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The nebulous nature of the cloud makes this a highly subjective article. There are so many definitions of the cloud, so many vendors rushing into the market, and so many new technologies that choosing the standouts is something of a crapshoot. But here are seven good examples of cloud services and implementations that make sense and might add value in an enterprise setting.
1. Desktop Cloud
Applied Materials recently moved from 17 decentralized IT groups down to one. It decided to rid itself of the expense of changing out desktop PCs every three years, not to mention the cost of maintaining them. Instead, it virtualized many of its desktops, starting with its higher end Computer Aided Design (CAD) users that operate for the company from multiple sites around the world.
"We developed a desktop cloud for CAD," said Jay Kerley, Deputy CIO of Applied Materials.
He didn't see the point of keeping data tied to the desktop. By putting it on the cloud, the data follows users wherever they go, and they need only a screen to visualize it. Under the desks are stripped-down desktop blades with a Graphics Processing Unit (GPU) in place of big ticket workstations. In addition, high-speed networking is piped in to each cubicle to eliminate networking slows. Kerley added that HP Remote Graphics Software (RGS) was the final element that pulled everything together, enabling CAD professionals to collaborate in real time by accessing the cloud and seeing rich 3D designs on screen.
2. Using the Cloud to Lower Innovation Costs
Dave Smoley, CIO Flextronics International, used the cloud to lower the cost of innovation within a company that has 27 million manufacturing square feet at 130 locations in 30 countries. It operates two data centers with more than 400 TB of storage. Flextronics spends less than 1 percent on IT. Yet Smoley said unbelievably tight budgets necessitate tremendous internal innovation. In such an environment, he said, it often pays big dividends to look for newer ways to do things rather than opting for the industry leader that "everybody uses."
For example, the company had many human resources applications running throughout the enterprise. When it came time to centralize on one platform, conventional wisdom pointed to the established HR package software used in 70 percent of large organizations. Although one business unit already used it, Flextronics partnered with the small cloud vendor find a simpler, more useable, faster and cheaper online tool.
"Leadership questioned not going with the market leader, but it saved us more than $15 million," said Smoley.
3. Internal Cloud
This example also comes from Flextronics. It wanted to harness social networking to speed up global collaboration. With many solutions on the market, the company again looked to cut costs by allowing a small Flextronics software team based in the Ukraine to experiment with an internal Facebook-type application it developed called Whisper Enterprise Collaboration, which has been piloted and is now being rolled out across the operation. Huge savings resulted by developing it using internal resources.
Similarly, Flextronics created an internal YouTube-type video sharing app for engineers to share problems and solutions with their peers around the world. Instead of spending hundreds of thousands, it ended up costing $8000 a year to connect to the app and host videos on the cloud.
"Companies will sell you $250,000 worth of equipment to house all your media, but why invest in it if it's obsolete in six months," said Smoley. "The cloud and the consumerization of IT are having a huge impact. Anyone can find a good bottle of wine for $60, but the trick is to find one for $10."
4. Bleaching the Cloud
Clorox Company had an aging infrastructure and had historically underinvested in IT. But as it expanded into a global market, this had to change. The company opened two centralized data centers, outsourced some data center hosting services, and put other services on the cloud. It upgraded from running Windows 2000 with four-year old Lotus email and aging Blackberrys a year ago to laptops running the latest versions of Windows, new smartphones and iPads. Despite having no money for this project, IT returned $500,000 to the bottom line.
"We achieved this by adding a lot more cloud based services and web-based apps," said Ralph Loura, CIO of Clorox.
For example, the cloud is used for Microsoft Exchange and SharePoint. The company tested them for two months then implemented.
"It works really well," said Loura. "Employees can use them from home and synch/connect from anywhere without having to go through a virtual private network firewall. And because it is on the cloud, it didn't cost anything more when all factors are taken into account."