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Enterprise Cloud Best Practices: Setting High Standards Early To Simplify and Standardize IT

A Contributed Article by Derick Townsend, ServiceMesh VP of Product Marketing

In this article, we'll discuss the importance of leveraging cloud to greatly simplify and standardize your enterprise IT service offerings, and why it's important to design from the beginning with this goal in mind.

IT Complexity = Tremendous Burden

When describing cloud computing benefits, we often talk about improved business agility and cost savings. One of the most profound and impactful ways to achieve these benefits across the enterprise comes from the pursuit of IT standardization and simplification, which is an important cloud computing objective that deserves more attention.

Think about the hundreds or thousands of different IT technologies and processes that exist within an enterprise IT organization today. If you inventory just one enterprise data center, you'll see scores of hardware vendors, platforms, and operating systems assembled in unique combinations to support a sprawling assortment of heterogeneous apps.

The time and cost to manage this complexity is tremendous, and the chaos it creates places a significant burden on those charged with keeping IT running smoothly. In addition to support, there are redundant costs and waste associated with building solutions on top of this complex ecosystem including different overlapping tools, platforms, and processes. That's one reason why enterprise IT budgets tend to follow an "80/20 rule", where 80% is consumed in maintaining the status quo, and just 20% goes to new projects that directly add business value.

Will cloud help or hurt IT complexity?

For good reason, people don't want to add more IT complexity. However, some organizations make the mistake of assuming that cloud computing will be just another unwelcome contributor to complexity. From a tactical operations perspective, they see private cloud as another set of infrastructure to support, along with another set of management tools to learn and keep updated. This is quite shortsighted, as cloud computing actually has the potential to fundamentally change IT economics in their favor.

Cloud computing provides a rare opportunity to standardize large portions of the enterprise IT portfolio, which results in simplification of development processes, lower support costs, and faster time to market. I mention a "rare opportunity" because cloud computing can achieve success where others have failed due to a compelling enough "win-win" scenario for both business and IT to drive broad adoption.

Essentially, the enterprise cloud computing end game encompasses an everything-as-a-service IT delivery model spanning internal and external IaaS, PaaS, and SaaS-complete with policy-enforced governance and broad self-service access to standardized resources. Business units win by being empowered with governed self-service access to the IT resources they need so they can be more responsive, and IT leverages automated policy controls and orchestration to redirect their internal resources from low value configuration and maintenance to more meaningful cloud service innovations. The majority of the business unit's IT needs are serviced through a self-service, cloud-based portfolio of services, and any unique customization requirements are handled by IT in today's more traditional manner. This results in IT's role within the enterprise shifting to more of a product and portfolio manager of internal and external services, rather than a custom assembler of IT infrastructure and platforms from scratch.

Where do you start simplifying?

Organizations obtain the best results with incremental adoption, typically starting with standardization of foundational services and then adding more advanced offerings in a building block approach. Organizations often set their sights initially on cloud-enabled Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS) with the primary benefits of shorter provisioning time and improved resource utilization. These improvements can be significant- but the benefits of cloud-based standardization extend well beyond infrastructure.

Once you roll out IaaS, expect development and test teams to soon thereafter ask for self-service access to complete platforms, not just the underlying infrastructure. A more substantial wave of benefits are realized when platforms are standardized, including the ability to automatically embed platform-level governance, security, and configuration controls as they are deployed across the various stages of the software development lifecycle. These on-demand, self-service platforms can enable a new range of initiative to further improve the pace and frequency of software releases including DevOps, continuous integration, continuous delivery, and more.

PaaS offerings are also becoming much more robust, and you'll see more organizations launch cloud initiatives around PaaS.  It's important to note that PaaS offerings extend well beyond public providers like Google, Salesforce.com, and Amazon, which provide useful benefits but also come with significant risks of vendor lock-in. Other proven alternatives are available, including a rapidly expanding universe of private and "custom PaaS" offerings, where enterprises use a cloud management platform to assemble their own PaaS from a preferred combination of middleware, testing tools, and utilities to meet their specific platform standardization requirements.

Setting high standards

A key success factor for any cloud-based standardization effort is creating versatile "as-a-service" offerings that align well to the needs of your business unit customers. Here are a few best practices to consider:

  • Gather business unit requirements. This may seem obvious, but it doesn't happen nearly as well as it should. Sometimes IT thinks it knows what the BUs need, but in reality the BUs grudgingly settling for what IT offers, or they go around IT and unknowingly procure their own.
  • Take inventory, then rationalize. Begin with a full inventory of current infrastructure and platforms - you may be surprised at the diversity of what you find. Then go through the preliminary process of narrowing down choices in each major category (OS, database, app server, web server, etc).
  • Design for vendor contestability. The goal of standardization doesn't mean you can't have useful competition. Having two options in each major category can achieve simplicity without vendor lock-in. Consider adding an open source option into the mix.
  • Provide simple choices. Based on business unit requirements, provide simple options for each service (e.g. bronze, silver, and gold) based on different levels of performance, capacity, etc. Be aware that you can restrict options to the point of limiting adoption, so strive for balance.
  • Include external/public offerings in evaluations. Public cloud services are still not suitable for many enterprise use cases today, but they can provide a useful benchmark and you should monitor their progress. Beside, some business units may already be familiar with these public offerings and want to evaluate your services against them.
Putting the right incentives in place

When working together, IT organizations and Business Units often gravitate toward building custom solutions. You need to put the right incentives in place to change this behavior and show how Business Unit needs can be satisfied on a smaller set of optimized, standardized platforms. Some organizations dictate change based on arbitrary cut-off dates or platform end-of-life schedules. Others rely on a softer approach of selling the cost savings and agility benefits to the Business Units and leaving it up to them to find the compelling event to make a switch.

Whatever approach works best for your organization, when you do rollout your standardized offerings don't neglect training and internal marketing. IT often overlooks or minimizes these keys to adoption. Don't expect to just build it and wait for users to come - instead plan ahead and rollout offerings with full internal launch plans.  

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Published Wednesday, May 16, 2012 6:38 AM by David Marshall
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