Cloud computing price war intensifies

Although the cloud market is typically thought of as existing in a state of flux, with no defined dominant force, it seems that a small cabal of bigger firms are stepping up the pressure on small competitors, with a price war that might reshape the industry entirely.

In a recent Gartner report, cloud analyst, Lydia Leong, argued that only a handful of larger vendors have the spending power to invest in the cloud, cut prices and secure growth going forwards.

The problem this poses to businesses that are looking to adopt cloud solutions is that some vendors may be altering their business models and service offers in the future. This could complicate things if firms sign up to specific solutions today, only to see the provider change tact and alter its focus as a result of market pressures.

In particular, IaaS (infrastructure as a service) is being identified as an area targeted by the largest firms, including Amazon, Google and Microsoft, with significant price cuts being introduced by these providers on a regular basis.

Vendors are also altering pricing structures to allow affordable packages to be made available, by harnessing the power of cloud instances that are otherwise idle to handle workloads. This does mean that services may become unavailable to certain customers with only a brief warning, but for businesses looking for the cheapest possible route to cloud adoption, this may be an acceptable compromise.

Whether the price war will have a negative impact on the market as a whole is up for debate, since while cloud customers will be getting a better deal, it is also likely that smaller vendors will be forced out by the sheer spending power of the biggest players, potentially leading to a lack of diversity across the industry.

Manufacturing Industry Benefits from Cloud Revolution

Businesses operating within the manufacturing sector are increasingly turning to cloud computing in order to meet their burgeoning IT needs, according to a report from MintJurtas. It was revealed that 22% of software services used by manufacturing firms for production and distribution are currently based in the cloud, with analysts predicting that this will grow to 45% by the year 2023.

SaaS (software as a service) is particularly important for manufacturers because it allows them to adopt the latest solutions quickly and cheaply, as well as giving them the flexibility to upgrade to newer software packages as and when they are made available.

Respondents to the study also said that the cloud was a big help when it came to bringing consistency to international operations and allowing for collaboration between staff without the same issues of system fragmentation that were so prevalent in the past.

The cloud is helping manufacturers to reduce IT costs, which in turn gives them more money to play with and the opportunity to invest in the development of new products, leading to growth and prosperity.
The competitiveness of the manufacturing industry means that businesses need to be as well equipped as possible, which is precisely what cloud computing services like SaaS are intended to offer.

As well as being able to develop products at a faster pace, manufacturers can also use data centres to churn through information relating to marketing activities, giving them the tools they need to identify the successes and failures within a particular promotional campaign.

Manufacturers of all shapes and sizes have begun to benefit from the cloud, as noted in this study. The predictions relating to increased usage paint a rosy picture of a future in which the cloud is more closely integrated with manufacturing than it is today.

Cloud bandwidth demands met through 100Gbps connectivity

The demand for bandwidth has steadily increased, thanks to the rise in the use of cloud computing services, although the UK is still quite a way down international league tables when it comes to average connection speeds.

The latest figures from Ofcom show that the typical broadband connection is now just over 11Mbps, but a new service being offered to cloud computing providers is going to be a little bit more generous with the bandwidth, according to V3.co.uk.

The 100Gbps (gigabits per second) solution being offered by Virgin Media Business (VMB), is rolling out to various data centres that provide cloud services.

With businesses becoming ravenous for data access, this type of digital pipeline will make it easier for cloud providers to actually live up to expectations and deal with ever-increasing demands.

This super fast connectivity will be able to link data centres to one another, so that the flow of information is not stifled and some potential customers for this type of solution are expecting to push speeds even further.

This is obviously a very specialised type of connectivity, designed to appeal to cloud firms that run their own data centres. However, it also indicates the direction which is being taken by the wider broadband market in the UK, as it adapts to a shape dictated by the cloud.

Businesses and domestic users are now used to being able to access remotely hosted information and software services whenever it is required. As data volumes increase along with the number of simultaneous users, there are concerns that the current infrastructure will not be comprehensive enough to keep up with demand.

