Cloudy Computing

Architectural IT take note: You’re in a good spot to sit back and watch the Cloud for a little while longer. You’re also in a good spot to start consider some of the more mature options. Google Apps. Office Online. GMail. All great cloud apps. None of them have a place in your organization as a primary tool – yet. MXLogic, Dropbox and GoToMeeting – why aren’t you using them yet?

Cloud: IT’s an ‘IT’ thing.

There’s no doubt that Cloud Computing, Web 2.0 and SAS is here. They’re all terms for the same thing – a computing service that is provided, hosted, maintained and/or managed by a 3rd Party somewhere other than your data center. The younger generation of staff demands much of the more common Cloud applications flexibility. Many seasoned IT sadly haven’t quite embraced it’s excellence for many things that are still a pain point for them. Management is generally confused why it has to be so difficult for IT to give in and are in some cases circumventing IT all together.

We in IT defensively call it the “Cloud”. We gawk at it and praise it all at the same time. It confuses non IT people. Outside the IT bubble, users may call it “Facebook”, “Gmail” or whatever end user app is their favorite. We don’t need to be going around educating everyone and their brother about what the term ‘Cloud’ means and debate it until the horse is pulverized. Nobody cares outside of the IT circle-of-trust. Users care about one thing: getting access to it – whatever it is.

Saving Face – Know your Apps

One thing that IT professionals are really good at is managing complexity and taking on challenges. IT pros now must take on a new challenge, and one that’s familiar – disseminate and interpret. That is, it’s in our best interest to understand common offerings in the cloud and how they can best serve our organization and be able to explain the offerings to our masses. Sound familiar? You probably have the same strategy for answering questions about Home PC software, Malware and iPhones. Familiarize yourself with common questions and be prepared to answer them. Nobody ever said IT was easy. The cloud has many current offerings with more being released daily. Some offerings start out great and then form into something that you may no longer want or need over time. Others start out pathetic and blossom into something useful.

Your Data Center: One, Two or No Foot in the Cloud?

To compute in the cloud or to keep using our old main-stay applications? If it were only that simple. You need some tools for being able to review cloud offerings. In Architecture, you will find that there are three primary offerings you should be considering:

  1. Services that you are incapable at providing from your data center due to lack of infrastructure and management resources. (i.e. Email security filtering, Internet security, etc.)
  2. Applications that have collaboration advantages by being provided by a 3rd Party. (i.e. GoToMeeting, Skype, Dropbox, etc.)
  3. Functions that can be shared between your data center and the cloud to provide additional functionality you couldn’t achieve any other way. (i.e. Payroll Processing, Online Backup, etc.)

It’s a Business Decision

In all cases, it behooves you to take a look at the business case of each opportunity:

  1. Does this offer value?
  2. What are the risks?
  3. Do the risks justify the value?

Notice I didn’t say in #3 does the value outweigh the risks? Your mileage will vary, but I strongly suggest your analysis be fairly weighted rather than demanding excess payoff. Demanding excess payoff is an amateur strategy for neglecting to complete your homework on the values and risks and provide padding. Don’t do it.

Ask the Questions Now

There are a number of common risks and gotcha’s with cloud apps you must consider. The complexity of outsourcing something that has always been insourced or purchased outright introduces some hard questions. Your Executives may not be able to ask these questions yet as they don’t have the knowledge and background you do as an IT professional to know where the real pitfalls are. Based on my own experience and discussions with others, here are some questions for any Cloud offering that you must ask yourself (and the firm) before taking the plunge. Mind you this isn’t a complete list – your mileage will vary.

  1. Does it cause an unnecessary security risk and do you trust the company providing the service or application?
  2. If you are putting data out in the cloud, it shouldn’t be your ‘Crown Jewels.’ In other words – could your firm continue to do business if you lost the cloud-stored data?
  3. What is your backup plan if the cloud provider ceases to exist?
  4. If the service or application is priced like a utility (you pay per-something), is it something that can be charged to projects directly?
  5. Users don’t like any more usernames or passwords than absolutely necessary – can their logins be the same as their email address?

The future holds s a great deal of uncertainty and doubt. Questions keep coming up and nobody can answer those questions in a way that makes both sides of the argument happy.

Greg

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