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Private Cloud: An IT Staffer's Guide To Success

Recently, I wrote "The Biggest Threat to Your Private-Cloud Deployment: Your IT Staff" as a call to management to understand the importance of IT staff members and the changes that will be required to move to a cloud model. That post received some strong criticism from readers who took it as an attack on IT, which was not its intent. In this post I'll cover the flipside of the coin, the IT staff perspective.

These issues are important because organizational changes are a pivotal part of cloud-based computing--the move to a service-focused model is just as much about people as it is about technology. I've written about this in a previous InformationWeek Report, The Human Factor in Private Cloud Deployments [free, registration required].

In broad strokes, the underlying issue that cloud looks to solve is mapping IT resources more directly to current business needs. Cloud does not solve technical problems; cloud solves business problems. We confuse the issue with discussions of ROI and marketing words like "synergy," but the fact of the matter is that IT's job is to deliver business-enabling services, and in many cases we've lost that focus. Even when we've maintained that focus, we've often lost the capability to deliver quickly on that promise due to technical or organizational challenges.

Before anyone out there comment that cloud is just a regurgitation of this or that, or that the message I'm sending has been said before, let's get one thing straight: I'm not here to argue semantics. Yes, this message has been said before, and, yes, similar solutions have been proposed and tried. But we still aren't where we need to be. Some organizations may have gotten there once, only to slip back. IT is cyclical in its thinking--get over it. You see those shiny-new converged infrastructure stacks on consolidated hardware platforms? They're starting to look a lot like the mainframes from whence we came, no?

Now, with that said, let's tackle that private-cloud move. If you're on the path, it doesn't matter if the private-cloud decision was made democratically or dictatorially. If the company has decided to move in that direction, then the decision has been made. You can either grab an oar and row or jump ship. Trust me, being dead weight or rowing against the flow doesn't prove any points. The more you work with people, the more influence you tend to have. Your colleagues will tune out a constant naysayer.

The Players
First things first: The IT organization is going to need to change to move forward successfully. There will be a few major camps: business-focused product management (PM) types, technology-focused engineers, big-picture-focused architects, and task-oriented administrators. Staff will need to work with management to find ideal fits in these evolving roles. For some roles the change will be greater than others.

The Product Managers
Remember: The goal is to rapidly deliver services to the business, preferably from a self-service on-demand portal. This means that you'll need strong interfaces with the lines of business to understand their needs. The PM will spearhead this effort, acting as a good salesperson by understanding the business and its pain points to help deliver solutions.

The Engineers
Engineers are still technology experts focused on deploying and maintaining the hardware and software systems. They also provide top-tier support resolving system issues. The engineers will need to learn the new systems--primarily automation and orchestration products, as well as any new hardware required for the project. In some cases, the depth of knowledge previously required will no longer be needed because higher-level systems will be handling previously manual grunt work.

The Architects
Architects will be an interface between PMs and engineers, helping to design the system from a top level. For example, architects will help take business requirements from PMs and design service offerings that are technically feasible. Architects will require both a technical background and a business mind with an eye for usability. After all, a service is worthless if it's not used. Think of this role as the keystone of a private-cloud deployment--it must interface tightly with both sides to hold the structure up. It is their job to ensure business needs are being met within the confines of the actual capabilities of the tools at hand.

The Administrators
Administrators will be responsible for monitoring systems, researching faults and ensuring smooth operation. This role changes very little. The administrators are key to maintaining the systems, and, in many cases, move upward to one of the other roles over time.

The organizational structure will need to remain fluid and adapt as necessary. Keep a close eye on what works and what doesn't, and don't be afraid to make modifications. With the team on board and on the same page, the technology will fall into place more easily. For more information on the procedural and structural changes, see Greg Ferro's blog The No. 1 Threat to Private Cloud Deployment: IT Management and ITIL.

Disclaimer: This post is not intended as an endorsement for any vendors, services or products.