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Cloud Computing - overcoming the key inhibitors

NCC Guidelines - Volume 1 - Number 2In challenging economic times a low cost, low hassle service is very attractive to executive boards, especially as the most well known providers of cloud services, such as IBM, Microsoft, on the technology side and Amazon and Google on the service side, are also trusted household names. Their products and services are already being used throughout their business by those very same senior managers.

However, cloud services cost less for a reason. Usually they have been standardised and packaged to achieve benefits of scale. Anyone buying in the cloud therefore needs to ask questions about the services on offer, just as when buying in a supermarket they might ask whether a product contains nuts, for example. In fact, it may be necessary to ask further questions about how the supermarket bakes its products and ask for notification of any changes to its processes. Choosing the wrong product may not only give you something different to what you need; it can be fatal.

The full unabridged Guidelines from which this is extracted highlights the most common business and technical issues that may slow or even stop businesses taking up cloud services and discusses ways of addressing them, including case-study examples of how companies have been tackling those same issues in the real world.

These are still early days for cloud adoption and both service providers and customers are still learning, so it is also important to look at some of the inhibitors to adopting cloud, the challenges that it brings and how they can be overcome. There are many interdependent business, operational and technical dimensions.

The drive towards Cloud Computing within an organisation typically comes from the business, not its IT department. The irony is that small innovative businesses and new start-ups see the cloud as their key enabler, providing off-the-peg services that rival those of larger competitors but avoid the need to build costly IT infrastructures. The cloud effectively lowers competitive barriers. It is no surprise then that start-ups are the keenest adopters of cloud services. Larger enterprises and more established IT departments are already buried in complexity and see the cloud as a threat to their role as gatekeeper to IT services, as well as introducing a raft of technical issues that IT departments would rather not deal with.

However, once you start exploring the workings of the cloud and examining its fit with your organisation’s requirements and existing infrastructure, the range of options and potential challenges seems to grow exponentially.

From a user’s perspective the cloud:

  • is delivered and managed by someone else (ie, not the user’s organisation)
  • is easy to access from a modern user interface such as a browser or applet
  • meets the functional and capacity needs of the individual or business
  • is always on (with apparent 100% availability) and is accessible anywhere from any device
  • is implicitly secure
  • delivers consistent and dependable performance
  • is low-cost (or ideally free).

Cloud services are capable of delivering significant benefits to an organisation – benefits measured in terms of cost savings (but not always!), scalability, anytime anywhere any device availability, resilience – the list is long. But for anything other than a start-up with a completely green-field requirement, moving to the cloud also requires careful planning, analysis and business justification. The lay view of the cloud does not provide a good basis for a business-wide implementation.

The level of adoption of cloud services varies significantly according to the location of a potential user organisation, the size of organisation, and whether it is in the public or private sector. Differences in the level of adoption are typically driven by factors such as familiarity with the cloud, concerns about the location and security of information in the cloud and integration issues. These weigh differently on organisations according to type, with start-ups most likely to adopt and large public sector organisations the most cautious. However there is also a great deal of small scale adoption of cloud services by individual users.

The commodity nature of cloud services is both an advantage and a disadvantage. It lowers costs, delivers standardisation and delivers relatively painless service upgrades but that also means that services are unlikely to meet the exact letter of any corporate requirement. So in contrast to the way companies have traditionally issued invitations to tender and then sought customised responses, the cloud requires companies to accept, within narrow limits, standardised offerings.

This pushes the responsibility for assessing the ability of cloud services to meet individual corporate requirements back onto the customer. The customer has to define what it wants in terms of security, privacy, resilience, integration capability and then conduct an assessment of what is on offer against those requirements. Further, the assessment has to get into the mind of the cloud service provider to determine what changes the provider is likely to make and their potential impact on the customer’s organisation.

Cloud services may give the impression that they require no management – and that might well be true for individual customers – but for most organisations the same service-management requirements apply as for conventional managed services. The big difference lies in the degree of flexibility that can be achieved in any service relationship. To manage service levels effectively requires careful study of the factors that the customer can influence in the cloud relationship and those it cannot.

Finally, adopting a framework can help structure thinking about potential moves to the cloud without constraining precisely how that objective is achieved: it is possible to traverse the frame matrix in any direction and under several activities simultaneously. Through careful planning and analysis most organisations should be able to benefit from adopting cloud services which offer new capabilities at reduced cost and with minimum risk to the business.

NCC Guidelines - Volume 1 - Number 2: Cloud Computing – overcoming the key inhibitors (pdf)



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