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Cloud computing calls for rebuilding enterprise IT

Bernard Golden | March 22, 2012
For all of the buzz about cloud computing, there remains confusion about its real implications for an IT organization. CIO.com's Bernard Golden argues that to take full advantage of the cost savings and efficiency improvements of the cloud, CIOs have to rethink their approach to IT.

At a minimum, to rebuild the application process requires a move to agile development in which overall development duration is trimmed through short development cycles and intense communication. That's just the start, though. The processes underlying development also need to be updated to support agile development. Continuous integration and deployment within a development environment reduce the errors that occur when developers attempt to merge code artifacts that have been developed in isolation for weeks or months.

Only by marrying quick resource availability with agile development practices will IT organizations achieve real application benefits from cloud computing.

Restructuring IT Operations

IT operations are going to have to undergo enormous change as well. Taking applications that have been developed with agile methods and then placing them into a slow-moving operations environment in which every change is implemented manually creates a mismatch in the organization, and, crucially, hinders overall business agility.

IT operations will need to be restructured and automated to support cloud computing. This goes well beyond using tools to support dynamic application deployment to virtual machines in the cloud. This means modifying the processes by which IT infrastructure itself is installed and configured. The catch phrase is "infrastructure as code," and it means using tools to install and configure operating systems, networks, and storage implementation.

At the very least, manual installation and configuration of all software assets must shift to automation. The cloud environment itself should be able to absorb additional hardware assets as they are added to the environment.

Frankly, this is the area that is most likely to require radical rethinking on the part of IT executives. I've seen many people proclaim that they are going to run an "enterprise" cloud. In part, that presumes the use of expensive, high resiliency equipment, but it also implies that the cloud environment will support custom, one-off infrastructure configuration and unique application requirements.

This is admirable, but it's not cloud computing. It is virtualization yoked with traditional system administration practices. Long-term, this approach is unsustainable and any IT organization that doesn't realize it is going to be left behind as application groups embrace other alternatives. Failure to adopt the infrastructure management practices pioneered by the large public providers will consign an operations group to slow, reactive and expensive processes, which are unacceptable in a world that has embraced automation as a quotidian practice.

Finance and Pricing

The third element of an IT organization that must be rebuilt for cloud computing is finance. Obviously, there is the pressure to be as inexpensive and transparent as the public alternatives -- that goes without saying. The opaque, mysterious and highly lumpy forms of IT cost allocations will no longer be tenable in an environment where alternative providers publish price lists on the Web.

 

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