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Want to reap all the benefits of the cloud? Plan for it

To get all the benefits of the cloud, sound reasoning and thorough planning are needed.

There are many benefits of the cloud. Before making the move, careful consideration should be taken as to which IT functions are suitable for the public cloud and what the return on investment might be.

New or small companies might be more likely to move all IT functions to the cloud because the cost of maintaining a data center with the required IT staff might be too great. Large or medium-sized companies will be slower to move to the cloud because they run applications difficult to move from their on-premises data centers. Imagine moving mission-critical, high-availability applications running on large Unix clusters to a cloud provider running commodity Linux or Windows servers.

Certain applications (primarily noncritical ones) and certain types of data are more suitable for the public cloud environment. Data that requires medium to high levels of privacy and security often is not moved to public clouds. For example, data that doesn't contain customer- or patient-identifying data might be moved to cloud environments, but data that contains customer or patient information typically is stored in on-premises data centers. Compliance, privacy and security issues limit the way that many IT organizations use public clouds.

The most important thing to understand about moving IT to the cloud is that it's different from on-premises IT.

The types of IT functions that medium-sized and large companies often move to the cloud include disaster recovery, public Web servers, SQL servers to exchange noncritical data with others, and media and entertainment information.

Make decisions based on sound reasoning

A major mistake some companies make when they move to the cloud is that they do not develop good, solid reasons for it. A migration to the cloud should be done if it improves business, increases flexibility and agility, and allows for the development of better products quickly. A desire to lower costs is an important reason for moving IT to the cloud, but sometimes an increase in cloud costs is acceptable if moving IT helps a business grow.

Some companies also mistakenly expect to pay for a move to the cloud based on the assumption that the cloud savings will pay for migrating IT functions. How often does this model work? Companies try it because they are working without a self-funded migration model. Set money aside early on because it may take months or years to reap the cost-saving benefits of moving to the cloud.

The importance of planning after the decision is made to move to a public cloud is something many companies underestimate. One small part of planning should include listing the processes currently used in the on-premises data center. For example, a data center may lack any virtualization, may have some virtualization or may have a lot of virtualization, and there may be an on-premises private cloud. Almost all of the on-premises processes will differ from the processes needed for the public cloud. Write down these differences and see if moving IT to the cloud is desirable.

A plan to move to the public cloud should include the following issues:

  • Staffing changes that will occur. Some companies believe they can reduce staff because of services the public cloud provider offers. But many companies do not reduce staff; they just reassign them to new duties in IT. For example, one or two staff will likely try to make sure that service-level agreements (SLAs) are being satisfied and that new services developed by the cloud provider are being kept up with, along with understanding the bill for cloud services.
  • Satisfying compliance requirements when some data is in the cloud. Healthcare, financial and many other industries have one or more compliance regulations to satisfy. No company likes dealing with compliance, even when data is all on-premises. But when data is moved to the cloud, compliance may become more difficult. A cloud service provider has to cooperate, and some do (e.g., Amazon Web Services), but the company is ultimately responsible for meeting regulatory compliance requirements. During the planning exercise, compliance should be one of the most important things taken into consideration when a cloud provider is selected.
  • Choosing a cloud service provider. Choosing a service provider, for some companies, is the scariest part of moving IT to the public cloud. Be sure to ask questions such as: Where is my data stored? Can I move my data to another cloud when I want to without penalties? Will the service provider honor my SLAs for security, performance, availability and compliance? Does the provider have frequent increases in cost?

Documents speaking to the planning, pitfalls and benefits of the cloud can be found on the Web. However, the most important thing to understand about moving IT to the cloud is that it's different from on-premises IT. On-premises applications were most likely designed to run on an infrastructure that is not the same as a cloud provider's infrastructure.

Many of the applications in an on-premises data center will not fit the cloud. Some applications, like Web applications, may fit the cloud with few, if any modifications. To use the cloud as part of a current and future IT strategy to improve business, you will almost certainly have to build new applications adapted to the cloud, or alter existing ones.

About the author:
Bill Claybrook is a marketing research analyst with more than 35 years of experience in the computer industry, with the last dozen years in Linux, open source and cloud computing. Bill previously was research director for Linux and open source at The Aberdeen Group in Boston and a competitive analyst and Linux product-marketing manager at Novell. He is currently president of New River Marketing Research and Directions on Red Hat. He holds a doctorate in computer science.

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What are some of the benefits of the cloud your organization has realized?
At first, I was hesitant to use the cloud at my contact center - it would be quite a change from how we'd always done things. The main characteristic that changed my mind was how the cloud could scale with my business with virtually no problem at all. This was really enticing - as a somewhat new business owner (in my first few years), I wanted to know that I could grow in the future without too much of an expense now - the cloud provides exactly that peace of mind.