Getting cloud under control: A how-to guide for CIOs

In this guest post, Dave Locke, chief technology advisor for Europe, Middle East and Africa, at IT service provider World Wide Technology, sets out why organisations need a clear, consistent and easy-to-follow strategy to keep their cloud plans in check.

In August 2006, Google’s then-CEO Eric Schmidt, used the term ‘cloud computing’ at an industry conference to describe the emerging model of running data services and architecture on virtual servers.

“I don’t think people have understood how big the opportunity really is,” Schmidt said, adding that “an awful lot of people are still trying to do stuff the old way.”

In the 13 years that have passed, fuelled by a staggering pace of innovation and fierce competition between hyperscale providers, the public cloud has reached near-ubiquity in business.

So much so CIOs are under increased pressure to fully detach from the ‘old way’ of IT management and drive a cloud strategy better aligned to the business’ ambitions for scale and flexibility.

The appeal of the public cloud for data management and service provision is incontrovertible. It offers businesses the ability to move applications and data from static on-premise environments towards more flexible architectures where they can draw on the near-limitless range of tools and services offered by the various public cloud providers.

In essence, they gain access to a range of choice that wasn’t achievable in their own datacentre. But cloud is not always the best solution.

With the relative ease of accessing these cloud services – combined with the hype and fervour that often surrounds cloud adoption – the risk arises that businesses can find themselves contracted to a greater public cloud presence than they’d anticipated.

Compounding this, different business units may bypass the IT department to source their own services, opening up a range of questions around governance, visibility and risk management, not to mention the high cost of running unnecessary cloud workloads.

Compelling reasons to move to cloud

Driven by competitive factors, businesses are understandably keen to migrate to the cloud. In the race to adopt new technology, however, it can be easy to lose sight of what this means in reality.

Finding best fit service provision starts with the understanding that businesses should look to migrate data and applications to the public cloud only where it is necessary.

Cloud migration is not a goal in itself; they need to look to gain new capabilities that can only be provided by the cloud.

Businesses should therefore assess all the applications and services they require before mapping them to the differing strengths of the providers, along with the appropriate cost structures.

A common misconception when migrating to the public cloud is that it’s cheaper by default. While in some instances this may be the case, having this mentality can be dangerous as without proper management costs can easily spiral, often leading to ‘bill shock’ which can jeopardise the success of the entire cloud strategy.

The approach should be aligned to company goals and the best return on investment, rather than on cost-cutting.

Installing governance

For many organisations, the use of cloud computing has involved a lengthy period of trial and experimentation. Business users, both on an individual and unit basis, have tested various tools and applications to serve their needs. The issue many businesses have found is that coordination of such dispersed efforts is hard to control, leading to inconsistent management protocols.

Indeed, it’s often the case that more senior or technically-savvy personnel are only brought into the discussion when issues emerge, by which point the damage is already done.

The need for clear policies and governance on cloud usage has therefore emerged as an important consideration. This extends from auditing what data needs to be transferred to the cloud to gaining clear visibility on where data is and how it’s accessed.

For the CIO, having a unified data strategy with complete visibility is key to executing the business’ cloud strategy. This requires building a record of important information, recording views and managing access requests, backed up with stringent policies and the use of third party applications to analyse, model and track their data.

Take back control of cloud

Fundamental problems in digital transformation occur when businesses attempt to approach the future using old thinking. Migration to the cloud isn’t about transferring old processes and implementing incremental change.

It presents an opportunity to create new ways of working, not just bolting old methods onto new technology. The businesses that examine their cloud strategy from the ground up will find greater visibility and control.

A well-designed and practical cloud strategy provides businesses with the opportunity to manage their applications and business services on the most suitable platforms to help deliver best in class solutions.

This doesn’t mean racing to degrade their legacy IT infrastructure, but having the level of control required to make intelligent decisions on which components are best suited to each platform, and piece them together into one holistic solution. CIOs need to be conscious that all elements of a hybrid solution come with cost implications and so should weigh the costs and benefits of each part of its technology deployment carefully.

Cloud adoption presents the chance to embrace true change, but it is not a panacea to every business issue. Only with a thorough plan can you determine if transferring to the cloud makes good business sense, and ensure that you gain control of your cloud estate.

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Data Management