Should I migrate to the Cloud?

Cloud Computing is one of current Information Technology (IT) buzz words. What is this cloud, you ask? Sorry my friend, you might just be headed for obsolescence. The Cloud is a massive computing resource that is (in most cases) accessible on the Internet; a tsunami sized wave threatening the traditional IT model. Using computers might soon be similar to using electricity or water, i.e., a utility model.

There has been a spate of recent announcements from key players seeking to dominate the next frontier of computing. VMware has announced its next version of its vCloud suite, and its Pivotal spinoff in collaboration with EMC. This venture has attracted investment from GE to further the Internet of Things. Amazon has been upping the ante with its EC2 platform and suite of services, with constant price reductions to capture market share. IBM recently joined the OpenStack alliance. Not to be left behind are computing giants Google and Microsoft, and several smaller players.

The title of this post reflects the angst felt by many IT professionals, from the CIO downwards. Given the potential of this unstoppable force, how do we survive and thrive in this environment? CIOs are charged with crafting a viable strategy, and other IT professionals are engaged in collecting inputs. The Cloud terrifies traditional IT departments; however it is not intrinsically harmful. It just means different things to different organizational functions.

The CIO sees massive projects implemented at a lesser cost, and without an army of consultants. The CFO sees Capex converted into Opex, which can quickly scale up and down with the business cycle. The Business sees a means to get services and applications deployed on demand; they are prepared for an end run around IT and its policies. Small businesses see rapid deployment of a reliable system without the need to setup and support dedicated infrastructure. A huge reminder to IT that “Business as Usual” no longer works. Migration is inevitable, with or without cooperation from IT.

Given this scenario, how do I decide what applications to migrate to the Cloud and what to retain in-house? A quick primer.

Web sites and portals: Move now, these moved to the Cloud several years ago.

Extranet and Intranet applications: Unless these are linked to internal ERP, they can move.

CRM: If you are using SalesForce or similar applications, you are already on the Cloud. Else, migrate to a Cloud service at the soonest.

Infrastructure and Business Applications: For the most part, such applications are already available on the Cloud (Email, Storage, Sharepoint, etc.). Move to the Cloud at your convenience.

Databases: If you have a small database, there are several Cloud databases available. The technology is not yet mature for large databases.

MRP/ERP systems: These are complex systems that are not easy to migrate. However, your software vendor is likely to release a Cloud-enabled version soon.

Does this mean almost everything can be migrated and needs to move to the Cloud? Not necessarily. The above is a guideline indicating when certain applications can move to the Cloud. Each company will need to consider a number of factors before moving. Core IP, or the crown jewels of a company are better retained in-house. Massive infrastructure and complex systems represent a huge exit barrier, and may not provide significant reliability or cost benefits from migration to the Cloud. Major Cloud providers have suffered high-profile service outages, and it is difficult to enforce Service Level Agreements.

Ultimately, the Cloud means that hardware, platforms, and applications are abstracted into a massive resource that we can utilize and pay as we go. However, it also means that we have to give up on traditional IT notions of control.

How would IT professionals survive and thrive in a Cloud-enabled world? By designing a reliable Cloud-based architecture, providing support on Cloud-based applications, and proactively understanding business needs to enable rapid delivery.

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