Earlier this week I was having a drink with three of our consultants, and we found ourselves discussing the major trends and changes of 2015. While they agreed that 2015 was the year that cloud truly arrived, for me the greatest interest was in some of the enabling technologies.
Office 365 leads the way
For Chris Field, a Senior Technical Consultant specialising in Microsoft solutions, “The biggest change was cloud going mainstream, with Office 365 becoming the go-to solution for many businesses, and widely adopted as the norm.”
“That’s a massive change in perceptions and how people trust cloud,” says Chris. “Exchange has been where a lot of companies have tested the water with cloud, but there are many other mainstream solutions that have gone cloud – for example, AutoCAD and Adobe are following the trend that on-premise is secondary to their main cloud platform.”
According to Chris, Office 365 has given companies the confidence that their data is secure in the cloud. Businesses now don’t need to invest in on-premise infrastructure, often giving them a competitive edge, and enabling them to access email, files and services from any device.
But why has this happened now? Chris explains, “Cloud has become more of a focus from the big players in the industry – Microsoft has changed its approach to be a cloud-first, mobility-first company and this has been echoed by a lot of other big vendors, with traditional hardware companies like Dell and HP partnering with the likes of Microsoft to deliver cloud solutions.”
“Before this year, everyone was waiting to see if cloud would take off,” comments Chris. “In 2015 it’s proved itself as being a viable solution for all types of companies, and now the momentum is starting to build.”
Granularity simplifies migration
“Cloud has been a big driver in most of the companies we talk to,” states Dale Scriven, who is a Senior Technical Consultant specialising in end user computing (EUC). “As well as their day-to-day requirements, they can burst into the cloud when needed, which is great for companies with seasonal workers and flexible demands.”
“The ongoing battle between Citrix and VMware continues to drive innovation, with increased layering within SVC (Storage Virtualisation and Cloud) and VDI (Virtual Desktop Infrastructure) deployments,” continues Dale. “By increasing granularity, this means companies can easily replace components, for example they can replace Windows versions from the bottom while the applications all stay in their layer, and the profiling on top of that – so, having multiple layers simplifies migration.”
Dale describes how Citrix and VMware are both promoting their own cloud projects – Citrix Workspace Cloud and VMware vCloud Air respectively – to allow users to easily log into servers in a data centre or to the cloud, improving flexibility and helping drive down cost.
For Dale, Windows Server 2003 going end-of-life brought cloud onto the agenda for many. Chris adds, “Companies now have more options when they upgrade – they can migrate services to the cloud and reduce their infrastructure footprint, without needing to go out and buy a lot of tin.”
Driven by end users
“To add to Chris and Dale’s comments, we’ve seen a growing trend of IT being driven by end user demands,” says David Irwin, a Technical Presales Consultant. “With cloud, companies are finally becoming able to support users’ own devices, rather than impose an inferior laptop or restricted-usage mobile phone.”
“I don’t like the term ‘BYOD’ as it’s been pushed by vendors for so long without really happening effectively,” says David. “But in 2015, users have become empowered to ask to use their own devices, and the technology can do more to support that.”
“People use cloud-based, flexible, mobile services every day in their personal life, such as Twitter, Facebook and Skype – and employers need to respond in order to attract and retain the best staff,” continues David. “Traditionally, companies have had static environments, but users are demanding flexibility, and cloud can offer that out of the box.”
Chris points out that if companies don’t support people’s own equipment, then people will just find a way to use it anyway. He comments, “We’ve all seen reports of users removing information via USB sticks, or sharing data via personal email or Dropbox.” Companies that enable users with approved services are much less likely to encounter compliance issues or bad headlines.
Software-defined storage comes of age
This year has also seen an emergence of software-defined storage as a key trend, with flash-based server storage technologies like Atlantis acting as an enabling technology to help deliver Citrix and other services.
“Up until the last year, these had been held back by hardware capabilities, with flash drives not big or reliable enough,” says David. “Now, organisations who are still large enough to justify delivering services from their own premises are finding you don’t need big, converged monolithic storage systems or SANs. Instead you can use much more flexible software-managed storage systems.”
Microsoft’s first laptop
All three consultants identify Microsoft’s move into the laptop market as one of the key events of 2015. Chris says, “The new Surface Book, along with the Surface Pro, is Microsoft laying down the gauntlet to Apple on premium devices – up to now, Microsoft has provided back-end solutions, but now they are being bold and saying ‘we can do anything you can.”
“The Surface Pro has made its mark as a mobile device that can front a cloud platform,” says Chris. “You need a good device to access the cloud, and products like this, that are known to work anywhere easily, are a good driver for Microsoft and the industry.”
Dale also points to VMware’s new user environment manager, App Volumes, as a significant launch in 2015. This improves upon VMware’s existing profile management solution by introducing dynamic elements into profiles and providing simpler administration than competing tools. It has also proved popular with customers by providing a robust, alternative method of application delivery This means applications can be stored on a separate VMDK (Virtual Machine Disk), and brought in on the fly to images, for example to enable a user to load a particular set of applications based upon group memberships.
Managing it all
But with all these new cloud offerings, “The risk is that IT teams are put under additional demands to keep up and promote new flexible-working, cloud-driven technologies with no more people and no more money, while also being expected to maintain the status quo in their data centres,” notes David.
While this holds true for many larger companies, Chris points out, “Cloud enables IT to offer far better services to their users, whilst simplifying the management layer of their environments.”
He identifies new solutions that are helping companies manage their systems, such as Cisco Meraki and the VMware NSX network virtualisation platform, and comments, “Their popularity, even including managing security, shows there’s been a massive change in people’s attitude to cloud management.”
“From what I’ve seen in my time in enterprises and in the financial sector, there are challenges and security concerns, but the companies that are adopting cloud are the ones that are able to become more agile and flexible,” concludes Chris. Businesses are looking at ways of simplifying and centralising their management layers, and for IT, cloud is a massive enabler to do just that.”