The concept of services provided from 'out there' over the network is often portrayed as what cloud is all about. Indeed, the commonly accepted definition of cloud is that it offers infrastructure, platform or software as a service. It might be a public cloud provider, that is offering services to anyone, an internal service from the organisation's own data centre or a hybrid of the both. There might often be reasons to start out with exclusively either public or private cloud, but the pragmatic approach will generally be balanced between the two, with an accompanying agility to allow for the movement of workloads.
A key reason behind cloud is flexibility. With a virtualised core, any operating platform or system can be provided on demand with a pay-as-you-use public commercial offering or as an adaptable base for a private cloud model.
It is this lowering of the total cost of ownership that is often an important driver for those considering adopting cloud. However cost saving alone is rarely the whole picture, as organisations are also looking to drive efficiency and new working practices and here cloud at the core is complementary to the adoption of mobile at the edge.
There are drivers offering opportunities to move into new services, such as extending the access to core infrastructure to external users, again often for business efficiency, or gaining access to new markets sectors as well as adding functionality or extending applications.
The cloud model also permits experimentation, not only for technical proof of concepts, but also business trials to for example extend into new territories or markets or try out alternative business models. This is a prime case for public cloud, to minimise impact on internal resources.
It might seem that a public cloud model has an impressively low upfront commitment or investment in that leads to several strong use cases in addition to the ability to trial or experiment with new ideas. For example, being able to deal with planned and unplanned peaks or dips in capacity as well as offering lower cost redundancy and software testing. Taking advantage of this will however require investment in existing internal systems to architect them to take full advantage of the external resources on offer.
Many organisations will have known peak times at year or quarter end or at particular stages. Owning the extra capacity required to handle this will rarely be cost effective and so the ability to call upon public cloud resources is very valuable. Unplanned changes in demand could occur on the back of an unexpected success which required a rapid ramp up of capability, perhaps only for a short duration.
Rare use of additional capability is a reason why on demand public cloud services are ideal for a failover platform. Again, owning and maintaining an entire system for business continuity reasons is an unnecessary expense if use can be made of a public cloud provider and only scaled up when actually required in the event of a failure of primary systems.
Private cloud on the other hand is sometimes viewed more sceptically from a cost benefit perspective, but it is here that investment in architecting a cloud-like core and transforming the data centre can also pay dividends over time. Not only is it a pre-requisite foundation for the fully flexible hybrid cloud model where workloads can be moved from private to public data centre capacity as demand arises, but it also encourages a more effective internal IT infrastructure capitalising on server virtualisation and therefore more efficient pooling of resources.
Putting aside sufficient resources and finding the right skills is difficult with any technology investment, and cloud is no different and it is these resourcing issues that often hold back cloud projects, rather than security per se.
Even those with an enthusiastic attitude to cloud adoption recognise this; despite believing they have more of the skills, they understand there is a need for significant investment in resources to make safe and secure use of the potential that cloud brings.
The cloud model of service delivery to an increasingly diverse and often mobile edge offers huge flexibility and agility advantages in both public and private capabilities to support workloads. As with mobile, this is a difficult task to perform incrementally since it requires investment and a re-architecting at the heart of IT, but with the right strategy it ultimately reduces both costs and risks which delivering greater capability for IT to provide increased value to the business.
There are often incremental improvements as technology advances - the oft-quoted marketing mantra of smaller, faster, more. However, every so often there are bigger changes that involve a different structure or way of thinking about what has been built before. There may be a need to rip up old systems and throw some things out - although with planned migrations this can be minimised - and there will certainly be a need to invest in something new.
Rather than always trying to take this route in a gradual fashion, some innovations like cloud imply a step change in thinking in order to take full advantage of the opportunities offered. The diversity of access to IT in an increasingly small, smart and mobile fashion, coupled with a cloud-based core using flexible service provision is one such instance where change is significant and needs significant attention and investment to maximise its value.
For some thoughts on how to finance the changes required to address an enterprise cloud strategy as a whole, download this free report.
Rob Bamforth is a Principal Analyst at Quocirca. This article is reprinted with permission, February 23, 2015, copyright Quocirca 2015