Beware of the Instant Cloud


To hear some people talk about it, building a private cloud is no more difficult than provisioning a new storage array: Buy a platform, load it up, flip the switch and then sit back and enjoy a universe of unlimited resources.

The reality, not surprisingly, is much different.

While it is true that many of the leading vendors -- HP, IBM, Dell and Cisco, to name just a few -- offer what SearchCIO.com's Laura Smith terms "Cloud in a Box" platforms that are purported to deliver cloud environments to existing infrastructure, there are a number of caveats. First, depending on your definition of the cloud, they may or may not be full cloud platforms as commonly understood. A converged infrastructure may be a step in the right direction, but without the right orchestration and automation components, it will never rise to the level of flexibility and scalability that a true cloud provides.

But even if an instant cloud were to suddenly appear, most enterprises wouldn't know what to do with it, according to Forrester Research. The firm's latest report on private clouds says most organizations are still feeling their way through virtual technology and are in no way ready for the automation and standardization required in the cloud. If you want an instant cloud, then, your best bet is to sign up with a public provider who should, at least, have a staff that is reasonably well-versed in the new environment.

The problem with that, says tech blogger Phil Wainewright, is that few organizations are ready to make the jump from internal to outsourced IT all at once. Only a handful of firms have even dipped their toes into SaaS for non-critical applications, so porting an entire infrastructure to a third party is too much of a culture shock. Much better, he says, to build a "halfway house" with a platform like CSC's BizCloud, where you gain a virtual, automated, on-premise environment managed by experts. It may cost a bit more than a traditional cloud service, but it's still a bargain compared to wholly owned infrastructure.

No matter what your approach, it is crucial to begin staff re-training for cloud environments now, says Cisco's Tere Bracco. Just as the data center itself is making the transition from pre-virtualization to hybrid/public clouds, IT staff needs to be brought along as well. Expertise in self-service provisioning (which, by the way, does not mean techs sit idly by while workers cobble together their own resources), automation/orchestration, and a host of related tasks like ITIL workflow/ticketing, monitoring and reporting, will be highly beneficial as the new paradigm takes shape.

It may be trite, but it's true: The cloud is a journey, not a destination. A basic platform is a good start, but that's all. A fully functional cloud, which will most likely involve a mix of public, private and hybrid systems, will take effort, commitment and, most of all, planning.