Proving cloud computing pros and cons to the CIO

As an IT pro, how do you sell the cloud model to your CIO and convince him that now’s the time to migrate? Cloud guru Bob Plankers has some ideas.

Cloud computing, mobile devices and the rise of consumer-users have put increasing pressure on IT departments to deliver the services that users are clamoring for. But IT faces a quandary. How can it deliver on-demand services without opening the floodgates to uncontrolled IT environments?

“The amount of consumer access to technology is way out of control for enterprise IT,” said Carl Brooks, an analyst at the 451 Group in Boston. “IT needs to come to grips with all these intersecting trends. A CIO might release an email saying, ‘The company will not support iPads,’ and a sales guy might email back 10 minutes later, ‘But I just bought 3,000 of them.’”

For CIOs, this trend convergence presents a particular challenge. IT pros in the C suite rely on their IT staff in the trenches to make informed purchasing decisions. Those IT managers need to give their CIOs on-the-ground advice on the implications of the cloud model, which can have a major impact on so many aspects of a virtual infrastructure.

Cloud and virtualization architect Bob Plankers offers some advice on how the CIO conversation could go so that IT managers are prepared.

CIO: Why should we consider a private cloud?

IT manager: The whole idea behind a private cloud is centralization. Being able to control the environment, keeping it patched, automating activities within it, adding users—it’s a big thing. I’m not saying it won’t be a struggle. But it’s not so much about technology as it is about corralling people. It’s all about people—people fighting for the status quo—and process.

Some of our departments are likely to resist with objections like, “Hey, we like our own mail server. We have our own permission models, and our own groups.” We need to work it out so that they can still have those benefits, but have these apps moved into central IT’s server where they can be more secure.

Can using a public cloud really save us money?

To be honest, it depends, and using a public cloud might not be cheaper for us. We haven’t reached capacity on data center space, so it’s not as though using the cloud will make up for being over capacity internally. So we need to determine what would it actually cost, will workloads perform well, what is a provider’s support like?

The truth is you can get anything you want in terms of the public cloud, but how much are we willing to pay—and is it then worth it to go to the cloud? We should also consider our expertise in-house to accomplish some of these objectives ourselves.

That’s on the public cloud side. But a private cloud is a no-brainer to keep certain workloads in-house and get the benefits of automation and self-service.

What about security in public clouds?

There’s no denying that in the public cloud, we’re in a shared system, Part of the fear about the cloud is that you don’t know who your neighbors are or if they are behaving poorly. Encryption for your data in storage with a cloud provider—that’s important.

We also need to make the determination about how important the data is. We’re not storing credit card numbers, but we are storing weblogs and possibly some employee information.

What about downtime and outages?

We need some downtime to patch and we’re not an organization that has to design systems to avoid any downtime. But, like a retail organization, we need to know how much even five minutes of downtime a year will cost us and negotiate service-level agreements to avoid intolerable amounts.

We’re not FedEx. For every five minutes the FedEx website is down, the company loses $1 million. At the same time, we want several nines of uptime. Every nine you add to 99% gets logarithmically more expensive. Achieving four nines is no big deal in our data center, including monthly patches. But getting to that fifth nine can be really expensive.

Are we ready for this kind of transition?

How ready do we need to be? If we don’t start now, when will we? Let’s pick something to move to the cloud and start small. It’s an iterative process. If you want to automate configuration management, let’s look at configuration management tools.

We may not have exactly what we need or want, but there’s a ton of open source out there as well as commercial, vendor-supported technologies for configuration management, for example.

How long would a cloud move take?

For us—like any decent-sized organization—it is quite a process to move all data center resources. There are interdependencies between systems, you’ve got security. And of course, working with vendors is an interesting proposition. They are trying to sell you things to address perceived or real problems in the cloud.

There are a ton of mechanisms and tools out there. Just taking a look at what we might need and evaluating our environment will probably take six months. Having an idea of the problem you want to solve will help you create a timeline. A year is probably more reasonable. We should think about the entire process in terms of years, not months.

About the author:
Lauren Horwitz is the executive editor of e-publications, in the Data Center and Virtualization Media Group.

This article originally appeared in the December/January issue of Modern Infrastructure.

This was first published in January 2013

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