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Converging the Cloud

01 Aug 2011

Information is the lifeblood of every company, providing enterprise and government organisations with the keys to long-term business sustainability and growth. However, the ever increasing complexity of an organisation’s data centres, coupled with the massive growth of information itself is multiplying the amount of resources required to store, process, optimise and serve information back to end users. Many data centres now face shortages in floor space, insufficient power and cooling capabilities, trade-offs between IT agility and vendor lock-in, as well as continual challenges and costs in managing disparate islands of information and infrastructure. Attempting to address these issues, organisations have rapidly adopted virtualisation and are now looking to cloud delivery service models to reduce costs, increase flexibility and improve their time to market.View from the CloudMany pundits have shown that cloud services will play a major role in transforming IT into a utility. By breaking down IT silos through virtualisation and allowing IT applications to be offered like metered electricity services, it allows businesses to maximise new opportunities faster or improve cost efficiency in business. Cloud, like any IT paradigm, has its challenges. It requires a rethinking of security and compliance. It also puts a lot more focus on network and data management. This means organisations with inadequate risk management processes, clogged pipelines or poor data facilities will find it difficult to enjoy the benefits of cloud.However, these challenges are often whitewashed by the promises of many vendors. With many vendors ‘cloud washing’ in order to sell their equipment to customers, in the swirling confusion, many have bought into ‘cloud-ready’ equipment that is seemingly at odds with those bought earlier. The result: many clouds turning into nightmarish storms. With this in mind, how do you ensure that cloud works for your customers? The success of the implementation depends on how you view clouds – and this may require a significant rewiring of what you think you know about the topic. Before you begin the journey with your customer, it is advisable for both of you to consider a number of questions:1. Are we deploying virtualisation to its fullest extent?Virtualisation is critical for clouds. In addition to the cost savings and streamlining of the IT environment for better utilisation of resources, virtualisation’s ability to separate the operating system and application from the hardware makes it ideal for delivering on-demand cloud services. Whether it is storage, network or server virtualisation with virtual machines, it allows enterprises to quickly ‘cloud’ their infrastructure and pool their disparate and heterogeneous resources together. To fully realise the promise of private and public cloud investments, customers and service providers will require a fully virtualised IT infrastructure to achieve scale and agility while lowering costs.If the customer is looking for a cloud service provider to build and host its cloud environment, examine how the company leverages virtualisation for better benefits. For example, virtualisation can help to partition a hosting server for different software or tenants, improving security and privacy of data.2. What are the customer’s expectations from the cloud?Adopting a cloud environment is only the first step. As more services are offered using this platform, the environment will necessarily become more complex. Organisations which are ill-prepared for this will likely face significant growth, security and performance challenges in the near future. Expectations also become more sophisticated as cloud services become more entrenched. Users will expect services to be available akin to flicking on a light switch and if it does not meet expectations immediately, dissatisfaction will grow. Developing the right best practices and service level agreement, all while constantly monitoring and improving them, is well advised. Not all clouds are made equal. A public cloud allows companies to take full advantage of the Internet and its resources, while a private cloud builds a cloud infrastructure within the four walls of an organisation. You may want to discuss with your customer whether they want to adopt a hybrid approach that balances the benefits of the public & provate models as they move into cloud at their own pace. 3. What is the plan for utilising services from external sources?One of the major benefits of cloud services is that organisations can now subscribe to services that are already available externally. The IT team can focus on subscribing to services that enhance or add value to an organisation, instead of being worried about IT infrastructure management or developing applications to meet business requirements. This allows the organisation to quickly utilise key services or re-package as new services to meet user or market demands. However, utilising external services can be a huge concern for many businesses that are not built to share beyond their own IT environment. It requires a rethinking of IT policies and management. Another point to consider is how an external service provider charges and meets the organisation’s future needs. Cloud allows the use of pay-per-use and chargeback models to simplify cost management and improve budget forecasting, while offering the ability to scale up, down or out, according to customer needs. This ability enables enterprises to meet increasing demands of applications and servers, support multiple servers with changing workload requirements and extend the platform’s capabilities and value to heterogeneous storage. These are capabilities you need to study before subscribing. Taking it Step By StepWhen discussing the transition to the cloud with your customers, a methodical approach to adoption is recommended.  Companies should stay away from the urge to simply ‘jump in’ without understanding clearly how the service will be delivered, what the different SLAs for the service will be, and the expected outcome/benefit to the business.One of the key enablers of an effective cloud strategy is the integration of storage, server, data network and systems software into a single cloud infrastructure foundation. This approach allows organisations to deploy, consolidate and scale cloud solutions at their own pace, without needing to undo pre-existing IT systems. There is significant market opportunity with emerging cloud providers, managed service providers and larger commercial organisations. By the channel working closely with customers to clearly understand the considerations to deploying cloud before embarking on the cloud journey, both parties can be assured that they are comprehensively and accurately analysing the existing storage environment, in order to be well-equipped to realise cloud’s benefits. 

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