I was listening to a recent Q&A session with Pat O’Day, CTO of Bluelock. Bluelock provides mid-size and large enterprises flexible IT infrastructure solutions with its virtual datacenters in the public Cloud. He made a number of interesting points, but one of them really stood out as a nicely succinct way of saying something I have been talking about in these postings: “The journey is different for everyone.”
Years ago I worked with two customers about the same size in the same line of business, doing the same things with IT. In fact they were running on the same mainframe hardware, using essentially the same software products. While there were many IT lessons that could be shared between these two companies, their business focus was just different enough that the way they handled hardware and software upgrades and disaster recovery were not the same. Lessons learned in these areas at one customer could not be applied to the other except at a very high “something to think about” level.
It is the same with your journey to the Cloud. Your business needs and goals will have a significant impact on your final Cloud destination and the path to get there, or at least they should. Beware the sales person who tells you his company just moved your biggest competitor to the Cloud, and they can do the same thing for you. Maybe they can; but, if they don’t start with finding out exactly why you want to move to the Cloud, what benefits you are looking for, and what your strategic plan is for market, product or geographic expansion, then I would be very hesitant. They have a plan, and they can probably execute it perfectly, but it may not be “your” plan, you probably will end up in a suboptimum place, and the journey may be more difficult than necessary.
Most companies are just contemplating Cloud Computing or in the process of moving to the Cloud for the first time. They may have successfully moved to virtualization, and now feel ready to begin their journey. True, virtualization is an important step. But virtualization is a technology change. While it can be a real challenge for some applications, it is something that most IT shops can do themselves or easily contract for outside help. Carefully done, it can be invisible outside of the IT organization – everything works just as it did, just less expensively and with more flexibility. There are some significant operational changes necessary within the IT organization, but again there are best practices and you can get help.
The Cloud, however, is not product like VMware; it is a concept. It is a concept that can be implemented in dozens of different ways, and each way presents opportunities and risks. Those opportunities and risks probably vary among different applications in the same IT shop, and it may be difficult to predict them if your staff lacks significant Cloud knowledge.
While this may be your first toe in the Cloud exercise, your chosen Cloud Service Provider (CSP) has done dozens, hundreds or perhaps thousands of these journeys. They do have the expertise and experience to do it right and get you smoothly into the Cloud. If, and it is a big if, they really understand your situation and priorities.
You need to know exactly what applications you are taking to the Cloud, in what order, and what process change must accompany that journey. You need to be concerned about organization-wide issues such as backup, life cycle management, security, and auditability during the journey. In short, you need a plan. Your plan, based on your unique business needs and goals. It is best if you have the plan before you select your CSP as very few of them provide all of the Cloud’s capabilities.
Many companies move to the Cloud to save money. Often this is the most important reason as they start their journey. Sometimes it takes them a while to figure out exactly how much they are saving, especially since they are paying for something significantly different. No longer are you paying for specific Intel processors in a box with so-much memory, but you are paying for access to exactly the amount of performance that you need. Same with storage and network – you aren’t buying, you are paying for it as you use it. Capital expense has migrated to operating expense. This requires a different skill set in your IT department. The people who used to run around keeping your network performance up or balancing utilization across a dozen different applications do not need to do that anymore; your Cloud Service Provider is handling that, probably better than your own team ever could. Now you need people who are paying more attention to your strategic objectives and finding new ways to use these new capabilities. Most companies do save significant money moving to the Cloud, but their real benefits are often in terms of agility. They now can react this afternoon instead of next month to even severe demand increases and decreases caused by opportunities or setbacks.
Think about what this kind of agility is worth to your company.
The last word:
I always ask the company’s senior management about their tolerance for risk. Just like some people are willing to take large personal investment risks to get high potential returns, some companies are willing to take risks for real gain from the Cloud. I’ve noticed that, like people, the older a company is the more likely it is to have a low tolerance to risk. It has an engrained culture and set of processes that have proven successful for decades, and change is expected and planned for, but tightly controlled. I have seen a number of Cloud journeys interrupted by a C-level executive simply because of perceived risk.
As you plan your journey to the Cloud, take this factor into account and keep your senior management team well informed of the risks and opportunities. It is far better to find out early that your plan needs to be modified.
Keep your sense of humor.