Hopefully, the major investments being made in bringing fibre optic connectivity to most areas of the UK will help alleviate the pressure which is being put on bandwidth.

Why good IT support makes for a better user experience

When something goes wrong with a computer, the first thing people do is contact support – well, perhaps the second thing they do after having had a bit of a moan about it. But IT support can cover a whole host of issues. From the other side of the fence, you never quite know what to expect when the phone rings. It could be something as simple as a forgotten password, or it could be a major server problem.

If the support team is unable to deal with a range of different challenges then users will become frustrated and maybe resort to their own workarounds or fixes, ultimately making the problem worse.

Providing good support is therefore crucial, whether it’s for your own in-house staff or for customers using your systems.

Support levels

Generally speaking, IT support exists on a number of levels. First of all there’s self-service support. This consists of FAQs or how-to guides to enable users to find out how to carry out tasks or fix simple issues. This, if managed effectively, can help to cut down the number of calls for basic issues that find their way through to higher levels.

Next comes first line support. This is the help desk and the first point of human contact in the support chain – although this is starting to change as AI applications become more sophisticated. Support personnel here will be able to fix basic problems over the phone or via email and more than half of issues should expect to be resolved at this level.

Where issues are more complex, they may be escalated to a second line of support. Solving these issues requires analysts with a greater understanding of the systems infrastructure and software in order to resolve problems.

Finally, there’s the third line of support. These are the problems that are too complicated for the in-house team to resolve and which need to be escalated to the supplier of the hardware or software for investigation or resolution.

For the end user, it’s important that they are kept informed as to where their query is in the process and how efforts to resolve it are being progressed.

Improving support

For many businesses, the key choice is how much support to carry out in-house and how much to outsource. Outsourcing the whole process risks losing knowledge of the business and its systems that allow common issues to be resolved quickly.

On the other hand, for smaller businesses, it may not be cost effective to employ the levels of technical expertise needed for more complex problems to be resolved. There’s a balance to be struck in providing the best level of support in a cost-effective way.

It’s important that users have a clear means of contacting support if they need it. It’s also vital that events are properly tracked; most organisations use some form of ticketing system so that issues are automatically escalated if they are not resolved within an agreed time frame. Listening to feedback from users is a key aspect of getting it right too. Take the time to find out what most frustrates them about the systems they use and the support process. You may find that some simple changes to procedures can be effective in reducing the number of calls and improving the user experience.

Good support is critical to the experience of end users and therefore to the success of the business. As technology plays a bigger role in all our lives, support is likely to become more complex and the end users will be more tech savvy, so don’t underestimate the need for your IT support to continually improve.

How the cloud is driving change in healthcare

The IT challenges of healthcare are well known. It’s a sector that relies heavily upon legacy systems because – understandably – it prefers to make investments that benefit patients. It also holds a great deal of very sensitive information, making it a prime target for cybercriminals. At the same time, healthcare needs to operate in real time and make data readily available across multiple locations.

It’s important not to ignore the wider issues of health provision. The population is getting older and there are continuing innovations and new treatments. There are also pressures as a result of moves to better integrate health and social care services which will place extra demands on the availability and sharing of patient information.

All of this adds up to pressure to deliver an IT service for healthcare that is at the same time secure, reliable and cost-effective. So how can the cloud help to meet these demands?

Cloud solutions

A recent Gartner report [1] shows that the health sector is becoming more at home with the use of public cloud services. This is particularly true where the benefits can be shown to be promoting a better service and the risks are low.

Gartner identifies roles for both large and small cloud providers, in addition to generalists and specialists within the sector. These include the major cloud service providers such as Amazon, Google and Microsoft, together with smaller companies offering more specialist services targeted at healthcare. The later includes expert Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) operators with systems designed from the outset for use in hospitals.

The cloud is often seen as a good way of testing new solutions, even if the developed system ultimately ends up being run elsewhere. There has, up until now, been some reluctance to move critical systems to the cloud and in order to overcome this, providers will need to show that they are compliant with data protection legislation such as GDPR and the North American HIPAA regulations which are increasingly seen as a standard for healthcare systems elsewhere.

