Ask the IT Consultant

Jun 6 2011   2:00AM GMT

Taking Business to the Clouds – Getting out of the Operations Ghetto

Beth Cohen Beth Cohen Profile: Beth Cohen

Question: Recently there has been a big push to develop private cloud computing services for the enterprise.  How can IT management really to take advantage of the benefits and avoid the hype?

It is official.  Cloud computing is finally mainstream enough to earn its own NIST definition.  On the surface it is simple enough; by NIST standards the definition is pretty short – only 2 pages.  It has five essential characteristics: on-demand self-service, broad network access, resource pooling, rapid elasticity and measured service.  The three service models are well-known: IaaS, PaaS and SaaS, and the four deployment models are public, private, community and hybrid.

None of this should be news to anyone who has been following the cloud for a few years.  What I find interesting is how IT operations-centric this perspective seems.  From the vendor messages at VMWorld last summer, the MIT CIO Symposium in May, and the most recent Boston CloudCamp,  you would think that Cloud Computing is primarily a new way of building IT infrastructure to run IT operations more efficiently.  Certainly, if you listen to the big consulting company of your choice, all you need to do to achieve your IT operations cost reduction goals, is sign a multi-million dollar deal and they will sell you a shiny new private cloud data center.  I will grant that it does achieve that goal (with a few asterisks of course), but if it was just a way to manage IT operations better, faster and cheaper, Cloud computing would not be all that exciting.

In my mind, Cloud computing and its companion technologies, mobile access and social networking tools are really a new paradigm of delivering IT tools and services to the enterprise.  Cloud shifts the focus away from essentially boring operations and systems by turning them into utilities.  Once the operations layer is abstracted away, users can focus on services, the essence of what we use computers for, to build better tools.  Yes, we have all heard that before.  Some of the older folks might even say Cloud is the new timeshare, but it is far more than that if we can push past the old way of thinking about the enterprise.

To really take advantage of the Cloud, take a look at what is happening in the consumer cloud space.  While some corporations are still dipping their toes in the water, some really exciting mass market tools and services are emerging.  Gmail, Skype and Flikr have become the new de facto standards for social communications, while Facebook and Linkedin are giant real-time experiments in the power of social networking writ very large.  Love it or hate it, Groupon and its ilk are bringing sophisticated mass customization marketing techniques and tools to small businesses.  Groupon would not even been able to exist if it were not for the Cloud.  It leverages the Cloud infrastructure to build out its systems, taps into its markets using the techniques of the social media pioneers, and delivers its services through mobile devices.  Clearly it is working in the consumer space.

These new architectures can translate back into the more cautious enterprise by using a combination of risk analysis and Agile methodologies.  You can can use them to rapidly create test cases within the enterprise setting to quickly determine if a feature is useful or desirable.  Some very successful companies have taken this new approach to heart.  Not surprisingly, Google uses it to build new tools, but long before the Internet, Capital One successfully used these methods to bring credit services to the masses, reaping huge profits along the way.  The good news is that the techniques are sophisticated, but they are not out of reach of any enterprise willing to shake off the status quo, build a culture that encourages lateral thinking, and truly rewards bold achievement.

About the Author

Beth Cohen, Cloud Technology Partners, Inc. Moving companies’ IT services into the cloud the right way, the first time!

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