When an organization decides to plunge into cloud services to either replace or augment local infrastructure and services, some important internal questions must be answered. Five of these are discussed below:
How does the cloud solution impact the organizational budget?
Organizations make the decision to embrace the public cloud for any number of reasons, but most of them generally boil down to pure economics. Faster application deployment, better recovery opportunities, less capital cost… those all come down to wanting to make more money faster and ensure a continuing revenue stream.
As such, perhaps the most important question an organization should ask itself before doing business with a cloud provider is how it impacts both capital and ongoing operational budgets. For example, if moving to a cloud-based service eliminates the need for dozens of local servers and the associated storage and network for those servers, there will be a positive impact on the company’s capital expenditures. However, the cloud service will not be free. As such, there will be an increase in operational costs associated with subscribing to the cloud service. Further, there may be additional operational savings through reductions in such items as software licensing (i.e. VMware). Finally, there may be changes that need to be made to the IT staffing structure. I will discuss IT staffing and the cloud in another article.
The initial effort to understand the cost of a cloud solution is, perhaps, one of the most significant undertakings that the CIO will perform.
Are internal skill sets and systems prepared for inclusion of cloud technologies?
For many, the cloud remains, well, cloudy. It’s just a marketing term that has been overused and over hyped. But the reality is that the cloud requires people to think a little differently about their jobs. Now, the server and networking teams must consider an additional environment in which organizational applications operate. Further, everyone in internal IT who is tasked with supporting cloud-based services must become an expert at ensuring that service levels meet contractual obligations.
Further, IT staff need to learn how to navigate the new environment. What are the potential roadblocks to these activities taking place? Such roadblocks might include lack of training or even union contract restrictions. Before you sign on the bottom line, make sure your staff is up to the challenge and that nothing could pop up unexpectedly that could derail your plans.
Additionally, IT must ensure that management and monitoring systems are sufficient to encompass the new workloads. In fact, when it comes to holding a cloud vendor accountable to a service level agreement (SLA), ongoing monitoring becomes absolutely critical.
How does cloud impact IT governance and workflows?
Before a CIO signs an agreement to move services into the cloud, it’s important to understand the potential impact—if any—that such a move could have on your internal governance structure. While I firmly believe that IT should remain central to all technology decisions regardless of where services run, a move to the cloud may have an impact on internal resources that could justify a reorganization of priorities or even a change in the way that projects are funded and executed.
Likewise, as is the case for any kind of significant platform shift, IT and any other affected business units must ensure that existing workflows are sufficient to support the new provider. There may be a need to enter a period of development during which IT prepares itself for the cloud migration. This activity will need to be considered in the overall governance process and prioritized against other business needs.
On what metrics will we select and monitor one or more cloud providers?
When it comes to monitoring the performance of a provider, one has only to look at the SLA to determine whether or not the provider is meeting the letter of their obligation. However, as a company, there must be a serious discussion beyond the SLA that determines first and foremost which provider will be selected and, once that selection takes place, how that provider will be measured when it comes time for contract renewal.
Because there is really no serious standardization between providers yet, making a jump from one to another can be a time-consuming undertaking. As such, ensure that your provider can meet all of your expectations beyond a simple up/down SLA. Among the service-related questions to ask might be, for example, “At what point does latency become considered a service disruption?”
You might also consider such items as timeliness and accuracy of billing and general customer support capability and attitude. While those may sound unimportant, over time bad billing and support becomes a major problem.
In what way does the new environment impact disaster recovery/business continuity plans?
For the last of my five important internal questions, consider the impact that a migration to the cloud may have on your disaster recovery and business continuity planning efforts. After all, as soon as you shift the landscape for a mission critical business application, the items that support that application change as well.
If an application is running internally, you might consider running a cluster backed by a generator, redundant network connections and the like. In the cloud, you may need to consider running an application in geographically disparate service zones to ensure availability in the event that the provider’s service goes down.
Additionally, consider what steps you can possibly take if your cloud provide does happen to fail. If the impact is significant, you might consider running services across providers or maintaining a hot standby locally.
The specifics will depend on individual needs, but don’t forget to think about the unthinkable.
Action Item: The cloud era is quickly coming upon us, and I believe that many CIOs will avail themselves and their companies of the opportunities that are presented by this new platform. However, as is the case with every major business shift, there are significant internal questions that must be asked before jumping in. Make sure you’re prepared to answer these – and more – critical business questions before you sign the contract.