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Hybrid cloud is the way to go since they need the flexibility

Many organisations were looking for the right workloads for the right clouds. If your IT is modernised, you can have automation atop it -- not just the infrastructure but also automation of databases and applications.

Anantharaman Balakrishnan is vice-president and managing director of India Sales at Nutanix, a global cloud services provider. Before joining Nutanix, Balakrishnan was Head of Amazon Web Services’ financial services and manufacturing verticals for large enterprises. Prior to that, he worked in senior leadership positions in a variety of organisations including Dell EMC, IBM Global Services and Sun Microsystems. In a chat with CXOToday, Balakrishnan (Bala) explains how cloud computing can help Indian companies as they embrace hybrid work models and the concept of ‘work from anywhere’–trends that have emerged as a fallout of the Covid-19 pandemic. Edited excerpts:

* Your India business grew 68% last quarter, obviously on the back of strong cloud adoption by companies during the pandemic. Please give us a sense of the rate of adoption of cloud in India.

We believe the pandemic has accelerated the pace of adoption of cloud. In the first phase, many organisations scrambled to get infrastructure at home but the powering of the infrastructure from a datacentre perspective, might have run into logistics issues because it (servers, etc.) was caught up at airports, etc. Hence, in the first phase, many companies wanted to use the infrastructure they had available in the cloud to at least keep their basic operations on. Many CIOs were exploring cloud because they did not want to manage everything themselves. However, that raised the bills manifold across sectors.

Many organisations were looking for the right workloads for the right clouds. If your IT is modernised, you can have automation atop it — not just the infrastructure but also automation of databases and applications. When you take these three together, you need automation to work efficiently and cater to users who are building the applications. That got expedited during the pandemic–a lot of customers wanted this layer of automation but could not do so because their IT was not modernised. We benefited since many customers could use our modernised infrastructure.

I cannot give an exact percentage. Some people cloud is a technology while others believe it’s an operating model. Those who think of cloud as a technology might have done the migration but not have benefited greatly since all the hierarchies must be aligned. The operating model takes care of this — and this process takes 2-3 years. Enterprises with legacy applications would find it slightly more difficult since you need to use the native features of the cloud too (not just infrastucture). You have to consider the applications that are suited to the cloud and security too remains a major concern.

* Which sectors are seeing the highest incidence of cloud deployment?

I believe every segment is warming up to cloud adoption. About 97% of our customers believe that hybrid cloud is the way to go since they need the flexibility.

* What are your clients opting for the most: private, public or hybrid? And what are their reasons for doing so?

Almost all customers are building new applications on the public cloud — anything to do with customer experience, acquisition of new customers, lending, digital interfaces — those because they are seasonal, scabale and elastic (based on festivities, for example). When you look at your operations — core banking, treasury, fraud and risk management, etc., — many of these applications are in legacy mode in terms of software development or getting modernised. Hence, these are suited for hybrid cloud since these companies can use the best of both worlds — public cloud for customer acquisition, for data analytics to while using a layer for operations adhering to regulations and reporting and compliance, core banking, etc., that require on-premise cloud such as core. So it’s ideal to have a technology where the data can reside anywhere (private or public) and a governance that helps you manage the data flow. We see a lot of clients, which explains the presence of so many consultants helping with this migration.

* It is evident that hybrid cloud adoption is on the rise. But companies are also adopting a multi-cloud environment, which involves multiple vendors, and multiple cloud services providers. While there are clearly many benefits, please spell out some associated challenges too…

Nutanix’s vision for the cloud is to make the workload agnostic from an infrastructure perspective. As long as the users write the business logic for the applications, we can transport it from one cloud to another. This sort of eases out a big problem for customers today because a multi-cloud environment helps the customer stay in control of his data and his applications. Security is another concern that is heightened by the Work From Home phenomenon. That is why our solutions come embedded with security solutions.

* But how should companies negotiate terms with multiple cloud vendors? What’s the process?

The operating model includes the financial modelling as well. I think procurement departments are slowly waking up to this fact. It’s not the traditional capex procurement since you’re still trying to understand how the ROI on the total cost of operations (TCO) works– it might be expensive in the short term, but you probably get to use your cash better somewhere else back on a cash flow basis. The financial modelling along with the workloads is the whole package which includes the application, choice of the right cloud, ROI, skill sets of the people, etc.

* Also, who takes ownership of a multi-cloud environment, especially from the point of view of data integrity, security, GDPR issues (if any), etc…

I would believe that the responsibility in a multi-cloud environment remains with the customers. That is, because any cloud provider would provide the necessary physical and the network layer security up to the infrastructure layer. Post that, the security of the application even in the cloud–whether public or on-premise–is the customer’s prerogative. Therefore, their (the company’s) security teams are the ones that will have to do the integration.

* From a security perspective, what does Nutanix advice customers in a multi cloud environment?

We offer encryption, which is critical. Encryption helps us recover customer data since the hackers are unable to attack snapshots of the data that we keep. Our performance on typical storage allows for security event log management. At an end user level, we provide integrated file analytics which can monitor an abnormal increase in the number of bytes, for example, which indicates clearly that a specific file is compromised.

* Are you seeing companies increasingly moving their critical businesses to the cloud?

Yes. But it also depends on the industry you’re looking at. Business to Consumer (B2C) industries like retail look at the cloud simply because it helps them with a lot of data and analytics which, among other things, allows them to personalise offers for their customers. Organisations typically have an existing set of system that runs in their businesses. They look to build new applications to ensure that the entire customer journey is taken care of, even as they maintain their in-house systems for turnover reporting, recording compliance, and regulatory purposes, among other things. It’s very difficult to move all their systems to the cloud, simply because they first need to modernise their legacy systems. Hence, you may have companies insisted on physical servers to run, for example, their treasury applications. On the other hand, telcos are using new edge applications which can run on containers. Hence, much also depends on the industry you’re in.

* In this context, are companies in India taking advantage of the benefits of cloud and hyper converged infrastructure (HCI), and do you see 5g as a catalyst for more companies to do so?

I believe a lot of customers would want to use the AI (artificial intelligence) models at the edge, because the data is lying at the edge, and they don’t want to bring that data all the way to the central site. For example, if you’re somebody like a Walmart or a large retailer, you will have distribution warehouses, offices, and stores. Integrating all three could mean that there is a data centre, and a backup probably going into the cloud. And then at the edge, you have real time data coming in terms of the real store — sales, inventory, etc. We believe that the pandemic will probably urge organisations to be digitally-enabled to that level. But given the execution and revenue challengese, I believe it will take at least a couple of years before we get there.

* What other trends are you seeing?

We are seeing that a lot of customers want the flexibility of moving from on-premise to the cloud swiftly when needed, and subscription is the way to go. Today, if I’m running on-premise, and for some reason, a disaster struck or whatever happened, I may want to move that (my data) to the cloud tomorrow. I should be able to do it very conveniently and at no cost, if possible. So the subscription model allows companies the portability and the functionality to do this seamlessly. And you don’t have to pay anything to Nutanix, for example — you don’t have to buy additional licences. The OPEX (operating expenditure as opposed to capital expenditure or CAPEX) model is the other paradigm. To sum up, I think cloud equals infrastructure modernization. Then follows automation — automation of databases, automation of security, automation of applications.

Thank you for your time, Bala, and wish you and all your employees the best in this growth journey. Hope you all stay safe.

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