By David Davis
While walking the solutions expo show floor at VMworld 2010, I realized that the mindset of service providers and software companies had changed since last VMworld. This year, just about all the vendors, no matter what their perspective was, seemed to embrace the cloud as "the future" and they had wrapped their particular solution in that cloud message. An article from CIO.com (Cloud Computing: VMworld 2010 Report) covered how unified the cloud computing message was at VMworld and how "the cloud gets real" with vendors offering "second generation products". True, the cloud message, understanding, and product features are advancing but what about the end users?
While the cloud is all the rage among vendors, it is my opinion that, in the past, the overuse and over marketing of "the cloud" by some vendors may have tainted the message with many real-world admins and IT Management. In my opinion, even experienced "IT people" in large enterprises are still trying to wrap their head around what this "cloud thing" really means to them, in their day to day life. And that means that IT Directors, Managers, and Systems Admins from small and medium-sized companies, I would estimate, are generally confused about what "the cloud" really means and if it will ever mean anything for their company. I admire VMware for "leading the charge" on cloud computing but any concept this "world changing" will take time to be fully comprehended and embraced by those in the IT departments around the world. However, that doesn't mean that you should sit around and wait – quite the contrary. Now is the time to weed through the cloud fluff and educate.
Let's say that you are an "IT-Guy" at a medium-size company. You have virtualized about half of your servers with vSphere and like the idea of virtualization. You are being barraged by companies trying to sell you cloud computing. Recently the clerk at the local convenience store and your copier repair guy asked you when you are going to "move to the cloud" (I exaggerate). What do YOU really need to know about cloud computing, from a practical sense? Surely there is some value in "the cloud" but how do you cut through the propaganda? Here are 5 things that you need to understand to cut though the hype and make the cloud work for you.
1. Cloud Computing isn't "hosting renamed" – I admit, the first time I heard about cloud computing my initial reaction was that it sounded like server hosting renamed. With "hosting," servers from your datacenter are moved to a provider. They could be managed or co-located. Either way, hosting is only related to cloud computing in the sense that both are from service providers. With Cloud Computing, all computing resources are pooled (and virtualized), processes are automated, there is self-service, interoperability, and you only pay for what you use.
2. Cloud Computing has real practical business use for businesses your size – cloud computing isn't just for large enterprises. It is for anyone at any size company. Still, you need to know your applications to know if they will work with cloud computing. Initially, the ideal cloud applications may be "test and dev". After that, I would look at Internet facing web applications but you don't have to stop there. Given the right bandwidth between the users and the cloud, really any applications could be moved. Most medium-size companies have test apps, development apps, web-apps, or even virtual desktops. These are all ideal applications to get your company started with cloud computing.
3. Cloud Computing can save your company and your department money – I worked at a medium-sized family owned company where it was easier to win the lotto than it was to get a capital expenditure (capex) approved. Day-to-day operational expenditure (opex) didn't have the same approval process. All opex came out of the IT department budget and was pretty easy to get approved, if it made sense. Cloud computing is going to move IT infrastructure expenses from the capex "someday" request queue to an opex approval. Besides the pain and suffering this will save you, you will also get the infrastructure you need and the overall cost will be less.
4. Cloud Computing will free you from spending your day managing the infrastructure so that you can apply the power of the infrastructure at your company – as an "IT person", where is your time best spent? Building servers? Worrying about downtime? Checking backup logs? The answer is "none of the above". Because we know technology so well (it’s our job, right?), our time is best spent evangelizing technology in our company and demonstrating how tech can increase profitability (also make the business case for our own value to the organization). We do nothing to prove our worth by just "keeping the servers up". End users and senior managers have just come to expect "uptime". You need to wow them with powerful mergers of technology and your business processes that vastly improve productivity, customer loyalty, or business agility. Cloud computing is here to allow you to do that. By moving to cloud computing, you will find the best utilization of your time and, thus, the company's investment in you.
5. Cloud Computing will force you to change the way that you "look at IT" – start changing your mindset now. Even with virtualization, IT infrastructure and the datacenter resources making it possible are being wasted. With cloud computing, all IT hardware resources will be shared at a cloud service provider and you will only pay for what you use. You can even connect your public cloud to your existing virtual infrastructure (private cloud) to create a "hybrid cloud". If a developer requests a new server to test a new application, save yourself lots of time and headache (as well as money). Instead, get out your company credit card and spin up a virtual machine on your iPad from the local coffee shop then bill the charges to his cost center (you never even had to install hardware or software).
In the end, what do I recommend for that medium-size "IT Guy" when it comes to cloud computing? 1. Keep educating yourself. Cut through the fluff and spot the value 2. Look at every solution from a practical approach and throw out anything that isn't a fit for a company of your size (you will find the ones that are) 3. Be selfish and always ask how the cloud is going to help you today and everyday hereafter – cloud solutions must have readily obvious value.
David Davis is a VMware Evangelist and vSphere Video Training Author for Train Signal (www.TrainSignal.com). He has achieved CCIE, VCP,CISSP, and vExpert level status over his 15+ years in the IT industry. David has authored hundreds of articles on the Internet and nine different video training courses for TrainSignal.com including the popular vSphere video training package. Learn more about David at his blog (www.VMwareVideos.com) or on Twitter (www.Twitter.com/davidmdavis) and check out a sample of his VMware vSphere video training course from TrainSignal.com!
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