Choosing a Cloud Implementation Partner
October 14, 2011

Richard Ptak

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Cloud computing has become a popular way to speed and facilitate the move to BSM by optimizing business-driving IT infrastructure. Clouds are realized in private, public or hybrid formations. Hybrids basically use services from both public and private constructs. By far the most popular (for very good reasons) are private Clouds. These usually are partially-virtualized data centers performing so satisfactorily that evolving to a full Cloud appears fully justified. Let’s take a moment to examine what’s behind this effort.

It can be argued that today's business and IT operations staffs face the most challenging environment in the last 20 years. In addition to an accelerating pace of change, increasingly aggressive competition and a global economy staggering, rather than steadily advancing towards recovery – the very foundation of the IT service delivery model and its infrastructure is undergoing radical change.

CIOs increasingly find themselves orchestrating Data Center infrastructure and process re-organizations so they can respond with the speed and agility necessary to achieve evolving business goals. Old ways of operation won’t work. Adapting to changing conditions and responding to evolving demands can’t happen quickly enough. The result is that CIOs are embracing Cloud-based solutions at nearly twice the rate than they did two years ago, which also brings its own problems.

One problem is that the availability of staff sufficiently skilled in Cloud design, implementation and operation has not kept pace with the growth in demand. Fortunately, this skills gap has not gone unnoticed by IT vendors and suppliers. However, unfortunately, the response has been a virtual tsunami of companies offering their expertise, experience, advice, services and products to solve every potential problem in implementing a private, hybrid or public cloud. All of these vendors tout their products' unique ability (newly designed for Cloud), as well as their depth of experience in providing Cloud services.

Many CIOs find to their regret that not all of these Cloud-service and expertise providers perform up to expected levels. With public clouds, for example, well-known firms, including Amazon, Google , Microsoft and others have embarrassed and inconvenienced their users with highly publicized outages. The majority of the publicity for these kinds of events and experiences has been around public Cloud services, but they do happen with private clouds. However, they certainly help to drive the enterprise preference for private Cloud implementations. They also dramatically underscore the importance of choosing the right partner for your Cloud efforts.

When examining desired partner characteristics, top of mind should be their implementation and service experience. Clearly you want a partner with a proven, significant track record in enabling successful customer Cloud implementations in demanding environments. You want to choose a firm with experience in the infrastructure, application and management in the delivery of Cloud-based services.

In today’s business environment, expensive rip ‘n replace projects are anathema due to the tight integration and interdependencies between business and IT operations. Transforming IT operations from data center centric to a fully service oriented Cloud requires learning and change. Therefore, the transformation to a Cloud-based environment should be recognized and understood as an evolutionary project whose design and implementation must take account of your current data center environment.

Let’s look at one sequence this evolution may follow. Things begin with planned efforts to improve efficiency and resource utilization through infrastructure consolidation and virtualization. The next stage works to implementing process automation and management to optimize and integrate platforms. This stage is considered an entry-level Cloud infrastructure environment. Moving to the next stage, the focus is implementing management and infrastructure optimization to achieve a fully integrated, adaptive and secure infrastructure.

Note this is a general, not the only, model for moving data center operations to the Cloud. What’s important is that the partners understand the process is evolutionary and depends upon characteristics unique to your operation maturity and skill set. You want to work with someone that can tailor the pace, scale and scope of implementation to your needs and the ability of IT to absorb change. They must have the insight, as well as flexibility to recognize the maturity level and needs of your business and IT organizations.

Finally, an experienced partner will have recognized that there exist patterns behind the motivation to undergo a transformation to a cloud. While the individual operating environment is unique at many levels, there are a fixed number of goals to achieve or reasons why an enterprise chooses a cloud. It may be part of a strategy to reduce costs and be more responsive to business needs by providing all internal services as cloud–based internally. Or, it may be to improve operational efficiency and reduce costs by accelerating the development and delivery of new enterprise services. Whatever the goal, these usage patterns share common challenges in execution. Recognizing usage patterns and repeated challenges allows the implementer to develop processes to avoid making repeated mistakes and minimize the impact of unavoidable challenges.

Now talk is cheap. This is especially true if the vendor is a newcomer trying to break into a new market with a rather short history of delivery, or when a vendor offers a freshly re-designed hardware platform. Make it part of your due diligence to verify the experience and track record of potential partners. As pointed out earlier, even the biggest and best in the business can stumble when implementing a solution. It is your responsibility to minimize the risk of partnering with someone who overpromises and under delivers. But, keeping in mind these suggestions should help you to lower the risk when choosing your partner for implementing a Cloud environment.

Richard Ptak is a founding partner of Ptak/Noel.

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