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 This in turn leads to people clinging on to outdated manual approval processes .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.

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