IT leaders start to question cloud interoperability

As security issues around cloud-based systems begin to be addressed, concerns around how to make applications talk to each other have begun to move to the front of CIOs' minds, according to research.

As security issues around cloud-based systems begin to be addressed, concerns around how to make applications talk to each other have begun to move to the front of CIOs' minds, according to research.

A survey by PA Consulting Group and Harvey Nash earlier this year suggests that just under 50% of 2,500 business polled were not planning on entering the cloud in 2010 due to reasons ranging from level of cloud maturity (mentioned by 13% of respondents) to security (21%). 

Six months later, PA revisited some of the initial findings of the original research in conversations with clients and found that businesses now perceive cloud as less of a hype and more as a viable option.

The consulting firm adds that concerns such as security are now being addressed by some of the main providers such as Google, which backs up information and also splits data across several servers, thus enabling them to eliminate single points of failure and also offer an almost guaranteed service level agreement when it comes to security.

While some of these trepidations remain, organisations are also facing additional challenges in ensuring that the individual services within their IT portfolio can work together, or interoperate, successfully, according to the consulting firm.

A highlight of the early findings from PA's follow-up survey around cloud adoption, which involved 17 qualitative interviews with CIOs across the UK, US and Europe suggests that legacy inertia and immature standards across organisations' IT estate are starting to become an issue as cloud uptake increases, prompting IT leaders to question how they can make it work for their businesses.

""Businesses have to be sure that their processes work to because there isn't the opportunity to fallback on their existing supplier base when there are any glitches. It would be an unforgiving environment, so businesses will have to raise the bar and learn how they deal with any [cloud-related] issues," said Alastair McAulay, IT infrastructure expert at PA Consulting.

Bypassing the IT department

Another point made in the survey is that cloud is becoming a business issue, as users could buy their own cloud-based systems, thus bypassing the IT department. This in turn increases the risk of security incidents and also means that these user-procured systems are disconnected from the overall business IT set-up that is already in place, causing further complications.

"You may even need to boost your retained organisation - if you are handling fundamental change may need to boost the quality of your enterprise architecture resource to ensure there aren't any gaps when shifting systems like your email, that the whole set-up holds together and that the roadmap is coherent," said McAulay.

 According to PA's IT specialist Rupert Chapman, such 'islands of independence' are now being brought on to the mainstream. On the other hand, this also means that the IT department is much more open to collaborating and that is part of the maturing aspect of trying to solve the interoperability dilemma.

"Organisations now have be much more specific about their organisational, technical and process accountabilities. Adoption of 'off the peg' cloud solutions is shining a spotlight around responsibility into the grey areas of services delivery that had been previously open to interpretation in traditional IT services contacts," he said.

 "The bigger picture is that some of the skills needed within IT, particularly in areas such as supplier management are having to change as a consequence of these developments."

PA foresees that over the new few years, the majority of businesses will be procuring cloud-based services from multiple vendors or use their traditional systems in addition to the cloud.

Even though businesses may lose the sole direct control over some components of an application in future, the consulting firm recommends that organisations ensure that best practice is in place in order to avoid interoperability-related issues.

Before using cloud services, IT leaders should ensure they are able to:

• Transfer data between the cloud and existing corporate systems without losing any richness of data

• Achieve seamless functionality between the cloud and existing corporate systems

• Transfer data and achieve functional integration across different cloud service providers

• Allow users to log on once, irrespective of where the various services they require are hosted.

Source: PA Consulting

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