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What really is a cloud?

Many articles have been written about what the Cloud is or is not.  In the spirit of the college entrance exam season (you remember the ACT and SAT?), I thought I would start out with a “simple” question – What really is a Cloud?  Is it:

  1. Just another technology fad (JATF for you xTLA fans)
  2. A highly virtualized data center environment
  3. A highly automated, virtualized data center environment
  4. A strategy for computing built on top of an integrated service management platform
  5. If you got this far then you might want to try again (or you can just read on)

If you agree that D is the correct answer then you should also agree that there are many elements to defining a cloud strategy that should be considered before you buy any cloud management tools.

No matter what method that you subscribe to for planning (an example – the PDCA Deming cycle) one of the first things to do is to understand your requirements.  What services do you plan to offer in the Cloud? Fundamentally, the cloud is a delivery model by which IT delivers services to its business customers which must be underpinned by processes that provide predictable outcomes.  These processes must be measured and controlled so that service levels for performance and availability can be agreed to and met.

If the above sounds to you like typical areas that are covered by IT Service Management (ITSM) best practice frameworks such as ITIL then you would be correct. Implementing a Cloud is a great opportunity to review and improve your current IT processes and even organizational structure to ensure that your Cloud implementation will provide value to the business. Questions that you should consider include:

  • Is your Change Management process agile enough for the Cloud with an acceptable balance between speed and risk?
  • Are the Cloud based services that you plan to offer accurately modeled in a Configuration Management Database (CMDB)?
  • Are your Incident and Problem Management processes integrated with all of your service providers (with Operating Level Agreements in place)?
  • Is your Event Management process and associated toolsets integrated into your CMDB to provide service based operations information to Incident, Problem and Change Management?
  • Does your operations staff work from a Cloud Service based view of your infrastructure?
  • Are your Cloud service offerings available in a Service Catalog that is accessible by your customers?
  • Do your Release and Deployment Management processes support the automated deployment of the services in your Service Catalog?
  • Do you have Service Level Management in place for the services that you provide to your customers with measurable targets that can be reviewed and improved when necessary?
  • Does your Capacity Management process take into account your proposed Cloud delivery mechanisms (private, pubic, hybrid)?

An important consideration for choosing a Cloud Management Platform is how well it integrates with your current ITSM platform and toolsets. Good ITSM processes and practices will help ensure a successful Cloud implementation.  Defining your requirements by answering some of the above questions is a good place to start.

Jeff Swann, CTO Strategist, Office of the CTO, OnX