During EMC’s annual customer and partner conference, EMC World, I spoke with numerous CIOs at various stages of moving their organizations’ workloads to the cloud. Those discussions confirmed that forward-looking CIOs recognize cloud’s potential and are eager to share and receive guidance on how best to maximize IT’s value. No surprise, since IDC estimates that at some point this year 80 percent of enterprise applications will be deployed on cloud platforms.
Part of these CIOs’ motivation is to keep the IT function relevant and valuable in an environment where end-users not only bring their “consumer world” expectations to work with them – but also have new IT sourcing choices, through “X as a Service” and other public cloud options. This dynamic is exacerbated by “bring-your-own-device” and other mobility and consumerization trends. If an IT organization isn’t actively facing these influences, or lacks the agility to support new business and technology demands, business units may independently (and most already are) roll their own IT as a Service initiatives, thus creating “shadow IT.”
Shadow IT is but one of the ways CIOs risk replicating IT sins of the past. Historically, IT often built infrastructure that optimized individual applications but resulted in rigid silos of inefficient, dedicated resources that were expensive to maintain, difficult to manage, and cumbersome to scale as the needs of the organization evolved.
Cloud computing provides CIOs with the potential to build an agile infrastructure based on flexible pools of resources that can be shared to support the varied and changing needs of the business. Such a model may take the form of private (internal), public (external), or hybrid (a mix of internal and external) clouds, and include a growing ecosystem of compatible partner platforms that truly enables a consistent cloud experience – independent of where the infrastructure sits and who is managing it. However, even in moving to the cloud, CIOs still risk repeating those sins of the past if they don’t recognize the need to standardize on a consistent cloud architecture.
This is a pivotal juncture for IT, and CIOs need to provide the strategic direction to realize the promise of cloud computing. CIOs must recognize that their role can change from a manager of technology assets to a manager of a portfolio of services – enabled by a standardized cloud platform. Without architectural discipline, IT may end up optimizing certain workloads by using a variety of purpose-built cloud-based offerings and public cloud providers, business unit by business unit, leading to “cloud sprawl.”
The result? A sub-optimal infrastructure that prevents the movement of data across applications, limits the ability to govern and secure sensitive data and intellectual property, and dilutes the potential of comprehensive analytics.
A better approach: standardizing on a common platform, such as VMware and their associated management and orchestration tools, EMC information infrastructure and data protection technologies, or Vblock converged infrastructure for ease of deployment and operations. Standardization makes it possible to federate and move workloads and data easily within a hybrid cloud environment. This common cloud platform provides the architectural flexibility and agility for IT to deliver “IT as a Service” that satisfies end users, while still being able to optimize across the organization. CIO’s thus become an internal service provider to the business, independent of where the infrastructure is located.
Adopting this approach to cloud computing requires that the role of the CIO – and indeed of IT – evolve, from tactical technology implementer to strategic technologist and portfolio manager. It means the IT department has to transform from a behind the scenes staff to a front-and-center business unit that functions as an in-house service provider, offering a portfolio of services to the business, driven by service level agreements and evaluated based on business outcomes. In short, capitalizing on cloud is not just about adopting cloud technology; it also requires an architectural framework and the transformation of people and processes in order to avoid repeating IT sins of the past.