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What Should I Do about Cloud?

The word of the day is “Cloud.” Nearly every software and hardware vendor out there has a product and shiny marketing to help their customers go “to the cloud.” Every IT trade rag has seemingly unique, seemingly agnostic advice on how their audience can take advantage of cloud computing. Standards bodies have published authoritative descriptions of cloud computing models. If you’re an IT decision maker or influencer, you’re in luck! Many reputable players in the industry have published reams of information to help you on your journey to take advantage of cloud computing. Pick your poison… Public, Private, Hybrid, Community, SaaS, IaaS, PaaS… even XaaS (anything as a service!). On-premises, off-premises… or even “on-premise” if you want!

Starting with an on-premises private cloud of your own seems like a sensible choice. A cloud environment of your own, that you can keep cool and dry inside of your own datacenter. Architects can design and build it with the components of their choice, management can have the control that they’re used to, and administrators can manage it alongside every other system. Security issues can be handled deftly by your consultant or cloud-champion – after all, your cloud is internal and private!

Another perspective is to skip out on a cloud strategy, forgo some early benefits, and wait for all of the chips to fall before making any investments. This is the respectable “do nothing” alternative, and it’s a valid one.

Yet another perspective is to take a close look at cloud concepts and prepare your company to act, when appropriate. Prepare, act, appropriate time. Sounds like a strategy brewing.

 

What Is Cloud Anyway? C’mon, What Are the Real Benefits?

What are the benefits? We should define benefits in terms of increased revenue or reduced costs for the organization overall. “Better manageability” alone is not a benefit. “Better manageability” is a benefit in that it leads to reduced costs in the form of fewer people, if the manageability truly is better. How about improved time to market? Isn’t that a benefit? Sure, only insofar as it leads to the deployment of revenue-generating or cost-reducing applications to production sooner than before. Nearly all of the benefits of using cloud computing are associated with reduced operating expense.

The careful reader will recognize some of these characteristics as consistent with the NIST definition. Here it goes, a cloud is…

Neat Abstraction: abstract requirements (or requests) from specifications. This allows IT departments the freedom (technical, of course) to deploy workloads on the most efficient platform available, whether it is internal private cloud, external SaaS, etc. This characteristic enables a catalog of pre-engineered offerings.

Flexible Capacity: Administrators should be able to add or remove capacity from the cloud system without impacting the performance of other workloads running there. Administrators should also be able to adjust capacity on an individual workload without impacting the performance of other workloads. Benefit? Avoid unnecessary infrastructure purchases and reclaim unused capacity.

Workload Portability: Workloads should be packaged so that they can be moved to a different infrastructure without impacting performance. Under the VMware vSphere platform, VMotion achieves this within their system. I think that, eventually, workloads will be portable, even to different providers. Even then, you may not want to separate the workload – e.g. you may not want to separate the application layer and the persistence layer of your application. Benefit? Deploy workloads to the most efficient platform that satisfies requirements (see Neat Abstraction above). This is a key characteristic as the market for cloud computing changes almost every day– new providers enter the market, existing providers exit the market, and prices change.

Consistent Access: Application functionality should be similar across platforms – be it a web browser, “fat client,” mobile device, whatever.
Additionally, this means that workloads can be provisioned in the same way, regardless of the target platform. This is a key characteristic that enables the “brokering” of IT services.

Self-service? (Maybe): I don’t think that cloud is needed to provide this, or that self-service is needed to provide cloud computing. But it’s commonly in the conversation. What is the benefit? Improved time-to-market by cutting out the “middle man” in IT that designs infrastructure based on customer requirements.

Resilient and Redundant? (Maybe): Same treatment as with self-service. It’s commonly in the discussion.

 

Most Organizations are Using Cloud Today

Does your company use Salesforce.com for CRM? How about ADP for payroll or time entry? And I bet your company sources travel and expense systems to some outside provider. Why do most organizations outsource payroll or travel/expense IT Services? Because they’re commodity systems. (Note that payroll data is pretty sensitive – with employee SSNs, bank account information, compensation information, etc.)
Which other IT Services in your organization are commodity? Also note about these already-outsourced systems… they’re entire IT Services. Not just applications. And they take on the characteristics of cloud.

 

Service Management: You Knew This Was Coming

You knew you were going to have to get around to IT Service Management someday. Some vendor has been talking to you about the importance of that CMDB for at least the last decade. Here’s why all of this ITIL stuff is important. You need Service Management to measure the benefits of using cloud computing ;for example, is your organization able to improve time to market consistently? By how much? Some sort of request fulfillment process is needed to understand time-to-market in a quantitative way. Consider this:

1. You need IT service management to build a cloud

a. Service Catalog Management, as a process, is needed to ensure that self-service offerings are relevant

b. Capacity Management is needed to ensure that the relevant offerings in your catalog are delivered in timely fashion

c. Configuration Management and a CMDB is needed on a few different levels...to support other processes like capacity management but also to understand the infrastructure that supports an application so that you can outsource it once that makes sense for your organization

2. Your organization needs IT service management to understand the benefits of cloud computing

a. See above discussion on improved time to market; your organization needs to first measure time to market and then track it to show improvement; integration with fanancial management would be nice to quantify the benefit in dollar terms

3. Investing in IT service management is a “middle way” to prepare your organization to take advantage of cloud computing without choosing a cloud product, vendor, or even a strategy

4. Investments in improving IT service management will not be lost if you ultimately decide that cloud computing is not a good match for your business

 

Food for Thought

I hope that this post inspired some ideas about how your organization might make use of cloud computing. Here are some closing thoughts to consider:

  1. Does your organization make use of any outside “cloud” services today?
  2. Which applications running inside of your organization are both stable and commodity?
  3. When was your most recent investment in IT service management? Were the benefits measurable?

I’d be interested in hearing some feedback on this.

If you're looking for more information, check out this article- Preflight Checklist: Preparing for a Private Cloud Journey

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