Think you're not ready for cloud?

perspective Your business may already be getting to grips with the fundamental practices needed to bring cloud computing to life, says analyst.
Written by Martin Atherton, Contributor

perspective Whatever your opinion of cloud computing, as time progresses it is clear we will see more and more opportunities to consume IT resources and software applications as services.

First let's look at one side of the cloud computing story: utilizing services offered by external third parties. Today, with a few exceptions, mainstream businesses are doing little more than listening to talk about these services with interest and perhaps displaying some healthy skepticism.

Looking ahead, we will know when businesses get serious about adoption, as experimental or exceptional use of cloud services will start to give way to broader exploitation to solve everyday needs.

As organizations move into this stage, they will likely focus on tightly scoped, discrete requirements that do not present much in the way of complexity from an implementation and operations perspective.

If we keep this relatively simple view in mind, it is easy to imagine many businesses engaging with the cloud to some degree in the medium term.

At some point, assuming that cloud services deliver on the promises now being made, we will step into the next stage: cloud services becoming intertwined with non-cloud services, as opposed to running alongside, or as exceptions to them. This is a sensible assumption to make, given that it is the norm in business for systems and processes to be joined to other systems and processes.

Hence, to actually get serious about cloud computing, we need to look beyond the one-dimensional, one-offness of today's fledgling offerings and consider how to weave multiple services together.

This is where the fun begins. If organizations get to this point through organic growth in the use of cloud offerings without proper planning and process, they are likely to end with a risky, fragmented mess.

Why? Because most businesses today readily acknowledge that coordinating operations, service levels, support and maintenance across their in-house systems in the context of service consumption and delivery is, at best, a work in progress.

Indeed, although Freeform Dynamics research has shown that although today's IT departments are doing a pretty good job, they readily acknowledge that things could be better. They also agree that the tools and strategies they employ could benefit from some degree of revitalization.

Hence, adding cloud services and external service providers into this equation will be complex and challenging. As well as physical integration dependencies, the existence of multiple service providers means an additional layer of commercial and contract dependencies--not to mention the interesting question of responsibility and accountability when things go wrong or need to change.

This situation is two steps on from where we are today in terms of cloud computing adoption but it's what businesses need to be thinking about.

Becoming familiar with the challenges associated with a multi-service, multi-provider ecosystem will mean the difference between cloud computing truly becoming an integral part of business, or it failing due to disappointment and lack of readiness on the part of service providers and customers alike.

Fortunately, many organizations have been mindful of the challenges the cloud presents for some time, although without necessarily accounting for cloud computing specifically. Business service management, or BSM, is a discipline invented to contain the activities associated with getting to grips with 'multi-dimensional' management.

As acronyms go, BSM is standing the test of time quite well. It has some sensible principles at its core which encourage us to think about service from a business rather than an IT perspective. While this is not an unfamiliar concept, it can be difficult to achieve.

In simplistic terms, BSM is about determining what services the business needs from IT, defining them, measuring and monitoring how well these services are being delivered, and feeding that information back to IT to enable the services to be adapted and improved. This is all as true and relevant for cloud services as it is for existing 'traditional' IT and business services, and thus for the combinations of the two.

In a nutshell, the monitoring and management software, best practices, service level agreements (SLAs) and operational processes required to manage all this have to be geared up to measure business service outcomes because, for externally provided cloud services at least, there is no physical infrastructure to manage.

'Pre-cloud' BSM was essentially trying to do the same thing--manage the outcome, or the effect, of the service rather than the underlying physical infrastructure. So in that sense, BSM has always been 'cloud ready'.

We are moving towards an era in computing where IT infrastructure, the business services we consume and the visibility and control mechanisms which govern them are all separated but aligned. The effort required to manage all this is not trivial, and it stands between where we are now and the broader promise of cloud computing.

Martin Atherton is research director at analyst house Freeform Dynamics. This article was first published on ZDNet Asia's sister site, Silicon.com.

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