Cloud and SaaS offerings have moved from bleeding edge to a mainstream part of most IT infrastructures. However, these offerings are still relatively new — especially when compared to the decades of experience most IT leaders have in building and maintaining internal infrastructure. Cloud may now seem like a proven delivery method, but there are still some key areas to consider as you move portions of your infrastructure to the cloud.
The illusion of resilience
The resilience of internal infrastructure is relatively easy to assess. One can walk the data center, identify points of failure, and build appropriate countermeasures into the infrastructure. With cloud, there's often an illusion of resilience, since the only 'infrastructure' that's visible is a connection to the internet. It can be unclear whether the provider on the other end of that connection is running state-of-the-art, fully redundant equipment, or their 'data center' is a dusty closet or garage.
For critical services, don't just take the vendor's word on the quality of their infrastructure, especially in the case of second- or third-tier providers. Industry research and peer recommendations can be helpful, but there's no harm in getting on the plane and checking out a vendor's facilities in person.
The cost of integration
Cloud and SaaS often provide commodity services with little or no setup time. I am still amazed that someone with a credit card number and a few minutes can purchase and provision enterprise-class services that were previously exclusive to Fortune 1000 companies. For business process-related services, however, much of the cost of acquiring functionality is in the integration with existing systems and processes.
The pricing model of cloud might be incredibly attractive, but integration costs can outweigh the benefits of moving hardware and software offsite for some services. Cloud-based ERP, for example, has struggled to gain traction in heavy manufacturing organizations, since there are so many deep integration points. If you're considering using a cloud provider for a key piece of business functionality, investigate the quality of the interfaces the vendor provides and ensure they'll meet your needs. Many cloud providers deliver rich APIs and interfaces, but they're often highly standardized and offer limited opportunity for enhancement and modification.
Cleaning up after cloud
An interesting aspect of many cloud deployments is that they do the hard work of migrating to the cloud, then wrap up the effort and send everyone off to bigger and better things — only to discover their savings are less than originally estimated. Often this is due to a failure to redeploy or dispose of infrastructure that's now provided by the cloud. Ensure that any cloud deployment you embark on includes a loopback effort to decommission internal services that have since been moved to the cloud and considers how to redeploy affected staff as well.
As the cloud and SaaS mature, they have become key tools in IT leaders' arsenals, allowing for cost savings, better capacity management, and more rapid deployment. With some care and consideration, you can mitigate the risks that remain and capture the full benefit of moving IT services to these new models.
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About the author
Patrick Gray works for a global Fortune 500 consulting and IT services company and is the author of Breakthrough IT: Supercharging Organizational Value through Technology as well as the companion e-book The Breakthrough CIO's Companion. Patrick has spent more than a decade providing strategy-consulting services to Fortune 500 and 1000 companies.