cloud platform. About half of those were public-and-private, and another 18 or 20 percent wanted public-plus-public. And that’s important to us is because it’s one of the big value props of RightScale, being able to manage multiple infrastructures.”
The multi-vendor model is interesting for managed hosting providers looking for a place to insert themselves into the cloud ecosystem, because it changes the nature of the challenge from having to “win” a customer away from a service like Amazon into meeting one or more specific needs, among many.
RightScale also predicts a “gold rush” of middlemen in the cloud space, referring mostly to ISVs that are moving their on-premise license models or self-hosted SaaS solutions onto public clouds. There are examples of other types of in-between service providers emerging, however, including cloud resource marketplaces like SpotCloud and cloud app store environments, like Standing Cloud.
The growing number and variety of middlemen in general suggests that roles will continue to emerge in this ecosystem, which is good news for service providers still trying to nail down their own role – particularly those who feel that the management and service layer is the true value they provide to customers.
While RightScale necessarily has its finger on the pulse of the cloud, and its opinions worthwhile as a result of exposure and involvement, RightScale’s stated expectations for the cloud market are also inherently interesting – whether or not they prove to be 100 percent accurate – because of the power they have to influence the decision-making of cloud customers.
Talk back: What do you think of RightScale’s expectations for the cloud market in 2013? What about the evolving and emerging roles for managed hosting providers? Have you clearly defined a strategy for your role as a service provider in the cloud environment? Let us know in the comments.