Cloud Computing: Putting the Cloud Within Reach

One of the hottest topics in information technology is cloud computing, and Huntsville’s Adtran Inc. is a major player, providing hardware and expertise that make cloud computing more readily available to smaller business.

Alabama’s largest IT company, Adtran is at the forefront of the cloud trend because it provides equipment for IT networks that are increasingly using cloud-computing solutions.

Most of us use cloud computing without knowing it, for services like Internet email or photo storage websites. But the concept is much broader, encompassing all sorts of processing and storage that’s offered by a remote provider and delivered via the Internet or a dedicated network.

Beyond the cost savings for onsite storage devices and IT staff, cloud computing can help businesses save in other ways. For example, some businesses store applications remotely and employees access them — via the cloud — only when they need them, trimming the number of software licenses needed. And using the cloud to manage Wi-Fi access can cut equipment needs.

Though Adtran’s profits come mainly from providing cloud-enabling equipment to the carrier side — telephone and cable company service providers — its sales of private cloud networks to individual companies are growing. Equipment and systems are either wire based (Ethernet) or wireless (Wi-Fi). Larger companies typically use Ethernet solutions while smaller companies use the more affordable Wi-Fi.

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Adtran’s 2011 purchase of Bluesocket, a company making wireless network solutions with virtual control, and its recent offering of virtual wireless vWLAN makes it easier to start and manage cloud Wi-Fi services. Some experts are calling it a potential network game changer.

The company’s most recent cloud offering is ProCloud wireless, which enables businesses and partners to more easily deploy wireless services to businesses, schools and the hospitality industry.

Todd Lattanzi, director of product management for Adtran’s Enterprise Networks Division for vWLAN solutions, says Bluesocket technology formed the foundation for Adtran’s ProCloud cloud-based managed Wi-Fi service. In addition to ProCloud, customers have the option to install and manage their Wi-Fi network themselves and move between cloud-based and premises-based services as their business needs change.

“Wireless is very affordable for small businesses, ” Lattanzi explains. “What we generally find is most small businesses do not have an IT staff and thus rely on their trusted partner to help install, configure and manage their wireless network.”

Lattanzi says many of Adtran’s partners use ProCloud-managed Wi-Fi service to identify their business customers’ needs, then install Adtran’s Bluesocket access points and manage with ProCloud for a low fee. This allows businesses to focus on their core competency rather than their computer network.

Technology advances have made cloud-based computing and cloud services feasible, notes Chris Thompson, director of product management for Adtran’s Enterprise Networks Division for cloud connectivity solutions.

For small and medium-sized business owners trying to determine whether it makes sense to adopt cloud-computing services, Thompson advises looking at the economic benefits and needs of the business. It won’t fit all businesses, he says, and a business may decide that certain systems don’t need to move to the cloud.

Thompson suggests that businesses consider data security and privacy concerns, application performance issues and resiliency.

When to move to cloud computing also depends on business factors. Thompson recommends comparing the costs of premises-based servers to costs for cloud, remembering to account for depreciation, leases, contracts and other costs, as well as the cost of making a switch.

Adtran headquarters in Cummings Research Park, Huntsville. Adtran — which makes networking and communications equipment, competing against companies such as Cisco and Ciena — is Alabama’s largest high tech manufacturer and the 9th largest non-bank public company.

Photo by Scott McDaniel

“Setting up and testing systems in the cloud does take some time and effort. In my opinion, migrations tend to make the most sense when they happen at natural transition points, ” adds Thompson. Yet it could potentially make sense to convert to cloud services at any time.

When it comes to security, the cloud metaphor may not inspire confidence since it signifies intangibility. The origin of the name is murky. Some trace it to 1994, dawn of the Computer Age, when stylized clouds like comic-strip thought bubbles were used to symbolize the Internet in flow charts and diagrams.

Systems from reputable providers are accessible and secure, Thompson assures, so there’s no cause for fear. “If they’re just buying raw compute resources, they probably already have an IT guy who would understand it and not be intimidated. If they are subscribing to some kind of Software as a Service (SaaS), most of those systems are very user friendly and providers typically offer tutorials on how to use them.”

