Cloud is a corporate strategy, not a tactical solution

As an IT community we are still stuck in the past relative to the strategic nature of cloud. Many of us are looking at the adoption of cloud as just another technology, and are leaving the decisions on how to adopt, own, and manage the cloud up to engineers. But acquiring a cloud management platform is not an engineering decision — it’s a strategic one. Do engineers need to be involved? Yes, but your cloud adoption strategy has already failed if you don’t treat cloud as the operational construct that it is.

I wrote “Cloud management, what’s the big deal” a little over a year ago and the good news is many more of us now at least acknowledge the need for robust management tools. The problem is, we still think of them as “tools”. Cloud management isn’t just a pretty wrapper that you put on top of virtualization to make it easier to use, and it’s not a few scripts that automate builds or scaling functions. Cloud management is a platform that allows the cloud(s) owner to express their company’s directives and policies effectively and safely onto their myriad technology solutions and across international borders.

Why the cloud management platform you choose is so important

Like any software that solves a problem or creates an opportunity (often one and the same), a cloud management platform should be acquired only after defining a clear set of requirements. The requirements should be defined with the CIO and I’ve explained why after each requirement. A cloud management platform should:

Be capable of managing a variety of clouds – A strategic vision for where and how clouds will be adopted or dropped is important for a number of reasons: avoiding lock-in, the ability to retrieve data in a usable format, finding the appropriate cloud platform for the expected workload and location. Depending on the business you’re in you may use partnerships and or competitive concerns as a decision factor in your multi-cloud strategy.

Handle data security and location – Do your systems administrators have access to corporate strategy around locations and data privacy requirements? What about HIPAA or other regulatory concerns? If they don’t even recognize this as an area of concern, why would they look for it in a management tool?

Take care of policy management across clouds – Your architects and engineers might be terrific, but are you sure they are the best ones to determine the value of having a common and simplified set of tools for managing policy and governance across your images and across different clouds? Policy considerations can take into account everything from privacy to security, to performance and lifecycle depending on the platform you choose.

Include well-developed role-based security – While your engineers and infrastructure leaders are more than capable of handling security decisions for team access to a cloud management platform, are they the right group to determine how customers (developer or end-user) and partners might access your cloud?

Incorporate a virtual machine security suite – This is an area where the CIO likely doesn’t need much involvement, but there should be a senior security role involved in the project.

Consider the full life cycle from creation to deletion – Unfortunately, most of us in the trenches don’t think about whether the images we create today should be reviewed six months from now? Ensuring you have a solid life cycle approach will help you develop a more efficient use pattern and reduce the risk of inappropriate resource use.

Integrate with operations platforms (monitoring, billing, etc.) – The effort to define these requirements will mostly fall on the technical team, but feedback from management about expectations of monitoring and billing etc., is still critical.

Offer APIs for common tools and scripting languages – Mostly a technical/architectural decision, with the exception of integration that might enable out of the box opportunity, there might be value in having a larger team, including leadership involved.

The above isn’t a complete list of considerations in the evaluation of an appropriate cloud management platform, just serious food for thought. However, of what’s missing above, the most critical element of all includes thinking about how a cloud management platform should complement and re-orient your IT organization.

Where the rubber meets the road!

The CIO needs to consider a ground up redo of the organization, how it delivers IT services and how it integrates with the business at the function and end-user customer level. Admit it; you weren’t thinking that these organizational changes were a factor in your requirements and prioritization process for acquiring a cloud management platform.

Of course, the aforementioned needs aren’t necessary if all you want is a shiny set of tools or some home-grown scripts to handle your cloud. Tools and scripts which won’t scale, aren’t standardized, won’t work across clouds and will likely be developed differently by each IT group in your enterprise.

The delivery of IT is different. The old ways are gone. The addition of cloud to your organization isn’t an opportunity to do the same old things faster, it’s an opportunity to deliver functionally improved IT services in real-time to your business.

How will you deliver in real-time if you still work through a traditional helpdesk process? Or maybe because you haven’t figured out how to integrate billing, you still have business or IT groups who want to “pay” for their servers. What about the purchasing process or the approval process for a new application?

This isn’t just more tech bells and whistles

In modern IT you should be able to test, fail, test, fail, test, and implement in less time and for less money than one effort in the past. In light of the improved application adoption options, a change in how you review and approve ideas is also important. In other words, why send a project to the executive team for review, when you could run a proof of concept in a matter of days or hours and actually demonstrate the value almost immediately at little or no cost.

OK, maybe there are more bells and whistles, but treating cloud like a technology solution purchase is the wrong approach. Take a holistic approach to how IT can and should participate in the business of doing whatever your company does, then build the operational model to support that. Seek alignment in your organization and in your technology choices so you’re prepared for a Cloud Operating model and Fluid IT. Welcome to the modern IT world.

Mark Thiele is executive VP of Data Center Tech at Switch, the operator of the SuperNAP data center in Las Vegas. Thiele blogs at SwitchScribe and at Data Center Pulse, where is also president and founder. .He can be found on Twitter at @mthiele10.