Whether you want to take your IT operations to the public cloud, keep them on-premise, host off-premise using a private cloud model, or indeed choose to invest in a hybrid configuration, the IT Manager must start with a clear understanding of what they are trying to achieve from an IT and business perspective before embarking on their cloud journey.
This may seem like stating the obvious, but at Wanstor we have seen several cases recently where businesses have invested in cloud computing models without thinking about the outcomes they want from a cloud computing strategy.
It can be tempting to get caught up in debates and discussions about “cloud technology”, after all it is a major IT trend which lots of IT and business leaders are talking about in various online and offline publications. However just because something is a hot topic doesn’t mean the fundamental questions of business need are not addressed:
- What are the key drivers for change?
- Do we need to change?
- Are we trying to reduce operational costs?
- What do we need to do to improve the IT infrastructure environment to better support the business?
- How can we make staff more productive through IT?
- What is the right approach for achieving IT objectives over the next 12 months?
Obviously these are not simple questions with simple answers. As Wanstor has learned from our experience of working with 100’s of businesses across the UK on private cloud migration projects, the unique challenges of cloud computing require new ways of thinking, planning, and cross business collaboration to achieve common IT and business goals.
We’ve also seen that success can happen early in a cloud computing engagement by those IT leaders who are able to frame a realistic strategy at the beginning, which has definition and appreciation for the capabilities and limitations of the businesses they lead.
At Wanstor we say business decision makers need to have a “cloud frame of mind.” We believe a “cloud frame of mind” should be used to tackle the various strategic considerations required in a private cloud deployment project.
So let’s start at the beginning, what are you trying to do with your private cloud project?
Generally private clouds are invested in for one of 3 major business reasons:
- Reduce time to market: Implement new business solutions quickly to accelerate revenue growth.
- Better enable the solution development life cycle: Speed up business solutions through better development and test, and a fast path to production.
- Be more responsive to business change: Deliver quickly on new requirements for existing business solutions.
- Reduce operational costs: Optimize daily operational costs like people, power, and space.
- Reduce capital costs or move to annuity-based operational costs: Benefit from reduced IT physical assets and more pay-peruse services.
- Make IT costs transparent: Service consumers better understand what they are paying for.
- Consistently deliver to better defined service levels: Better service leads to increased customer satisfaction.
- Ensure continuity of service: Minimise service interruption.
- Ensure regulatory compliance: Manage the compliance requirements that may increase in complexity with online services.
Where businesses locate their needs amongst these primary drivers and define their objectives as they consider their cloud computing options is a basic starting point in the process. For many in IT the private cloud is proving especially attractive, mainly for what it offers in terms of control over matters of security, data access, and regulatory compliance. Their primary interest in a private cloud architecture revolves around the pressures to cut costs without sacrificing control over essential data, core applications, or business-critical processes. The main secondary interests around private cloud computing are more to do with business growth and the possibilities it offers in terms of scaling workloads at different times of the year. This shows that IT leaders are beginning to think seriously about cloud computing as a way to turn IT into a business enabler rather than being seen as a costly department by other business unit leaders.
As identified above there are several drivers IT leaders are investigating as a means of reasoning to move workloads to a private cloud model. Once the IT leader has identified business needs and objectives, they should take the time to understand the capabilities, limitations, and complexities of their current IT environment, which starts by performing an analysis of technical and organisation maturity vs different capabilities of cloud computing. The next step is then to determine where you want to take your IT team and the business it is serving, and assessing the prerequisites for the desired objectives.
Many of the businesses we work with, start at a basic stage along their cloud optimisation journey. Usually they have already managed to consolidate infrastructure resources for better cost efficiencies through virtualization. If your business fits this profile, an acceptable outcome might be to advance your business to the next stage by implementing more sophisticated infrastructure level resource pooling, which would achieve still greater cost savings as well as a measure of improved time to market. Similarly, your current business capabilities may put you somewhere in the middle of the cloud maturity model, with a relatively high degree of sophistication in business areas you consider your top priorities, such as being able to respond to seasonal shifts in demand for example.
