Global cloud computing

IT departments must talk to business managers early when planning cloud computing deployments if they are to realize their full benefits, according to a fledgling cloud maturity framework.

The Cloud Best Practices Network (CBPN), a collection of industry practitioners who share advice on cloud computing, is developing an enterprise cloud maturity model. The document, currently in draft form, is designed to help organizations that want to adopt cloud computing as part of an ongoing business computing strategy.

The maturity model breaks cloud down into six broad areas: business transformation/IT maturity, DevOps, cloud-aware applications, software-defined networking, unified collaboration as a service, and disaster recovery as a service.

Drawing largely on other maturity models and associated documents from vendors, analyst firms and industry associations, it promotes an approach to cloud computing as a platform to better align the IT department with the rest of the business.

The model distills these documents into a single framework for senior business and technology executives, explained the draft document’s author, CBPN CEO and founder Neil Mcevoy. Its maturity levels are described on a scale of 0-4.

For example, companies with a business transformation level of zero use IT purely operationally, with no strategy at all. A level five IT operation would be a revenue enabler, with technology becoming a core component of strategic planning.

Companies can measure themselves against this maturity model to baseline their current level of maturity in each of these areas and conduct a gap analysis.

“Typically, this would be a CIO-led exercise conducted by their business architecture team, with inputs from the relevant section leads, like security,” Mcevoy said. “Those who don’t have this kind of resource in-house can call upon cloud consulting firms to manage the process for them.”

From cost savings to transformation

Companies adopting an immature approach to cloud computing tend to treat it primarily as a cost savings mechanism, he warned. Instead, they should look at it as a tool to change their business models, and they should bring business users on board as early as possible when planning cloud projects to make that happen.

“The over-arching mistake is being overly concerned only with the technology aspects and not structuring adoption within a strategic business case,” said Mcevoy. He pointed to recent Cisco-sponsored IDC research on this issue, which suggested that only a quarter of organizations have a repeatable cloud strategy. Almost a third have no strategy at all, he warned.

This leads companies to freeze in the face of security concerns, halting their adoption of cloud computing, he said. “On a broader basis it means utilizing the capability only for technical functions, seeing it only as a cheap infrastructure alternative and using it only for scenarios like backup and recovery.”

Dealing with legacy

Legacy integration is one of the biggest challenges for companies moving to a cloud environment. They must work out how to support hardware and software architectures that aren’t capable of virtualization, much less management in a cloud computing context. In many cases, these assets will be too mission critical to alter.

“The much larger complexity of old COBOL mainframes and DEC VAX minicomputers, of millions of lines of ADA code and so on, are what lies beneath the surface and run the majority of banking, government, defense and healthcare systems that our business world is still based on today,” he said.

There are two main approaches in this scenario, he argued: build interface integrations to the legacy systems, or simply rip and replace. “Having these two separate environments in operation simultaneously has beget the concept of ‘bi-modal IT’,” he said.

This sounds good on paper, but “in practice business processes span across multiple systems and you can’t improve only one part at high speed while the other lags behind,” he said. He advised organizations to ultimately modernize everything, swallowing the code complexity issue and using migration automation tools to help along the way.

There is still much work to do on the document – it currently doesn’t reference mobile or security at all. It will eventually fold in the Customer Cloud Architecture for Mobile white paper from the Cloud Standards Customer Council, which provides a reference model for a mobile enterprise architecture, and will also reference security documents from the Cloud Security Alliance.

It will take three months to produce a polished version, Mcevoy said, adding that the downloadable draft is freely available, and that CBPN will consider contributions from readers.



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