Cloud is not just about technology, rethink your IT department

A while ago, I was doing a cloud presentation to a large European company. I have been doing this quite often. Beyond the concepts I address regulatory issues, how to look at applications and potential cloud platforms, devops, security, management, transformation. Lively discussions take place during the presentation, and frankly, I have to admit, mostly the meetings take way longer than what was originally expected due to those lively debates. It actually strikes me that in many cases consensus amongst the teams is actually gained during the meeting. Typically, the attendees are very interested and thank me for the honest view of cloud I present.

That day, things were different. Very little reactions, and when I asked them at the end whether my presentation had been helpful, most told me I barely scratched the surface on the subject of their interest. That got me thinking. Why was it the case? The material was the same as what I had presented dozens of time before, or nearly. So, what had gone wrong? Till I remembered their introductions and realized they were each focused on a single technology (X86 servers, large servers, Linux, Windows, storage, data center networking, security…) and had expected me to spend the whole time allocated to discussing how cloud would affect their space.

It daunted on me that traditional IT departments often are still structured by technology. I must have been lucky in my previous contacts, that I had been involved with companies where certain thinking had already taken place about the need to restructure IT to embrace cloud. Indeed, this reminded me of a conversation, several months ago, where we discussed these changes with a CIO.

Cloud is mostly presented as a technology shift, as moving from a physical to a virtual environment, as an increase in levels of automation. But it is way more than that. And it requires the careful rethinking of how the IT department operates.

What do I mean by that? Cloud is all about delivering services to end-users. Services they choose through a self-service portal. That has several implications. The first question to ask is which services are proposed. Appropriate governance should be put in place between the business and IT to agree upon the services required and to manage their lifecycle. Such governance ensures IT delivers what the business needs and limits the need for “shadow IT”. The second question is how the service will be delivered. And that is an internal IT question. Is the service sourced from public cloud services? Is it delivered by the private cloud of the enterprise?

Cloud separates the service from the platform on which the service runs. The staff dealing with the service is focused on the service itself, how it runs, what the user experience is etc. The team focused on the cloud platform, is focused on ensuring all components work seamlessly together, support the service and deliver the user experience.

In traditional IT, applications are tied to infrastructure and often managed in an integrated way. Virtualization started changing this by separating the application from the infrastructure it used to run on. But most often, virtualization is limited to servers. With cloud, everything becomes virtual, the server, the network, the storage. The transformation initiated with virtualization needs to be taken further. The traditional silos should make place for a new approach focused running the cloud platform and the services.

When I mention the cloud platform, I am not referring to a PaaS type service, but to the functionality required for any cloud to operate. From an organizational perspective, a small team should focus on developing, running, managing and evolving this platform and the related technologies. And yes, in that team some will focus on security, others on virtualization etc. but will work closely together as decisions in one area have implications in others.

A separate team looks after the services that may be deployed on this cloud platform or sourced from external services. Their responsibility is the end-to-end service and how that service interacts with the user.

In migrating to such approach, CIO’s have to ask themselves how to structure their IT organization on the one hand, but also whether they have the appropriate resources in their teams to deliver on the changing tasks. This requires careful planning and gaining consensus of what cloud really is and how/in what timeframe it should be introduced in the enterprise. The term cloud being rather all encompassing, pulling business and IT people together to gain consensus could be a smart move. This is precisely what we propose with HP’s Cloud Workshop, a facilitated workshop to review most aspects of cloud.

Cloud is a journey that slowly evolves/transforms the IT environment, giving the end-user easier and faster access to the services he/she requires to do his/her job. It helps the enterprise gain in agility and responsiveness and puts IT at the center of the enterprise. It’s rewarding, but requires one questions the established way of working. Lack of doing this will definitely resulting in lagging behind. Security, servers, networking are all part of cloud, but cloud is not just one of them.

- Christian

Christian Verstraete is the Chief Technologist Cloud at HP and has over 30 years in the industry, working with customers all over the world, linking business and technology.

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