Cloud computing is quickly evolving from a topic of debate to a corporate imperative for organizations of all sizes.
While many spent the past year trying to clearly define and understand the value of cloud computing – the ‘what’ and ‘why’ – nearly every market research survey suggests a growing number of IT and business decision-makers are moving forward in 2011 with various initiatives aimed at capitalizing on the potential savings and additional benefits promised by the ‘Cloud’.
The rapid evolution of the cloud computing movement is being driven by the same three market forces which fueled the Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) marketplace. These forces are:
• The macro-market pressures created by the lingering economic downturn and escalating competition caused by globalization and e-commerce.
• Shifting customer biases toward on-demand services rather than on-premise software and systems.
• Maturing enabling technologies that make it easier and more economical to deliver increasingly powerful and more user-friendly applications and computing resources via the Web.
The success of SaaS opened the door to a broader array of Platform-as-a-Service (PaaS) development tools and Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) capabilities.
As with any new technology wave, mainstream decision-makers have been reluctant to jump on the Cloud bandwagon until the early-adopters clearly demonstrated the reliability, security and performance of cloud services. They also wanted to get a better sense of the real business benefits, as well as the potential pitfalls before they dedicated the time and resources to determine ‘where’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ to migrate to a cloud platform.
Now that the first wave of cloud deployments have proven to be a success, organizations of all sizes across nearly every industry are formulating cloud computing strategies and target deployments. Corporate decision-makers are asking their vendors what they have to offer and how it can offload their ongoing operations and alleviate their age-old issues.
Although it seems that every vendor has a cloud strategy and portfolio of solutions, most are simply repositioning their current capabilities and rebranding their existing products.
Therefore, the first step of the process is to fully understand what cloud computing means. Cloud computing goes beyond simply virtualizing your systems and software to make them more flexible and automated. It is about deploying these highly elastic resources in a self-provisionable manner which accelerates time-to-value while lowering support costs. It is also about utilizing shared resources in which the benefits of ‘crowd-sourcing’ can take affect to permit continuous enhancements and innovations.
Private, Public, Hybrid and Community Clouds
With these principles in mind, the second step in the planning process is to recognize the trade-offs of the four primary deployment options – private, public, hybrid and community clouds.
Private clouds can provide greater control and promise stronger security, but comes at a greater cost, longer rollout cycles and less agility. Public clouds may be less expensive and promise a faster return on investment (ROI), but may not provide sufficient support. Finding the right mix within hybrid clouds, while taking advantage of community clouds geared toward specific industry requirements, will be the nirvana that most organizations require.
But, even the substantial advantages promised by the Cloud don’t alleviate many of the same challenges posed by traditional IT responsibilities. You must still determine which cloud alternatives best fit your business requirements, select the right vendor to provide the cloud service, contract for the service and monitor their performance. And, you will still need to demonstrate your corporate executives and end-users the business value of the cloud services, and help them maximize these benefits.
Oh, and by the way, you better get started quickly because some of your end-users and business units might already be moving ahead without you. Welcome to the Cloud!
Kaplan is Managing Director of THINKstrategies (www.thinkstrategies.com), an independent consulting firm focused on the business implications of the on-demand services movement. He is also the founder of the Cloud Computing Showplace (www.cloudshowplace.com). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.