Why you don't need a cloud computing strategy

As with any new exciting technology, companies commonly look towards creating a "strategy" around the movement in order to ensure their investments achieve the greatest ROI.

As with any new exciting technology, companies commonly look towards creating a "strategy" around the movement in order to ensure their investments achieve the greatest ROI. In the 1990s, it was all about how companies needed a "Linux" strategy; the last decade has been dominated with companies needing a "virtualization" strategy; and the trend I'm seeing today is everyone talking about needing a "cloud computing" strategy.

Cloud CIO: 5 Key Pieces of Rollout Advice

While this new saying is good news for large vendors who quickly rebrand existing and/or legacy technologies to go along with the momentum, it can also cause a number of challenges. The main one is that it can introduce risks and new costs with minimal ROI for companies building out cloud strategies outside of their normal IT practice. So, to get it right the first time, rather than looking at the cloud as a separate replacement strategy, companies need to look at it from the bigger picture as a complete IT strategy.

Here are five key things to think about when identifying areas for cloud adoption and driving a successful IT strategy:

1. Understand the cloud and its benefits to your business: Think business, not technology - not all clouds are created equal. There are many choices, from hosted applications to hosted infrastructure - Software as a Service (SaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS); some run on premise, some run off. Each have significant benefits but only when viewed in the context of how they fit in with your current operations. You need to understand how each of these can augment your IT strategy to achieve the benefits of efficiency and agility.

2. Build off your existing operational choices and be application specific: If existing services such as CRM and e-mail are functioning well you will gain very little by transitioning them to the cloud. In fact, these types of changes could prove confusing and incite end user rejection. However, if you are just implementing these services for the first time the cloud may give the benefits and cost savings that you need. This same rule applies to IaaS clouds. Rather than trying to replace existing infrastructure that is already working, identify workloads that are dynamic or new that constantly require attention on infrastructure to reap the benefits.

3. Think small, but plan big: Start out with a pilot. 2010 was the year of defining the cloud and 2011 will be the year of cloud implementation. James Staten, an analyst at Forrester Research, recently predicted that many will try to deploy a private cloud, but many will fail. The key is to start small and identify areas where you can extend your existing strategy with new technologies to understand their impact. For IaaS clouds, the easiest is to start with your current virtualization strategy, as the cloud uses virtualization as a core technology. Whether it is development, testing, or new web application environments, the cloud can quickly and easily be implemented with a high likelihood for success.

4. Evaluate all of your options - think agility: There are many options when implementing a cloud solution. The choice between a public or private cloud should be made based on factors such as cost, security, availability and control. Each deployment model has pros and cons; the goal is to optimize for your business requirements. If you are choosing to build your own, private cloud, vendors can help you achieve this. Portability and flexibility are important elements to consider. You need to choose a solution that works within your system, but also does not lock you into a specific environment. Additionally, a solution that gives you the ability to migrate to public clouds in the future will prove to be valuable.

5. Acknowledge the immaturity of cloud computing, but don't let it hold you back: Cloud computing is a new paradigm in IT. It has a few issues including data security and compliance, but new advancements every day continue to take the cloud to the next level. Across the industry, there are more companies and developers working on advancing this segment than many of the traditional/legacy apps. As such, you do not want to get behind the curve of the next wave of innovation. By acknowledging its immaturity and picking applications and workloads that can handle the risk, you get the benefit of getting ahead of the movement and truly understanding the technology as it matures and how it can become an incredible weapon in your IT strategy.

Cloud computing is an exciting new movement that promises to bring many benefits to companies of all size. By taking simple steps to understand how to integrate it into your existing "business strategy" versus treating it like a separate strategic project will increase the likelihood of success and simplify the transition to this new form of IT service.

Peder Ulander serves as CMO for Cloud.com.

Read more about cloud computing in CIO's Cloud Computing Drilldown.

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