Monday Oct 29, 2012

Beyond Cloud Technology, Enabling A More Agile and Responsive Organization

This is the second part of the blog “Clouds, Clouds Everywhere But not a Drop of Rain”. In the first part,  I was sharing with you how a broad-based transformation makes cloud more than a technology initiative, I will describe in this section how it requires people (organizational) and process changes as well, and these changes are as critical as is the choice of right tools and technology.

People: Most IT organizations have a fairly complex organizational structure. There are different groups, managing different pieces of the puzzle, and yet, they don't always work together. Provisioning a new application therefore may require a request to float endlessly through system administrators, DBAs and middleware admin worlds – resulting in long delays and constant finger pointing.  Cloud users expect end-to-end automation - which requires these silos to be greatly simplified, if not completely eliminated.  Most customers I talk to acknowledge this problem but are quick to admit that such a transformation is hard. As hard as it may be, I am afraid that the status quo is no longer an option. Sticking to an organizational structure that was created ages back will not only impede cloud adoption,  it also risks making the IT skills increasingly irrelevant in a world that is rapidly moving towards converged applications and infrastructure.  

Process: Most IT organizations today operate with a mindset that they must fully "control" access to any and all types of IT services. This in turn leads to people clinging on to outdated manual approval processes .  While requiring approvals for scarce resources makes sense, insisting that every single request must be manually approved defeats the very purpose of cloud. Not only this causes delays, thereby at least partially negating the agility benefits, it also results in gross inefficiency. In a cloud environment, self-service access should be governed by policies, quotas that the administrators can define upfront . For a cloud initiative to be successful, IT organizations MUST be ready to empower users by giving them real control rather than insisting on brokering every single interaction between users and the cloud resources.

Technology: From a technology perspective, cloud is about consolidation, standardization and automation. A consolidated and standardized infrastructure helps increase utilization and reduces cost. Additionally, it  enables a much higher degree of automation - thereby providing users the required agility while minimizing operational costs.  Obviously, automation is the key to cloud. Unfortunately it hasn’t received as much attention within enterprises as it should have.  Many organizations are just now waking up to the criticality of automation and it still often gets relegated to back burner in favor of other "high priority" projects. However, it is important to understand that without the right type and level of automation, cloud will remain a distant dream for most enterprises. This in turn makes the choice of the cloud management software extremely critical. 

For a cloud management software to be effective in an enterprise environment, it must meet the following qualifications:

Broad and Deep Solution

It should offer a broad and deep solution to enable the kind of broad-based transformation we are talking about.  Its footprint must cover physical and virtual systems, as well as infrastructure, database and application tiers. Too many enterprises choose to equate cloud with virtualization. While virtualization is a critical component of a cloud solution, it is just a component and not the whole solution. Similarly, too many people tend to equate cloud with Infrastructure-as-a-Service (IaaS). While it is perfectly reasonable to treat IaaS as a starting point, it is important to realize that it is just the first stepping stone - and on its own it can only provide limited business benefits. It is actually the higher level services, such as (application) platform and business applications, that will bring about a more meaningful transformation to your enterprise.

Run and Manage Efficiently Your Mission Critical Applications

It should not only be able to run your mission critical applications, it should do so better than before.  For enterprises, applications and data are the critical business assets  As such, if you are building a cloud platform that cannot run your ERP application, it isn't truly a "enterprise cloud".  Also, be wary of  vendors who try to sell you the idea that your applications must be written in a certain way to be able to run on the cloud. That is nothing but a bogus, self-serving argument. For the cloud to be meaningful to enterprises, it should adopt to your applications - and not the other way around. 

Automated, Integrated Set of Cloud Management Capabilities

At the root of many of the problems plaguing enterprise IT today is complexity. A complex maze of tools and technology, coupled with archaic  processes, results in an environment which is inflexible, inefficient and simply too hard to manage. Management tool consolidation, therefore, is key to the success of your cloud as tool proliferation adds to complexity, encourages compartmentalization and defeats the very purpose that you are building the cloud for. Decision makers ought to be extra cautious about vendors trying to sell them a "suite" of disparate and loosely integrated products as a cloud solution.  An effective enterprise cloud management solution needs to provide a tightly integrated set of capabilities for all aspects of cloud lifecycle management. A simple question to ask: will your environment be more or less complex after you implement your cloud? More often than not, the answer will surprise you. 

