Sunday, April 11, 2010

Having a Cloud Computing Discussion - Where to Start?

One of the most difficult aspects of any new topic area is knowing where to start.  Since it's all about Cloud Computing on this blog, let's start with a simple concept that most people can relate to - you don't like the way that you have to interact with your computer(s). You have a problem (of some sort), and starting with the problem is usually the best place to start. 

[NOTE - Plenty of technologies have gotten started because "it's a different way of doing something", but many of them fail because they don't actually solve any problems that more than 1 person has.]

If you're a business, that dislike with your computers probably falls into one of the following categories:
  1. The system is not as reliable or responsive as the business requires.
  2. The ability to use the system to address new business challenges or opportunities takes too long, or is too complicated.
  3. The system costs too much. "Too much" is obviously a subjective number, but maybe the cost of IT just seems like too large a number to the business function requesting it's services.
  4. The system doesn't seem to do some of the interesting things that you've heard other people talk about their systems doing. 
Now that we've established that there is a problem, let's see if Cloud Computing makes sense to bring to the discussion as a potential framework for a solution?
  1.  Reliability and Responsiveness - Cloud Computing is built on the premise that the system is not only designed to run 24x7, but that it's built on large pools of shared resources that are being used by many groups and functions. So it's built to be ready to adapt quickly to business needs. (check)
  2. New Business Challenges & Opportunities - In many cases, new opportunities mean "short-notices" and "unknown planning expectations". They just need to get started now, and if they go as planned the growth could be very large. With the ability to rapidly add capacity using virtualization technology, Cloud Computing leverages pools of rapidly expandable IT resources to deliver capacity and capabilities which better align with rapid business needs. (check)
  3. Rising Costs - While the costs of technology are constantly falling (relative to performance), it may seem like IT costs continue to expand. Some of this is related to every aspect of the business now being tied into computing systems, creating more information (which can be VERY valuable to the business), which creates more demand for information. But that isn't the only reason for rising costs. The other is inefficiently used systems. Because systems are often created (and duplicated) in silos to align to business groups, or because they operate at far less than capacity, additional costs are layered onto the system for operations and coordination. Not only does Cloud Computing break down many of those silos, but it operates at efficiency rates that are much higher than systems in the past. (check)
  4. Not Enough New Toys - This might not be as simple to explain, but often times business users will "consumerize" the business computing experience. They want the stuff at work that they use at home. Sometimes this is possible (or close to it), and sometimes it's not (regulatory issues, security issues, etc.). But if you ask about "what they like about the 'new toys'", it's often the ease of setup or the flexibility of customization. If done properly, Cloud Computing hides most of the complexity from the end-user, allowing them to focus on the use of the application. (check)
If your an IT professional and you believe Cloud Computing (private or public) would benefit your business, I suggest that you go looking for the business user that is unhappy with their computing experience. Most likely they look at the problem in those categories, and you can really add value to the business by helping them understand why a new approach (which aligns IT value with Business value) could be the next best step for the company's strategy. 

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