Occasionally I have a sit-down with my colleagues from the industry and we discuss past achievements and future challenges. A lot of discussion focuses on cloud computing, so the thought that the IT industry isn't seeing as great a progress as laymen might think is quite disappointing. The cloud is a unique opportunity to improve our data and information management, but only if we grasp the idea that the cloud is not a question of technology but of organization and processes.
My colleague was even more colorful and relentless with his response, saying that the most evident progress in IT in the last three decades was switching from green screen terminals to using multicolored screens. The fact is that we process our data more or less the same way, whereas adding different technological solutions can lead merely to increased complexity. Modern IT environments are truly difficult to completely control. And this complexity will follow you into the cloud if you merely migrate your existing environments to somebody else's servers.
In these days cloud services are much desired solutions mostly for different departments within a company, i.e. marketing, sales, etc. For them it's a way of placing and keeping the company on a higher competitive level. At the same time, most don't see it as an entirely different use of IT resources, but only as savings. Companies are currently gazing towards private clouds and hybrid environments. They are willing to hand over less critical business operations to the hands of external vendors while keeping a full grip over the more critical parts. Interestingly enough, this way the already mentioned complexity remains unaltered even in cloud environments. This burden is not shifted to the vendor or system integrator, contrary to what many CIOs or even CTOs might believe. Not many realize that maintaining your own cloud demands more knowledge than hosting your IT with an external vendor.
So how do companies nowadays tackle challenges related to their IT? Roughly speaking, the challenge is divided among three actors. Fortunately, users are becoming more and more computer‑literate so they manage to solve a third of less difficult problems relating to the OS or applications. Another third of the tougher nuts are cracked by the company's own IT department while the remaining third, i.e., the most demanding challenges, are left to the appropriately paid system integrator or external partner.
Several decades of experience and practice show that owning your infrastructure can be a less expensive alternative only for large enterprises and companies with static IT needs, demanding the right staff that can set up and manage appropriate environments. On average, this amounts to 2.5% of company employees being IT specialists. So a company with about 100 employees has only two to three IT specialists, who, frankly, can hardly control all enterprise technologies present nowadays.
I dare say that today the cloud is the right solution for all companies with up to a thousand employees.
Don't worry, the following part won't be as confusing as the title. Just like with private relationships, in business and technology over-complicating matters isn't a good thing. But many companies are doing exactly the opposite. Each company has its own »special« processes, which are tailor-made and “just the right ones”. Of course there's nothing wrong with this. If they could just avoid reinventing the wheel. The cloud brings two benefits—high efficiency and savings, but the foundation of the cloud lies in placing a common denominator on business operations and optimizing them. The cloud won't let you constantly alter you processes. Well, it will let you, but you won't be saving in the process.
Migrating to the cloud, whether private or public, will take you on a 4-step program—Consolidation, Virtualization, Automation and Standardization (hence the paragraph title). Many companies have tried looking for shortcuts, but in this process there are none.
Today, consolidation is omnipresent, because numerous companies a relocating their key technologies from remote locations to central ones, leaving there only users with their devices or clients. This makes the need for a fast, reliable, and relatively inexpensive connectivity the first criterion for any cloud activity. What follows is a virtualization of data center IT resources, including servers, storage and network.
Don't go rushing into the cloud unprepared
Most companies are already just a step before jumping into the cloud. A Software-defined data center truly is the foundation, but for a complete migration into the cloud you also and mostly need process automation. But before making this step you have to standardize your processes. This procedure isn't related to cloud technology, but mostly deals with having an image of all business operations within your company, which means listing them and drawing up processes.
The next step is the most painful one. Which processes should you give up and why? If we strive towards a successful process standardization and automation, we need to perform most company operations in the exact same of at least similar way. Processes need to be discussed with users/employees in order to simplify and optimize them. Only then will you be able to migrate the company environment into the cloud and enjoy the cloud's benefits. As a result, you will become more agile and quicker when introducing new applications and/or services.
So what point am I trying to put across? Mostly that migrating to the cloud is not related to technology but to company processes. Many IT companies are trying to present the cloud only as a technology, but this leaves them without the appropriate end result. Don't make the same mistake.