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Differentiation in a crowded cloud service provider market

Organisations are increasingly looking towards Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) solutions to reduce costs and solve a number of business challenges. By Trevor Dearing, EMEA Marketing Director, Gigamon.

 

Date: 6 Mar 2013

The benefits are clear; elements of IT infrastructure that have traditionally been the domain of the IT department – servers, network equipment, firewalls and the like – are outsourced to companies which can manage them on their behalf. This not only takes the day-to-day responsibility away from the IT department, but also reduces costs due to pay-as-you-go models that ensure the organisation is only paying for the services that they actually use. However, as more cloud service providers enter the market, each offering nearly identical services and benefits, it becomes increasingly difficult for them to differentiate themselves from their competitors and, in turn, for customers to identify the provider best suited to them.
Being unable to attract new customers through offering unique services can have a significant impact on revenue and market share. In order to counteract this, many IaaS providers take the route of building, expanding and acquiring more data centre space. However, though they benefit from extra square footage, these service providers still fail to offer something different to the market – and investing in more, potentially unused, infrastructure can be costly. Service providers therefore require a solution that will offer customers a unique service to increase per-tenant revenue, without the need for vast financial investment.

The challenge
As mentioned, pay-as-you-go and highly available infrastructure are the basic value drivers for the majority of cloud customers, and providers will offer these at the bare minimum. Once these are met, it then becomes difficult for an IaaS provider to stand out from the competition without going down the integrated service provider route – offering IaaS, PaaS and SaaS – which can be a costly and disruptive expansion. It is therefore necessary to find other means of offering value-adding services, if the provider can assist customers with being able to quickly deliver services to market, resolve service performance issues more efficiently and deliver deep performance analysis capabilities on various levels, their offering is going to greatly differ from the competition.

However, the facilitation of these services can be difficult to accomplish in a way that is not only cost-effective but also allows the provider to meet the basic value proposition of a robust, high availability network. Networks are increasingly complex pieces of infrastructure, with vast numbers of servers, storage, dynamic virtualisation, load balancing equipment, high availability with redundant paths, security devices and disaster recovery procedures and so on. This level of complexity impacts network uptime and makes it difficult to troubleshoot performance issues or security breaches, while all the time continuing to provide the best possible level of infrastructure availability and performance.

In order to ensure network uptime while improving revenue streams, the temptation is often to increase the number of servers, virtualisation, storage, and so on. However, not only is adding extra capability in this way expensive, it is also highly inefficient. With millions of traffic flows and hundreds of changes occurring within the infrastructure every day, what is really required is extensive and pervasive visibility into the network so the IaaS provider is acutely aware of how it is being used.

See what you’re missing
A proactive approach to visibility is required. It should be a non-intrusive technology that enables visibility of traffic flows almost anywhere within the cloud infrastructure, one that is intelligent, dynamic and able to understand the criticality and priority of traffic. It must also be able to see across the boundary of physical and virtual and into the cloud to provide the clarity needed to secure, maintain and support all types of services and applications. Monitoring network traffic in this way ensures that nothing is being missed and the whole network is being utilised as efficiently as possible.
A traffic visibility tool boosts availability by increasing insight into traffic flows almost anywhere within the cloud infrastructure – network access, distribution and core, as well as within the virtual switched network. The traffic is identified and appropriately directed to management, analysis and security tools based on user-defined rules, alleviating congestion and utilising under-used devices.

By prioritising critical traffic flows over the non-essential ones, one application over another, as well as optimising packet information, visibility tools are able to address issues of oversubscription and deliver the appropriate, relevant and critical information to centralised security, monitoring and management systems. As a result, systems and tools that were limited by the number of connection points, volume of traffic or network link speeds can achieve their full potential, thereby allowing providers to deliver on their basic value proposition of high availability. With this achieved, further services can be introduced in order to both be distinct in the market, and increase revenues for the provider.

Quickly deliver services to market
SaaS and PaaS customers need to be able to deliver services to market as quickly as possible and, with increased network visibility; IaaS providers can help them do so. Without visibility into the network, providers are unable to see how much of the network is in use which, can leave them adding further devices each time a new customer or increased traffic is introduced. Increasing the visibility not only eliminates this problem but also allows under-utilised equipment to be revealed and put to use.

Therefore, costly implementations to accommodate further traffic are reduced and customers have no need to wait for services to be ready, thereby allowing them to deliver services to market more quickly – often achieving a significant competitive advantage as a result.

Resolving service performance issues
Service performance issues are, at times, unavoidable and all the visibility in the world cannot stop some problems occurring. However, the ability to guarantee the identification and resolution of these issues in an efficient and timely manner is a service that will certainly set one IaaS provider apart from the others. Improving the level of traffic visibility reduces the time it takes to identify issues within the IT estate by accurately pin-pointing exactly where the problem is occurring. Many services cross infrastructures owned by a number of providers (and at times, end-users), making it more difficult to accurately identify problems. The sooner the location of the issue is uncovered, the sooner incidents can be resolved – ensuring minimum downtime and allowing customers to be more confident in a provider’s ability to deliver against SLAs.

Performance analysis capabilities
Finally, being able to provide in-depth performance analysis for customers not only allows an IaaS provider to offer something different to the market, it is also a way of increasing revenues. Reports can be broken down to the most granular level and functions such as customer experience monitoring, network forensics and compliance analysis can be offered on a pay-as-you-go, per-customer basis. This is a cost effective offering that delivers demonstrable return on investment for both the service provider and customer.

It is clear that as more IaaS providers emerge, and the market becomes saturated, the ability to offer unique services will be key for differentiation. Without the ability to see what they would otherwise miss, IaaS providers are unfortunately failing to deliver their offering properly and set themselves apart from the competition.
 

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