Evolving Infrastructure Operations In The Cloud
By Tim Stone
Businesses have a variety of reasons to move to the cloud based not only on what their own internal needs are calling for but also from the influence of media on the topic. It’s hard to go too long these days without seeing a news piece on the cloud while watching CNN or reading about it in the Wall Street Journal.
As you think about migrating to the cloud and evolving your operations in the process, it’s important to remember all the facets of your operation that may be impacted by the transition. How will the things your company needs to do on an everyday basis change? What roles will become even more crucial and how may they need to shift from where they are today?
You’re also likely to have a number of expectations about what the cloud is going to deliver as a result of this move, such as reducing capital, reducing risk and making your business more agile.
Let’s take a look at these advantages a bit closer.
· Reduced Capital Costs
Capital reduction is both a good and bad thing in that nobody really likes to “break out the checkbook” and spend millions of dollars to invest in another storage frame or more network upgrades. Yet, at the same time, many companies like to write off that capital expense and amortize it over time. Some finance folks may be very confused by getting a credit card statement every month for the cloud models, but they still want to get rid of the capital.
· Reduced Risks
Whether you have your own data center, lease space or have storage in your own building, there’s a degree of risk in having all of your eggs (i.e. your data) in a single basket. By having your physical space down for days, your company could be looking at an awfully big mess with very little flexibility compared to having more of your infrastructure in the cloud.
· Speed and Flexibility
As your business does more, it could be pulled in a whole lot of different directions based on each department’s initiative. For example, your Marketing department may send out a million flyers over a weekend and say, “Oh, by the way, we’re going to have a lot of extra traffic to our website next week.” Can current on premise infrastructure handle that kind of sudden traffic? Maybe, maybe not. Even if it can, it can be very costly. By contrast, the cloud may offer a much more efficient, cost-effective avenue instead.
Setting A Direction
Once your business has decided what they want to do with the cloud, it’s up to architects to go forth and arrive at a practical solution. These individuals tend to look at a solution very much from an application-centric standpoint: Specifically, how is our business, including all of our key internal people, going to use this?
These same architects are not only thinking in the present day but also thinking strategically at a high level for the long-term “big picture” as well. How do we get from what migration looks like on a whiteboard to a real plan we can actually execute on?
With this in mind, there are a couple of approaches you can take to bring the vision of the cloud at your company to reality:
On one hand, you’ve got the “old guard” approach: Those in charge of IT infrastructure keep all “the keys” so to speak as far as making change, strictly enforcing all existing policies and standards. IT has a firm hand on its data centers, its infrastructure and demands total control in the name of knowing what’s going on and maintaining complete security.
The result of this approach? What you’re likely to see is a lot of “Shadow IT” in such an environment: A department isn’t going to go through IT but around it to get what they want. Department heads will put down the company credit card and buy an application from a company, often without IT knowing anything about it. Worse yet, it’s probable that IT will be stuck trying to support an application that they had no input on at all. What you’re left with is a group of individuals in the business who don’t really understand what IT does and only thinks of IT as the cranky people who always say “no” to everything. In this scenario, IT isn’t truly valued by the business nor is it given a seat at the table for important decisions that impact the business.
Fortunately, there’s a second approach that’s far more modern in which IT embraces and supports proposed changes.
What does it mean to do that? First, we want to create a framework that not only IT but also the rest of the business can utilize to move forward.
Start by communicating with all areas of the business, from security groups and account managers to marketing and sales. As you talk to different divisions, tell them about your plans for the cloud. You might say something like, “We’re putting some pieces in place for a cloud migration and making strides but we’d also like to know if you have any thoughts, questions or concerns about this from your department’s perspective.” Get out in front of it and be open to all suggestions.
By the way, guess what’s happening in the course of this communication? IT is building a bridge and becoming a key piece of the business, not merely viewing every potential change through the lens of what it’s going to cost. It’s about IT getting all the business users “on the bus” instead of pushing something down their throats. This positions IT to get its projects and initiatives aligned with what the business needs. And ultimately, it’s the kind of approach that’s more likely to earn IT a seat at the decision-making table.
So what’s a good plan to align IT with the rest of the business?
The best way to start building isn’t by building in a vacuum. If you do that, you’re less likely to know what the business really needs. Instead, I always recommend you find a “guinea pig” in the company, such as a department that already has the cloud “on the brain.” They have a very specific reason why they want to be in the cloud, such as an initiative. Remember our second approach here – start asking them questions such as, “What are you going to do for security? What are you going to need? How can IT help you get there?” You can imagine how this would be much more helpful versus always saying “no” and shutting them down. Get involved in their thought process early and often.
Next, define your “service catalog” based on what that department or team with plans to go into the cloud would like to accomplish. What I mean by service catalog is all of the things that the infrastructure team is actually going to be responsible for. Examples of this service catalog can include backups, security, monitoring and identity access management. IT provides these services to the entire business by defining and setting it up. In the same breath, IT provides a service so that if the Marketing department does go out and buy an application on its own, IT has as a mechanism to back that up. IT can also take on the responsibility of cloud monitoring, with an infrastructure team on call 24/7 as part of the onboarding process too.
Then build for the short-term as you think about the long-term. Be careful not to “boil the ocean” in thinking of every possible scenario to the point of where moving to the cloud seems impossibly large and complex. Instead, start by training your team now on a small project.
One area I’d like to mention that isn’t often thought of as part of the core services infrastructure offering is education. IT can be a resource for questions so that when a marketing and sales person is evaluating software, there can be a larger discussion about the differences between cost and performance. Helping departments and teams make more informed decisions in this manner communicates that IT is a willing partner that is ready to work with the business to ensure smoother transitions – rather than serving as a roadblock to potential evolution and progress.
In the second part of this article, I’ll explore how some infrastructure jobs may evolve when a company decides to move to the cloud and other key considerations on “Day Zero” of a migration effort that can have a profound impact on your team, business framework, communication, forecasting and management.
It’s rare to understand the intricate details of IT while possessing a keen business perspective too. But Tim Stone clearly has that combination, with career accomplishments for clients over the course of 20 years that include increasing annual sales by 25%, supporting 66 operational stores and delivering $3.5 million across 7 lines of technology.
Through the complex projects he takes on at Silent IT for healthcare organizations and in post-merger integration, Tim transforms internal IT departments beyond the traditional cost centers they so often tend to be.