Nolan Greene, research analyst with Framingham, Mass.-based International Data Corp.’s network infrastructure group, says Adtran’s recent upgrades to its vWLAN portfolio via its ProCloud offerings speak to a greater trend in the wireless networking industry to offer more managed services.

“I do believe that networking is the next big frontier for cloud computing, ” says Greene. “Software as a Service and cloud-based storage have been mainstream a bit longer than networking. Solutions like Adtran’s ProCloud are opening up new doors for more enterprises to be able to meet their network infrastructure needs in a way that’s practical, efficient and cost-effective.”

ProCloud and its competitors, he notes, allow these enterprises to have WLAN that is managed centrally via a managed service provider. Businesses pay only for the Wi-Fi they need. If they end up needing less, they’re not sitting on underutilized hardware.

“In the networking industry, we are seeing more and more wireless providers offer a cloud solution, ” adds Greene. “Adtran is a networking company, and relative to areas such as software and storage, networking is somewhat newer in adopting cloud-based technologies. Adtran with ProCloud is rather new to the cloud-computing world, but is actually one of the earlier entrants to the cloud-managed wireless networking market. Meraki, now a part of Cisco, and Aerohive were the first two cloud-based WLAN vendors in the mainstream market.”

Being Alabama’s largest company with a stake in this promising sector of information technology, Thompson says Adtran is aiming for an even larger share and is already entrenched in the market with its fiber and copper access solutions, cloud connectivity and cloud-based wireless solutions.

“Many of our products and services already include a cloud component to them, ” says Thompson, “and over time more and more of our solutions will migrate some or all of their capabilities to the cloud.”

While making cloud-enabling equipment for service providers is currently the largest part of Adtran’s business, Thompson says Adtran’s solutions are increasingly targeted at reseller partners and large enterprises, including university campuses and companies.

Marty Lafferty, CEO of the Distributed Computing Industry Association in Chester, Md., says Adtran is well established as a global supplier of communications solutions to the telecom sector with a growing international business and increasing earnings per share, with products supporting a variety of network infrastructures.

“Adtran is uniquely situated by virtue of its close relationship with service providers, and this offering leverages that position by making it much easier for these entities to compete in the cloud Wi-Fi services market. Adtran’s vWLAN supports the three C’s needed for success in mobile cloud: business continuity, control and customization. It also allows broadband network operators to be much more proactive.”

Lafferty believes mobile cloud is the next frontier, given the demands of end-users for increased portability and versatility.

“Adtran can help address potential disruptions that will arise from more ubiquitous cloud connectivity by improving the ability of network operators and service resellers to monitor and manage multiple Wi-Fi networks, ” Lafferty says. “The vision of always-on anywhere access with simple user interfaces is moving toward reality.”

In addition, customizable dashboards to report real-time performance are critical, he says. Adtran’s vWLAN will allow managed service providers and resellers to more easily launch and manage cloud Wi-Fi services, leading to expanded service portfolios and greater revenues.

Recent analysis from large firms, such as Cisco, Forrester and Forbes, indicates that cloud computing has been adopted robustly on a global scale, says Lafferty.

Based on their estimates, the need for virtual space will balloon to 3.3 terabytes in two years. Since current devices cannot address the immense need, the cloud is the best and most economical option, he adds.

“In 2011, the cloud computing industry surpassed $40 billion in revenue, and projections call for exponential growth to over $240 billion by 2020. The future is clear — physical memory devices will become increasingly obsolete, and web-based applications will increasingly replace locally installed software.”

There’s also a push to virtualize networking resources similar to the way computer resources have been virtualized, notes Thompson. This will allow businesses to subscribe to networking services and functions. Today, purpose-built networking hardware is required for many of these functions.

“Once networking services are virtualized and automated, providers can link them to compute resources creating dynamic services where networks, computing resources and applications respond to changing needs and conditions.”

Jessica Armstrong is a freelance writer for Business Alabama. She lives in Auburn.

Text by Jessica Armstrong

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