As more businesses look to reap the agility advantages of cloud applications and services, IT leaders are faced with a crucial question: What is the right cloud strategy for their enterprise?
The cloud computing landscape continues to mature, providing IT with multiple options, from leveraging outsourced cloud vendors to building their own private clouds from the ground up. As with most business questions, every choice comes with its own advantages and disadvantages.
However, choosing a cloud path doesn't have to be an all-or-nothing proposition. Indeed, most enterprises will likely find themselves with some combination of approaches, including both private and public cloud elements.
In the old days of cloud -- circa 2013 -- the decision process was a bit simpler. It was "public" (Amazon) or "private" (VMWare). But here we are, just two years later, and the concept of hybrid clouds has "clouded" previous distinctions. Technologies such as OpenStack have blurred the lines of where the workloads are deployed, and effectively changed how a cloud is funded and managed. This is why we are presenting new cloud options, many of which would support both public and private workload deployments
That said, the majority of your cloud capacity will likely be handled in one of four ways. Let's look at the different cloud alternatives, their benefits, and some key considerations to bear in mind.
1. Outsourcing to a cloud service provider
Perhaps the easiest path is to simply outsource your cloud services to a private cloud vendor. This offers the advantage of simplicity and eliminates management overhead, making it attractive to organizations for whom IT is not a core competency. Of course, this means you have no control over the solution. The provider can use any technology they choose, potentially limiting your future capabilities.
Moreover, the service you receive is dictated by a set of service-level agreements (SLAs). In many cases, these SLAs allow for significant unplanned downtime. Want greater availability? Want to add new features or capabilities? Prepare to pay more. In addition, there may be significant work and costs associated with migrating your existing apps to the provider's cloud.
Outsourcing may make sense for relatively simple or even complex apps, but be aware of the limitations and the potential costs.
2. Buying a cloud stack and managing it in house
What if you want greater control without giving up efficiency? One way to meet this need is to source your cloud solution from a strategic technology or service partner -- think IBM, Cisco or Accenture -- while retaining in-house management. This offers the advantage of scale, while allowing you to retain a degree of control over the management of applications. It also provides clear accountability, or "one throat to choke," if there's a problem.
There is a downside, however. These cloud partners are sourcing technology from a variety of vendors, which means you're buying into the ecosystem they put together. So you may find yourself locked into technology that may or may not meet your future needs. For those implementing standard business applications in the cloud, this may not be a major sacrifice. But, for organizations viewing IT as a competitive advantage, it could drastically reduce flexibility. And, as with outsourced solutions, the underlying cloud infrastructure may not meet the availability needs of critical applications.
For enterprises considering this approach, make sure to "look under the hood" at a prospective cloud partner's ecosystem to see how mature it is -- and whether that partner has addressed crucial issues around flexibility and availability. As with the outsource path, don't overlook the potential hurdles associated with migrating your apps to and from the cloud.
3. Integrating a best-of-breed cloud solution
A growing number of enterprises recognize the potential of the cloud to transform how they do business. Buying a custom cloud solution tailored to your business model offers the technical flexibility to take your cloud strategy where you want, using best-of-breed technologies with partner support.
Because you're buying only the capabilities you need, this can also be a relatively cost-effective option. However, there is a penalty: time to market. Also, as with any custom solution, diagnosing and fixing any problems you experience could be challenging, given the complex interactions among the various solution elements and vendors.
For enterprises looking to deploy transformative applications that fully leverage the cloud model, buying a custom solution can make sense. But, make sure you have a solid downtime-prevention strategy to ensure you achieve the "always-on" performance that's driving you to the cloud in the first place.
4. Assembling your own cloud solution
For some companies, technology is at the core of their business. Others may want to create a pilot or proof-of-concept cloud app -- for example, a startup or an experimental project within an established company (which may later enlist a custom cloud provider to make the cloud ready for prime time). For these situations, building your own cloud in-house could make the most sense. This approach offers the ultimate in flexibility and control, with the freedom to dictate your cloud road map without getting locked in. Leveraging open source cloud technologies is the logical choice to satisfy these requirements.
This option is likely to be attractive for the most agile, innovative enterprises and teams who don't want to be held back by limitations imposed by others. Of course, it does require that you have the in-house skillset to pull it off. The good news is the open source cloud ecosystem is maturing rapidly, making the task of building highly available, enterprise-class clouds achievable by more IT organizations.
Charting a course
So which path is right for you? In the past, this would have been a question of infrastructure -- mainframe vs. distributed, for example. But with the cloud, it's not about the infrastructure. It's about the applications that will drive your cloud strategy.
The first step is asking some key questions. Where do you want to take your applications, and your business? Are you trying to leapfrog ahead or looking for an incremental step forward? How much flexibility will you need to get there? What level of availability is required? The answers to these questions will help you determine which cloud options and partners are best positioned to help you achieve your goals.
Regardless of the path you choose, pay attention to the hazards of technology lock-in. Tapping the advantages of the expanding open source cloud ecosystem and leading-edge software-defined solutions for application availability, migration and management can create a clear path to the cloud applications you need to compete in the "always on" world.