The Rein before the Cloud

January 28, 2010: 10:00 AM ET

Getting CIOs to love cloud computing takes a lot of logic and a little bit of TLC.

By Siki Giunta, president and CEO, Fortisphere

Giunta says tech staffs still need to be wooed to the cloud. Photo: Jesse Justice

Cloud computing is inevitable. In fact, it's already thriving. Salesforce.com is in the cloud. Amazon.com is selling the cloud. Without the cloud, there would be no Twitter. And without Twitter, there would be no international uproar over riots in Iran, or millions donated to help Haiti.

The cloud, while typically transparent, is already ubiquitous.  Like any successful infrastructure technology, the more it pervades, the less it is explicitly felt.

This all said, the cloud has remained, to date, primarily an infrastructure resource of the small company, the young company, and the Internet company. Running your computing outside your four walls presents a much lower risk if you have no alternative – and most small firms haven't got a datacenter. And most new startups haven't got a lot to lose if something goes wrong in the ether.

So, what could go wrong? Most cloud vendors will tell you how rock solid their infrastructure, platforms, and networks are. But, we have all experienced Facebook outages and Gmail issues often enough to understand that the best of systems have hiccups. Certainly a company with its own datacenter is more than aware of that fact.

Those hiccups need not be large-scale outages. For a large enterprise, moving systems to the cloud raises concerns for the security and compliance team. The team bristles even more when they consider how daunting the day-to-day operations of a mixed environment of on-premise and cloud systems could be.

Today there's simply too little visibility into the service levels, the health of the environments, and the management of dependencies within and across cloud and on-premise systems.

And so while many business leaders are pushing for cloud sooner rather than later, for the flexibility and the financial benefits enabled by the model, CIOs aren't sold.

Knowledge enables control. Control minimizes risk. Until these challenges are resolved, external clouds may be dangerous ground for large enterprises. That's why most big company CIOs still tell me "Someday… but not today."

Cloud computing: emotion trumps logic?

IT is a fairly logical business, complete with specifications and statistics, benchmarks and decision trees. But cloud computing elicits a very emotional response in IT leadership. Some respond with trepidation; others, with hope. The optimistic see it as the very fuel that can prime their corporate engines to zip ahead of the competition. The pessimistic believe it represents the final abstraction - the systems are no longer yours; you can't see them, you can't touch them, and you can't pick them up. I once sold into the mainframe market, so I empathize with that sense of loss.

One way to help IT departments make the transition to the cloud is to embrace the CIOs need for tools to monitor and manage his or her operation – appealing to that sense of logic that pervades IT.

Service models are critical to the ultimate transition to public clouds. Pre-set expectations of the level of service delivered can bridge the issues between IT and the business operations of any company.

Giving CIOs the tools they need and know

With stronger management, mechanisms for resource monitoring, and defined expectations of service, IT departments are building internal clouds that provide many of the cost and flexibility advantages found externally, but without the risk –­ real or perceived. In the past year, every conversation I've had with large companies in industries from financial services to health care has been fundamentally about establishing functional internal clouds.

The transition, even internally, to charging for cloud usage to the departments will facilitate the move to external billing of the same model, but few companies I've spoken to have implemented a true chargeback model. Departmental budgets are structured around CapEx, and until that changes, it will be difficult to broadly adopt external clouds, for procurement reasons alone.

The cloud is here. The cloud is inevitable. But, whether private or public, the cloud is not plug-and-play. It must be shaped to meet the needs of each business as much as each business and IT environment must be armed to face a cloudy world.  When business value meets IT reality, we'll see the sunbursts through the clouds.

Giunta is CEO of Fortisphere, a privately-held software company headquartered in Reston, Va.

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