Figuring out the cloud is a challenge for many businesses. They can't decide which of the many definitions applies, and how any of them can help the business. And that can mean paralysis by analysis, as debates among stakeholders hamstring the organization as a whole, while rogue groups quietly go ahead and profit from the technology, without bothering to mention it to IT.
The year old Toronto Cloud Business Coalition (TCBC) was formed to focus on education about the technology, and on networking among those who are tasked with making it a reality, by developing and promoting best practices. It describes itself thusly:
The Toronto Cloud Business Coalition connects leading participants in one of the world’s leading data centre markets – IT and business management from enterprises and SMBs, global IT vendors, Canadian (and global) Born in the Cloud XaaS providers, ecosystem/channel firms, academics, VCs and corporate finance firms, and other cloud experts – to develop and deliver education and networking that accelerates adoption and use of cloud in the GTA and Canada.
Part of this education and networking mandate includes workshops such as the Cloud Bootcamp, the second annual held last week in Toronto. A combination of expert panels and working groups discussing case studies in various industries, the full day event focused on five key issues in the implementation of cloud – strategy and planning; governance, risk and compliance; delivery via public, private and hybrid environments; advanced cloud application adoption and enablement; and cloud privacy, security and reliability. The day ended with an open forum discussion on the future of cloud.
The outcome of the bootcamp: while it's not as easy as many think to implement cloud properly, it's also not rocket science. It just requires looking beyond the technology.
Attendees were split into four teams, each operating as an advisory group for a hypothetical organization. We had a 2000 employee government organization, a 650 employee healthcare group whose operation was spread over several locations in a remote region, a 450 employee manufacturing company, and a 700 employee financial services group.
The discussions were lively, as the teams tried to answer two questions based on each panel, and then report to the entire group on their conclusions. The panel of experts then chimed in with their thoughts. On the whole, with the level of expertise in the room, the panel was able to offer little by way of critique.
Here's a look at the first panel, which discussed planning for cloud, and cloud strategy, focusing on those moments when companies realize that they've fallen behind.
In the early days, noted Ian Rae, CEO of CloudOps, most people moving to the cloud had specific business goals in mind. Now the leading wave has passed through, and adopters are in what he calls the "oh, shit" phase. Technology is no longer an issue, he said. It's all about culture – people, and process.
It's also an internal shift, said Shawn Rosemarin, executive director, Architecture and Professional Services, VMware. For the last 20 years, CIOs have focused on cost savings. Now they're spending less, but realize that the only way they can innovate is if they can find dollars. "Outcomes only happen when you leverage tools," he explained. "You drive change with people and process. There's complexity early entrants didn't have."
Alex Sirota, founder and director at NewPath Consulting, added that for small businesses, those "holy shit" moments happen on a daily basis, as competitive pressures and operational issues arise. The key benefit of cloud for them is that it doesn't have to depend on long cycles. But, he said, when businesses hit the revenue threshold that prompts them to hire an IT person, that pulls them back.
Yet, said Scott Metcalfe, Jones Lang LaSalle Real Estate Services’ vice president, data center solutions, despite those dragging feet, he's now seeing a shift towards more comfort with outsourcing.
The discussion then segued to exit strategies if a cloud provider proves unsatisfactory. Rosemarin pointed out that, with the number of supplier choices we have, one of the most important people in an organization will be the enterprise architect who can help make those decisions. Choosing poorly could be an expensive proposition.
"There are certain situations where the time to value is so tight that getting locked in (to a vendor) could be the right decision," he noted. "If not, look at the cost to undo the decision if you take the 'easy' way. We owe it to the next generation to ask those questions today."
Once the panel concluded its take on the topic, the case groups were turned loose on two questions: for a presentation to management of their business case on expanding investment in cloud, which of six issues (agility, cost savings, better security, mobile enablement, access to skills, and disaster recovery) would they focus on, and how would they present them; and, secondly, what arguments could they present to a rogue business unit determined to dive into cloud on its own, to encourage it to “look before it leaps?”
Responses to the first question varied by industry, as one would expect – there was no one right answer. Regulated industries like healthcare and financial services have much higher security requirements, for example, while manufacturing was more concerned with cost savings and agility. As for the rogue business unit, most teams agreed that the key was for IT to become ‘the department of yes’, offering to help with a cloud implementation that would serve the business unit's needs while still maintaining the company's security posture.
The lunchtime speaker, Shawn Gandhi, head of solutions architecture at AWS Canada, echoed the theme that cloud is more than just technology, and led his audience through a whirlwind tour of the factors to consider in a cloud implementation. "It's a journey," he said. "It's critical to know your current state."
That journey needs to be planned, he added, putting business strategy, market drivers, industry drivers, and other factors into the overall cloud strategy, then developing a baseline. Know capabilities, applications in use, talent available, and operational readiness. After that, you can plan, execute, deliver, and measure progress.
And, he said, experiment. "Cloud is all about lowering the cost of failure," he explained. "I measure my team's failures."
Because, he said, if there aren't enough failures, it means they're not trying new things.