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IT Operations Needs to Evolve to Support Cloud

Rethinking IT infrastructure, and services, in the cloud age.

To say cloud computing is a big trend today is an understatement. There’s not a company I talk to, small or large, that doesn’t have cloud on the mind. While much of the focus on cloud has been on lowering the cost of computing, some organizations I have interviewed recently have been focusing on understanding what cloud enables that traditional computing does not.

This is similar to the transition that enterprises went through when computing shifted from mainframes to client server applications. One of the first mainstream PC applications was a 3270 emulator, which made it much cheaper to deliver “green screens” to more users. However, over time client server allowed IT to deliver new applications to branch offices and other locations where mainframe connections couldn’t reach. All of a sudden, if you hadn’t moved to client server, your company was falling behind competitively.

This is where cloud sits today. The industry has focused on cost but leading organizations are finding ways to leverage the cloud to bring new functionality to the company, primarily around the areas of supporting mobility and “bring your own device” policies. While conventional wisdom today suggests that moving to cloud is risky, within a year or so, not moving to the cloud will be where the risk is, so the game is now afoot.

One of the biggest inhibitors I still see is that IT operations aren’t really optimized for cloud. Legacy IT departments are highly engrained in siloes, with storage, network and server operations all having their own, independent operations teams that go about doing their own thing with little thought about how it impacts the other groups. Historically, this has been OK because the infrastructure also lived in isolation. Sure, things popped up from time to time that required coordination, but IT could live with these siloes and make it work.

Cloud, on the other hand, requires much tighter integration of IT infrastructure. Virtual machine moves need to trigger network policy changes and storage movement. Cloud brings a certain level of agility and fluidity to IT that enables resources to migrate from one location to the other based on business need. However, the movement of IT resources must be a coordinated task driving the need for IT operations to not just be aligned but to be truly integrated.

I’ve interviewed a few companies that have done this well by rolling up IT operations under one owner or bringing in an overlay IT group to run the cloud while legacy IT does the old stuff. For those of you who find yourselves in the legacy IT camp, do what you can to start the educational process, as you don’t want to find yourself on the outside looking in on this current trend.

I do think the tools used to support IT need to evolve as well. Even those in organizations that have leveraged cloud successfully have told me that good cloud tools are still non-existent. Sure, there are some vendor-specific offerings, but there isn’t something like a vendor-neutral tool that allows single-click provisioning across storage, network and servers. The monitoring of cloud has improved some with many of the flow-based analytic tools now able to see across physical, virtual and cloud infrastructure, giving end-to-end visibility. But provisioning and ongoing operational support tools are areas that still need to evolve.

The time for cloud is now, but success depends on IT operations evolving to support the new computing paradigm.

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