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Event Report: The 8th Cloud Circle Forum

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This event was held in the conference center beneath the Park Plaza Victoria hotel in central London, just near London Victoria station, one of the capital’s great Victorian railway terminus stations. It was run by The Cloud Circle (thecloudcircle.com), the UK’s first independent Business and IT focused Cloud Computing Community, which runs events like this regularly. The event is free to attend for various selected customers and is funded by cloud industry companies – in this case the main sponsors were Google, IBM, and inTechnology.

I’m not sure how many people attended, but I’d guess around 100-150. The sponsors all had stands in the areas surrounding the main conference and these companies were also pretty well represented.

The event kicked off at 09:00 with a quick introduction from the dynamic Managing Director of The Cloud Circle, Emma Taylor, and then moved swiftly into a session on the outlook for cloud by Mark Silvester of CSC. Unsurprisingly, the outlook is looking very good! Mark explained the current state of the cloud marketplace and discussed some of the main trends in customer adoption of the technologies. He pointed out that, although security tends to be a major concern for people thinking about moving to cloud, it could in fact help to mitigate risks by improving security and providing opportunities for better management of IT. He also reported some impressive savings figures for customers moving to cloud, based on CSC’s own experiences: depending on the extent to which cloud is adopted, in the range of 20 to 50 percent!

At 09:40 we moved on to a session with Stefan Haase of inTechnology and Sean McDonough of Proactis about the importance of basing your strategy for moving to cloud on business motivations, rather than simply considering the IT benefits. These two companies work together to provide the infrastructure, risk management, and cost analysis for customers, and they used this experience to describe how businesses should focus their strategies.

At 10:10 we moved on to security with IBM’s Global Cloud Security Lead, Nick Coleman – a man with a very convincing track record in the security field, to say the least. Nick’s presentation covered a wide spectrum, confirming that security is a major block for customers moving to cloud and citing internal threats, government regulation and the proliferation of mobile devices as the major issues. He mentioned his white paper about cloud security (http://t.co/8RVmZ6Dk) and talked about the risks for the future, which he identified as standardization, interoperability, big data, and governance.

Our next presentation was from Andy Waterhouse of EMC Ionix about whether cloud computing represents a revolution or an evolution from previous technologies. His conclusion was that it was a mixture: from an IT-perspective cloud, it’s an evolution from technologies of the past, whereas businesses can experience great upheaval as a result of the effects of moving to cloud.

Google put up Thomas Davies, Head of Enterprise Cloud at Google, for the 11:45 slot. In a presentation, which for me strayed into being a sales pitch, he explained how Google was able to provide collaborative tools for enterprises using cloud technologies. He mentioned several customers who had moved to Google’s cloud services, including the beleaguered New International, and emphasized Google’s born-on-the-cloud heritage.

The final session of the morning was by Justin Pirie of Mimecast about migrating to cloud. Justin had a very unusual presentation style with great full-screen graphics and almost a slide per sentence. He claimed that nearly all companies are moving email to the cloud, 97 percent of them to use Exchange (it might be worth pointing out that Mimecast specializes in moving companies to Microsoft Exchange in the cloud, however).

After lunch, we started with a panel “discussion” with representatives from IBM (Doug Clark), Microsoft (Simon May), SunGard (Simon Withers), inTechnology (Stefan Haase), and Google (Steve Connell), hosted by Ian Takats of Visit Britain. This session didn’t work for me, because the questions were largely of the form “How good are you at X?” and the answers, inevitably, “Fantastic, and much better than these other guys.”

The next session featured Simon May, IT Pro Evangelist for Microsoft, on the 2nd Industry Trends Report, “Practicalities of cloud deployment.” This is a new document, actually released at the event and published by The Cloud Circle, which documents the results of a survey of 250 business and IT people from a range of companies, focusing on the challenges of migrating to a cloud environment. At the time of writing, the document is not available online, but check The Cloud Circle’s website (thecloudcircle.com) and you should be able to find it soon if not already.

At about 15:00 we moved on to look at the first transformational case study, presented by Peter Leahy, Head of IT for Endsleigh Insurance. He described how his organization is in the process of moving to a cloud model in stages, gradually moving computing load to Microsoft’s Azure service, freeing up machines for other projects. He also stated that more than 80 percent of all insurance business is conducted over the web, much of it routed through insurance aggregators, providing cost comparisons for consumers.

After some brief round-table discussions, we moved on to the final session, another transformational case study from the very straightforwardly-named American Sugar Refining, which has a very well-known brand in the UK: Tate & Lyle. This was another double-act, presented by Karl Deacon and Julian Lloyd from ASR’s partner Virtustream. They described the process of moving the company to a cloud model. The transformation had been particularly comprehensive in this case, apparently mainly focused on SAP instances – in their new architecture, they can create a new SAP instance in 1-2 hours! The final quote from the CIO of Florida Crystals (one of the subsidiaries involved) was “Our SAP production systems now operate up to twice as fast and are highly available and secure” – pretty impressive!

The event was interesting and varied, but, as one customer said to me, much of the material being presented would only really be new to people just getting started with cloud. Many of those participating were already well on their way to implementing cloud and for them a more practical, technical event might have worked better.

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