Going to the Cloud: Technical Challenges

The Actifio eCloud Summit took place mid-February in Austin Texas. For those of us living around Boston, it was more than an intellectual event. We were escaping from eight feet of snow and below zero temperatures. If only for a few days, we enjoyed warmer weather and some fascinating insights into the current state of Cloud Computing. One of the clearest messages was that cloud isn’t as easy as it may at first appear, especially at enterprise scale.

The challenges for successful enterprise cloud initiatives cross the boundaries of business, technology, law, organization, and human self-interest. Business and technical challenges blend. Progress depends upon resolving both. A new language emerges that includes developers and operations people, business leaders and CTOs. Legal is a sometimes overlooked challenge and whatever contracts you have were probably not created for cloud. They’ll need translation. (It was also suggested that you seek younger lawyers who are more likely to “get it”.)

In an earlier post we looked at some top business challenges. Here we’ll focus on the technical – not ignoring the obvious overlaps. Start with minimal business disruption as a priority for any cloud deployment. Technical factors range from available bandwidth to speed of implementation to practical migration of large databases, and the assurances of data protection and disaster recovery.

Some businesses will need to consider industry regulations that impact their cloud options. Others may have geographic constraints placed upon physical data location. The choice of provider may have significant implications for data security, audit trails, and analytics. And, one of the most complicated technology challenges will be how to transition from legacy systems and mindsets without disrupting the flow of business. So, with that, here are a few of the top tech considerations that emerged in Austin:

cloud_social_optimizedManaging impacts of data growth across physical, virtual and cloud systems – Production data growth triggers parallel waves of growth in copy data, all needing management, and control. Cloud is seen as a potentially ideal means to deal with this growth but the changeover from legacy is also hard.

Managing expectations: Cloud computing presents the promise of substantial competitive advantage, but it isn’t a universal remedy. Successful cloud integration into existing IT operations is a technical challenge that demands realistic expectations along with careful planning, time, and expertise. CIOs may be challenged to integrate and control Shadow IT, displace traditional IT thinking and organizationally embrace cloud as a transformational opportunity.

Choosing Cloud Service Providers: Providers will vary significantly in service offerings, quality of service, flexibility, stability, security and customer support. Technical transitions require careful planning and execution, typically in discrete and reversible stages.

Cloud adoption doesn’t always meet expectations. Understanding both entry and exit options is essential to prevent unnecessary disruption.

Data Security and Control: Data must be protected at rest or in motion. Secure internal systems, secure networks and secure cloud environments are required to keep enterprise data under company control. Reliable service levels need to align with application criticality, performance, and budgets.

Legacy Infrastructure: For many businesses shifting away from the costs, operation and management of legacy infrastructure is a primary motivation for a cloud move. The technical challenge often becomes managing the transition and integration of a service spectrum spread across internal and external resources.

Speed and efficiency: The business demands responsive data access that enables accelerated application development, faster testing, and business acceptance. A well-designed cloud deployment introduces self-service technology to create more development output, improved productivity and improved time-to-impact business intelligence.

Cloud helps enterprises address some major shifts in the business environment – mobile – always on – high touch. Speed and agility are fundamental motivations. In a large organization, cloud improves opportunities to meet business needs faster. Elasticity – the technical capacity to scale out or shrink on demand – enables more responsive services. Economics improve when hardware is commoditized, with applications and data virtualized. The most important outcome is that cloud helps businesses to allocate more attention to better use of data, applications and computing power. They can focus on business outcomes instead of technical mechanics.

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