Is the Cloud Right For Me?

David W Glenn, CIO & CIO Advisor, IBM
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David W Glenn, CIO & CIO Advisor, IBM

The broad scope and size of a cloud transformation will require a meaningful shift in how companies think of IT. Organizations that previously thought of IT as an investment in locally owned and operated applications, servers, and networks will now need to think of IT in terms of services, commoditized computing resources, agile capacity provisioning tools, and their enabling effect for their user base. This new way of thinking will have a broad impact across the entire IT service lifecycle – from capability inception through delivery and operations. 

Successful organizations should carefully consider their IT portfolios and create roadmaps for cloud deployment and migration. These roadmaps should prioritize services that have high expected value and high readiness to maximize benefits received with minimal risk. Some companies may stress innovation and security while others may stress efficiency and compliance readiness. 

Identifying the sources of value 

Cloud computing provides three primary sources of business value- efficiency, agility, and innovation. Here are a number of considerations for each value category. 

Organizations should feel free to stress one or more of these sources of value according to their individual needs and mission goals. For instance, you may place a higher value on agility, while others may stress cost savings brought about by greater computing efficiency. 

  ​Before migrating to the cloud companies must ensure the network infrastructure can support the demand for higher bandwidth and sufficient redundancy for mission critical applications  

Efficiency- Efficiency gains can come in many forms, including higher computer resource utilization due to the use of contemporary virtualization technologies, and tools that extend the reach of the system administrator, lowering labor costs. Efficiency improvements can often have a direct impact on ongoing bottom line costs. Further, the nature of some costs will change from being capital investment in hardware and infrastructure (CapEx) to a pay-as-you go (OpEx) model with the cloud, depending on the cloud deployment model being used. Services that have relatively high per-user costs, have low utilization rates, are expensive to maintain and upgrade, or are fragmented should receive a relatively high priority for consideration. 

Agility- Many cloud computing efforts support rapid automated provisioning of computing and storage resources. In this way, cloud computing approaches put IT agility in the hands of users, and this can be a qualitative benefit. Existing services that require long lead times to upgrade or increase/decrease capacity should receive a relatively high priority for consideration, and so should new or urgently needed services to compress delivery timelines as much as possible. Services that are easy to upgrade, are not sensitive to demand fluctuations, or are unlikely to need upgrades in the long-term can receive a relatively low priority. 

Innovation- Organizations can compare their current services to contemporary marketplace offerings, or look at their customer satisfaction scores, overall usage trends, and functionality to identify the need for potential improvements through innovation. Services that would most benefit from innovation should receive a relatively high priority. 

Determine your cloud readiness 

It is not sufficient to consider only the potential value of moving to cloud services. Corporations should make risk-based decisions which carefully consider the readiness of providers to fulfill their needs. These can be wide-ranging, but likely will include-  

Security requirements- Whether you are publicly traded or private, it is essential that the decision to apply a specific cloud computing model to support mission capabilities considers these requirements. Companies have a responsibility to ensure that the cloud environment is a safe and secure cloud solution. 

Service characteristics- Service characteristics can include service interoperability, availability, performance, performance measurement approaches, reliability, scalability, portability, vendor reliability, and architectural compatibility. 

You should consider scalability requirements and the ability of the cloud solution architecture to either grow or shrink over time with varying levels of processing, storage, or service handling capability. Also consider the impact on your business if network connectivity to the cloud provider fails. 

Market characteristics- Companies should consider the cloud market competitive landscape and maturity. Also consider whether there is a demonstrated capability to move services from one provider to another, and whether there is a demonstrated capability to distribute services between two or more providers in response to service quality and capacity. 

Network infrastructure, application and data readiness- Before migrating to the cloud you must ensure that the network infrastructure can support the demand for higher bandwidth and that there is sufficient redundancy for mission critical applications. IT should update their DR plans to reflect the increased importance of a high-bandwidth connection to the Internet or service provider. 

Corporate readiness- In addition, corporations should consider whether or not the applicable organization is pragmatically ready to migrate their services to the cloud. Corporate services which have capable and reliable managers, the ability to negotiate appropriate SLAs, related technical experience, and supportive change management cultures should be at the top of the list. 

Technology lifecycle- Companies should also consider where technology services (and the underlying computing assets) are in their lifecycle. Services that are nearing a technology refresh, approaching the conclusion of their negotiated contract, or are dependent upon inefficient legacy software or hardware should receive a relatively high priority. Technology services that were recently upgraded, locked within contract, and are based on leading-edge technology may want to wait before migrating to the cloud. 

Managing services rather than assets 

To be successful, companies must manage cloud services differently than traditional IT assets. As with provisioning, cloud computing will require a new way of thinking to reflect a service-based focus rather than an asset-based focus. Here are a few considerations to effectively manage your cloud services. 

Shift mindset- Organizations need to re-orient the focus of all parties involved, providers and end users to think of services rather than assets. Organizations that successfully make this transition will effectively manage the system towards output metrics (e.g., SLAs) rather than input metrics (e.g., number of servers). 

Actively monitor- Actively track SLAs and hold vendors accountable for failures. Stay ahead of emerging security threats and ensure that your security outlook is constantly evolving faster than potential attacks. 

Re-evaluate periodically- Organizations should periodically re-evaluate the choice of service and vendor to ensure that efficiency, agility, and innovation are maximized. To effectively conduct re-evaluations, organizations should be aware of changes in the technology landscape, in particular, the readiness of new cloud technologies, commercial innovation, and new cloud vendors. 

In the end 

Cheaper processors, faster networks, and the rise of mobile devices are driving innovation faster than ever before. Cloud computing is a manifestation and core enabler of this transformation. Just as the Internet has led to the creation of new business models unfathomable 20 years ago, cloud computing will disrupt and reshape entire industries in unforeseen ways. 

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