IT Infrastructure Forecast: Cloudy With a Chance of Cost Savings
Migrating an IT infrastructure to the cloud is not for the faint of heart. But you wouldn’t know it with all the hype and promise of massive cost savings, simple deployment and ease of management. To the contrary, realizing the benefits of a virtual infrastructure requires careful planning, specialized knowledge of cloud computing architecture and concepts and how management of virtual resources through monitoring and provisioning applications is performed.
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What most CIOs and IT managers read and hear about is what is possible with the cloud, not about the journey to the cloud and how IT must change along the way. Many IT infrastructures, especially with older companies that have gone through many mergers and acquisitions, have a hodgepodge of modern and legacy IT assets, not all of which will map cleanly to cloud resources. This means an exercise in inventorying all IT assets, both hardware and applications to see what makes sense to move to the cloud.
Of course this assumes there is an end game or an enterprise IT strategy that is known in advance of this exercise. The traditional physical infrastructure IT strategy model must radically change when key infrastructure is offloaded to the cloud. And that affects everyone involved not just within IT but with relationships outside of IT, such as with vendors, business operations and marketing programs.
If this seems like a lot of work, then you are getting the picture. Often, IT departments don’t charge back other departments for time and materials spent on improving efficiencies and agility through the normal cycle of hardware and application refreshes. Going through an infrastructure cloud migration process can be very time consuming. If time spent during planning is not budgeted, tracked and accounted for, then true cost savings cannot be realized.
To help IT decision makers through this tedious process, vendors are introducing more and more simplified “start-up packages,” a sort of get-your-feet-cloudy type of starting place where one can stick his head in the clouds and look around at what is available. HP and Citrix are notable players in this space and others are jumping on the bandwagon.
But the journey into the cloud is much more than just figuring out what infrastructure goes in to the cloud and what stays on the ground. Many IT operational processes and the IT culture must also change and adapt in order to realize the longer-term benefits of the virtual IT enterprise. This includes nightly processes such as backups, batch processing, archiving and other automated administrative processes.
It also means, especially for heavily regulated companies such as banks, insurance and financial institutions, that there must be an audit contrail, a way to record what goes on in the magical cloud. IT Governance processes, such as Change Management, must change specifically to ensure proper tracking and reporting requirements are met.
On the flip side, IT disaster recovery is much more simplified when using cloud services. Automated snapshots of servers and databases can be taken at whatever frequency desired and sent offsite to a private cloud. In the event of a disaster or failure onsite, recovery can happen in a matter of hours rather than days. When significant downtime affects bottom line dollars, a private cloud DR plan might mean the difference between coming back from the dead and getting the axe.
Other less infrastructure-heavy assets that are more easily ported to the cloud include email, collaboration applications such as SharePoint and project management tools. Benefits from moving these types of applications to the cloud can almost be immediate once migrated. It makes sense to perhaps start here first and move on to more complex migrations as the fog clears.
Successfully implementing change on the scale of a virtual infrastructure requires a well thought out strategy and significant up-front planning. Smart and skilled IT leaders and staff go a long way to helping realize a cloud movement but vendors are on standby if needed, with more and more offerings almost monthly. Don’t be afraid to go it alone but also know that navigating the cloud without help can be a turbulent journey.