Tip

IT professional services can bend the cloud computing learning curve

It may sound ironic, but sometimes IT savings from cloud computing start with an expenditure for IT consulting services. When the time comes to migrate mission-critical applications to the cloud or to increase your use of cloud services, an outside expert can bend the learning curve in your favor.

Some established IT professional services firms or divisions within larger companies are recognizable, such as Booz Allen Hamilton, Capgemini and Wipro Ltd. Others, such as 2nd Watch and 8KMiles Cloud Solutions, specialize in cloud consulting services.

Here are five things to keep in mind as you decide which consultant is right for your needs.

1. Precisely define the purpose for the consultant. Consider which stage of your

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cloud strategy you are currently in. Do you have executive buy-in or do you need help making the business case for cloud adoption? Have you already deployed mission-critical applications but need performance tuning assistance? By defining what exactly you need the consultant for helps you narrow down your options. For example, support with security and governance, cost control, training, architecture review or development assistance.

2. Determine how the consultant will pass along information to your team. A consultant who only performs a one-time task may not help your staff benefit from learning all of the details of the process in question. For example, it is valuable to learn as many best practices as possible for architecture review and security assessments; you will likely add to or change your architecture over time, so you must understand the design principles that guided the choices made in the past. Changes to your applications and the services will have implications for security as well, and the more you understand about the security consequences of the change, the better you can protect your IT environment. In some cases, however, simply basic documentation and configuration information is sufficient to allow your staff to carry on

If you are deploying a private or hybrid cloud, you will have a different set of issues to address, including responsibility for infrastructure, security and maintaining a service catalog.

3. Choose consultants appropriate to the deployment model you will use. Consultants may concentrate on public, private or hybrid cloud, and the success of Amazon Web Services (AWS) has created a market for consultants that specialize in Amazon cloud. Amazon maintains a list of consulting partners on its website.

If you are working with Amazon cloud, it makes sense to work with consultants that understand how to optimize the public cloud's services. For example, a good AWS consultant should help you understand which applications are suitable for spot instances, how many reserved instances you should purchase and when to use an Amazon service for a message queue rather than running your own.

If you are deploying a private or hybrid cloud, you will have a different set of issues to address, including responsibility for infrastructure, security and maintaining a service catalog. Consultants can help you get started with the many start-up tasks that range from establishing authentication and authorization services to writing cloud usage policies. Enterprise consulting groups in companies such as IBM and HP have experience with enterprise-level deployments and may be a good fit for private cloud deployments in large enterprises.

4. Decide if you need industry-specific consulting services. Healthcare, financial services and other industries are subject to regulations. If your company is heavily regulated, do you have a good sense of how your governance practices will translate to the cloud environment? Will your monitoring and auditing procedures established for non-cloud data centers continue to meet compliance requirements in a highly dynamic, multi-tenant architecture of a private cloud? Cloud consultants can guide you while you answer these questions. If you are working with a public cloud, consultants may also be able to help avoid costly errors or omissions in your compliance regimen.

5. Consider the benefits and disadvantages of long and short-term consulting engagements. Your initial set of IT professional services must-haves may only require a short-term consulting engagement, but you might want to use it as an opportunity to assess the consultant for longer-term services. The cost of switching consultants can be high because each successive consultant has to learn your architecture, policies and requirements. You may find that having steady contacts with a security consultant, an architecture consultant and a development and tuning consultant may help control overall costs. They can help with avoiding costly design errors or poorly configured systems that underperform and are vulnerable to security breaches.

About the author:
Dan Sullivan, M.Sc., is an author, systems architect and consultant with more than 20 years of IT experience. He has had engagements in advanced analytics, systems architecture, database design, enterprise security and business intelligence. He has worked in a broad range of industries, including financial services, manufacturing, pharmaceuticals, software development, government, retail and education. Dan has written extensively about topics that range from data warehousing, cloud computing and advanced analytics to security management, collaboration and text mining.

This was first published in November 2013

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