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Partners weigh OEMs' private cloud options for clients

Dell Apex, HPE GreenLake and NetApp Keystone are among the pay-per-use hardware platforms partners can offer clients considering alternatives to the public cloud.

Emerging pay-per-use hardware offerings give partners something a bit different to offer their public-cloud-shy customers.

IT vendors such as Cisco, Dell, Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) and NetApp now offer pay-per-use portfolios that imbue on-premises data centers with cloud-like characteristics. Those offerings, also referred to as data center as a service, let customers purchase long-established hardware brands in a new way: Customers purchase subscriptions, converting capital investments into consumption-based operational expenditures.

The hardware suppliers' data center as-a-service products vie with other private cloud options. Those private IaaS methods range from open source frameworks such as Eucalyptus and OpenStack to hyperscaler products such as AWS Outposts, Google Cloud Anthos and Microsoft Azure Stack.

Partners offering the pay-per-use hardware alternative play multiple roles, delivering advisory, procurement, implementation and management services. The precise blend depends on which functions a customer wants to perform internally rather than outsource to an MSP, consulting firm or systems integrator.

The as-a-service platforms offer customers the flexibility of cloud computing coupled with the ability to maintain in-house control, according to industry executives. After all, many organizations continue to keep some applications close to home for security or cost reasons.

"Customers still need to have data centers," said Paul Wilkinson, chief growth officer at 1901 Group, a Leidos company and MSP based in Reston, Va. "I think the OEMs understand this demand signal. And they've started to accelerate the delivery of as-a-service solutions to provide the flexibility of hyperscalers -- but doing it on premises."

Services in demand

A pay-per-use hardware project begins with customer assessment and vendor selection.

Sunil Bhargava head shotSunil Bhargava

"We start with an analysis service that considers [customers'] vendor preference, workload characteristics, demand planning and choices in commercial constructs," said Sunil Bhargava, global practice lead of infrastructure and cloud operations at Accenture Cloud First.

As for the commercial constructs, clients can execute a separate as-a-service contract with their selected vendor or ask Accenture to bundle those charges with other Accenture services into a single, unified contract, Bhargava noted.

Accenture works with data center as-a-service partners such as HPE, Dell and Cisco. HPE GreenLake, Dell Apex and Cisco Plus are the vendors' market entries.

The selection process may tap multiple as-a-service platforms to get the job done. That's because vendor offerings tend to lead with storage or networking, said Kent Christensen, cloud and data center practice director at Insight Enterprises' Cloud and Data Center Transformation organization. But a customer that starts with one of those technologies will likely want to cover the full spectrum of IT, including compute, at some point.

Kent Christensen head shotKent Christensen

With that in mind, Insight, a solutions integrator with headquarters in Chandler, Ariz., collaborates with customers to determine what they need from HPE, Cisco and other vendors. The company can then create a subscription for customers that covers storage, compute and networking as a service -- or focus solely on whatever individual components they need, Christensen said.

At 1901 Group, Wilkinson said the company has been deploying NetApp's Keystone storage-as-a-service platform. The technology provides cost advantages for the MSP, which would otherwise need to deliver an as-a-service offering entirely on its own.

In one case, 1901 Group had been providing NetApp storage-as-a-service to a long-standing customer, supplying hardware, software and a data center facility. The MSP incurred all the costs associated with that capital expenditure, as well as ongoing costs for software upgrades. Keystone, however, includes those costs in a service subscription. "We don't have to incur the Capex for provisioning, break/fix and tech refresh," Wilkinson said. "We just pay for a service."

The MSP bundles NetApp Keystone into a broader set of services, which it sells to customers on a subscription basis.

"We love these solutions because we can integrate them into our overall offering and use them as a platform to deliver services -- and we don't have to have that capital expenditure," Wilkinson said.

We love these solutions because we can integrate them into our overall offering and use them as a platform to deliver services -- and we don't have to have that capital expenditure.
Paul WilkinsonChief growth officer at 1901 Group

In addition to vendor selection and procurement, partners also assist with installation and ongoing management.

Accenture, for one, builds deployment and migration plans for customers, Bhargava noted. Most clients call on the professional services firm to execute those plans, rather than upskilling their own staff members for a one-time activity, he added. The company also offers optional application modernization and optimization services.

