System integrators (SIs) have long dominated the enterprise IT landscape. But with the increasing popularity of cloud computing services, conventional wisdom holds that global SI influence is waning. After all, IT organizations may leverage public cloud resources to scale almost any application without the need for additional IT services help.
But as cloud services evolve, the enterprise IT situation appears to be getting more complex. Not only is it a challenge to figure out which application workloads are suited for what types of clouds, but enterprise IT essentially becomes a series of federated, distributed services.
The end result is increased demand for enterprise-class cloud services from established systems integrators such as Accenture , Savvis Inc. (Nasdaq: SVVS), Infosys Technologies Ltd. (Nasdaq: INFY), and IBM Global Services .
Accenture, for example, recently announced that it is investing $400 million in building out its Accenture Cloud Platform. According to CTO Paul Daugherty, IT organizations are looking to Accenture for help with managing multiple cloud computing platforms both inside and out of the traditional enterprise.
"Customers want to approach the cloud in a standardized way," Daugherty told me. "They want a UI that gives them a single pane of glass to provision services."
The Accenture Cloud Platform, which comprises public and virtual private cloud infrastructure managed by Accenture and includes everything from data management and application development to analytics applications, essentially aggregates internal and external resources in order to present them as an integrated service.
Ultimately, Daugherty says, the idea is to not only make multicloud operations more efficient, but to optimize cloud services for specific vertical industry segments.
"As time goes on, you'll see more instances where we're charging for cloud services not based on the cost of the technology, but rather the actual business outcome for the client," says Daugherty.
In addition to aggregating cloud services, SIs are also moving to develop unique applications that differentiate their services from what is already available in the public cloud.
For example, Infosys recently extended its Infosys Cloud Ecosystem to include BigDataEdge, a data warehouse service that includes over 250 algorithms that have been optimized for various vertical industries.
According to Vishnu Bhat, vice president and global head for Infosys Cloud, Infosys is trying to address not only the sheer volume of data that needs to be managed, but also the sharing of that information among all the analysts who want to leverage it.
"Businesses need to be able to analyze large amounts of data in near real-time," says Bhat. He claims BigDataEdge reduces data extraction time by 40 percent, leading to an 8x speed improvement over traditional solutions.
Savvis is also hoping to differentiate its services by leveraging object storage technology to deliver its Symphony Cloud Storage offering.
"Rather than trying to manage zones across a platform such as Amazon, we're using a more policy-driven approach," says P.J. Farmer, director of product management for cloud storage at Savvis. "It's really about leveraging the cloud as an automated delivery model."
The end result is a cloud platform over which IT organizations have more granular control, says Farmer, and that makes it easier to meet various compliance mandates concerning where certain files can be stored around the globe.
Just about every global SI, including industry leader IBM, which plans to generate some $7 billion in new revenue by 2015 via a cloud market that by then is estimated to be worth $250 billion, has its eye on the cloud. In IBM's case, the end goal is not even to deliver IT as much as to use the cloud as a vehicle through which it delivers business processes that it manages on behalf of customers.
But what distinguishes SIs from the rest of the players is that cloud computing is clearly a means to an end. By reducing the cost of deploying IT infrastructure, there should be a greater percentage of the IT budget available for applications, which global systems integrators clearly want to leverage to deliver higher-margin services more broadly than ever.