Get on the Cloud, but Make Sure It's for the Right Reasons

Arthur Cole

It's become sort of a crutch these days to invoke the old adage "Build it, and they will come" to gin up support for any new endeavor. But while that may work for fictional baseball stadiums, it doesn't necessarily hold true for advanced technologies like the cloud.

All too often, there is a mad rush to implement the latest and greatest development before there is a clear idea of what is to be done with it. This is understandable, in part, as we can't really tell what new capabilities are available until we gain some hands-on experience. But when it becomes a matter of technology driving the business model rather than the other way around, enterprises often find themselves saddled with a lot of expensive new gear and little understanding of how to make the best use of it.

Gartner hit on this theme with the latest Hype Cycle for Cloud Computing report, which draws a clear distinction between deploying the cloud for the cloud's sake and deploying the cloud in pursuit of a larger business strategy. Only by establishing clear goals and objectives and then implementing the cloud in pursuit of those goals and objectives, when warranted, will enterprises derive true value from their investment. To be sure, the cloud represents dramatic cost savings compared to traditional IT infrastructure, but if that's all you're after — a cheaper way to provide the same old IT — you'll likely find yourself summarily outclassed by organizations that approach the cloud as an entirely new architecture.

Already, many of the cloud's unique capabilities are coming into view. As service provider Ci&T points out, the coming year should see steady adoption of high-end developments like Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS), not to mention an ability to handle the crushing loads of Big Data. And as data migration and other tools mature, the cloud could very well emerge as the go-to environment for advanced application development as well.

Of course, the biggest winners in the cloud revolution will likely be small businesses, which will finally gain access to the level of IT that only large organizations have enjoyed so far. According to Google CIO Ben Fried, we are very close to the tipping point at which cloud computing becomes irresistible to the vast majority of businesses simply because both the lower cost and greater operational efficiency are too strong to ignore. The cloud, in fact, is likely to rework many of the core business strategies of many firms, both large and small, offering an unprecedented ability to blur the lines between high-end and low-end enterprise systems, or even between enterprise- and consumer-grade technology.

Still, as with traditional enterprise infrastructure, the trick is to accurately gauge the cost-benefit of any new IT service. The Information Systems Audit and Control Association (ISACA) notes that many groups simply take short-term returns into account when evaluating the cloud, forgetting that medium- and long-term costs, as well as termination expenses, should also be part of the calculus. For instance, have you thought about the cost of moving cloud services in-house, just in case regulatory or financial pressures make the cloud untenable? Application migration will still entail a fair amount of recoding and reformatting, not to mention the cost of extracting and validating associated data.

It would seem, then, that not every at-bat in the cloud stadium will be a home-run. In all likelihood, there will be many applications and services more at home in the enterprise than out on the cloud, and it will be up to IT to figure out what goes where and how to get it there.

It's not the same as managing physical infrastructure, but it will probably be enough to keep everyone busy for a while.

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