So far we talked about the problems the Cloud solve in Why the Cloud: Aggravation, Accounting and Agility. Then we talked about What the Cloud is by looking at the front face of the PurposeFul Clouds Cloud Cube: Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS). Lastly we talked about how the Cloud is implemented in How Does the Cloud Work: Public, Private, and Hybrid Clouds.
The Cloud is real. It is available today from a variety of vendors. You really can move capital expense to operational expense, and save money at the same time. You really can get increased agility to react to changes in your business, and it really can remove the aggravation of managing your own IT. The respected IT research and advisory company Gartner says that “Cloud Computing will help 20% of businesses eliminate hardware infrastructure by 2012.” Steve Ballmer, CEO of Microsoft, is betting his company’s future on the Cloud. In March of 2010 he said “For the cloud, we’re all in” and further stating “About 75 percent of our folks are doing entirely cloud based or entirely cloud inspired [work], a year from now that will be 90 percent.” If you fail to take at least significant parts of your IT to the Cloud, you will be behind your competition – financially and in agility.
So, it’s time to move to the Cloud? Yes, but walk to the Cloud, do not run. Move slowly and deliberately.
Every one of your applications, whether they are third party or your own, has a set of characteristics and requirements in the following areas:
- Regulations and Compliance
- Policy and Processes
It is unlikely that two of your applications will have the same set of characteristics and requirements. Each application has to be separately analyzed, understood, and placed in the appropriate place in the Cloud: SaaS, PaaS, IaaS; public, private or hybrid Cloud.
Today there are a three-digit number of Cloud Service Providers (CSPs), the companies that can host your IT in their Cloud infrastructure. I expect there will be a four-digit number of CSPs in the next two or three years, and only a two-digit number of viable CSPs in five years. These have a huge variety of capabilities, strengths and weaknesses. Each can support aspects of the Cloud to different degrees. Many have a separate internal organizations to support a private Cloud, and a different one to support a public Cloud. They will have a lot of trouble putting together a hybrid Cloud for you.
Most have Service Level Agreements (SLAs) for availability, but they vary greatly. I’ve never seen a case where they would ever give you credit for more than what you are paying them, and you have to read the SLAs very carefully. In most cases, the credits don’t kick in until you have been down for some significant number of minutes, or even hours. Performance SLAs are even weaker, and I haven’t seen a measurable security SLA.
Data security is critical, and I have posted ten questions you should ask, and answer, about your data before moving it to the Cloud.
The Cloud can make disaster recovery easier.
How do you choose?
- How do you choose which application(s) to move to the Cloud first?
To start, look for an application that is not critical to your operation, doesn’t have strict security requirements, has reasonable availability and performance requirements, can be moved to the Cloud without changing a lot of internal processes, and which can show some real financial benefit. You may have skeptics in your organization or senior management. It is important to start with a clear success.
- How do you choose where the application fits within the Cloud?
Usually, the analysis you have done about the application will lead you to the answer. If your software vendor or a third party already offers the application as Software as a Service, the answer may be obvious. That is often low hanging fruit – they already have the processes to move into the Cloud, usually have SLAs that match the business requirements of the application, and will usually charge on a business basis rather than an IT structure. For example, if it is a financial application, they may charge on the basis of the number of accounts or the number of transactions instead of the number of four-socket servers and data storage size. This can make it easier to convince the financial people in your organization that there are real savings.
- How do you choose the right CSP?
You should pick the CSP in the same way you make any other critical IT decisions. Create an RFP (request for proposal) based on your analysis and send it to a handful of CSPs that have demonstrated capability in the Cloud space the application will require, and do due diligence on the company and the response. In my experience, the CSPs welcome a detailed RFP and will provide a quick response usually within a week or two.
The key is planning.
- The selected CSP will help you in the on-boarding process – getting your applications and data into the Cloud.
- Test before you go live. This includes verifying that any disaster recovery claims made by the CSP actually work as intended with your applications and data.
- Make any internal process changes and get buy-in from the stakeholders.
- Measure after you go live. Make sure you continue to meet your performance and availability goals.
- Periodically review everything. Watch for cost creep caused by unnecessary growth in usage. Because most CSPs will automatically provide additional server and storage capabilities as you use them, it is easy to just put additional demands on the application since it doesn’t impact performance. This can be of real value, as you can get new business intelligence data out that you never could before. Or it could be that someone decides to run the monthly report every day just because. Like anything else, make sure you get real value for the cost increase.
Plan to go in, but also plan to go out. If my prediction is even close, at some point one of your CSPs will disappear, be absorbed into another company with a different philosophy, or just no longer be appropriate for your application. You can take as much time as you want to plan getting an application into the Cloud. If you read your CSP contract, you will find that they can kick you out with 30 days notice, or even less. Before you move data and applications to a CSP, make sure you have a plan to move your data and applications out of a CSP. Test the process before you go live.
The last word:
Unless you have Cloud experts on your staff, don’t do this by yourself. Find someone you trust who understands the Cloud and has the skills to help you do the discovery, analysis, CSP choice, planning, implementation and on-going review. Then enjoy the trip.
Keep your sense of humor.