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External and internal cloud computing strategies from the trenches

Here's how and why enterprise IT executives are developing external and internal cloud computing strategies and are encountering hiccups as they do.

This is the first in a two-part series about cloud computing strategies. In this part, IT executives and experts explore what it takes to build an internal cloud, as well as the reasons enterprises are adopting a cloud approach. In the second part, IT executives and experts discuss why a hybrid IT approach will become the dominant cloud adoption strategy.

If you believe some vendors, a cloud computing strategy is as simple as turning on a service remotely -- a cloud in 30 days. It's more likely, however, to be three to five years before all the underlying governance, infrastructure and new service delivery models are put into place for a cloud computing strategy, said enterprise IT executives at the recent Gartner Catalyst Conference in San Diego.

The vision is to have a couple of mega centers around the world and all the divisions do time-sharing, instead of each of us having our own data center.

Take the experience of Steve Paynter, senior technical architect at Kindred Healthcare Inc. in Louisville, Ky. He was convinced that his company's shared resources model for computing qualified as an internal cloud. It didn't. According to the business side, the health care services company's internal cloud computing strategy was incomplete without a self-service provisioning portal for employees. This new portal will take awhile to develop, he said. In fact, IT leaders should give themselves plenty of time to build self-services provisioning, given that it is a completely new services consumption model for both employees and IT, Gartner advises.

Still, such a portal is a component of an internal cloud computing strategy, according to 17 early private-cloud adopters in Gartner's client base. This was one of the findings presented by Gartner analyst Chris Wolf at the conference. Here are those early adopters' other "must haves" for an internal cloud:

  • A virtualized infrastructure and management layer for the virtualized infrastructure.
  • An IT service catalog.
  • Identity and access management.

These executives also cited a number of "nice to haves" for internal clouds, although they noted that such features are further out:

  • IT chargeback.
  • Capacity management.
  • Lifecycle management.
  • Configuration and change management.
  • Performance management.

Assessing readiness for private cloud computing

This list of must-haves and nice-to-haves can be used as a litmus test of a company's readiness for a private cloud, Wolf said. "Many clients have said, 'No, we don't have to have real-time consumption based billing; it is far too expensive to do the accounting for that type of model', [but] that actually becomes a use case for the public cloud," he said.

As for other capacity, lifecycle, configuration, and change and performance management processes? Many of the 17 early-adopter organizations are repurposing existing technologies until such features mature, Wolf said. These management capabilities might not be at the top of the agenda, but some type of management in these areas is necessary, he said. "Capacity management is not something to fool around with," he added. "I've heard of users turning off their [virtual machines], for example, when a capacity management audit comes up, so it's important to dedicate resources to this when you are ready."

In the end, Wolf recommends small projects when an enterprise is moving to an internal cloud. He offered three tips:

  • Transfer governance for procurement and change management from individual business units to central IT.
  • "Automate, automate and automate again" service provisioning requests.
  • Invest in or develop software that manages service delivery and the management of cloud providers.

The cloud computing strategy at Burbank, Calif.-based Warner Bros. Entertainment Inc. spans the Turner, HBO, Warner Bros. and Time Inc. divisions. Realizing this strategy is a matter of aligning central IT and governance, said Angelo Salerno, vice president for enterprise architecture and engineering, MIS.

The company is deploying an enterprise approach for all IT efforts across the four divisions, including a single email system and centrally controlled Microsoft SharePoint collaboration software. The cloud adoption strategy is just a part of that, Salerno said. "Our cloud adoption strategy is really a two-legged thing," he said. "We've been doing some [Platform as a Service] with Microsoft. We want to … evaluate the cloud providers together, across all our divisions, instead of each division doing it themselves."

As for a private cloud, Time Warner Inc. just hired a "CIO of CIOs," whose vision is to build resource time-sharing. "The vision is to have a couple of mega centers around the world and all the divisions do time-sharing, instead of each of us having our own data center," Salerno said. Right now Warner Bros. has three data centers, Turner has four and HBO has two. "The cloud is a fancy term for having a couple of centers that offer dynamic, all-you-can-use resources," he said.

Putting discipline into self-provisioning

For Tomasz Kozlowski, enterprise architect for information services at Allergan Inc. in Irvine, Calif., the best option was to outsource as much as possible to Software as a Service (SaaS) providers. The move to the cloud was inevitable, given that when the specialty pharmaceutical company started developing its cloud computing strategy, it found that 15% of its applications were already outsourced to a SaaS provider, and the IT department didn't know about it.

The most important aspect of Allergan's cloud computing strategy was not a service catalog or capacity management, but developing an extensive, yet simple corporate-wide onboarding process for users' new application and services requests. An onboarding evaluation process for cloud providers was developed in tandem. A questionnaire goes out to cloud providers that covers such areas as contract management, architecture review, vendor assessment, contract solutions and risk assessment. As part of the vendor assessment process, the cloud provider has to fill out a special form to detail how it protects and secures personal information, Kozlowski said during a presentation at the Gartner conference.

Allergan's form for users requesting a new application or service is kept simple. It's limited to about 20 questions and uses an Excel format. Its questions zero in on whether the impact on the business is critical, and aim to pinpoint the potential risks and rewards for the business, should the application or service be outsourced to a cloud provider.

The obvious place for Allergan to start was with "commoditized" applications, such as travel and expenses. Applications tied to regulations pose more risk. "So, you need to ask whether the risk associated with an application is manageable if it moves to a SaaS provider," Kozlowski said. The majority of outsourced applications are on the commercial side of Allergan's business, but research and development and manufacturing are beginning to come forward as well to move applications to a SaaS provider. "And these groups are much more conservative," he said.

Kozlowski's one regret? That the company uses too many SaaS providers. If he could start down the cloud path again, he would have chosen fewer providers, given that managing relationships with 40 or so SaaS providers is challenging. Of the company's 600 or so applications, 140 to 150 are with SaaS providers.

Let us know what you think about the story; email Christina Torode, News Director.

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