In many ways, the cloud has been a thing that, from a marketing standpoint, isn’t easy to articulate to non-IT people. That’s why the term has become so conflated with other concepts in IT that overlap or do similar things, such as virtualization, hosted infrastructure and the Internet.
But the cloud has reached a watershed moment in its evolution. According to a recent survey conducted by IBM, interest in cloud technology as a strategic tool among line-of-business owners — such as CEOs, CFOs, heads of HR and finance — is poised to double from 34 percent to 72 percent over the next three years. This is surprisingly higher than that of their IT counterparts, which sits at 58 percent.
The shift is both compelling and confusing. How did the cloud go from geek to chic so quickly?
We reached out to IBM for clarification on the study’s findings, and Mac Devine, director of CloudFirst Innovation and chief technology officer of IBM’s Cloud Services division, answered our questions about this shift in attitudes toward cloud computing.
BIZTECH: What is it about the cloud specifically that drives such amazing results, and why do non-IT people seem so excited about it?
DEVINE:The excitement around cloud computing comes from the removal of the obstacles and boundaries of traditional IT. Business leaders within the enterprise are realizing that they can achieve tangible business at the rate and pace needed. This allows them to reinvent customer relationships, experiment with new business models, gain insight via analysis of a far greater volume and variety of data, and improve the collaboration across their organization and ecosystem.
BIZTECH: How can companies prepare for a cloud-first approach to business and success?
DEVINE: The most important preparation for a cloud-first approach is willingness to change. Changing human behavior is always difficult, but it is absolutely essential in order to transition to cloud-first. Companies must be willing to make the following changes (not an exhaustive list, but a great starting point):
Focus on quality of experience more than functional capabilities (especially for the initial deployment of the service).
Accept and plan for failure, but more important, be prepared to incorporate learning from the failure.
Be prepared to incorporate feedback rapidly into the next iteration of the service (keeping the consumers of the services engaged in improving the service may generate "evangelists" for the service).
Be willing to stop investing in areas that are not being "accepted" by consumers of the service.
Be willing to invest in areas that may not have been originally envisioned within the service but that are gaining traction with consumers.
Be willing to allow spontaneous innovation by the development community (both internal and external).
BIZTECH: How can companies ensure that the cloud simplifies and doesn't complicate operations?
DEVINE: One of the most important things to remember is to focus on what really matters to the business from an operations viewpoint. Traditional IT became overly complex because it tried to be everything for everyone. If a service is not core to the business, or if you do not have the skills to build it properly, then look to consume the service from another provider.
The cloud-first approach is an essential part of this transition. It gives customers access to the service much earlier in the development process, but it also quickly exposes any hidden operations cost and complexity and allows quick "re-shaping" of the service for operational reasons. In other words, cloud-first is not only about continuous delivery of better functionality but also continuous operational improvements.
BIZTECH: If more operations move to the cloud, doesn't that put companies at risk for downtime, if a cloud provider corrupts files or holds data hostage?
DEVINE: In short, select your cloud provider carefully. Ask for their global footprint of resources, technologies in place to prevent downtime and how their products uniquely avoid downtime. It is also important for the enterprise customer to plan for downtime at the platform and application layer so they are not completely dependent on the cloud service provider.
However, even with the ability to quickly redeploy platforms and applications, it’s important to evaluate how a cloud provider is protecting its clients from infrastructure and network downtime and what the global footprint of their cloud infrastructure and network looks like. For example, the ability for cloud services provider SoftLayer to have flexible and highly available infrastructure and networking services for the widest variety of applications (multitenant apps, single tenant apps, IO intensive apps and network intensive apps) was one of the driving forces behind IBM’s acquisition of the company.