Jumping on the Cloud - A Measured Approach

  • Written By: Ted Rohm
  • Published On: November 2012



There’s a lot of hype about companies moving to the cloud, but are they actually doing it? Cloud adoption is not as rapid as some providers might lead you to think, but TEC data shows that interest in cloud computing is picking up.

The 2012 TEC Market Survey Report for Discrete Manufacturing shows that cloud computing has moved beyond the early adopter phase and is now moving into the early majority phase of the technology adoption lifecycle. The question now is not "if", but when and how information technology (IT) organizations will adopt cloud computing technologies.

If you’re thinking about a cloud deployment, there are a few things you should know. There’s also an easy way your organization can test a cloud deployment before committing to a larger cloud initiative.

What is cloud computing anyway?

In 2011, the United States' National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST) issued a special publication with its recommendations for a definition of cloud computing. The publication's definition was very timely and has actually helped shape the entire industry. The definition included in this publication is probably the clearest and most concise definition of cloud computing that one will find.

In the NSIT publication, cloud computing is defined as "a model for enabling ubiquitous, convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources." The three service model areas defined in the publication are:

  • Software as a Service (SaaS)—The capability provided to the consumer is to use the provider’s applications running on a cloud infrastructure.

  • Platform as a Service (PaaS)—The capability provided to the consumer is to deploy onto the cloud infrastructure consumer-created or acquired applications created using programming languages, libraries, services, and tools supported by the provider.

  • Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS)—The capability provided to the consumer is to provision processing, storage, networks, and other fundamental computing resources where the consumer is able to deploy and run arbitrary software, which can include operating systems and applications.


In all these model definitions, a key point in the definition of a cloud solution is that "the consumer of the services does not manage or control the underlying cloud infrastructure." It is the cloud providers who support the management of software, platforms, and infrastructure. One way to look at it is that cloud providers can manage commodity computing services like disk storage in much the same way a utility company provides electricity to a consumer.

How is cloud deployment different from on-premise deployment?

As we can see from the description above, the technology being provided by cloud providers is in some ways no different than the technology stacks that you probably already support within your organization. You still have infrastructure, platform, and software stacks. The main difference is that with cloud computing your organization is no longer managing and controlling these stacks. In fact, if you have to spend valuable time trying to track down your application group to get them to make some software changes, you might say you’ve been running a cloud-based organization for years! [Legal Disclaimer]

However, there are major differences between a cloud-based software deployment and an on-premises deployment. Understanding the differences between these is very important not only to your IT organization, but also to all parts of the organization that touch the technology—purchasing, legal, regulatory, etc. It is of utmost importance that your organization understands these differences before it leaps onto the cloud, or it is going to have problems.

A planned and careful testing phase is the key to successful cloud adoption

A good approach a company could take to move into the cloud would be to put together a simple project to set up IaaS storage and a SaaS application to support a non-critical or even uncontrolled corporate function. The primary goal of the project is really to exercise the steps needed to implement a cloud-based solution, bring it back/tear it down, and learn from the exercise. The learning involved in this exercise would not only be within the IT department but also across the organization as a whole. The most important benefits realized in this project would be the entire organization’s understanding of the impact cloud-based technologies can have.

It's easier than you might think. A cloud-based deployment plan is nearly identical to an on-premise solution deployment plan. The procurement phase is simply replaced with a licensing phase and the task names are changed from things like "install server" to "enable IaaS service". Here is a very quick project plan for this effort:

app-selection-project-450pix.gif

One key addition to this pilot project is a “deconstruct” phase. In the deconstruct phase, the organization will exercise bringing the cloud services on-site and disconnecting them from the corporate infrastructure. Even if an organization doesn’t perform this deconstruction step, they need to have plans in place for executing this step should the need arise.

Also, a significant amount of time in the pilot project needs to be dedicated to the lessons learned and related follow-up, including numerous IT organizational and operational updates, e.g. project plan templates, testing guidelines, security, etc. In addition, corporate procurement and legal policies should be reviewed and updated where necessary. Finally, there may be training, hiring, or other resource needs to address.

Summary

It can be beneficial in many ways for companies of all sizes to start using the massive cloud-based computing technologies that are available in the marketplace today. However, the technology is still maturing and there will be significant changes to the landscape over the next five years. It is important for organizations to be able to leverage the utility of the cloud but at the same time to understand all the potential risks and consequences of moving critical applications into the hands of the cloud providers.

Taking a measured approach to adopting these technologies will help your organization realize the benefits while minimizing the risks. A pilot project implementing non-mission-critical IT functions would be a good exercise for an organization to go through in its move to adopting cloud computing services and technologies. After working through one or even two cloud-based application and infrastructure pilot projects, a company will be in a much better position to implement larger, mission-critical application efforts.

Legal Disclaimer: All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental.
 
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