Roadmap Cloud

Author: Carsten Reffgen
The introduction of new technologies is always a challenge as much as a risk for IT executives. With cloud computing there are additional issues as cloud computing changes processes and the collaboration with other departments. In the following, we provide an overview and suggestions as to which subjects fall in your responsibility as an IT manager. Reading time: 8 minutes.

The businesses starting their journey to the cloud are quite diverse. One thing is certain though: This trip has to start sooner or later – for every company. In most companies the “go” comes from the management under the slogan: “everything to the cloud”. And frankly: That’s a blessing.

In cloud computing everybody’s a startup

But few IT departments are prepared for that. Contrary to common believe not everything is just cheaper in the cloud. We have to change and renew the design of our architecture and how we provide services. A strong mandate by the management enables us to do so.

Additionally, we must modify our SLAs as we are no longer running the hardware ourselves. What it will come to is not Infrastructure as a Service, Platform as a Service or whatever but Infrastructure as Code. That is the configuration, deployment and management of a data center by scripts.

IT departments can operate like startups

Cloud computing lowers the entry barriers for professional IT to the point where they are virtually non-existing. Pay-per-use and Everything as a Service ease the technological and financial entry. In addition to that, one finds a variety of helpful open-source applications for cloud management, startups in particular adopt quite fast.

Companies of all sizes must rapidly implement innovations, evaluate customer acceptance and subsequently introduce feedback into their product or service, bringing it full circle.
In todays companies, tasks are distributed over teams or departments as is necessary for an on-premises infrastructure. Areas spread Windows Server, Linux Server, Storage, Network, Applications, Security and more. Cloud computing enables departments to liberate themselves from deadlocked structures.

Development, operation and quality assurance merge into small agile team. Server, storage, network, applications and security must work together closely and quickly. These teams participate in every stage of development of a product. From the mere draft, through technical implementation to customer support. That way, within the eco system of a business small groups emerge, which operate with the speed and flexibility of startups yet achieve corporate quality standards.

Cloud brings IT and users together

Today, IT is an integral part of business processes. Due to the 24/7 availability of cloud services and their rapid advancement our customers and companies expect fast responses to their inquiries. If internal IT teams do not deliver, departments will obtain the necessary services themselves – from the cloud.

To become more efficient, work with our customers must become faster and frictionless, even more so than before. We must understand and anticipate their workloads. This differs dramatically from the traditional approach and the initial learning curve will be steep. And: the larger the company, the large the challenge.

New skills and a common ground

Anyone who wants to make use of cloud services in their company should develop a solid background in the following topics:

  • Cloud offerings: Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS) and Software as a Service (SaaS)
  • Cloud models: Public, private and hybrid cloud
  • Container technologies such as Docker, rkt and their eco systems
  • DevOps
  • Continuous integration and continuous deployment
  • Software defined networking and software defined storage
  • Debugging, logging and monitoring of cloud applications

We find that every member of the IT department should be familiar with this basic knowledge. Of course, not everybody has to be an expert. But comparably to how Windows administrators have a solid understanding of networks (even though they do not manage them), in cloud computing there must be a common ground.

Ten-point plan

1Onboarding and support of employees
2Gain cloud knowledge
3Identify cloud-capable data and applications
4Specify the cloud model
5Select a cloud provider
6Describe business case
7Build cloud governance
8Define cloud architecture
9Restructure IT department
10Think innovatively!

The big challenges with cloud computing

Once your business has decided to migrate (parts of your IT infrastructure) to the cloud, you will inevitably face challenges. A lot of these challenges might be firsts. In this section we will exemplarily discuss issues related to the cloud.

Choosing the right provider and cloud model

There are various cloud provider such as Amazon Web Services, VMware vCloud Air, Microsoft Azure, Open Stack and many more. Each vendor has its own flavor and thereby differs from the rest. Here we assembled a in-depth comparison of the cloud prodigies AWS and Azure.

The same goes for the cloud model, namely public, private or hybrid, each of which has advantages and drawbacks. A hybrid architecture is sensible if for some reason (e. g. privacy policy) some data cannot be migrated to a public cloud, yet the company still wants to make use of the flexibility of the public cloud.

Companies have to invest a lot of time and budget in order to evaluate the provider and model that suits them. This prevents from bad decision making and saves considerable money in the long run however.

Choosing the right application

According to the Bundesamt für Sicherheit in der Informationstechnik (BSI), the German federal office for security in information technology, the future user must define a cloud strategy in which the most important basic principles are explained. The analysis should include every data type and application that is to be migrated to the cloud or will be created there. Cloud providers offer individualized services to meet the various security requirements for data and applications. A “one size fits all” architecture should not be implemented.

The BSI recommends three categories of security in which data and applications are classified.

  • Category B (= basic requirements) includes requirements that are fundamental to all cloud service providers.
  • Category C + (= high confidentiality) includes additional requirements when processing data with a high level of protection with regard to confidentiality.
  • Category A + (= high availability) includes additional requirements in the case of services with high protection requirements in terms of availability.

(BSI white paper)

Security concerns

Security concerns while valid are the biggest obstacle for cloud projects. Companies are worried about data protection, unauthorized data access, multi-client capability, loss of control over data and more.

To give an example: With a 100$ public cloud model, all company data is managed in the cloud. This is not consistent with specific legal and data protection regulations required from many companies. In these cases, businesses may adopt a hybrid cloud. The BSI has published many informative and helpful articles on the matter of clouds (find the articles here: Many capable tools that allow to assess and audit the security of cloud applications are nowadays available.

Cloud cost management

According to several studies, organizations save huge amounts of money when they move their IT to the cloud – compared to an on-premises solution. That is, of course, total nonsense. It is not that simple. We need to ponder each use case carefully and check its profitability. Many of the cloud providers offer a calculator that predicts the costs of the cloud to aid that task. Here too, caution is called for. The approach of Total Cost of Ownership (TCO) originally refers to capital goods. Cloud, on the other had, is a service (OPEX).

Vendor lock-in

Do I lose my freedom if I give my IT up to a single cloud provider? This is the second most common question we encounter, along with security concerns. First things first: cloud providers allow migration from one provider to another. But of course, that is not a good way to run your business. There is another way to retain flexibility and independence though. Container technologies are sufficiently sophisticated now to be deployed in data centers. With solutions such as Docker, Universal Control, Plane, Nomade, Kubernetes, Flocker and others, we are able to run applications across different data centers and cloud providers.

Container technology is changing the way we run IT once more. It definitely frees us from a vendor lock-in.

Resistance of the employees

It is not technical barriers that pose the biggest risk, it is humans. The resistance does not stem from the technical implementation, but from the unwillingness of the established employees. Because cloud technology changes the workflows and tasks themselves.

Human beings only grudgingly leave their comfort zone or face new challenges. This is no different for IT managers and employees. It is the management’s job to mitigate this risk. It is the management that must guide employees through this change. Therefore, every manager should think about how to integrate change management as a task in the introduction of cloud technology.

Then again, also employees must show their willingness to participate in change. We are operating in a technological environment that is changing incredibly quickly. Since Konrad Zuse introduced the mechanical computer Z1 to the world, only 80 years have passed. If we want to keep pace with the rapid progress, we have to open ourselves up and accept to innovation and abandon outdated technologies.

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