Cloud services are a rapidly growing service that is being leveraged by many Information Technology (IT) divisions. In most cases, cost savings, productivity, and gaining a competitive advantage are the driving forces for on-boarding on to the cloud. Working with Corporations, Small Businesses, Universities and Healthcare providers, who were planning or considering on-boarding on to the cloud, my experiences have shown me that there are a few myths and misunderstandings about how to utilize cloud services.
This article is part one of a three-part series that delves into how to approach cloud computing from a governance and administration standpoint. Part one will be an introduction to cloud computing. Part two will focus on strategic and management considerations in building in the cloud (Azure). Finally, part three would be a roadmap and consideration when onboarding on to the cloud.
Part Three – Cloud Computing – Best Practices – On Boarding
In 2018, Q1 earnings for Amazons web services recorded revenue growth of 49% to $5.44 billion. Microsoft announced its commercial-cloud revenue growth at 58% to $6.0 billion. (It’s important to note that Microsoft cloud revenue includes Microsoft Office 365, Microsoft Azure and Microsoft Dynamics.) These numbers are evidence of the current influence of the cloud option in enterprise IT management.
First, let me briefly review what cloud services are. Traditionally cloud services are categorized into three notable service areas.
- Software as a service. (SaaS) – This would be a service you would directly consume from your cloud service provider. Customization of the service would be at a minimum. It would be an end product ready for consumption. An example would be, Office 365, or Amazon Rekognition.
- Platform as a service. (PaaS) – This is where your cloud service, provides you the platform to run a specific custom service. You can think of this as the service provider, providing you with the basic building blocks to run a specific application service. The computing power and resources.
- Infrastructure as a service. (IaaS) – This would be where you would rely on the cloud service provider to provide you with the underlying infrastructure necessary to run the virtual computing machines, network architecture storage, etc, that you would utilize to build the necessary building blocks to run your services.
The best analogy I can come up with is baking bread. SaaS would be going to the store and getting a loaf of bread. You have some flexibility in choosing what type of bread you want but it’s a finished product.
But what if you are given the bakery and it’s up to you to provide the ingredients and bake the bread you want, the way you want. This would be PaaS.
Next, what if you are provided the building and all the tools including the ovens, but you, have to build the bakery the way you want and then bake the bread. This would be IaaS.
You will notice that within this model, that as you move from SaaS to IaaS, you gain more flexibility on how you can customize and architect your services. But, with this level of flexibility, the responsibility of maintaining and architecting the infrastructure and resources also fall on you.
While this is the most broadly used model, in my opinion, with the advancement of technology, the spectrum of services and tools available are ever expanding, and so, not every service neatly fits into one of these three categories anymore.
Most companies that are thinking of onboarding on to the cloud or utilizing cloud services are motivated by either the business units or the IT divisions. The business units, pushing for cost savings, greater efficiencies, or newer services to gain a competitive advantage. The IT divisions, exploring the possibilities of leveraging the cloud for newer opportunities. These are all legitimate motivations for exploring the cloud option. But in either circumstance, it should be a joint venture that could be sponsored by the business org but vetted and considered by the IT divisions of an organization.
In more than a few occasions, IT divisions were being pushed into exploring the cloud, which lead to a certain level of hostility and opposition, that in all cases hurt them.
I witnessed these organizations make several assumptions when considering the cloud. The biggest misconception was seeing the cloud option as a silver bullet. That moving your current processes and assets to the cloud would cut costs, and make management and maintenance simpler.
While there are some distinct advantages to moving your current workloads to the cloud, it is a process that needs to be thoroughly vetted and evaluated. Depending on what type of services you plan to utilize, you will still need to architect and maintain the resources.
For example, if you were managing the storage in your data center, moving to the cloud storage would mean that your responsibilities change, not disappear. No longer would you physically need to be in the data center swapping drives. Still, you would need to plan, how you will manage your storage, storage accounts (for Azure), projects (for Google), permissions, Etc. There will still exist a role that would need to be performed.
One of the most fundamental steps I used to advise my clients take, was the formation of a cloud governance team. This would be the primary organizational unit that would validate the architecture, configuration, permissions, administration of your cloud strategy. This team should hold the keys to the cloud. They should consist of representatives from all necessary IT units that could utilize a cloud strategy. This might include an apps team, infrastructure, networking, back up disaster recovery, etc.
Outside of the technical planning of a cloud strategy, the other vital aspects to be considered and managed by the cloud governance team is permission and administration of cloud resources. Whichever cloud provider you decide to partner with, each cloud provider, provided extensive permission and management structure that should be utilized.
Another symptom of a poor cloud strategy is where IT divisions research and explore a strategy with a singular goal in mind, without considering all the features and services that can be utilized or leveraged. Most IT divisions only see the cloud in its infrastructure function, or in a narrow sense of achieving one goal. Cloud technology has progressed to provide a wide variety of great services.
In some of my interactions with companies, reviewing the architecture and limitations available in the cloud, (Yes there are limitations) there were legitimate instances, where onboarding a particular application, service or architecture wasn’t ideal for that scenario. But after evaluating and analyzing their current bottlenecks and pain points, we were able to leverage other services such as disaster recovery, storage, backups, or Dev test environment options to their advantage.
Some clients have a narrow view of what the cloud could be. It’s not simply a strategy of moving your current VMs and Apps into the cloud so your data center expenses can be reduced or further investments avoided. In such a scenario, the true benefit can only be reaped if you move beyond just migrating VMs that are running on your data center to a cloud data center. It could and should be about evaluating your application architecture and seeing if you could further obtain cost saving, security, and efficiencies by moving to a PasS or hybrid solution. It could be about having access to new features and technology that can be utilized in your business for greater advantages and a competitive edge.
services or software are evaluated within an IT division. Each IT unit might have a cloud service that can be leveraged. It should start with an in-depth study and examination of the cloud service you are considering. Then assessing how current services can be improved by utilizing cloud technology. And finally, exploring if there are new opportunities available.
In my view, the cloud option is an innovation in enterprise IT management, on par with virtualization, in its impact on enterprise computing. It should be a technology that should be thoroughly considered extensively planned and precisely executed to maximize its benefit.