Taking the steps into the cloud

“Cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient, on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources (e.g., networks, servers, storage, applications, and services) that can be rapidly provisioned and released with minimal management effort or service provider interaction.” – The National Institute of Standards and Technology’s definition of cloud computing.My journey to cloud computing began with a single step. Early in 2009, it dawned on me that cloud computing, which I had been paying attention to off and on, was going to fundamentally change the delivery model of information services. I committed myself to reading about, researching and evaluating various cloud computing services. What I was learning became so compelling that I decided to retool my consultancy around cloud computing.I saw how cloud computing could offer my clients the benefits of reduced capital expenditures, lower application costs and the ability to move quickly with new business initiatives. Thinking about the needs of my customers, I developed a “starter kit” of cloud services that covered a baseline of IT services most customers require in one form or another.It consists of services that provide Internet and Web security, spam filtering, message archiving, work group collaboration, IT asset management, help desk and disaster recovery backup – all delivered in the cloud.One client I assisted was an organization facing a license renewal for an on-premises anti-virus and anti-malware program they were not particularly fond of using. I suggested they switch to a cloud-based alternative, which allowed the network manager to deploy and manage the application using the cloud while taking advantage of the “collective intelligence” of systems using the service. This proved so successful they renewed the subscription.Another client was already leaning towards the cloud. He believed locating the organization’s IT services in the cloud would improve business operations with fewer IT headaches. The company’s cloud makeover affected most of its IT services, including messaging, collaboration (file synchronization), project management, Internet security, IT asset management and backup disaster recovery. Although this was a big bite out of the cloud, he can see that moving these functions to the cloud has improved their business operations.A third client, a professional accounting firm, several principals of which attended a conference that looked at the use of a cloud-based tax preparation application. When they returned home they contacted me for a consultation. After some initial meetings they decided to update their aging IT systems and network first, so the network “plumbing” and most of the PCs were replaced.Their on-premises tax preparation software was then networked from a previous stand-alone configuration and the plan to migrate to the cloud-based version was discussed with the application vendor. However, given the proximity to the start of the 2010 tax preparation season, they decided to delay the migration to the cloud until after their busy season. They did subscribe to a cloud-based Internet and Web browser security service as well as a cloud-based backup disaster recovery.On your scheduleThese three examples of going to the cloud typify how you can do it. The first example is what I call picking the low-hanging fruit. A troublesome premises application is selected for replacement by one delivered in the cloud. The decision to do it was quick. The risk was low, and the success can translate into further interest in going to the cloud for IT services.The second example is a variation on the “rip and replace” scenario, where a group of premises applications are replaced with cloud application services. This kind of major move to the cloud requires a plan for getting from the premises to the cloud without interrupting the delivery of information services. The risk associated with migrating any particular IT service to the cloud is relatively low because the premises application being replaced is not decommissioned until the cloud services are successfully implemented.The third example is a hybrid of the previous two. The low-hanging fruit is picked by subscribing to several low-risk cloud services, while the migration of a line-of-business application to the cloud is being planned for a time when business pressures will be lower and the opportunity to move it and use it will be optimum.The way to achieve the benefits of cloud computing begins with a single step, after which you can move at a pace that completes the journey on your schedule. It’s important to have a cloud strategy that you can evaluate from time to time and, of course, you need a competent cloud navigator to make sure it happens.Tim Wessels, founder of Oort Cloud Computing, Rindge, has been an IT consultant in the Monadnock area for over 25 years. He can be reached at navigator@.oortcloudcomputing.com.