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Pillars of cloud provisioning: self-service, automation and policy

CIOs can control cloud provisioning with governance around self-service and automation, while embracing an on-demand, "business technology" approach.

No matter how hard IT departments have tried, historically there has been a lag between when business units decide what they want in terms of technology and when they get it. There may have been good reasons behind the sometimes lengthy evaluations and approvals of requests. But put this long, drawn-out process up against the easy availability of user-provisioned cloud services, and CIOs now have a management challenge of universal proportions, expanding in every direction.

The best way to keep cloud services from spiraling out of control, experts say, is to accept and adopt the pillars of cloud provisioning: self-service, policy and automation. It's also time for IT departments to look at information technology as business technology (BT), an approach experts consider the enabler of on-demand services within the enterprise.

Self-service as a way of life

"One of the trends driving BT is the rise in the number of employees self-provisioning technologies, particularly social technologies, pervasive video, mobile, and cloud computing," said Ted Schadler, vice president and senior analyst at Forrester Research Inc. in Cambridge, Mass. Schadler has co-authored Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, and Transform Your Business, a book due out in September that describes the need for businesses to empower their employees to solve problems creatively using whatever services they need.

Self-service, of course, is going to catch on. According to Scott Burgess, director of EMC Consulting in Hopkinton, Mass., citing data from Bain & Company and Egenera Inc., 82% of customers want to help themselves. And how is that going? While 80% of all companies believe they deliver a superior customer experience, only 8% of their customers agree.

People with many years of experience will remember when ATMs appeared in bank lobbies, allowing customers to access their accounts directly instead of having to wait in line -- during banker's hours, of course -- to see a teller. This was around the same time self-service gas stations appeared on the edge of town. Millennials, who have grown up creating online identities and communities using self-service tools, naturally want to self-provision technologies that help them do their jobs, experts said.

The freeing role of automation

IT departments looking to provide self-service cloud provisioning, however, would do well to remember the beast unleashed with virtualization. Although virtualization was intended to cut energy and capital costs, it actually increased administration costs "because virtual machines multiply like rabbits," said Dan Weiss, director of IT management advisory services at Unisys Corp. in Philadelphia, Pa.

Automation brings administration costs back to earth, according to Weiss. "IT automation will recoup up to 97% of management costs," he estmates. With 95% of requests to the IT department relying on a standard build, he said, the key is to create software assemblies that push the fine-tuning out to users. However, it's critically important that metrics be built into the software assemblies so BT can properly charge back business units; this will temper the inclination among business units to overprovision, he added.

"Hand over the controls[;] … change what you're doing," Weiss advised. Provide self-service application deployment to the business users, building usage rules into the environment to guarantee fit and function. Provide a self-service environment that allows the business to see the apps in business terms.

Policies to prevent VM sprawl

Automation relies on policies, the bedrock of BT and cloud provisioning. James Houghton, chief technology officer at Charlotte, N.C.-based Adaptivity Inc. (a cloud service provider of BluePrint4IT, which executes turnkey cloud programs based on set practices and disciplines), described how one customer's CIO had instituted self-provisioning and caused an explosion in the number of virtual machines. Conference rooms were being turned into data centers, and "the CIO needed a life-changing experience," he said. "You don't want developers doing stuff internally without governance in place -- checks that ask, "is this doing something useful?'"

Experts recommend that organizations establishing policies think of BT as "IT as a Service." Analysts advise deploying infrastructure services based on real-time demand, because a demand-driven model optimizes the data center, technology, IT processes, people and skills.

"This is not a fad," EMC Consulting's Burgess said. "[Gartner Group Inc.] says that by 2013, cloud computing will be a $65 billion industry globally. Today, it's in the single digits." In addition, Gartner has said that while virtualization remains the most pressing topic on CIO minds, cloud computing jumped from No. 16 a year ago to No. 2 in 2010.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Laura Smith, Features Writer.

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