To cloud or not to cloud - that is the question. Whether 'tis nobler to run one's own SAN or to suffer the T&Cs of a cloud server and take arms against a sea of lawyers that are opposed to reasonable SLAs and by opposing lose your business?
It's one of the most vexing questions facing IT executives today? How much infrastructure should we outsource? And like the Danish prince, will we lose sleep over the decision? It's a decision that strikes at the core of effective service delivery for CIOs trying to deliver the most bang for buck in the post GFC recovery.
It's clear that the GFC of 2009 affected technology delivery organisations. For example, IDC has surveyed CIOs for over 15 years, asking them who they report to in the executive suite. Until 2008, the statistics consistently showed that about half of the senior IT executives in businesses reported to someone other than the CEO. But in 2008, there was a massive shift with almost 75% of CIOs reporting to the CEO. Clearly, there was a huge shift happening. But the GFC hit and things returned to the old status quo.
Tim Dillon, AVP Asia Pacific End User & Mobility Research with IDC says that the GFC arrested that shift. CFOs took control again as they like "relatively stable capex and opex. The GFC drove a lot of interest in the cloud with structured cost models".
Gartner's research, from their 2011 CIO Agenda Survey, confirmed that IT budgets were stable, increasing by less than 2%. That push to greater financial restraint has seen cloud computing moving to become the highest priority item on CIO roadmaps
Look at processes
The investment in cloud services isn't as simple as copying a bunch of data to some external storage array and reaping the benefits of reduced costs. As the official Head Geek at SolarWinds, Josh Stephens says that one of the keys is "to invest in the process. In times of technical change we focus too much on the technology and not enough on the process. It's especially important in the areas cloud, both public and private virtualisation and storage, that there's a focus on process because the changes that are being made in how we are supporting technology are pretty dramatic".
Clive Gold, the Marketing CTO for EMC Corporation, Australia and New Zealand says that while the cost benefits are often the driver for looking at cloud solutions, there are many other benefits that can be realised. "Distribution of information and having information online wherever you are at almost local network speed. The first thing we find is that they miss this as a potential benefit".
EMC has been working with a TV station recently. When they receive content from a producer overseas they find that could services act as an electronic replacement for the way they used to ship film and tape rather than using the cloud as a distribution and management system. Because of this, they miss on some of the potential benefits.
Where is the cloud?
Often, there's a perception that cloud services are housed overseas, raising concerns that sensitive data might be held in countries where data security and access laws are not understood. In turn, this puts companies ill at ease so the potential benefits are lost. However, many cloud storage providers such as Telstra, Optus and Melbourne IT house their storage in Australia. "People don't realise how much of this is available from suppliers that we know and trust" says Gold.
Melbourne IT's Chief Technology Officer Glenn Gore says that his customers like being able to work with a local cloud provider for a couple of reasons. "Hosting within Australia is important for some applications and the type of data they're using needs to be located in Australia. Also, the support side is important. They want an organisation that is right-sized for them. They want a company that's stable but small enough if they want to talk to a real human for support".
Managing the Cloud
Businesses implementing cloud solutions need the right people with the required skills and doing tasks that are different to the traditional IT role. Stephens says that "With so much thin provisioning in the virtualisation layer and with storage area networks there are a lot of performance gains to be had from real-time optimisation. While in many cases you can decrease the number of lower-level system administrators and network administrators that you might have because of virtualisation and cloud computing, what you need to invest in is senior level infrastructure specialists. Someone who understands, at a very technical level, networking, systems, virtualisation and storage all together because it's a new tier of infrastructure we've not seen before. It requires someone who can think on their feet and can envision those architectures working together".
With fewer physical devices, the risk profile for the technology changes. In the past, when a single piece of hardware failed, only a single function or application was affected. Although virtualisation has delivered cost savings, it has meant that the loss of a single piece of hardware can lead to several services being affected simultaneously.
For management, that means there's a need to ensure that resource usage is closely monitored so that potential issues are addressed before they impact the business.
An aspect of cloud service management is thinking about what to do if your cloud provider goes belly up? Or what if you device to move from one provider to another? Anyone who went through the outsourcing boom of the 1990s will know that moving services from one place to another is a tricky business. That's where the idea of standards becomes important.
Gore, from Melbourne IT, talks about the "Cloud Data Tax". Transferring terabytes of data can be very expensive. Like roaming data charges with mobile phones, shifting data between cloud providers can cost significant amounts and these are rarely considered before choosing a service provider.
Cloud services are relatively new. As such, early players to the market adopted their own systems with scant consideration given to cross-platform compatibility. In the rush to realise the financial and performance benefits, businesses started using cloud storage with little consideration to planning for migration to different service providers. The Storage Networks Industry Association, or SNIA, has developed the Cloud Data Management Interface as a standard for how data is stored in cloud services.
Tim Sheedy, Senior Analyst & Advisor, CIO Group at Forrester Research, says that while businesses may use several different cloud and SaaS apps, the IT department will need to act as an integrator. "It will use their SOA capability to create a single log-in for all the apps and a single way to identify customers across all the apps". The CIO will need to set up that organisation and to find the people to deliver the solutions and deliver the anticipated efficiencies.