The initial rush to embrace the cloud is over, and it seems the enterprise is finally taking a more thoughtful, reasoned approach to the new technology. But this still has many CIOs wondering: How do I craft a successful cloud strategy? And perhaps even more crucial, how do I ensure my cloud strategy won’t end in utter failure?
At its most basic level, the cloud is simply another piece of the enterprise infrastructure. In that vein, things like deployment, integration, ROI and TCO all come into play, although the calculations are different given the unusual price points and CAPEX/OPEX contrasts with standard servers, storage and other hardware-centric platforms.
The first thing to understand when it comes to successful cloud planning is that despite all the hype, the enterprise industry has just barely begun to embrace the cloud. CIO.com says according to the 451 Group, less than 20 percent of workloads will be on public clouds in two years’ time, which roughly represents the drop in private cloud carriage—from 68 percent to 45 percent. So even though most enterprises have taken their first steps on the cloud, there is no indication that anyone is locked into one particular direction. In fact, the very nature of cloud computing offers ample opportunity to experiment with various architectures and use cases, and then reconfigure the environment should initial assumptions prove faulty or data requirements or business goals change.
Still, it helps to be aware that unlike the general-purpose infrastructure of today, the cloud has enormous capacity for specialization. This means that different clouds are likely to be tailored for different purposes and will therefore require different architectural criteria. In Forbes, Gartner’s Thomas K. Bittmen goes so far as to say that clouds built for bottom-line considerations like cost and efficiency may require opposite strategies than clouds geared toward top-line improvements like new business processes and collaborative workflows. So if the goal is to save money, the cloud will only make sense for services that require broad scalability or rapid deployment. Even in an age of fast food, there is still a time for fine dining.
But if this is the case, how are we to tap into the maximum business benefit of the cloud in every circumstance? According to GetFilecloud.com’s Gabriel Lando, the key is asking the right questions – not of your provider, but of yourself. Understanding your infrastructure and applications needs is a good first step, followed by a clear-eyed assessment of the various cloud architectures available and how each will conform to your goals. Along the way, make sure you also establish clear lines of control over your cloud and institute a rigorous set of tests to ensure that everything works as planned before you go live.
And it’s also not like you flip a switch one day and you are instantly on the cloud. Most organizations are going to adopt a step-by-step cloud-building approach that, according to Forrester’s Dave Bartoletti, will involve three distinct phases. First, there is the experimentation phase that encompasses the various cloud models, user needs, metrics and other elements. Following that, there is the leverage phase where operations like service deployment, self-provisioning and automation come into play. And finally there is the optimization phase that brings in IaaS, performance management, service brokering and other tools to make the existing cloud better. At the moment, Bartoletti said, most organizations are somewhere between the first and second phases.
None of this should lead to the conclusion that the cloud is going to be easy, however. In fact, because the cloud represents not just a new enterprise infrastructure, but an entirely new foundation for the broader digital ecosystem, the challenges that we can’t even see yet are likely to be significant.
And in the end, success and failure in the cloud will not be total, but separated only by degrees.
Arthur Cole writes about infrastructure for IT Business Edge. Cole has been covering the high-tech media and computing industries for more than 20 years, having served as editor of TV Technology, Video Technology News, Internet News and Multimedia Weekly. His contributions have appeared in Communications Today and Enterprise Networking Planet and as web content for numerous high-tech clients like TwinStrata, Carpathia and NetMagic.