While your ultimate goal might be to bring platform as a service (PaaS) and software as a service (SaaS) architectures so you can leverage a larger set of hybrid cloud capabilities, such as anytime, anywhere access for your customers built on a unified set of compute, network, and storage resources, your near-term focus in the context of an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) model may just be in moving the dial specifically on automated provisioning and de-provisioning of resources. It’s in this approach, by making deliberate, incremental progress in the service of a longer-term strategy that real IT transformation occurs on a private cloud model.
The way forward is to recognise that changing to a functional private cloud model is an evolutionary process, where the investments you make in technology solutions must be evenly matched at each step by the maturity of your business in managing them. Your strategy must be carefully applied in those areas where your business is likely to benefit most. Indeed, not all capabilities of a private cloud need to be, or should be exploited.
The real task lies in balancing the potential goods of a private cloud solution against actual business needs, understanding your capabilities and limitations at each stage of the process, and putting a plan in place that charts a realistic, achievable course of action for getting it done.
The objectives you choose for your private cloud will raise a number of questions about the various technical and organisational implications of implementing your solution. Below are some examples of the kinds of questions IT Managers need to be able to ask in order to frame a comprehensive and realistic strategy for achieving private cloud objectives.
Self-service – Do you want to allow your users to provision the resources they need on-demand without human intervention? How much control should you relinquish? What are the potential consequences of offering a self-service model for common tasks? Will cloud computing be left unchecked and unused if individual users can select their own licences and usage limits, if so how much money will this cost the business, if accounts are left unused?
Usage-based – Pay-per-service, or “chargeback,” is one of the hallmarks of cloud computing, and if your private cloud strategy includes driving greater transparency of costs for better resource planning, you need to know the incentives you are trying to drive. Are you trying to reward good behaviour and punish bad? Do you wish to push more round-the-clock workloads to night time operations for power savings that support your company’s environmental initiatives?
Elasticity – Being able to respond efficiently to fluctuations in resource usage can represent a major selling point for cloud computing. It is important to consider first whether you really need a sophisticated system of automated provisioning and de-provisioning of servers to deal with fluctuations in demand. If significant and relatively unpredictable, then this capability may be appropriate. If the need is regular and predictable, straightforward automation may be sufficient for your purposes. Other questions you need to ask: Which applications are priorities, and which can be pushed back in terms of priorities?
Pooled resources – Consolidating resources to save on infrastructure, platform, and/or software costs is a common goal for large-scale IT operations. If you’re in a medium/large business with several independent departments potentially with their own IT operations, you are likely to encounter critical questions of process: E.g. Will independent groups deal with the inherent limitations of shared infrastructure and services? Will standardised configurations come at the cost of the optimised systems to which they’ve grown accustomed? As you move forward in the process of pooling your resources to get the benefits, you need to be aware of the likely trade-offs in putting everyone on a standard set of services. It may well be worth the cost to the business as a whole, but it may not seem that way to those who lose capabilities or levels of service to which they’ve been accustomed.
Comprehensive network access – As you move out from behind the business firewall and away from tightly controlled client configurations and network access scenarios, there are several important considerations that will need to inform your strategy, beyond the obvious concerns over security, such as the nature and extent of supportability: What kinds of personal devices will you support and to what degree? How will mobile clients (smartphones, operating systems and tablets) access network resources, and will you have the right levels of bandwidth to service them? What forms of authentication will you support?
Whatever objectives you are aiming to achieve, the important point to note is that building a private cloud is a process for which there are numerous tactical and strategic considerations. A successful private cloud implementation relies on the ability to think through all facets of the undertaking, clearly understanding the dependencies, trade-offs, limitations, and opportunities of any particular strategy. The reality for most businesses is that an incremental private cloud strategy is the only realistic path, given the technical and organisational complexity of current IT operations which exist as the business has invested large sums of money into them over a period of time.
Expectations and realities of cloud computing in a business IT context can prove a challenge to resolve. Many IT leaders understand why an incremental approach is needed, but those outside IT, are less clear about the real implications of implementing a cloud solution. The right strategy for achieving private cloud objectives must also include an appropriate communications strategy for setting and managing expectations for the business as a whole. With the whole business informed, from the board room to the front office, the hard work of defining and executing on your private cloud strategy is far more likely to achieve its objectives and set your business on the path to long-term success in the cloud.
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