Sunday, October 3, 2010

Cloud Computing Assessments, Part 1: The Right Way to Adopt Cloud Computing

There is a right way and a wrong way to get involved with cloud computing. This article series is about doing it the right way and focuses on the use of cloud computing assessments to properly evaluate, plan for, and adopt cloud computing. Here in Part 1 we’ll be looking at the technology hype cycle, the best rhythm for adopting the cloud, and the critical role an assessment plays. In subsequent parts of the series we’ll look more deeply at various aspects of an assessment such as computing ROI, dealing with security, technical considerations, and the impact on IT. Since I work with the Windows Azure platform that’s where I’ll be focusing.

The Technology Hype Cycle

When major technology waves are unleashed, there’s a lot of buzz and also a lot of uncertainty. The well-known Gartner Hype Cycle explains why this is so. A new technology triggers many expectations, some of them unrealistic or not immediately attainable. As the market’s understanding gets sorted out, these inflated expectations transition into disillusionment which is also exaggerated. As time passes and technology and best practices mature enlightenment occurs and there’s a general understanding of what’s really possible and advisable. It’s at that point we have widespread, productive use of the technology.

Technology Hype Cycle

The hype cycle can be scary, and you might be thinking right now that the best thing to do is sit back and wait for cloud computing to mature. On the other hand, early adopters who leverage new technology sooner than others can gain a competitive edge. The hype cycle doesn’t mean you can’t benefit from a technology in its early years, but it’s essential to take some careful precautions to avoid getting burned.
In the case of cloud computing it’s particularly confusing for businesses to know what to do and when to do it. What’s real today, and what’s hype? Where are developments headed? Should you be doing something now or is it best to wait? There’s a real tension between the wish to join the party and realize the benefits and savings vs. the fear you might be jumping the gun or making a costly mistake.

Rhythm for Cloud Computing Adoption

Fortunately, there’s a way to move from uncertainty to certainty about cloud computing, and that’s to follow the rhythm shown below, which has 4 stages: awareness, assessment, experimentation, and adoption. The missing link between thinking about the cloud (the awareness phase) and using the cloud happily (the adoption phase) are the inner activities of an assessment and an experiment.

Let’s look at each phase.

Phase 1: Awareness

In the awareness phase, you’re starting to learn about cloud computing and are forming an initial impression of it. You’re likely getting information from many sources which might include the media, discussions with peers and colleagues, webcasts, conferences, vendor presentations, and the like. You’re getting pummeled with information, partial information, and misinformation. There’s a large buzz, but everything you’re hearing is either generalized or is someone else’s experience.

You wonder, what would cloud computing mean for us specifically? When you ask that question, you are ready for the next phase, an assessment.

Phase 2: Assessment

A cloud computing assessment has one purpose, and that is to bring the cloud into focus for your organization. In the cloud computing assessments we practice at Neudesic we seek to answer these questions in an assessment:

• Can I believe the claims of cloud computing?
• What is Microsoft doing in the cloud?
• What are the benefits?
• Is the cloud a good fit for my business?
• Where are the opportunities and what ROI will they bring?
• How do I avoid risk?
• What does it cost?
• What belongs in the cloud and what doesn’t?
• When is the right time to engage?

An assessment is very much like having a suit tailored to fit you perfectly. We move from the general to the specific. You’ll exit the assessment with a clear understanding of how the cloud can benefit your company; a strategy that fits your business plans; a roadmap of opportunities; and a full view of risk/reward considerations. The roadmap your assessment produces will typically recommend a proof-of-concept and a prioritized timetable for cloud adoption. Some opportunities may make sense immediately but others may be more appropriate further out. Business and IT events on your calendar as well as upcoming cloud computing platform features will help determine the best timing for moving applications into the cloud.

Armed with the clarity and plan that comes out of an assessment, you are ready for the next phase, an experiment.

Phase 3: Experiment

Although an assessment plays an important role in planning for the cloud, there’s no substitute for some actual experience. A proof-of-concept experiment is recommended before you start adopting the cloud for production purposes. The experiment serves several purposes. First, it gives you an opportunity to test the claims of the cloud personally. In addition, the experience will either confirm the results of your assessment or cause you to revise your conclusions and cloud adoption plan.

Once you’ve concluded both an assessment and an experiment, you can proceed to cloud adoption with confidence.

Phase 4: Adoption

The final phase is actual adoption of the cloud. Your earlier assessment should have produced a roadmap for adoption, where some opportunities make sense in a “do them now” first wave and others in a potential second wave. After each migration to the cloud or new project in the cloud, you should reflect on the most recent experience and refine your cloud plans if warranted.

It’s important to set up monitoring and management of your production applications in the cloud, adjusting deployment size in response to changes in demand. Failure to do this could undermine the ROI you expect to get from the cloud.

Now or Later?

Having said all this, what should your timing be for cloud computing? My belief is you won’t be in a position to really answer that question until you’ve had an assessment done. Regardless of your ultimate conclusions about where to use the cloud and when, there are some good reasons to take a serious look at cloud computing right now and put an initial plan in place. Since assessments are often free, there’s a lot to be gained by having one sooner than later. It should be clear after an assessment what opportunities there are for your business to leverage the cloud and what the best timing is. Getting an assessment now doesn’t mean you have to start adopting the cloud now.

What considerations should affect your timing decisions? There are several. One is the importance of getting in front of the cloud. Since cloud computing is a self-serve technology, it may come into your organization all by itself as one department or one individual starts to use it. It’s better to proactively have taken a look at cloud computing and have a strategy and guidance in place for acceptable use--and you can only do that if you start looking at it sooner than later.

Another key consideration for timing is your company’s culture of risk vs. reward. Using Gartner’s definitions, we recognize that not all companies balance risk vs. reward equally. There’s the Aggressive Innovator who values reward over risk and has gotten good at managing risk in order to get the brass ring. There’s the Pragmatic Adopter who looks at risk and reward equally. And there’s the Risk-Averse company who is hesitant to consider risks of any kind. If you’re in the first two categories you’re more likely to take an early look at cloud computing.

Cloud computing may offer you significant savings and agility, and if that’s the case the sooner you start using it the sooner you’ll realize the financial and institutional benefits. In particular you might find it useful to consider business and IT activities on the horizon and align your cloud plans with them. Are you launching a new product line or renewing budgets? Are you nearing a server refresh cycle or re-planning your data center? Aligning your cloud computing plans with existing business and IT plans will maximize opportunities and minimize disruption.

In subsequent installments we’ll look at the various activities that are performed in a cloud computing assessment. If you’d to see how we do them at Neudesic, visit

1 comment:

Aldus Logan said...

Thanks for sharing this useful information regarding cloud computing. This is really great. I read all your post and enjoyed it well. Thanks and keep sharing.
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