Industry-specific clouds come rolling in

As with cloud computing in general, there are pluses and minuses to consider

We've heard of private clouds, hybrid clouds, turnkey clouds -- now get ready for industry-specific clouds. The idea is to provide technology, business processes and services uniquely tailored to the needs of a particular vertical. So far, one cloud offering for airlines and two for financial institutions have been announced, and industry watchers expect even more to emerge.

While the cloud can be attractive for reasons including cost savings and agility, its value becomes even greater when providers can wrap vertical expertise and intellectual property around their offerings, observers say. Momentum is growing for the deployment of clouds specific to particular verticals because their resources are designed for communities that share special interests.

An industry-specific cloud can be thought of as a private, hybrid cloud. It's private "because you have to be allowed in by that community," but it's hybrid in that each of the members may use the public cloud to access resources, with appropriate security, says Eric Marks, CEO of consultancy AgilePath. "Everything I'm seeing suggests these are emerging; there is some traction and rationale behind them."

"There are a host of solutions and platforms and hubs that are emerging at this industry-specific level," agrees Charlie Burns, vice president at research firm Saugatuck Technology. "You're going to see a variety of traditional Fortune 1000 companies leverage cloud infrastructure to develop market-specific, cloud-enabled services that are unique to a targeted market." Such companies will become both users and providers of industry-specific clouds, he suggests.

So much so that Saugatuck anticipates an explosion in vertically-driven business process cloud offerings from not only traditional services providers like Accenture, IBM and the Indian vendors "but also from traditional business brands that are coming to market with business process as a service (BPaaS) solutions themselves," adds Bill McNee, founder and CEO of Saugatuck.

Industry-specific clouds, he maintains, are "the future. It's the new way of doing things."

Saugatuck projects that, by the end of this year, at least 75% of user organizations will use one or more cloud functions -- SaaS, cloud infrastructure and business services, among others -- to enable and support daily business operations. But the firm does not have any figures breaking down what percentage of customers will use industry-specific clouds.

Flying into the cloud

As one of the most logistics-focused and supply-chain-driven industries, air transportation is a shoo-in to move processes and costs to a model that can be shared in the cloud. After all, the major airlines fly into the same airports globally. SITA, the IT arm of the air transport industry, joined forces last spring with communications provider Orange Business Services, and the two recently announced plans to build a global, high-performance, managed cloud computing infrastructure to meet the needs of their respective markets. In other words, they are jointly building the infrastructure but each will sell the product in their respective markets. Orange Business Services is the enterprise services branch of France Telecom-Orange; it will sell the cloud offering to global enterprises.

In the case of SITA, it means doing away with a lot of IT redundancies in air transportation.

Industry-specific cloud

Each airline has its own network and probably 100 or 200 servers "doing pretty much the same things," notes Greg Ouillon, a SITA vice president, in Geneva, Switzerland. Some of the functions that all airlines provide include call centers that process reservations, as well as check-in, boarding, security and scheduling aircraft turnaround. "We felt it was a natural move to add a computing capability that would allow our customers to share even further with [common] IT infrastructure and save costs and gain benefits in service levels."

SITA's cloud computing infrastructure will be based on six "seamlessly" connected Tier III+ and Tier IV data centers in Atlanta, Frankfurt, Johannesburg, Singapore, Hong Kong and Sydney. Each data center will cover its own region, and the six will be connected via Orange's high-speed MPLS network.

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