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The value of the cloud: It never was about the technology!

Dec. 16, 2013 - 06:00AM   |  
By DOUG BOURGEOIS   |   Comments
Doug Bourgeois is the vice president and chief cloud executive for VMware Public Sector. He also is the former CIO at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office and executive director of the Interior Department's National Business Center, one of the Federal Shared Services Centers.
Doug Bourgeois is the vice president and chief cloud executive for VMware Public Sector. He also is the former CIO at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office and executive director of the Interior Department's National Business Center, one of the Federal Shared Services Centers. ()

Cloud computing has been over-hyped. Everybody knows it. Most people now cringe at the sound of the word “cloud” and for good reason. A quick Internet search of the term “cloud computing” returns 392 million hits! That’s a lot of cloud.

There is good reason for all this hype. Cloud computing has significantly transformed the information technology (IT) industry. Much like the transformation from mainframe to client-server computing did a few decades ago, and the Internet after that, cloud computing is changing the fundamentals of IT once again. Unfortunately, the dramatic results in cost efficiency and agility that cloud promises have drawn attention away from the real goal: transforming to IT-as-a-Service (ITaaS).

While technology is an absolute necessity, ITaaS is about so much more than that. But the technology is an absolute necessity. So, let’s address that first. Recall that cloud computing has five core attributes: services-based, multi-tenant, consumption-based, elastic, and anytime/anywhere access. The path to providing these core capabilities involves a lot of technology. The architectural side of this journey is embodied in the software-defined data center (SDDC). The core technologies of SDDC include: compute virtualization, storage virtualization, and network virtualization. But highly virtualized organizations are taking things as step further and adopting virtualization management, which provides the ability manage all of these technologies from a single tool and to leverage predictive analytics-based monitoring to avoid operational problems. With so much technology involved, and the considerable benefits from its adoption, it’s no wonder there seems to be a singular focus on technology.

The other side of the story is the business model for delivering and managing ITaaS. The transformation to IT as a Service is not possible without a clear business model for IT. This is where so many transformation efforts fail. Part of the challenge is that defining and evolving business processes requires an entirely different perspective and discipline that what has traditionally been practiced within IT organizations. The transformation to ITaaS requires changes to organizational structure as existing roles evolve and new ones emerge. Some of these new roles include service portfolio managers and service architects, for example. It also requires a keen business capability to appropriately cost and price the services IT will market and deliver via the cloud. Notice that I used the term “market.” In my experience, a mandated approach to an “as a service” model is inadequate. IT organizations must become marketers of their services. Top executives must become much more consultative and collaborative with their business executive peers to select the best overall solutions for the organization. This way, the IT organization can better position itself as a strategic advisor and an effective broker of service options — both internally and externally provided. This requires access to cost and performance information and the ability to objectively compare these options to business needs. Establishing a business model for ITaaS is as critical — and as complex — as the technology itself.

The adoption of ITaaS can deliver substantial improvements in the areas of cost efficiency, agility and resiliency of mission-critical systems. Cost savings and efficiency gains are still possible, even for organizations that have already substantially virtualized their servers. But the value doesn’t stop with cost efficiency. Agility is substantially enhanced through the use of virtualization and automation. Cycle-times to provision servers and even more substantial services, such as, standing up a full technology environment for stress testing, can be carried out in a matter of minutes. And though the benefits of speed are crucial to the mission and programs, it can be much more difficult to make the business case for the necessary investments. In addition to efficiency and agility gains, resiliency for mission critical applications can also be enhanced through the evolution to ITaaS. In conclusion, while the benefits of ITaaS enabled by cloud computing can be substantial, the transformation of the business model is also a necessity. Without it, the business case will not be made and the transformation to ITaaS will not succeed. And this is the true value of cloud computing.

Doug Bourgeois is the vice president and chief cloud executive for VMware Public Sector. He also is the former CIO at the U.S. Patent & Trademark Office and executive director of the Interior Department's National Business Center, one of the Federal Shared Services Centers.

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