The term cloud can be somewhat cloudy itself.
There are multiple meanings depending on the context. Consumers may be familiar with public cloud services such as Amazon Web Services, which hosts computer processing and data-storage functions for customers over the Internet.
Along with such shared public services, many companies run their own private in-house clouds, which allow employees to access files and applications remotely from any location. Other companies have adopted a hybrid model that combines public and private clouds. Additionally, most corporate clouds continue to employ local services from their own data centers.
In other words, the cloud is rarely an all-or-nothing proposition. For example, the Salesforce.com cloud does not manage sales pipelines at every company. But with a little effort and customization, Salesforce can arguably work for most companies. Not all businesses that use Salesforce should necessarily adopt a cloud-based system to manage corporate finances, HR or supply-chain operations, however. Each cloud migration decision depends on a lot of interrelated business factors.
No Such Thing as “One Size Fits All”
Moving IT compute and resources to the cloud is usually easier said than done. Each company has a unique portfolio of IT assets and network systems that must be fully assessed before any cloud migration can begin. IT managers will need to address a series of complex questions before undertaking this important transformation.
A cloud transition framework begins with discovery and analysis of current and future needs, but ultimately ends with the tasks of moving data and of testing and training users.
A range of objectives should be established and organizationally agreed on. Sure, there are the obvious goals of lower capital expenses and reduced operating expenditures. But a more detailed assessment of objectives is needed, along with a specific plan for what an organization wants to get out of a cloud migration.
It’s foolish to suggest that any generic checklist can represent the tasks that organizations should adopt for their migration plan. There is no substitute for a rigorous assessment of each organization's core IT strengths, constraints and objectives relative to the cloud. On the basis of that assessment, managers can then make the appropriate cloud mobilization plans. Each company should document the process and the outcome to ensure business and organizational alignment.
Migration Under Consideration
Important considerations include cost and flexibility tradeoffs, along with concerns about security, privacy and availability. Each company will need to make judgments about its unique set of services delivered in differing ways. Ideally, all these services will work together seamlessly, but such a successful outcome is rarely the case right away.
As a company considers incorporating the cloud, a critical task is reviewing its core strengths, constraints and objectives to determine the most appropriate cloud mobilization plans.
Large IT organizations have obligations to their vendors under support agreements. But they face a gray area for cloud migrations, which involve a risk of stranded and unsupported assets. Larger organizations know how to manage unsupported assets because they have budget certainty and they know what to expect, but smaller IT departments face much greater uncertainty. Each organization must take a hard look in the mirror to scrutinize its core strengths.
Perhaps the most concerning constraint involves the unknowns, such as a service that is up and running but suddenly fails unexpectedly. In the world of IT, only one thing is certain and that is constant change. IT managers must continually ask themselves, What patch or version are we on? Who knows how that stack was built? And what IT vulnerabilities ought to be addressed?
Another constraint involves IT staffing, which may or may not have the core competencies to manage cloud operations. If not, what is the training and staffing plan? Do all the IT resources make the transition, and if not, what happens to them? It’s critical to evaluate the impact of these limits before moving to the cloud.
These questions are hardly trivial. For example, are systemic weaknesses embedded in the current systems that need to be addressed and managed? Are there areas of “tribal knowledge” where the risks are not fully understood or manageable? What happens when those services are moved, and who will support them? Also, do they come up in the target environments, and is a rollback possible if they don’t perform or function as planned? Is a disaster recovery plan in place?
Many businesses face similar challenges when moving to a cloud environment. Increasingly, rogue IT spending is leading to uncontrolled cloud sprawl (a proliferation of workloads in the cloud out of IT’s sight and control), affecting budgets, threatening the security of critical business data and leading to disparate workloads throughout the cloud.
So, Why Migrate to the Cloud?
Moving to the cloud is vital for achieving real-time, updated performance and efficiency. By taking the proactive role of moving workloads to the cloud, IT can reduce costs, increase management control and build a strategy for continuing productivity improvements.
Saving money on data center hardware may be the most visible advantage of moving to the cloud, but it is certainly not the only benefit. The cloud represents a paradigm shift in computing, with the same level of influence that client-server computing had 25 years ago. Although the cloud provides cost savings and productivity improvements, the bigger impact is a different way of approaching computing.
If an organization has already invested heavily in IT assets and staff, it is less motivated to make changes. But, such organizations often have the most to gain through cloud-based cost savings. Hardware and software assets have varying useful lifespans, which typically come to an end in less than three years.
After years of buildup, cloud computing has finally become a reality. In fact, it just crossed the $100 billion milestone. Both small and large enterprises are quickly moving to the cloud to eliminate big-ticket capital expenditures and to reduce operating expenses in the near- to midterm. That is the story of IT today.
For many organizations, the toughest question isn't whether to move to the cloud, but how to do so. Channel partners have an opportunity to provide that guidance and hands-on assistance—from planning to provisioning.
To stay competitive in today’s market, it’s not if but when a company will make the switch. But it’s not just about making the decision to move IT resources to the cloud; the migration process itself must also be taken into consideration if success is to be achieved.
About the Author
Mark Shirman is President and CEO at RiverMeadow Software, to which he brings nearly 30 years of entrepreneurial experience in the IT arena. Before RiverMeadow, Mark was the founder and CEO of GlassHouse Technologies, where for 11 years he was responsible for building the company's leadership in the data center solutions space, managing the investment community and setting the vision for the company's solution development.