At Oracle, we have understood these challenges and have been working hard to create cloud solutions that are relevant and meaningful for enterprises.  And we have been doing it for much longer than you may think. Oracle was one of the very first enterprise software companies to make our products available on the Amazon Cloud. As far back as in 2007, we created new cloud solutions such as Cloud Database Backup that are helping customers like Amazon save millions every year.  Our cloud solution portfolio is also the broadest and most deep in the industry  - covering public, private, hybrid, Infrastructure, platform and applications clouds. It is no coincidence therefore that the Oracle Cloud today offers the most comprehensive set of public cloud services in the industry.  And to a large part, this has been made possible thanks to our years on investment in creating cloud enabling technologies.

I will dedicate the third and final part of the blog “Clouds, Clouds Everywhere But not a Drop of Rain” to Oracle Cloud Technologies Building Blocks and how they mapped into our vision of Enterprise Cloud. Stay Tuned.

Tuesday Oct 23, 2012

Clouds, Clouds, Clouds Everywhere, Not a Drop of Rain!

At the recently concluded Oracle OpenWorld 2012, the center of discussion was clearly Cloud. Over the five action packed days, I got to meet a large number of customers and most of them had serious interest in all things cloud.  Public Cloud - particularly the Oracle Cloud - clearly got a lot of attention and interest. I think the use cases and the value proposition for public cloud is pretty straight forward. However, when it comes to private cloud, there were some interesting revelations.  Well, I shouldn’t really call them revelations since they are pretty consistent with what I have heard from customers at other conferences as well as during 1:1 interactions.

While the interest in enterprise private cloud remains to be very high, only a handful of enterprises have truly embarked on a journey to create what the purists would call true private cloud - with capabilities such as self-service and chargeback/show back. For a large majority, today's reality is simply consolidation and virtualization - and they are quite far off from creating an agile, self-service and transparent IT infrastructure which is what the enterprise cloud is all about.  Even a handful of those who have actually implemented a close-to-real enterprise private cloud have taken an infrastructure centric approach and are seeing only limited business upside. Quite a few were frank enough to admit that chargeback and self-service isn’t something that they see an immediate need for. 

This is in quite contrast to the picture being painted by all those surveys out there that show a large number of enterprises having already implemented an enterprise private cloud.  On the face of it, this seems quite contrary to the observations outlined above. So what exactly is the reality?

Well, the reality is that there is undoubtedly a huge amount of interest among enterprises about transforming their legacy IT environment - which is often seen as too rigid, too fragmented, and ultimately too expensive - to something more agile, transparent and business-focused. At the same time however, there is a great deal of confusion among CIOs and architects about how to get there. This isn't very surprising given all the buzz and hype surrounding cloud computing. Every IT vendor claims to have the most unique solution and there isn't a single IT product out there that does not have a cloud angle to it. Add to this the chatter on the blogosphere, it will get even a sane mind spinning.  Consequently, most  enterprises are still struggling to fully understand the concept and value of enterprise private cloud.  Even among those who have chosen to move forward relatively early, quite a few have made their decisions more based on vendor influence/preferences rather than what their businesses actually need.  Clearly, there is a disconnect between the promise of the enterprise private cloud and the current adoption trends. 

So what is the way forward?  I certainly do not claim to have all the answers. But here is a perspective that many cloud practitioners have found useful and thus worth sharing.

To take a step back, the fundamental premise of the enterprise private cloud is IT transformation. It is the quest to create a more agile, transparent and efficient IT infrastructure that is driven more by business needs rather than constrained by operational and procedural inefficiencies. It is the new way of delivering and consuming IT services - where the IT organizations operate more like enablers of  strategic services rather than just being the gatekeepers of IT resources. In an enterprise private cloud environment, IT organizations are expected to empower the end users via self-service access/control and provide the business stakeholders a transparent view of how the resources are being used, what’s the cost of delivering a given service, how well are the customers being served, etc.  But the most important thing to note here is the enterprise private cloud is not just an IT project, rather it is a business initiative to create an IT setup that is more aligned with the needs of today's dynamic and highly competitive business environment. Surprised? You shouldn’t be. Just remember how the business users have been at the forefront of public cloud adoption within enterprises and private cloud is no exception.  

Such a broad-based transformation makes cloud more than a technology initiative. It requires people (organizational) and process changes as well, and these changes are as critical as is the choice of right tools and technology. In my next blog,  I will share how essential it is for enterprise cloud technology to go hand-in hand with process re-engineering and organization changes to unlock true value of  enterprise cloud.

I am sharing a short video from my session "Managing your private Cloud" at Oracle OpenWorld 2012. More videos from this session will be posted at the recently introduced Zero to Cloud resource page.

Many other experts of Oracle enterprise private cloud solution will join me on this blog "Zero to Cloud"  and share best practices , deployment tips and information on how to plan, build, deploy, monitor, manage , meter and optimize the enterprise private cloud. We look forward to your feedback, suggestions and having an engaging conversion with you on this blog.

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