Cloud computing is entering its teen years

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The cloud has entered the “awkward teenage” phase, as James Staten at Forrester Research recently noted. Luckily, it’s not overrun with rowdy adolescents the way other technology paradigms have been (think early social media). It’s been maturing, and so have best practices for its use and adoption, along with the related security and application aspects.

In fact, it could be argued that IT management and security have kept a tight rein on all cloud activities. Many of us did what we could to help it grow while making sure we could prevent serious damage in the process. First as a research analyst, and now as the vice president of strategic solutions at the software vendor CA Technologies, I have written multiple research reports and white papers on responsible ways to use a cloud (and when not to).

Cloud computing is growing up, and it’s time for us in IT management to loosen our grip. It won’t be an easy transition, and each environment requires its own solution. Here are some top-line suggestions to consider.

  • Allow for discovery: Many organizations are still reluctant to take full advantage of the potential of cloud computing and deploy pilot projects. And every time there are “rogue” activities, it sets off alarm bells. Let’s be realistic — no system is foolproof or completely immune to problems. There’s no question that a complete shutdown is sometimes justified, but it’s also vital to have adequate remedial measures in place ahead of time. Cloud installations need to offer strategic visibility, thorough transparency and predictive intelligence. That’s the best way to implement truly transformative cloud initiatives that offer the greatest benefits.
  • Provide modeling and simulation capabilities: Caution is still justified — it’s hard to make a full-on investment when there’s a lot at stake and the shift to the cloud is still relatively young. Rather than throw the cloud into real-world applications immediately, it’s best to set up test runs. Fortunately, companies considering a move to the cloud can simulate a service and determine performance, capacity requirements and cost structure before making the commitment. Similarly, parallel development processes make it possible to test those services before they’re completed.
  • Help develop credible capabilities: Implementing applications that are perfectly appropriate in other environments, but aren’t a good fit for the cloud, is a ticket to losing internal support. To avoid such mishaps, it’s best to consider turnkey cloud computing platforms that enable corporations to create a truly analytical model of the services they need, and then transform the application into an on-demand business service. IT management needs to offer insights into current and future capital and operational costs by using predictive analytics, managing service levels and costs, and providing visibility regarding who is using each service, how often they are using them, and how those services are performing.
  • Provide “grown-up” financial management: Wishful thinking aside, it isn’t always easy to map financial benefits to IT investments. In the evolving world of cloud computing, this can be a major obstacle. That said, there are lifecycle and asset management capabilities available from companies such as CA Technologies (where I work), Nimsoft and other IT management vendors. These account for the physical, financial and contractual aspects of hardware and software assets on-site, virtually and in the cloud. With a software asset manager, companies can get an integrated view of the infrastructure base, and analytic tools can help identify real asset costs and avoid unnecessary capital expenditures and lease penalties.
  • Provide automation and assurance: Skip the guessing game. Current solutions from CA Technologies, Nimsoft, HP and VMware for cloud service assurance automatically link applications and transactions with the underlying infrastructure. Whether they reside on- or off-site, these solutions deliver real-time visibility into the performance of critical cloud services. Even in the most dynamic and heterogeneous environments, available technologies help corporations keep pace with rapid change and confidently adapt new computing models. This is the best way to ensure the key business services run smoothly and to optimize the business user’s support experience.

I’m not suggesting that any of this is a magic bullet. And again, as with any major technology shift — mainframe, distributed, desktop — there will be singular problems and unique solutions. The undisputable reality is that cloud computing is growing up, running mission-critical workloads and delivering on its potential. It’s the responsibility of those of us with a history in different (and evolving) IT disciplines to provide the right mix of guidance, management, freedom and supervision.

Andi Mann is vice president of strategic solutions at CA Technologies. Mann has more than 20 years of experience in enterprise software on cloud, mainframe, midrange, server and desktop systems. He co-wrote the handbook, “Visible Ops – Private Cloud.” He blogs at Andi Mann – Übergeek and tweets as @AndiMann.

Image courtesy of Flickr user Erin Purcell.

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