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IT leaders embrace cloud solutions based on economic, business sense

Some enterprise IT leaders are only dipping their toes into cloud solutions. Others, however, have taken the -- carefully considered -- plunge.

Jessica Carroll, managing director of IT at the United States Golf Association, realizes some people might have thought she'd lost her mind when she chose to outsource disaster recovery to an IBM cloud solution, given the mission-critical nature of DR and pervasive industry trepidation over cloud security. In fact, a great deal of thought, planning and security consideration had gone into the decision. Bottom line: It was the best option for the organization.

I am comfortable making sure we never get too comfortable being stuck with 'what we used to do.'

"We have used the cloud for a number of initiatives," Carroll said. "Disaster recovery with IBM is absolutely one of our strongest solutions, but we also have CRM [customer relationship management] in the cloud, and infrastructure in the cloud for some of our public-facing environments."

Cloud solutions are maturing to the point where enterprise IT leaders are giving them a longer look. They might be under internal pressure to "go to the cloud," but smart IT leaders are taking measured steps that make practical and economic sense for the business.

"Enterprises are becoming more trusting about moving auxiliary work to the cloud, but are still hesitant to move mission-critical work to the cloud because of security and control concerns," said Jeff Kaplan, managing director at strategic consulting services firm ThinkStrategies Inc. "But, as cloud service providers demonstrate their reliability, scalability and security, CIOs are considering them for more purposes."

Some cloud decisions easier than others

Abdullah Haydar, chief technology officer at Troy, Mich.-based Open Dealer Exchange LLC, has had the uncommon opportunity to build his IT organization nearly from scratch. Just a few years old, the company was born of a consolidation and continues to grow.

"Rather than trying to consolidate on one of the legacy platforms I was acquiring, I took a more holistic view and asked, 'What can I do that's really best-of-breed out in the industry right now that gives me the most flexibility moving forward?'" Haydar said. Some answers came easily, such as an industry-specific ERP system that was being offered as a cloud-based service. Web conferencing, email with Google Inc., CRM with Inc. -- those were virtual no-brainers as well. The data center soon followed.

At the USGA, where bandwidth needs increase dramatically from March through October, a cloud product was the clear choice for infrastructure needs. Infrastructure as a Service allows Carroll to ramp up and down as needed within a desirable pricing model. As for CRM, the cloud was really the only good fit.

"There simply would have been no in-house model that would have been a fit for the clients we were targeting," Carroll said. "We needed a solution that required no infrastructure investment and no long-term in-house technical support. The cloud was a perfect answer to that problem."

Getting comfortable with the cloud

Once there's a comfort level, it becomes easier to see other areas where cloud services would be beneficial.

Last month Haydar's company selected a vendor for an advanced performance monitoring product that will be a hybrid of cloud and appliance software. He's also seeking a business intelligence product with a request for proposals that encourages the inclusion of cloud if appropriate.

Any forward-facing app is on Carroll's radar as a candidate for the cloud. One strong possibility is Microsoft's SharePoint collaboration software, she said. "Frankly, with the desire to be able to access information anywhere, anytime, putting SharePoint in the cloud, where we no longer have to invest capital in hardware and human support redundancy, is high on the list to become a cloud property in the short term," she added.

Never say never to cloud solutions

Carroll and Haydar clearly embrace cloud services, but there are some things they're not ready to relinquish, be it due to cost, security or control. Still, they never say never.

For Haydar, cost is what's keeping SharePoint and enterprise content management systems in-house. Another no-go is cloud-hosted virtual desktops. He is presently unconvinced his cost savings would outweigh the loss of control over what he sees as the most important part of the business.

At the USGA, Carroll has kept email in-house. The infrastructure, redundancy and support are cost-effective today, but she's aware that might not always be the case. "The point for us is to continuously evaluate, measure advantages versus risk, compare expense in-house versus cloud, review support needs and abilities internally versus outsourced each step of the way," she said. "I am comfortable making sure we never get too comfortable being stuck with 'what we used to do.'"

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

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