New Cisco Service Helps IT Understand Employee Cloud Utilization

By now, every IT pro is acutely aware that cloud services are so easy to provision that people often do so without their knowledge. Tracking cloud usage has proven a challenge for IT as a result. Cisco announced a new product today called Cloud Consumption as a Service to help companies understand cloud utilization across a company.

This ability to order infrastructure and services has been around for at least a decade and has really caught on in a big way in the last several years, earning its own buzzword, Shadow IT. Cisco is certainly not the first company to try and help IT deal with this issue — in fact, IBM introduced a similar tool last fall — but it is hoping that by offering a simple service at a reasonable price, it can attract customers who are still grappling with cloud consumption inside their organizations.

How widespread is cloud usage in companies? About two years ago, Cisco began asking CIOs how many cloud services they thought their employees were using. The average response was 91, a number that was wildly off, says Bob Dimicco, senior director, of advanced services at Cisco.

“When we look at traffic and strip out websites, we found on average companies were using 1220 services,” he said. What’s more, he says that number has almost doubled in the last 12 months when it was around 630.

The company assumed that tech companies would use the highest number, but they found high cloud popularity across all verticals, even ones where you might not expect to see it like manufacturing, oil and gas, financial services and healthcare.

The service is designed to give IT or other interested parties inside a company real insight into cloud consumption across the organization.

“When you step back, Shadow IT has been around for years. What’s new or interesting is that the data here is not from a qualitative survey, it’s the actual traffic to the cloud and the system has enough granularity to differentiate.”

That means if 10 people have Dropbox accounts (as an example), it doesn’t count 10 instances. Dropbox is recognized as a unique service that ten people within the organization are using.

It goes deeper than just pure numbers of services and users, analyzing the security rating of a service based on data from Cisco’s security database and the Cloud Security Alliance. It also rates the financial viability of the company behind the service using data from Dunn & Bradstreet.

“It’s taking the basics of traffic analysis and trying to layer functionality and knowledge and hooks into other sources of information to help cloud manager do their job,” Dimicco explained.

The idea according to Dimicco is not arm the CIO with information to act as sheriff. He acknowledges that’s a losing battle as it’s too simple to provision these services and there are more coming along all the time. Instead it gives the CIO the information to help lines of business make better decisions.

If employees are using a service that is deemed insecure for whatever reason, IT can offer a reasonable alternative. In the end, if people just want to get their work done, and that has always been at that the root of Shadow IT, then as long as that alternative is as easy to use, switching between two shouldn’t be a major problem.

Then there is the issue of public versus private clouds. Over the last several years, companies have been trying to create their own clouds that mimic the public cloud services, except they live behind the firewall and the company is in control of them.

Whatever you think of this approach, a company can also choose to funnel their employees to their private cloud if that’s the goal.

The service is aimed at mid-size to large businesses with companies as small as 300-500 employees or as large as one of the Fortune 10. It starts at just a couple of dollars per user per month, and scales down according to the number of employees.