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Debunking the myth: The cloud does NOT replace IT

April 18, 2012 / Scott Kinka

Let me start by saying that I really don’t know where this myth started. It likely originated long ago during the early days of cloud computing. Everyone has heard the stories. Cloud fairies sprinkling their magic data migration dust. Hobbits writing session state objects and calling APIs to help scale your web applications while you sleep. And, of course, there’s the good Cloud Witch of the North, who waves her magic wand and all is good in the kingdom of end-user support. You’ve heard these stories, right? Probably from the same guy who tried to sell you the unicorn.

I really don’t mean to poke fun, but I’m just not sure where this started. Who first stated that the cloud replaces the need for IT help? I’ve read a few articles lately claiming that being successful in the cloud requires on-staff IT professionals, consultants, and integrators. Was there ever really any question about this?

Let’s be realistic. Have you ever done a Sybase-to-Oracle migration without third-party professional services or a consultant? Have you ever performed P2V (physical-to-virtual) conversions without your IT personnel? I don’t think so. In the past, when you wanted to implement or migrate to a new platform, you used your on-staff IT pros or hired integrators, specialists, and consultants to help. You need to consider the cloud in much the same way.

IT pros unarguably are required to help build the bridge between the premise and the cloud. IT pros also must ensure the implementation continues to meet the needs of the business and user community. Cloud is agile, but it doesn’t shift to meet the changing needs of business on its own. In most cases, someone still needs to man the levers. Yes, there are many types of clouds and many different definitions wrapped around the service offerings. For example, subscribing to Dropbox on your home computer simplifies file sharing, and almost anyone who knows his way around a PC can do it on his own without IT support. But in the case of enterprise applications and complex hosting, IT is an absolute necessity! It’s a science and requires some mojo.

To ensure success, you need to ask the right questions. Do you need a Virtual Private Cloud (VPC), a web-scale cloud, or a multi-tenant cloud? What control do you have to customize the environment for the needs of your customers, partners, and internal users? What applications can you publish? Can you control your own group policies? Are your cloud resources dedicated to you, or are they shared?

Keep in mind, the more control you need, the more administrative activities you will be responsible for. For the small business under 20 employees, less control is often better. But for the mid-market enterprise, more control is almost always the desirable path and, in many cases, a necessity. For example, if you have cloud desktops, do you really want to call support to simply change folder permissions for one of your users?

Also spend time defining the support terminology. For example, if you hear that the application is managed, make sure you understand exactly what that means and where the cloud service provider’s responsibilities start and end. Is it managing the infrastructure and platform that supports the application? Or is it handling patches, fixes, updates, and upgrades of the application itself? What if the database is corrupt or performing poorly? Who’s responsible? How does your provider manage this, and what are the support processes? Does it implement hot fixes only when you schedule them, or does it blindly make changes that can cause application instability?

Now, don’t get me wrong. The cloud certainly makes things easier for IT pros. It even helps deliver better IT! Here’s how. First, cloud optimizes IT by shifting its time to stay focused on the things that matter to the business, such as integrating with a new business partner, optimizing a database to speed query performance in your analytics program, or automating your proposal system. Cloud provides the physical infrastructure, redundancies, and controls so your IT staff can focus on your business applications, rather than spending countless hours just keeping the foundation up and running. Cloud and its tools make IT more efficient by automating steps for common tasks. Activities that used to take hours now take minutes. And for regulated industries, the cloud can help IT meet compliance objectives, manage data governance, administer trust-levels, and meet security requirements.

Cloud is an IT strategy, not an IT replacement!

For most businesses, the cloud brings tremendous benefits and opportunities. If you want to have success, ask the right questions, clearly define your goals, and be clear about your expectations. The cloud is undoubtedly going to continue to change the way we consume technology, but it’s during this transitional time that it’s most important that we all stick to best practices.

Work with your vendor to fully understand what you are and are not getting. Just know that someone needs to do the work. If you don’t have someone on staff, contract with an outside firm. There are many ways to approach the cloud, but in the opinion of this cloud guy, it never has been, and never will be, without support from IT.

Consider that myth debunked!

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