Cloud computing represents one of those once-in-a-generation shifts that not only changes the way we think about managing information, but also the way we design and run businesses. Sometimes, people get a little too excited about all the possibilities, however, and jump in with both feet without thinking things through.
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For that reason, Mike Kavis, a seasoned chief technology officer and IT architect, urges greater care when rushing into the cloud space. That’s the theme of his latest book, titled Architecting the Cloud: Design Decisions for Cloud Computing Service Models, which explores the key steps both IT and business leaders need to take as they enter the cloud world. (Kavis provided me the opportunity to preview the book a few weeks back, and my endorsement appears on the back cover.) He identifies some of the “worst practices” he has seen that tend to make cloud projects go awry:
Worst practice #1) Migrating applications to the cloud solely to drive down costs: “The reality is usually the complete opposite,” says Kavis. “In fact, very few applications are good candidates to move to the cloud in their current architecture…. Most legacy architectures were never intended to be built in a manner where the system automatically scales as the number of transactions increases.” If someone is hoping to simply reduce the costs of managing current applications, they should consider moving their applications to a managed hosting provider, Kavis says.
Worst practice #2) Having inflated expectations of suddenly becoming a digital enterprise: Many people look at the big web stars such as Instagram or Facebook — built on the cloud — and assume they can take that same route. However, Kavis remind us, “many organizations have a very complex enterprise consisting of numerous vendor and proprietary solutions ranging from mainframe technologies, to midsize computers, n-tier architectures, and every other architectural pattern that was popular at one time or another. Starting with a blank slate or getting an initiative from the CEO to re-platform the entire product line with a new cloud-based architecture is not the norm for most companies.” Cloud should start as smaller deliverables that deliver business value sooner, in smaller increments, Kavis advises.
Worst practice #3) Not fully understanding cloud security: The current lack of standards and lack of enterprise experience with cloud make private corporate clouds ripe for abuse. “The truth about security and the cloud is quite simple. With the proper security architecture, the public cloud can be more secure than most on-premises data centers,” Kavis says. “Unfortunately, very few corporations know enough about the security requirements in the cloud necessary to architect for it.” Make cloud security understanding a top priority for architects, product teams and other IT professionals, he advocates.
Worst practice #4) Selecting a favorite vendor, not an appropriate vendor: Don’t let loyalty to a current vendor get in the way of a clear-headed choice. Cloud often represents a different set of business circumstances than the IT services you may have been familiar with over the years. “Understand the differences between three cloud service models: Software as a Service, Platform as a Service, and Infrastructure as a Service,” Kavis advises. “Know what business cases are best suited for each service model.”
Worst practice #5) Failing to plan for outages and out-of-business scenarios: “When leveraging cloud services there should be an expectation that everything can and will fail,” says Kavis. No one will ever be immune to outages. “If AWS takes a hit for two hours, who is really to blame when the customer’s website goes down because it did not design for failure? Don’t blame the cloud provider; blame the architecture.” Understand the providers service level agreements, data ownership policies, “and thoroughly examine all legal binding documents and agreements,” says Kavis.
Worst practice #6) Underestimating the impacts of organizational change: “Change goes way beyond IT,” says Kavis. And it always boils down to people management. People often resist change, or changes to business processes. Kavis advises starting with “smaller, lower-risk initiatives as the early candidates for cloud computing projects.” Also, identify and bring a change leader into the process.
Worst practice #7) Not bringing in enough of the right skills: “Deploying, monitoring, and maintaining software in the cloud can be drastically different from how an organization currently handles those tasks,” says Kavis. What will be required is a “broad knowledge of networking, security, distributed computing, SOA web architectures, and much more.” Encourage employees to take courses, provide for training, and network with individuals and organizations who have experience with the cloud, he urges.
Worst practice #8) Misunderstanding customer requirements: “Sometimes IT people neglect the business side of the equation and build the cloud solution that is best for IT,” says Kavis. Put customer needs first. Have a list of frequently asked questions handy that answers all of the questions and concerns that the typical user will have for a cloud-based solution, he advises.
Worst practice #9) Not preparing for unexpected costs: Since it shifts IT from capital expenses to monthly subscription payments, cloud may appear to be far more inexpensive up front. However, primary IT costs tend to remain constant. For example, Kavis relates, “the most expensive part of cloud computing usually has nothing to do with the cloud at all. Often, companies underestimate the effort it takes to build software in the cloud.” Establish appropriate levels of governance to monitor and optimize costs — just as with any other IT project, Kavis says.