Digital transformation

Increasingly, the cloud is being seen as a route to improving the way in which doctors, nurses and hospitals operate. Historically systems have been centralised and maintained in-house, leading to a reliance on systems that may have been outdated and insecure. The effects of the WannaCry attack [2] on the NHS were exacerbated by the continued use of Windows XP, for example.

Using the cloud can deliver systems that are not only more up to date, but also more cost-effective as it’s only necessary to pay for the resources used. This enhances flexibility as systems can easily be scaled up or down to meet variations in demand.

For these benefits to be realised, however, the network infrastructure needs to be in place to support them. This requires an integrated approach covering communications, connectivity and cloud use. In moving away from legacy systems, organisations will only be as good as their infrastructure allows.

In the longer-term, integration will prove key. Allowing healthcare organisations not just within particular trusts or regions to share data quickly and securely will enable the provision of better patient services whilst serving to reduce costs.

What is crucial is that any shift to the cloud should genuinely benefit the organisation. This can’t be done in isolation and may involve outsourcing at least some of the task to specialist providers. If managed correctly, this should add up to a service that is more efficient, secure and cost-effective than using on-premises systems or localised data centres.

[1] https://www.gartner.com/en/documents/3939839
[2] https://betanews.com/2017/05/15/wannacrypt-what-we-know/

Cloud providers voice concern over new EU data protection plans

The EU is in the process of drafting a new set of regulations which are designed to provide data protection across all member states. But there are fears that the rules may lead to problems for the firms which offer cloud computing to customers across the continent, according to Computing.co.uk.

Various major cloud vendors have come out to make public statements about the potential impact of the regulations. They are arguing that the powers being given to individuals to take legal action against the companies which store and process their personal data, will damage the industry immensely.

Cloud providers will also face steep fines under the new rules if they are found to have broken any part of the data protection legislation. Rather than charging a flat fee, the regulatory body will have the ability to fine organisations based on their annual turnover, which could lead to astronomical sums being paid.

Critics fear that cloud computing may well be seriously compromised as a result of the regulations, which have taken three years to be finalised. And it is not just providers from the US that are critical of the EU’s plans, but also companies based in Germany and other countries.

The intent of the EU is to make sure that the regulations governing data protection are unified across all member states, which it argues will also help to increase economic growth, in spite of the protests being made by tech firms.

Current data protection regulations do not hold cloud providers accountable for the information they store because they process it but do not collect it. The EU wants this to change, so that there is a level of liability in the market not currently available, as a result of existing rules being formulated long before the cloud was widespread.

Cloud helps staff-free coffee start-up to adapt

The analytical power of the cloud is being brought to bear on many different industries at the moment, but a particularly interesting use of big data is being deployed at a new chain of coffee shops opening in London at the moment, according to V3.co.uk.

The Honest Cafe locations are unique because they do not employ any members of staff whatsoever, instead relying on vending machines to deliver coffee and other consumables to customers.

While this may help to save the firm money, it does mean that there are no staff to engage with customers and potentially build up trust and familiarity with the brand. This is why cloud computing is being used to analyse the data that is harvested from the purchases made at these outlets, to create a more personal experience for those who are frequenting Honest Cafe outlets.

Company spokesperson, Mark Summerill, explained that it was important to assess customer habits, even in a staff-free environment. That means identifying which people are sticking around after making a purchase and who is rushing straight off to another location, consuming coffee on the go.

The power of the cloud being available to the connected vending machines means that analytics can be deployed, to offer context-sensitive offers and opportunities to customers, based on a range of factors, including the time of day.

As well as sales data, the cloud is being used to combine this with information gleaned from social media, which all feeds into building up a picture of how Honest Cafe customers behave and how they might be likely to act in the future.

There are only three locations in the capital open at the moment but there are more on the way, meaning cloud-driven retail of this kind may continue to flourish.

