With all the attention being paid to both public and private cloud computing these days, it would be easy to believe that it offers a panacea for the woes of every CIO. If only! The reality of designing and implementing a cloud strategy, particularly the public component, is far more complex than any technology vendor or analyst paper would have you believe. Faced with an array of trade-offs, public cloud computing is creating considerable challenges for CIOs and their teams.
Like every new technology paradigm that has come before, cloud computing presents both clear advantages and near-term limitations that need to be addressed ( I deliberately say near-term, as IT innovation has a neat way of figuring stuff out eventually. Sadly, not always when you need it, and certainly not for the benefit of early adopters.)
With the C-suite continuing to apply pressure to get more value from IT and reduce cost, moving technology services into an externally hosted environment or subscribing to an online business solution can be a quick and convenient win. But can a strategy like this be applied successfully in a repeatable fashion without significant trade-offs?
While every business needs to consider public cloud computing in the context of its own needs and risk profile, I’ve identified a sample of puzzles that most CIOs will likely need to address. There are many others of course, but these should be sufficiently provocative.
Puzzle #1: Create flexibility by being less flexible
Moving capability to the cloud can provide clear advantages such as storage elasticity (the ability to increase or decrease needs as necessary and only pay for the amount used) and pay-per-feature options. But these flexibilities may come at the price of vendor lock-in and limiting feature sets. Will this compromise be acceptable? Difficulty level: Medium.
Puzzle #2: Determine the cost of an existing IT solution
Whether an IT service should remain internal or be hosted in the cloud requires a level of cost accounting (the true costs of labor, utilities, backups, disaster recovery etc.), which is seldom applied to the cost of running a technology service. This puzzle requires the CIO to understand and allocate the appropriate costs for each service being considered for the cloud. Hint: Don’t forget to include opportunity costs. Difficulty level: High.
Puzzle #3: Simplify the environment by introducing more complexity
Move a complex business process to a software-as-a-service (SaaS) provider and you immediately eliminate the complexity of developing, managing, and hosting the solution internally. However, move lots of processes to a variety of providers and you may introduce challenges in getting these applications to interface with each other. You also provide a considerably less unified experience to the user. While standard APIs ease the flow of data, supporting disparate vendor solutions adds a new level of complexity. Difficulty level: Medium.
Puzzle #4: Provide assurances of sustainability in a domain of uncertainty
Public cloud solutions remain largely nascent and unproven over the long term. With the benefits so compelling, it can be hard to resist moving forward with what may appear to be a great fit. With little ability to ensure that the solution will be available in the long-term, the challenge is to receive and provide assurances to already skeptical stakeholders. Difficulty level: High.
Puzzle #5: Maintain security while reducing it
Providing a secure computing environment is the priority of every CIO. With threats increasing and becoming ever more elaborate, this is a space with little room for error or oversight. By moving services to the cloud, you may essentially be outsourcing your security. Difficulty level: High.
One could assume from this posting that I’m not supportive of the movement to the public cloud. But nothing could be further from the truth. The opportunities for us — such as lower cost, increased agility, and new business possibilities — are obvious and compelling. We embrace innovation earlier than most, but we want to be smart about it. In fact, it is our own efforts at O’Reilly IT that have sparked these discussion points. Given what’s at stake, a deliberate and diligent approach is absolutely essential. It’s clearly not all or nothing. We’ll migrate only what makes sense. Since moving services to the public cloud is often a unidirectional process (they’re unlikely to move back in-house without significant cost and serious disruption) it’s important to avoid buyer’s remorse.
If you’ve solved some of these puzzles we’d love to hear how you did it and any trade-offs you had to make. We’re also interested in other conundrums that cloud computing presents.