For Wikibon’s August 7, 2012 Peer Incite Research Meeting, we were joined by Peak Colo’s Luke Norris, who lead an excellent discussion about how modern networks need to be architected and offered some insights into how the roles of the IT department and the CIO might be affected as organizations move to embrace cloud services.
A refreshing change of pace
Personally, I found our conversation refreshing. While a believer in cloud services, Mr. Norris understands that naturally risk-adverse IT organizations will be loathe to simply supplant their working infrastructures in favor of outsourcing the whole environment to a third party. In other words, cloud adoption can be conducted in steps that make sense and in evolutionary ways and that will build confidence in the ability of the cloud to deliver.
Too often, we hear about providers wanting to basically take the place of the existing IT staff. This kind of talk makes people nervous and defensive and is a part of the reason that "cloud" gets a bad rap in many IT shops.
It’s the latency, stupid!
I’ve long believed that bandwidth is the Achilles Heel for many cloud services particularly for users in the many remote areas that cannot get the bandwidth services they need. However, a short discussion with Mr. Norris has changed my thinking in a couple of ways. He showed me that it’s not necessarily sheer bandwidth that might prevent organizations from jumping on cloud. The real issue is latency. After all, even remote areas can get all the bandwidth they need if they’re willing to pay the right price, but if they are too remote, latency issues will negatively impact any procured service.
As more providers spring up in more areas, the latency issues will eventually dissipate, but that is one key factor that today’s CIOs must consider when looking at any cloud services provider.
SLAs as a part of the admin skill set
Even a minor move into the cloud will require that CIOs and IT staff members make adjustments to accommodate the shift. Just as companies began to hire people with client/server skill sets in the waning days of the mainframe, companies will need to acquire skill sets that are necessary to embrace third-party provided cloud services and to integrate those products into existing on-premises services.
First, CIOs and IT staffers with data center responsibilities will need to hone their contract management and monitoring chops as the organization begins to acquire services that are key to business outcomes. I feel that those with the technical knowledge of the underlying services are natural fits for this contract management responsibility, at least in the early stages, as they will have the most success in ensuring that vendors adhere to the terms of their contracts and to ensure that the organization is actually receiving the services that it needs. What this creates is an opportunity for expansion for existing IT staff members rather than an opportunity for downsizing on the part of the organization. These IT staff members’ skill sets will play a critical role in the success or failure of cloud-based initiatives.
These admins-turned-contract-admins will need to learn that 100% SLAs are impossible and learn to negotiate SLAs that are realistic for both the company and the cloud provider. It’s easy to look at a cloud provider as an enemy to be overcome, but when both sides come together with a partnership-driven agreement that addresses the needs and challenges of both parties, wonderful outcomes can ensue.
Over time, IT staffers with data center responsibilities will also need to become integration specialists, helping the organization leverage the cloud services it buys to achieve maximum benefit.
I like to think of these integration efforts as “tightly loose.” They must be deep and broad and look like extensions of the enterprise architecture, but they need to be abstracted enough so that the company can easily shift to a new IaaS provider if the need arises.
Building such integrations also requires people with broad and deep technical skills.
The governance issue
CIOs will also need to consider the effect that cloud services may have on IT governance discussions, particularly when it comes to decisions that involve cloud providers. It would be easy to see cloud as a panacea that means that anything and everything gets done right now. CIOs need to get in front of the governance issue by making it clear that governance structures still need to perform their traditional roles. Embracing the cloud is simply one aspect of what IT will do to meet needs that involve IT governance, but it doesn’t mean that governance groups dictate such moves.
Streamline the business in baby steps and keep risk managers happy
One aspect that I particularly like about Peak Colo’s solution is that its service can become a simple logical extension of a customer’s existing data center environment. To me, this alleviates many concerns. First, CIOs purchasing such as service can do so in well-defined steps that should reduce the natural angst that will arise as IT jobs change.
From a risk management perspective, this is big. It allows “toe dipping” into the cloud waters without having to take the whole plunge all at once. It also demonstrates that the IT group retains control of the solution; control is not simply being handed over to some vendor. In fact, such services can be easily considered an enablement. They can enable IT to get things up and running more quickly than was possible in the past, and they can do it on their terms.
Loss-of-control issues become moot when cloud initiatives are approached in smaller steps and in clear and methodical ways because IT is clearly in the driver’s seat, watching out for the best interests of the company in ways that make the most business and economic sense.
Action Item: CIOs need to begin now by laying the groundwork for such services. First and foremost, begin working with IT staff on contract management skills and, if possible, begin to talk about the cloud as a natural progression and make sure that IT staff members clearly understand their role in a changing IT landscape. Keeping IT staff focused on the business outcomes of their work and helping them understand that the change does not mean the end is key to a successful embracing of new services.