As for management, customers can train themselves to use Accenture's Continuum Control Plane, which manages edge, multi-cloud and hybrid-cloud environments. Accenture can also handle the orchestration chores for customers through its Hybrid Cloud Management Services.

Similarly, Insight offers customers the choice of self-management via a portal or managed services supplied by the integrator. Insight's managed services cover operations, monitoring and security patching.

Private cloud options: Who's buying?

Partners said the as-a-service offerings play well among customers with security or cost concerns when it comes to public cloud migration.

Addressing data sensitivity -- from protected health information to classified data -- ranks among the top use cases for data center as a service, Wilkinson noted. He pointed to some customers' lack of comfort putting IT resources into some type of public cloud environment.

But Wilkinson also cited data egress costs as an economic factor weighing on customer decision-making. The public cloud can become cost prohibitive, depending on the nature of the customer's application, the volume of data traversing cloud providers' availability zones or the amount of data the customer needs to extract.

Paul Wilkinson head shotPaul Wilkinson

"A lot of times you want to keep things out of cloud that have high-debt egress," Wilkinson said.

The cost of refactoring or rewriting legacy applications for the public cloud may also argue for using an on-premises computing approach. In some cases, customers may find it cheaper and easier to maintain an application in a physical data center than perform the underlying work needed for a cloud deployment, Wilkinson added.

Accenture's Bhargava said he sees the key data center as-a-service use case as enabling infrastructure modernization without having to move workloads off premises. This use case spans performance, security and economic considerations.

"Keeping the workloads on premises has value from any number of factors," Bhargava said. Those include performance latency, legacy systems connectivity, data and/or sovereignty compliance, security and the ability to "leverage sunk investments," he added.

Overall, consumption-based IT puts customers on an Opex footing. Customers tap as-a-service models to shift Capex spend to Opex and provide variability in their consumption, Bhargava said. They also gain agility from infrastructure-as-code deployment, while also avoiding the overhead of a public cloud implementation. That overhead stems from the public cloud's different security model, different skill set demands and the potential for significant architectural rework when connecting to legacy systems, he noted.

As-a-service consumption also offers customers greater flexibility when dealing with unpredictability. Organizations eyeing major on-premises purchases may put their plans on hold until they think they have greater visibility, Insight's Christensen said. But their view ahead is limited, given stock market volatility, fluctuating commodity pricing and the possibility of a recession.

With as-a-service IT, a customer can slow consumption in the event of a recession and speed up spending when economic growth returns, according to Christensen. "You can't do that with cabinets," he said, noting that clients are starting to internalize the data center as-a-service strategy.

Public cloud connections

The hardware makers' as-a-service offerings are mirror images of hyperscalers' on-premises cloud products: The former translates on-premises IT into a cloud-services experience, while the latter translates cloud services into a data center experience.

A customer's choice will often pivot on familiarity. An oil exploration company with a significant Azure commitment, for example, may select Azure Stack to host a private cloud on a drilling platform, Christensen said. But for customers at ease with Cisco, Dell, HPE or NetApp, the data center as-a-service option provides cloud-like consumption without forcing them to abandon what they know.

"So if you're comfortable with your [on-premises] environment, I can move it to the cloud, or if you're comfortable with the cloud, I can move it to your environment," Christensen explained.

On-premises clouds, however, may combine both approaches. Pay-for-use hardware platforms from Dell and HPE, among others, have been certified to host Azure Stack and Anthos, Bhargava said. Those offerings extend the hybrid cloud value proposition of Azure and Google, while maintaining a customer's hardware preferences, he noted.

In a different variation, NetApp offers its storage as a cloud-native service inside of AWS, Wilkinson noted. Amazon FSx for NetApp Ontap lets customers provision storage within AWS, accessing essentially the same features and functionality they would use in an on-premises deployment. Customers, for instance, can use familiar NetApp tools such as SnapMirror to replicate data.

NetApp's product exemplifies a trend developing among traditional hardware purveyors, Wilkinson suggested. "A lot of the OEMs are embedding their solutions inside of the cloud services providers," he said.

That's just another wrinkle in the private-public cloud continuum.

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