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Moving to Cloud, from an infrastructure to a services thinking

on ‎08-29-2013 02:45 AM

Cloud Services.jpgYesterday I ran a workshop to bring a team up to speed on cloud and help them start their cloud initiative. Two key elements that came out of the discussions were:

  • The fact the initial interest was just on infrastructure
  • There was a feeling with some of the team members they already did a lot of “that”, as they have some level of virtualization, some automation and some self-provisioning

On the latter, they finally came to the conclusion that yes they were, for example, doing self-provisioning in a sense the end-user could put a request out electronically, and then, in the background, many IT people got busy addressing the request. They realized that was probably not the best use of their time.


It’s the holistic view of cloud that seemed to be missing. So, I spend quite some time discussing the big difference:  the IT organization needs to start from the concept of services delivered to their customers, the end-users, rather than focus on infrastructure and technology. Obviously, this is a major shift in focus, and one that is often difficult to swallow by IT departments.


This reminds me from a conversation I had more than 25 years ago, when I was working on process control software for a client. The IT team kept asking me for an in-memory database (yes, this is not a new concept), and I kept responding, what are you trying to achieve. Indeed, I wanted to know what they were trying to do as there might be multiple ways to achieve their objectives. I didn’t want them to jump to conclusions and limit their thinking to a technology they were familiar with.


I often get similar feelings when talking to IT teams. Create for me a private cloud environment allowing me to provision servers faster. Oh and by the way, why don’t you do it around OpenStack, so I do not have vendor lock-in.  That’s IaaS, being it a private version of it. But will such platform provide the true cloud benefits to the company? I’m not sure.


I understand an IT department may feel re-assured by such environment. Fundamentally it does not change the way they work. It took 3-6 weeks to provision a server, now you do it in a matter of minutes to an hour. But you still only provision a server. But fundamentally, is this what the end-user wants?


Understand he end-user needs

The first step in the change is to gain a true understanding of the end-user needs. If it was as simple as provisioning them a server, why are so many of them going around IT and buying services externally? It’s important to sit down with them and take the time to understand what they need. In the old days this task was performed by business analysts. Translation of requirements was not always that successful. The digitally savvy nature of many users today makes the dialogue easier.


Ideally a governance process should be set-up to formalize this process, allowing end-users and IT to review their requirements and offerings.


End-users always want the maximum

I already hear the reaction, end-users always want the maximum and keep asking and asking and asking, without realizing the implications, the cost limits etc. And yes, that is often the case. End-users mostly have no understanding of the cost of what they are asking for. And by the way, they have no visibility of the cost of what they consume. IT is a cost center that lives of a budget agreed for the financial year. In some companies this budget comes from the “corporate overhead”, in others it is allocated to the business units according to an allocation key that can be number of employees, last year consumption or what-ever else. In a traditional environment, you have a limited infrastructure, limited application access. If things become slow or unavailable, so be it. Users will complain and the response will be… no budget.


The concept of cloud is totally different. Particularly if you implement a hybrid cloud, you may end-up with surprises and costs that do no longer fit in the budget. This is why IT departments moving to cloud should start looking at the way they are financed. They should at least implement show back, a mechanism through which they show each of the business units their consumption (and associated costs) on a regular basis, typically monthly. Ideally, IT departments should go for a charge back mechanism. Their funding should come from the consumption of their services. The more a BU consumes services, the more they pay.


There are two issues with this approach though. First, what is an appropriate charge for the consumption of a service? IT has never had to sell their services, so have little experience in fixing a price. So, you may want to take it slowly, starting with show back and a simulated P&L approach. The second issue is that the IT department does not move to cloud in a heartbeat, so the legacy environment will co-exist with the new one for quite a while. How do we finance the traditional environment? Maybe we should combine a budget for the traditional environment with a charge back mechanism for the cloud one. That’s another way to limit the implications of wrongly priced services.


It’s important IT starts thinking at these aspects early on and review with finance what makes the most sense in their enterprise.


Document the services you deliver

But let’s come back to our services. Document them early on. You don’t need pages and pages of descriptions, but a one to two page narration of what you will offer to the end-user, how it will work and what the benefit would be for him. Through the governance model, make sure the end-user community accepts what you propose. By the way, you will re-use this description when creating the service in the service catalog, as it will be your description on the portal.


Build a cloud platform

Choose and/or build your cloud platform. But again, start from the services to identify what functionality you require. In the workshop I highlighted earlier, we had a lengthy discussion about the options provided to the user for a specific service. If you only have a very limited option combination, you may get away with an environment that loads virtual machine images (including all service elements) into memory when provisioning a service. If you have many option combinations, you may rather want to go for an environment where the VM is established and the service is then installed (with the appropriate parameters) in the VM, or you will end up with hundreds of VM images you will have to manage.


This is just one example of where the decisions taken around the service directly affects the technology you may want to deploy. It further highlights the need to start from a service thinking rather than a technology one.



When deciding what cloud technologies to implement, start from the service angle, I hope I showed you that. But also, think wide. Today’s decisions will also affect what you will be able to do tomorrow. In other words, you may feel your current services do not have many options, so you get away with an environment built around fully loaded VM images. You will start developing many automation workflows using the technology. What if, tomorrow things change and you need the other approach? Does the platform you choose has an extension to allow that approach? Is it compatible with what you use today? How much rework will you have? Etc. Make sure you do not limit yourself by just thinking about the technologies you believe you need today.

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on ‎08-29-2013 05:23 PM

Great post.  I've often found that services are the missing perspective in the cloud conversation when talking to IT.  It all goes back to the infrastructure.  Thanks for the reminder and spreading the word.

on ‎09-06-2013 11:58 AM

Agree with the previous post. All first cloud efforts have to start with changing the way you think. That's much more difficult than it might seem though.

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