Cloud solutions seldom bring good results if they are forced to fit

Internal and external pressures to adopt cloud solutions should be tempered by careful planning and the ability to say no.

Pushed by demands from the business and a desire to stay competitive in the market, the pressure to "get to the cloud" can be tremendous. As it does with any crucial IT decision, however, forethought has to trump expediency when what's being debated is the adoption of a cloud solution. Like the song says: "Only fools rush in." Then again, the King didn't have to answer to a CEO.

So, how do you make the right decision for your IT organization and the business, and keep executives happy? It isn't easy. Abdullah Haydar, chief technology officer at Open Dealer Exchange LLC in Troy, Mich., counts himself as lucky. Having a strong relationship with his CEO and CFO, he was trusted to make the best choice when it came to cloud solutions. In some cases, he decided not to use the cloud at all. Still, he's well aware of the pressure on his peers.

If it's not the right thing to do, they should have the ethical core to stand up and say, 'Here's why it's not a good thing to do.'

"I can tell you definitively, in speaking with colleagues and friends across the industry, there is certainly a lot of that out there -- 'Hey, you've got this huge data center with hundreds of servers, et cetera, so let's have you guys get something in the cloud,'" Haydar said. "The person making that statement may be a CEO or a board member or a CFO, and they may have no idea what they're talking about -- so it's definitely a challenge I see out there."

Lauren Nelson, analyst at Cambridge, Mass.-based Forrester Research Inc., is also familiar with this story. "A lot of IT executives are pressured to 'get to yes' on cloud," she said. "There's a huge movement toward going to the cloud from business units themselves, and these executives want their IT department to be in front of that because they're worried about security, about someone using [cloud solutions] without corporate security in front of it," she added. "And they want to stay competitive, to make sure they're the ones who have this new, innovative technology that enables their business units to get more done in less time."

Will a cloud solution solve a problem, or create one?

It might sound obvious, but Haydar and Nelson point out that the best place to implement a cloud solution is where it meets a need -- and most of all, makes economic sense. Too often, Nelson said, CIOs and IT leaders look for pain points -- systems they just want off their hands, such as ERP -- and hope outsourcing to the cloud will make that pain disappear. More often than not, this is a recipe for failure, she added.

"We've found in our research [that] a lot of folks don't really understand the cloud yet, and they don't understand the economics behind the cloud of which applications are going to fit and which aren't," Nelson said. What they should be looking for is whether it makes financial sense, she said: Is there a potential for savings in the long term, and does the workload vary enough to benefit from the scalability cloud solutions can offer?

Here's a simple example: a retail company website. Base-level use can be predicted, but holiday traffic spikes are an unknown. The scalability of a cloud solution will help ensure the site doesn't fail when it's needed most. The economic benefit of operating in a cloud environment in this situation is demonstrable and real, Nelson said.

"Anytime you've got this variability and unknown need, this is where you're going to be getting benefit with the cloud," Nelson said. "Most CIOs are not getting to that question; they're often thinking about it from 'What is everybody else doing?' and 'What have other guys done that's been successful in the cloud?'"

Cloud solutions need a solid foundation

Haydar emphasizes that any cloud solution decision has to be based on a solid business case. When anxious colleagues seek his advice, he draws from experience. He suggests they look at all their systems and infrastructure in order to figure out which would benefit from using a cloud-based solution. They then should show the ROI and the total cost of ownership, and demonstrate that industry and regulatory legal requirements can be met. And if it doesn't square up? Don't do it, he said.

"If it's not the right thing to do, they should have the ethical core to stand up and say, 'Here's why it's not a good thing to do. I understand there's a directive to move to the cloud. Here are some systems that could be good candidates, but here are ones that are better candidates,'" Haydar said. "You shouldn't be close-minded about these things, but you shouldn't be in too much of a hurry based on hype -- any project that's driven by the wrong basis is doomed to fail."

Let us know what you think about the story; email Karen Goulart, Features Writer.

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