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Cloud adoption trends and cloud outlook for solution providers

A CompTIA survey reveals cloud adoption trends -- one being confusion -- among IT organizations, and the cloud outlook for IT solution providers.

While cloud computing has become a well-established option for IT operations, confusion persists and is hampering channel partners from fully transforming their business model, according to CompTIA's fourth annual Trends in Cloud Computing study, which was published last month.

The CompTIA study -- which polled IT and business professionals as well as IT channel companies, for about a total of 900 respondents -- noted several cloud adoption trends. For starters, IT systems are increasingly cloud-based, with businesses showing a greater reliance on all three cloud models: Software as a Service, Platform as a Service and Infrastructure as a Service.

In fact, 90% of the surveyed enterprises reported using some sort of cloud computing this year compared with 80% last year.

The cloud adoption trends numbers, however, while strong, may be a bit misleading because of how the end user uses the term "cloud computing," according to Seth Robinson, director of technology analysis at Downers Grove, Ill.-based CompTIA.

"There's often confusion between hosted and cloud -- with 'cloud' defined as including dynamic allocation of resources and self-service. To some end users, hosted and cloud is the same thing," he said.

CompTIA pointed to three sources of confusion in the market:

  • Cloudwashing, or the labeling of products and services as "cloud" in order to capture market share;
  • Downplaying the cloud trend; and
  • Cloud overhype and subsequent fatigue of the topic.

How does this reporting impact channel partners and their cloud outlook?

Of the 400 solution providers with cloud offerings who participated in the survey, only 46% described their cloud business as mature or strategic. The remaining providers described cloud as a portion of their business along with other IT products and services, or said they're still evaluating a cloud initiative for their business.

At the same time, these providers described a positive cloud outlook by identifying cloud as the fastest-growing part of their business and reporting increased profit margins from their cloud offerings.

CompTIA identified four primary cloud business models for partners: build, provide/provision, enable/integrate and manage/support. Seven out of 10 solution provider survey respondents involved in cloud computing reported they started with the "build" business model and have since moved forward with at least one of the other three frameworks. More than one-quarter, or 26%, of those channel partners reported they're conducting business across all four business models.

Cloud is clearly here to stay. Yet a surprising research finding was the drop in the number of enterprises turning to cloud solution providers -- 11% in 2013 compared with 21% in 2012.

Robinson cited several reasons for the decline:

"Large companies who turned to outside cloud specialists and consultants early on, say, three to five years ago, have since developed in-house cloud competence and skills," he said. Large-enterprise respondents accounted for the biggest decline in the use of partners.

Smaller companies, the latest entrants to the cloud market, haven't yet picked up their use of the channel. "What we're expecting or hoping to see in future years is that small businesses will increase their use of third parties," Robinson said.

According to the CompTIA report, small companies have shied away from working with cloud channel partners because the cost of doing so is higher than they expected and, in some cases, are instead going directly to cloud providers.

In preparation for more small companies to include the overhead for third-party consultants in their cloud budgets, Robinson advised channel partners to not only make sure they have the cloud technical skills and expertise, but are also able to describe the value of working with a partner and explain the potential pain points of working with a cloud provider directly.

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