What does the cloud mean to your business? What new types of business processes are possible in a world of instant access to unlimited amounts of computing? These are vital questions, but chief executives don’t ask them urgently enough. In my view, both business and technology strategy can be materially improved if a chief executive insists on a detailed answer to one simple question: What is our long-term cloud adoption plan?
By insisting on a detailed answer to this question, a chief exectuive can achieve a variety of things. First, the chief executive can get a better feel for what new types of IT, automation, efficiency, agility, and analytics are possible. Second, the chief executive can do a better job of evaluating other executives for their technology savvy. But the most important result is that the chief executive can better understand the quality of their tech staff and current suppliers.
If a chief executive asks this question and doesn’t get the kind of answer I describe in this article, I’d submit that a problem exists. This question can be a forcing function for improving the quality of the tech staff and the alignment of technology and business.
The question is not nearly as straightforward as it seems. Companies can think they have a cloud adoption plan without realizing the degree of strategy that must be involved in formulating an answer to that question. A cloud adoption plan should include strategies for how to address the issues touched upon in this article. Otherwise, the company risks missing out on the full potential of the cloud, falling behind competition or exposing itself to unnecessary liabilities that can undermine the operations and profitability of the business.
Know thy work
The first step in any cloud strategy must involve a high level of self-reflection. When a chief executive asks about cloud strategy, the tech team ideally should already have a categorization of workloads and processes. They’ll often be divided up by criticality: business-critical, production, development, and regulatory. There are many other ways to do this, but here are categories that should be relevant to most businesses: cloud-friendly and cloud-possible.
Cloud-friendly workloads and processes are ready to take advantage of speed and scalability or would greatly improve either customer satisfaction or staff effectiveness. For instance, migrating non-sensitive customer data to the cloud could allow staff to perform analysis from anywhere, at any time, on any device.
Cloud-possible workloads and processes are those that could be moved to the cloud in the future but will require some work to do so, such as multiple data warehouses that each store data in different formats. You might think some applications are too sensitive and could not possibly move to the cloud, but in reality, almost any app can be moved to the cloud — just to a different type of cloud, one designed to handle critical applications.
Know thy skills
In order to achieve the maximum benefits from the cloud, it is necessary for IT staff to substantially raise their game with respect to automation and processes. Part of the value of the cloud is that you offload a bunch of work to the cloud provider. But another part is that you are able to build and tear down assets quickly. To do this properly, pretty much everything must be automated and processes adjusted to match. You should be able to push one button to deploy additional applications, servers, or services — or to turn them off again. The best IT departments are already highly automated, but even for those, using the cloud requires improvements. Part of a complete adoption plan must be a strategy for improving automation skills.
Please note: Cloud migration requires specialized skills that your staff may not have or may never have used before on your systems and will likely never use again. It’s best to find a third party or service provider to do that for you. Just because you do not have this skill set does not mean that you should not move to the cloud.
The cloud changes many other processes as well, such as security, compliance, auditing, data protection, disaster recovery, operational monitoring, accounting, and so on. The tech team should be able to explain how all of these items will be addressed in the cloud. One area to pay special attention to is monitoring. When you move from the all-you-can-eat world of on-premises computing to a pay-as-you-go model in the cloud, it’s possible to waste massive amounts of money if you aren’t careful. Your technical team should be able to explain how to control your run rate using the native tools or explain how they will deploy third-party tools to compensate for any gaps in transparency from the cloud service provider.
In fact, specialist cloud companies can assess your existing IT, assess the suitability of applications, identify the economic benefits (or lack thereof), assist with migration, and even run clouds for you if required. That can free up critical IT staff to help the business move forward with new challenges quicker.
Know the clouds
Cloud computing has been a tremendous venue for innovation. Amazon Web Services (AWS) created a cloud that has supported many web-scale applications such as Netflix and Amazon.com. But AWS is built on assumptions that do not match the way that most enterprise computing takes place. Now there are clouds from Google, Rackspace, IBM, and Virtustream (my company), all with different designs. There are virtualization technologies and private cloud infrastructures that can offer some benefits of the cloud without having to move everything off premise or to a shared environment. There are enterprise-class clouds that can run your most complex existing applications in the cloud without rewriting. There are hybrid combinations of existing IT, private, public, and enterprise clouds that are running the entire IT for Fortune 5000 companies today. Your technical team should be able to tell you which cloud deployment model and options best fits all your businesses’ workloads and why. Many IT departments are experimenting with cloud today, and it’ll be tough to compete unless your company consciously assesses its own cloud strategy.
Know the payoff
Finally, it’s essential to have an idea of the payoff for moving various workloads to the cloud. At the beginning, the payoff might be to build skills or determine what’s possible. But at some point, the payoff for each chunk of the migration should be well understood.
If an IT staff can provide detailed answers in all the areas discussed, a chief executive should feel comfortable. Few staffs will be able to provide complete answers in all these areas without a significant amount of preparation. The point is to ask the question and start a journey toward a strategy that will allow the cloud to do all it can to help your business.
Simon Aspinall is chief marketing officer at Virtustream, a cloud-software and cloud-infrastructure provider.
Virtustream (www.virtustream.com) is an innovative cloud provisioning firm committed to delivering next generation infrastructure services to enterprise class customers. We leverage our secure high performance platform, xStream, to del… read more »
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