8 questions that will dominate enterprise cloud adoption

IDC analyst says that as enterprises fully embrace cloud, there are still major questions around strategy and management

SANTA CLARA - Enterprises have spent the past few years considering if they'll embrace cloud computing. For the many that have made the move, their attention has now turned to managing the cloud and getting business value from it, says IDC Chief Cloud Analyst Frank Gens.

As IT transitions from the "if" to the "how" phase, enterprises are wrestling with a slew of fresh questions. On the infrastructure side, will a public or private cloud be used? Which vendors are best to work with -- legacy IT players or emerging cloud companies? Which mobile device operating systems should be used to enable access to cloud software and what platforms should be used to build next-generation cloud applications?

Those questions were the focus of discussion Wednesday morning at the Cloud Leadership Forum, a three-day event in Santa Clara sponsored by IDC and IDG Enterprise (Network World is an IDGE company).

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Enterprises are undoubtedly moving to the cloud. One data point: 75% of respondents to a survey by CIO Magazine say they plan to significantly increase spending on the cloud in the next year. Half of those respondents say they have a "cloud-first" strategy for applications and infrastructure. Still, major questions remain about how the cloud will be managed to create real value for businesses. Gens and IDGE Chief Content Officer John Gallant ran through the top eight questions that will dominate top-level IT cloud discussions in the next year:

1) What is the right perspective?

A starting point for developing a cloud strategy is determining what your enterprise can and should use the cloud for. "Cloud is most interesting when it's not just about how the CTO can make it happen, but it's about what can make the CEO excited about what it can do for the business," Gens says. The cloud can be an entire service architecture that can change IT staffing, cost structures and business processes, for the better or worse depending on how it's implemented.

The emergence of cloud, Gens says, marks an evolution in IT platforms. The first platform in the early days of enterprise computing was around the mainframe and terminal model. A second platform embraced the Internet and a client-server model, which was dominated by the PC.

"Right now we're in the middle of the forming of a third platform," Gens says, with the cloud at the back end of it. Meanwhile, the front end is moving beyond the PC by enabling mobile devices to be the main access point to the cloud.

2) What's the right pace for cloud adoption?

Many organizations question exactly how aggressively they should adopt the cloud. The key, Gens says, is to put that question in a market context as to where peer companies are in the process. Is your industry an early adopter, is it in the early or late majority, or is it a lagging industry for the cloud? "Folks are pushing hard on cloud, and I believe we're at the front of the early majority in most markets," he says. It's important to make sure your enterprise is working at a pace that's relevant to your industry sector.

3) What's the right model for cloud adoption?

There are fundamental questions that the highest levels of an enterprise executive team must consider if they're moving to the cloud, Gens says. One of the major differentiating factors is to embrace a public or private cloud model, with the difference being who is managing the cloud. In a private cloud the IT user still has control over cloud management, whereas in a public cloud, it is managed by the provider. Gens says an increasingly common structure is a managed private cloud, which is dedicated, single-tenant cloud infrastructure in a public cloud environment. A variety of players offer such services, including Terremark, a Verizon company, and Amazon Web Services and Rackspace. As connections to public clouds continue to improve through VPNs and direct Ethernet links, those managed private clouds become an attractive option that allows for the security of a private cloud while leveraging the economies of scale of a public cloud.

4) What's the right organizational structure for your cloud?

Once a choice is made relative to migrating to the cloud, the next question is how it will be managed. IDGE Chief Content Officer John Gallant says 44% of respondents to the CIO survey reported that new roles have been created in their IT shops after migrating to the cloud, while 69% said their IT shop has to rapidly expand its skillset to manage the cloud.

Gens says he sees an opportunity for cloud management tools and services, but organizations have to be willing to give up some of the control associated with that. It comes down to an opportunity cost, Gens says. "You need to ask yourself how much value you get from being able to spin the knobs and tune the system yourself," he says. For many enterprises, focusing on the value-added business opportunities that the cloud delivers can be the best use of internal resources.

5) What's the right community for your cloud?

The cloud is creating two major areas where enterprises will be pushed to decide what type of platform to use. One is around the end-user access point to the cloud through mobile devices, with the leading players today being Apple iOS and Android mobile operating systems. HTML5 is an emerging standard, while Microsoft is pushing hard with its Windows phones and RIM is attempting to keep its BlackBerry relevant with a big upgrade planned for later this year. Gens says he believes this market will shake out in the coming year.

The second area is around which platform will be used to develop enterprise applications that run in the cloud. This side of the market is still emerging, Gens says, but major platform-as-a-service (PaaS) players so far include Google AppsEngine, Microsoft Azure and IBM's SmartCloud PaaS. This decision could determine what type of "IT shop" your organization becomes moving forward.

6) Who are the right partners for your cloud strategy?

Outside of PaaS, there is a wide market developing around the infrastructure, software and service areas of the cloud. This mixes major cloud players that are relatively new to working with enterprise IT - such as Amazon and SalesForce.com - with big-name players that have dominated enterprise IT but are relatively new to working in the cloud, such as IBM, HP, CSC and Accenture. The new players are cloud-savvy but are developing an enterprise IT reputation, whereas traditional players have legacy relationships with IT, and are unveiling their cloud strategies. "I wouldn't count either of these [sets of] players out," Gens says.

7) What's the right destination?

Once a cloud strategy is adopted, the question is what the goal is for the organization. The cloud can be about enabling technology to better service the business to make it more agile and cost efficient. Those solutions are tailored specifically to each business though, so Gens believes there could be continued movement toward cloud services that are targeted to more specific vertical industries. These could include healthcare focused clouds, or clouds focused specifically on the financial services sector, for example.

8) What are the details?

Finally, the technology powering the entire cloud is a focus area for cloud optimization. Enabling the network to connect to this cloud infrastructure and applications, security controls and management of upgrades, are all questions to be addressed. "These are the details with a capital D," Gens says. But, he estimates that 80% of success is asking the right questions for your specific instance.

Network World staff writer Brandon Butler covers cloud computing and social collaboration. He can be reached at BButler@nww.com and found on Twitter at @BButlerNWW.

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