Cloud platforms used to predict job market shifts

Reports published by the Journal of the Royal Society Interface this month have focused on how cloud computing and big data solutions can be harnessed to assess the state of the job market in the UK and other countries. This can provide an overview of current levels of unemployment and other pertinent statistics long before official sources come to the same conclusions.

Ars Technia reports that this is made possible through the analysis of large amounts of data harvested from social media sites, as well as by assessing the mobile phone habits of millions of people nationwide.

So rather than waiting for bodies like the ONS in the UK to come to conclusions based on the data they glean from surveys, it may be possible for governments to get faster, more accurate predictions about the state of the economy and the number of people who are in work at any one time.

The additional benefit of using the cloud to carry out this kind of statistical analysis is that it reduces the time and expense involved in the more traditional methods of job market assessment.

The process of using anonymised social media and phone data has been developed as a result of test studies of historic examples of mass unemployment. And researchers were able to find correlations between activities on these platforms and the announcements of major layoffs at particular organisations.

This is another instance in which the flexibility and scalability of the cloud is advantageous, meaning that workloads that might otherwise overburden in-house solutions can be shifted to big data facilities and quickly be completed.

There are obviously ethical issues when it comes to using social media data, in spite of the fact that, for the most part, services likes Twitter are essentially a public platform for broadcast. But careful and appropriate use of the cloud is increasingly important across a range of industries.

Microsoft harnesses cloud to power new Xbox

This week the Xbox One made its public debut at a press event watched by millions of people across the world.

Microsoft’s third home console is more powerful and PC-like than any of its predecessors, packing an eight core processor, 8GB of RAM and a 500GB hard drive.

However, the onboard technology may be a little less important than its connected features, since Microsoft repeatedly asserted the fact that this console will be using cloud computing to keep pace with an ever-changing market.

The cloud will not only be used to stream multimedia content direct to the Xbox One, but will also house save games, gameplay videos and a variety of other user-specific pieces of information.

Microsoft is even planning to allow game developers to take advantage of the power of the cloud further down the line, to boost gaming and entertainment experiences.

As the amount of bandwidth which is available to individual households increases, so too will the potential power of the Xbox One.

There were concerns that this console would require a constant web connection to function and although this is now known not to be the case, it does seem that without internet access, it will not be at its best.

Cloud computing as a consumer product is not a new concept, but it is something that is becoming increasingly common across a number of markets and platforms.

The cloud powers many modern smartphone services, as well as contributing to the thousands of businesses running web-based platforms for their customers today.

In the gaming sphere, Sony has already announced that cloud-based game streaming will eventually make its way to the PlayStation 4, while PC users have been able to access cloud gaming via OnLive for some time.

The cloud’s permeation of multiple markets does suggest that, as some experts believe, its ubiquity will eventually kill off the phrase that defines it.

Cloud computing facilitates business innovation


A new study from Oxford Economics has looked at how the cloud is helping enterprises to innovate with fresh business models. It has found that 55 per cent of firms believe they will be able to adopt a different approach to the way they operate within the next three years, according to Forbes.

Over two thirds of the respondents to the study said that their organisations are setting out plans to increase cloud spending between now and 2018, with roughly half of those questioned pointing out that they have already leveraged cloud platforms, to facilitate the launch of new products and services.

Decision-makers believe that, soon, the majority of enterprises will be relying on the cloud to overhaul their supply chains and improve efficiency while reducing costs. And 59 per cent are already benefitting from the analytical power of the cloud, to handle the data that they are harvesting from a range of activities.

The study found that communication and collaboration between colleagues is seen as being one of the biggest advantages of adopting cloud solutions, in addition to the fact that revenues can be increased as a result of migrating IT solutions away from on-site infrastructures.

Of course, there are different levels of cloud adoption the world over and penetration rates are higher in North America than in much of Europe, at least for the time being.

Three quarters of the executives who took part in the survey said that the development of new products and services is at least partly based in the cloud already, with this percentage set to increase in the next 36 months. The transformative power of the cloud is understood by many and seems unlikely to abate until the market has become totally saturated over the course of the next decade.