Don’t Know Your Cloud Strategy? The Time is Now
December 03, 2011

Antonio Piraino

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I am excited to be part of the APMdigest Vendor Forum and publish my first blog post! I joined ScienceLogic as CTO a few months ago after spending five years as an industry analyst with Tier1 Research focusing on the service provider industry. One of the topics I advised both service providers and enterprises about was cloud computing. I hope this is an area where I can be of some service to the APMdigest community.

If you’re an enterprise not executing on your cloud plans today, you’re in trouble. It’s the way in which much business is getting done today, and the way in which it will be done tomorrow; with greater operational efficiency across the board.

Although many vendors give lip service to cloud computing, there is more to it than virtualizing an internal IT environment or slapping a unified communications solution into place. Without going too far into the definitions of cloud computing, concepts such as flexibility, agility, scalability and efficient IT resources allocations are some of the more common attributes of this once voguish turned modern archetypal IT services delivery model.
So what considerations should you be taking before moving to a cloud platform?

Starting at the bottom of your IT stack to understand what infrastructure is cost prohibitive or inefficient is a tricky and outdated way of making the decision. A modern approach is to start with the business service riding atop that infrastructure; to understand who the stakeholders are and what the constituents utilizing those services actually need from a business productivity perspective.

And even before asking that question, you should assess your internal budget and costs, conduct an audit of your internal IT assets and capabilities, and determine your corporate governance and affiliated service level expectations. That way you know what you need to ask for and expect from your cloud computing service provider. It also gives you the ability to say, “Hey – don’t create any more work for me, but make this run better and more efficiently than the way I have it running now.”
If you can’t pinpoint those key performance, cost or threshold parameters, I can bet that any number of data center, hosting or cloud computing service providers will be doing it more cost effectively, more securely and with better tools than your current system. But whichever service provider you choose needs to be able to provide you with assurances around your service levels, giving you the ability to confidently inform your business service constituents that their HR, sales or financial application is about to run better than it did before.

Not All Cloud Service Providers Are Created Equally

So once you have done your due diligence and have executive sponsorship supporting the cultural change about to take place, how do you pick your cloud platform (something I hold synonymous with an external service provider)?

Not all of those cloud service providers are created equally – they have made different investments and offer a variety of services ranging from the data center through to the application on-demand; with and without significant disaster recovery plans.

Notwithstanding the highly applicable truism that you pay for what you get, the kind of company you are will also dictate the right cloud offering for your needs.

Do you need to be able to write to an API, or simply have an easy to use interface, with buttons that enable you to set up and use your business application on the fly?

Do you need to move capex off your income statement, and find a highly secure and redundant colocation (data center) provider, an Infrastructure as a Service provider for your workloads, or a brand new SaaS offering to replace your outdated and burdensome legacy CRM system?

If you’re a large organization with bespoke applications, or a federal organization, you’re going to want stringent security and probably a tier 3 data center provider to outsource your capital-intensive facility’s operations to – like an Equinix, a Telx or a Savvis. In this case, your applications will continue to be managed and built by existing IT staff.

If you’re an SMB wanting a web site and outsourced email, and a platform on top of which to dump your apps (leaving your sys admin to manage more critical IT components), then you want a hosting or Infrastructure as a service (IaaS) offering from an ePlus, a CloudSigma, or a Softlayer.

If you’re a mid-sized company – where most of the movement to cloud computing is happening – you want to look at outsourcing your data center, and your hardware, OS and up to the application stack. For that there are managed hosting providers – focused more on the management than the infrastructure reallocation – which include providers like Logicworks, Peak10 or Datapipe.
Contrary to popular IT belief, these are critical decisions that need a protagonist in the form of your existing IT staff to help make these mature decisions. And this is a changing role: the role of service broker, rather than as a cost line item on your books. And the level of intelligent decision making will only increase in the era of business analytics popularity, driven by many of the same forces that boosted cloud computing.

Asking the Right Questions

Questions around current and future IT spends on both infrastructure and human resource projections will need to be answered. Is it possible to automate many of your manual processes today? Again these are decisions that a cloud computing provider should be able to help you answer.
Moving forward, there is a growing awareness around the criticality of having the right data and tools to make an informed decision around your IT spend that is increasing by the second. What are your cost projections on infrastructure over the next two years? What about just the next 12 months? What are your human resource needs? Is your customer churn a result of network performance, or is there a stronger correlation with another aspect of my operational environment? This is the concept of “Operational Business Intelligence”.

And as more complex decisions are made around a more distributed IT topology, so too is the need for increased control and visibility over these outsourced assets – answered to by a single, flexible, extensible management system – something that all organizations are going to have to address sooner or later in the cloud computing era. And as with any system, it needs to be affordable and simple to deploy if it’s going to be adopted quickly.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, but the move to cloud computing is happening much faster than any service model we’ve seen before. Make sure you are asking the right questions and consulting the right experts before diving in, but don’t loiter on the river banks for too long either. The IT revolution that is cloud computing may just pass you by.

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Antonio Piraino is CTO of ScienceLogic
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