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Whether public, private or hybrid, it's time to get a cloud strategy

Waiting in line at a recent data center conference, I struck up a conversation with an enterprise architect at a major appliance manufacturer who said he was there with a mission: to figure out how to articulate a cloud strategy to get funding for cloud services.

Formulating a cloud strategy is on the minds of many IT executives — it’s the priority for 2011, according to analysts at Gartner Inc. in Stamford, Conn., ahead of virtualization and mobile computing.

“My concern is that it may be cheaper initially, but more expensive over the long run,” said my confidante en queue, who added that his cloud strategy to date has been to “move the grey to the cloud — not the most exciting applications, but the ones where it makes sense.”

Email, for example, and other “nondifferentiators” are the most likely candidates for public cloud services, according to Tom Bittman, a vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner: “the things that everybody does, very separate from the business.” By 2012, 10% of enterprise email seats will be in the cloud, he said. The focus for nondifferentiated services is to “build an interface, very standardized between cloud and on-premises.”

The cloud is not a thing; it’s a style of computing like client/server, a way to deliver services, according to experts. And like actual clouds, there are lots of computing varieties, all of which must be considered in an enterprise cloud strategy.

Most organizations are going to have a mix of public cloud and private cloud initiatives. No doubt, “we’re going to see cloud sprawl. … If we saw virtualization sprawl internally, we can’t assume that it won’t happen externally,” Bittman said.

There are good and bad sides to the cloud, but the key to success is focus — the right services, the right requirements, and a service-based orientation.

“There is not a black and white, public and private; in many things, there is grey,” Bittman said.

A cloud strategy doesn’t have to be pure to provide value, for example. A cloud provider might limit access to companies within a particular industry, forming a community cloud. Or an enterprise might use a public cloud but insist that resources be shared only among applications in the company — a new construct becoming known as the “virtual private cloud.”

Throughout 2012, two-thirds of IT organizations will be spending more on cloud computing services, with 20% more spending on public clouds, Gartner analysts predict. The only bad strategy at this point is to have no strategy at all. Users are going to do their own thing, using personal credit cards to take advantage of cloud services beyond the realm of centralized IT. Having executive buy-in makes sense.

The cloud strategy boils down to how you evaluate which applications go into the public cloud, and which stay internal. Now is the time to align data center management with vertical service delivery. The bottom line is that you need to experiment; that leadership is critical to gaining executive buy-in. Focus on the service catalog and portfolio your services.

Like actual clouds, the computing variety is always shifting, showing up in an array of public, private, community and hybrid models. To help you understand the possibilities, will be looking in the next few weeks at such key issues as private cloud attributes and public cloud risks.

What cloud experience do you have to share? Email Laura Smith, Features Writer.

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