Business and IT executives are increasingly turning to public clouds, not private ones, for greater agility and flexibility. The results include improved efficiency and lower costs.
By Samuel Greengard
Over the last few years, the hype over cloud computing has subsided and the technology has quietly moved into the mainstream of the enterprise. According to industry surveys, more than 90 percent of organizations now use cloud technology and the figure continues to rise.
Nevertheless, many CIOs continue to grapple with the decision about whether to deploy private clouds (i.e., on-premises clouds) or go the public cloud route (off premises). Although each has advantages for certain situations, "the environment has evolved over the last few years. There's a growing comfort level with using public clouds," states Greg Jenko, a principal at Ernst & Young LLP.
The need for greater agility and flexibility is at the center of the equation. "Public clouds allow organizations to gain capabilities very quickly," Jenko says. It's a fact that hasn't gone unnoticed by line of business managers, who increasingly procure Salesforce and other cloud services. But adding to the appeal is the notion that it's possible to get more for less by going the public cloud route—or using a hybrid cloud model, he points out.
Lydia Leong, a vice president and distinguished analyst at Gartner, agrees that public clouds are an increasingly viable option. For one thing, they help many organizations innovate faster and bypass more entrenched and often bureaucratic IT processes. "Instead of operating on a one or two year upgrade cycle there's an incremental and continuous upgrade process," she explains. For another, there's a growing recognition that many cloud vendors provide better security than organizations are capable of achieving on their own.
Private clouds remain popular in some organizations, Leong says, because there's a misguided belief that relinquishing control to an outside company is risky. Moreover, in some cases, "a disconnect exists between the IT operations and IT development groups," says Leong. "The IT operations organization wants to stay in control and pursue a more conventional path. They think they can do things better and provide better security than a cloud provider. The development group is more focused on getting things done quickly." While there are legitimate circumstances where an enterprise must keep data on-premises in a private cloud, Leong believes the fears are generally overblown.
For organizations that operate thousands or tens of thousands of servers or have specific software and IT requirements—particularly ones surrounding legacy applications—it may make more sense to develop private clouds, Leong says. It's also important to recognize that all cloud vendors are not created equal. Some may be highly adept at working with a company to manage and integrate technology while others may fall down. Not surprisingly, smaller vendors often raise more questions and elicit more concerns.
Mapping a Public Cloud Strategy
When a business maps out a general strategy for navigating cloud services, it's critical to avoid getting bogged down in conventional thinking and legacy approaches, Leong explains. Public clouds make it easier to change direction or vendors if something is not working out. "There isn't a reason to engage in super-careful assessment and play things too safe," she says. "There's a learn-as-you-go aspect to using Infrastructure-as-a-Service, Software-as-a-Service and other types of clouds."
The most successful enterprises develop a comprehensive cloud strategy that includes governance and cross-organizational input, Jenko says. The strategic plan must reflect the pressures of today's business environment, including the need to use agile development methods and spin out mobile apps and services. "It's critical to understand how to marry internal and external IT services," Jenko adds. This approach also helps mix and match both public and private clouds, develop hybrid clouds, and move forward with a highly integrated IT infrastructure.
"The reality is that CIOs probably would be happier if they could manage IT in private clouds," Jenko concludes. "But there's a growing realization that they are more complex, more costly and at odds with what business leaders desire. There's also a growing understanding that you can and must set up the same security controls as a private cloud, including encryption, on a public cloud. The fact is that public clouds provide an end-to-end set of IT capabilities, they can be secured, they can support geo-requirements for data storage, and provide scalability. This makes them increasingly attractive."
About the Author
Samuel Greengard is a contributing writer for CIO Insight. To read his previous CIO Insight article, "How to Prevent Insider Threats," click here.