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Preventing a (cloud) mutiny

The massive computing power and costs savings afforded by the cloud are real. Education and training for IT teams and management are critical to success

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One of the greatest reservations about the cloud is whether it’s wise, or even beneficial, to relinquish control of the infrastructure to a third party. This is a question you’ve likely asked yourself, and have heard repeatedly from your team members. In some cases, the move to the cloud may be viewed as a threat to job security.

IT teams are used to owning their own stuff. With the cloud, IT teams no longer need to purchase hardware and software, and hook it all up. Gone are the racks and the blinking lights. Moving to the cloud requires a change in ownership and mindshare. For many of us, it’s not a comfortable proposition.

But how much control are we really giving up? I contend that it’s not as much as we may believe.

To address the question of control within your organization, and possibly allay your own concerns, you don’t need to look any further than the datacenter. IT used to own and manage every aspect of the datacenter, right down to the building. But the cost of building and maintaining datacenters is too expensive to go it alone.

We began slowly to offload physical ownership of the datacenter. First we adopted the concept of co-located facilities, where an IT team managed its equipment, while the control of the building (aspects like power and cooling) was relinquished to a third-party service provider.

From there, we moved to a managed services model, where we no longer run the systems in the rack. If a piece fails, the managed service provider fixes it. IT teams no longer drive out to the datacenter and fix a product in the cage. We’ve arrived at a point where we have given up control of most of the physical aspects. You have the stuff in the cage; it’s yours but you can’t touch it.

We follow this model not only because it provides massive economy of scale, but also because it works. It’s a given that today’s service providers do the ping, power, and pipe better than the rest of us ever really could.

The cloud is really the next logical progression. There is recognition that another organization can manage the platform, compute, storage and network assets and the allocation better and more cost effectively than you could on your own. And while you might say, “But I’m pretty good at this,” keep in mind that cloud service providers potentially have thousands of engineers and specialists singularly focused on the platform, to make it better and stronger.

We need to acknowledge that the cloud actually gives us greater control than ever before. We might not own the boxes, but we have more granular control over how the resources are applied, who is consuming them, the value of the services and the associated cost. The resiliency and ability to configure those resources without massive cost are real.

The true fundamental shift is cultural, for both IT and the business.

The way to ease these growing pains, and outright skepticism, is education. During the first year of GHX’s cloud migration, we sent 25 employees to Amazon ReInvent conferences, where most began the journey to become true believers. But they had to see it, touch it, understand it, and know that the cloud is real. They needed exposure to training, and other people like themselves, gaining real benefit from the cloud to gain the confidence to fully support the move to the cloud. It took a little time, but not nearly as much as you’d think.

Education and hands-on experience will allow your IT staff to become engaged in moving forward, and view the cloud as an asset rather than a threat. Instead of spending long cycles, even months, on procurement, then configuration and testing, these same people can do that same thing in a matter of minutes, with greater control and visibility. They’ll also realize that they are building their résumés and preparing for the next steps in their career on this path versus the traditional roles to which they are accustomed.

Of course, it’s not only the IT staff that will have to re-consider their way of doing business. In transitioning to the cloud, you’ll have to address the various concerns of your peers and leadership, including:

Legal

How can you prove it’s secure? How do you ensure we meet compliance/management requirements?

CEO

Will the cloud do as they say? Will customers be OK with it? Will customers be at risk? In addition, your CEO may be concerned about longer term cost control, mega-vendor management and avoiding vendor lock-in.

CFO

No capital spending? You will need to forecast and create models with the finance team to help them understand the new, variable cost model of the cloud. The traditional model uses a fixed capital investment and operating expense, where IT typically overscales capacity to avoid shutdowns. With the cloud you can provision capacity as needed. Again, the efficiencies and savings are very real, but the journey can be scary for leadership.

In my next post, I will delve deeper into key issues of concern to executive leadership.

  • Scale, resiliency: Will the cloud do as they say? Can this public cloud/provider really provide this capacity and resiliency?
  • Security: Anything can happen. How secure is it?
  • Cost strategies: How can you take advantage of the cost opportunities without the predictable surprise of most “lift and shift” approaches?
  • Budget planning and management approaches: How do you deal with the variability? Is it really more cost effective?

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