Cloud Never Far From Minds of Midmarket CIOs

Ann All

Cloud is never far from the minds of the CIOs attending this week's Midmarket CIO Forum in Orlando. At least that's the way it seems.


While at this event, hosted by my employer IT Business Edge, I'm hearing lots of casual discussions about the cloud and will attend a presentation called "The Great Cloud Rush" by Info-Tech Research Group analyst John Sloan later this morning.


The cloud was also the subject of an IT executive peer exchange session I participated in on Sunday. While none of the five participants had taken a big leap into the cloud, all of them were experimenting with it or preparing to do so. And all agreed that within the next five to seven years, the cloud will become a common way to deliver IT services. This meshes with what smart observers like Constellation Research CEO and A Software Insider's Point of View blogger Ray Wang are saying about the cloud.


Bob Ashford, vice president of information technology for coffee manufacturer Massimo Zanetti, said he welcomed the opportunity for his staff to "stop playing with tapes" and moved his data backup to a cloud service from Barracuda Networks. While the solution is slightly more expensive than tape backups, Ashford said it's worth it to free his 8-person IT staff from the chore and to ensure that backups are always performed regularly. He derives added value from the service by making it part of the company's disaster recovery plan.


Other members of the session had different pain points they hope to address with cloud solutions.


For Jay Davis, director of IT infrastructure and operations for shipping company Sea Star Line, the pain point is data storage. Sea Star is part of a larger parent holding company that also owns several other companies, thus there are multiple IT departments in multiple locations running different systems. Sea Star is looking to the cloud to help ease a move toward a shared services model, Davis said.


For Greg McLean, manager of technical services, for packaging manufacturer Green Bay Packaging, the pain point is e-mail and other productivity applications. His goal is to migrate employees from Microsoft Office to Google Apps to cut his software licensing costs.


Ashford was also a member of a Monday panel discussion moderated by Bart Perkins, a former CIO for Dole Food Company and Yum Brands and now a managing partner at IT consulting company Leverage Partners. A member of the audience asked him and fellow panelists Neil Goldberg, Lyla Perredin and Tina Rourk about their current and future plans for the cloud.


Goldberg, CIO of McCann Healthcare Worldwide, a health care communications network, plans to soon roll out a set of 10 collaborative applications delivered via the cloud to offer functionality that isn't addressed in Microsoft SharePoint. He'll have to tackle security and compliance issues before delving more deeply into the cloud, however, since health care is a heavily regulated industry. He said he'd feel better if he knew data would remain in the U.S., a guarantee he said public cloud providers like Amazon are not yet able to offer.


Perredin, CIO of nonprofit research organization Midwest Research Institute, mentioned using "a few SaaS applications" but isn't sure if she sees a broader implementation of the cloud in her organization's near-term future. "I haven't figured out where it makes sense for us," she said. Rourk, CIO of Wyndham Vacation Ownership, part of Wyndham Worldwide, is evaluating the cost savings, which she said aren't readily apparent for her already heavily virtualized IT infrastructure. While cloud providers like to promote the idea of moving expenses from the capital column to the operational one, she said her IT department is closely watching its operational expenses.


Ashford reiterated the pragmatic view he gave during the peer exchange session. "It's about selectively moving pieces of your business that someone else can do better to the cloud," he said.

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