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Avoid culture shock in your next cloud computing project

While there's a long list of technical tasks involved in a cloud migration, one of an organization's biggest hurdles to the cloud is its culture.

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Before moving to the cloud, enterprises face a long to-do list of technical tasks, ranging from application redesign...

to defining security requirements.

The biggest challenge with a cloud computing project, however, lies not with the technology itself, but in the massive cultural shift it requires of an organization.

"The technical [cloud] solutions are usually not that hard," said Odd Waller, manager of application hosting and service design at Volvo IT, the IT arm of Swedish manufacturing giant Volvo Group, during the Red Hat Summit last week. "But to get the whole company moving in that direction -- getting 8,000 people to think in a way they haven't thought before -- that's been the real work."

The biggest hurdle Volvo faced when moving applications to the cloud was gathering business requirements and mapping out a use case, Waller said. While Volvo management knew it wanted to move to the cloud, it was a struggle to get business leaders to communicate what, exactly, they hoped to get out of the technology.

"The communication between not only the technicians, but the management and what they actually wanted was so fuzzy," Waller said.

Volvo, whose cloud environment is based on a mix of Red Hat, OpenStack and Amazon Web Services (AWS), wasn't alone in that struggle. Other Red Hat customers or partners, including CBTS, a Cincinnati-based managed services provider that uses Red Hat CloudForms to automate and streamline customer support, voiced a similar challenge.

The biggest pain point when working with customers on a cloud computing project is "getting people to explain what their requirements actually are," said Eric Sarakaitis, virtualization engineer at CBTS. When it comes to the requirements gathering phase of a cloud project, these requirements should not only be specific, but "meaningful" and "actionable," he said.

"[It should be] something that can say, step-by-step, what a deployed VM actually does," Sarakaitis said.

The cloud's cultural shift

In addition to defining user requirements -- and, in doing so, knocking down the language barriers that often exist between the business and IT -- many organizations grapple with the cultural shift caused by the self-service model of cloud, said Peter Maddison, director of platform services at LoyaltyOne, a Toronto-based provider of customer loyalty programs and services.

"We are having a little bit of a challenge getting [developers] on board with the idea that they shouldn't just be picking up the phone and calling central [IT] to do very simple things for them," Maddison said, noting that LoyaltyOne is also driving toward a DevOps model as it moves into cloud.

Meanwhile, that self-service model, coupled with the business process automation that comes with cloud, creates another cultural hurdle within the enterprise: assuring engineers that cloud isn't putting them out of a job.

"An engineer thinks, 'Oh, if you automate this… you're not going to have any work for me,'" said Jason Cornell, manager of cloud and infrastructure automation at Cox Automotive, an Atlanta-based provider of vehicle remarketing services.

Enterprises must emphasize that cloud's automation will allow engineers to perform other, higher-value tasks for the business.

"What I've been trying to do within my organization is to get us to the point where we can work higher and higher up the stack and get further and further away from managing things like patching [or the] maintenance of servers," Maddison said. "Those kinds of things we want to throw out the window, and get us to focus on stuff that is actually going to add business value."

David Sundqvist, infrastructure architect at Volvo IT, said his company sent a similar message.

"We are getting people on board and buying into the option to provide a higher level of value," Sundqvist said. For example, instead of installing an operating system, engineers can spend time designing customer-specific configurations.

"It's not going to be less work, but it's going to be a lot more value in what they deliver," Sundqvist said.

Despite these organizational changes, most Red Hat customers at the event seemed to be moving full-speed toward cloud. Public cloud, especially, was the focus for the majority of customer panelists, with Cornell, for his part, noting that 98% of Cox Automotive's workloads currently run in AWS. The company uses Red Hat's CloudForms for management.

Moving forward, Cox Automotive will focus not on just lifting and shifting their current applications into AWS -- a strategy Cornell said proved ineffective from a cost standpoint -- but on refactoring or rearchitecting applications to take full advantage of cloud.

"It's a big shift," he told attendees. "And it takes a lot of time."

Kristin Knapp is site editor for SearchCloudComputing. Contact her at kknapp@techtarget.com or follow @kknapp86 on Twitter.

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