Owning the Cloud: Don Parente Answers 8 Questions About Where AT&T is Going with Cloud Services

A recent article by Tim Negris in Cloud Computing Journal implied that the leaders at AT&T might be missing the point when it comes to cloud computing,  so I decided to interview Don Parente to find out where AT&T is really headed with their cloud services. To quote Negris, “AT&T is not exactly a utility computing virgin and its ascent into the cloud has already be a long and jagged flight path, so this could go either way.”

Q1: AT&T entered the cloud arena in 2008 with its Synaptic Hosting service. Has the path the company is taking with cloud computing changed since then?

A1: I would not say that we have changed paths but instead we continue to grow our customer’s options. Our customers are very sophisticated and have varying needs.  So in the future we will see IT infrastructure moving to blended environments that includes dedicated hosted, utility hosted and cloud.

Q2: Do you consider AT&T Synaptic Compute as a Service, which was released at the end of last year, to be a supplement or an alternative to in-house computing?

A2: I think it depends on the application.  Some applications and workflows will move to the cloud completely.  Other applications will remain in a dedicated environment, whiling using the cloud for capacity augmentation.

Q3: What makes AT&T cloud computing new technology as opposed to just another form of hosting or outsourcing?

A3: To use a cliché, I believe that cloud computing is a “game changer.”  Hosting is primarily a business decision, where someone decides if their application should run in-house or at a third party location.  Cloud will change the way in which IT is deployed and even how applications are designed. Variable loads are a perfect fit for the cloud. For example, why deploy a server (hosted or in-house) for an application that is only run a couple of times a year?  Maybe it makes sense to separate the stack.  For example, put the application server in the cloud while keeping the application server and database in-house.

Q4: Do you consider AT&T cloud computing a business concept or a technical one?

A4: Cloud is a business model that is deeply routed in technology.  This business model has existed for years in the travel industry and staffing business.  Why would you buy a car that will be used for only one week if you can rent one?  Or, why hire an employee to get you through a short term project if you can hire a temp or consultant?

So yes, it is a business model but it requires expertise in technology, managing multitenant environments, operations, security, and many other disciplines to be successful.

Q5: Who is the target market for AT&T’s cloud services?large enterprises or small-to-midsize businesses?

A5: All of the above.

Q6: According to Forrester, the top reason businesses are reluctant to use cloud services is security. What is AT&T doing to address these security concerns?

A6: At AT&T, security is incorporated in everything we do, it is not an after thought. We engage our securities teams at the inception of all of our products.  I remember when folks thought MPLS was not secure, when we launched our first service 10+ years ago.  Fortunately, our customers were open about it and gave us an opportunity to show them that it was secure.  Now MPLS is everywhere.  The same will happen with cloud.

Q7: Tim Negris said this about AT&T, “They own cell towers and fiber, and they own 90M cellular and 120M fixed line customers. If they have the right vision, they could own the cloud. But, they don’t and they won’t.” What is your vision for AT&T’s cloud computing?

A7: The cloud will be a big part of AT&T’s business.  It is a natural fit for a service provider.  The ingredients to be successful in cloud are the same as they are for the network business.  This is a scale business. It also requires a disciplined approach to designing, securing, and managing the cloud infrastructure.   Life would be easy if only one customer used it.  However, it is a different story when you need to serve hundreds of thousands of customers in a way that makes every one of them feel like they are the only users.  This is just like running a network business.

Q8: OK, so AT&T has the vision and the infrastructure, what else do you need to be a cloud computing leader?

A8: As I alluded to earlier we also have the people to deliver these services. From experts in the labs who will determine the next great technology for securing or scaling the cloud to our committed support teams who will proactively make sure our customers are reliably served.

What do you think is AT&T’s place in the cloud computing arena? Share your thoughts.
Don Parente Technology Strategy and Chief Architect Director AT&T About Don