Opinion: Are you ready to enter the cloud?

The cloud computing hype cycle has well and truly left the building and South African businesses now stand before the next phase: making the decision and moving to the cloud.

July 28, 2011

By Alan Collins, Technical Architect at T-Systems in South Africa

This is where reality starts rearing its head; it is now about choosing the right partner, making those hard decisions and investing your time and money to move to the cloud, or not.  And are you, as an organisation, ready?

As most organisations and their service providers are painfully aware, there is no such thing as a silver bullet or fool-proof recipe when it comes to technology.  Cloud computing is no different – it takes expertise, due diligence and a lot of homework to take this step successfully.

For one, the chances are very good that organisations will be able to move everything to the cloud. They might not be able to migrate to the cloud at all. It is critical that the service provider in question is upfront about this from the get-go; very few companies can just pick up their information and send it to the strata and beyond.

A lot of companies operate in highly regulated industries that will make the move to cloud computing a challenge – here, for example, keeping these systems in-house or opting for a hosted private cloud solution as opposed to public cloud computing are better options.

Also, some companies operate in areas that are plagued by cable theft and resultant network connectivity issues. Stable connectivity is considerable when using cloud computing, as organisational information no longer resides within the physical confines the company. 24×7 online access is a necessity, not a luxury.

Cloud computing and bespoke systems aren’t necessarily compatible. Whilst cloud computing providers such as T-Systems offer over 80 standardised modules or “plugs”, making for a smooth well-defined transition, bespoke systems will require additional effort. The extra effort might be minimal, but then on the other hand it could be substantial.

A cloud computing provider should have consulting processes in place that ensure that organisations very quickly have a real-life view of what aspects of their infrastructure will be able to move to the cloud and whether they will be able to use any of the services at all.

At T-Systems, the team – as part of its readiness survey – will assess the organisation on three levels:

• Business processes, for example, applications and how it is integrated into the company; • The entire IT infrastructure which includes networks, servers, storage; and • Services; those such as hot desking that meet the needs of the various business units within the organisation dictated by industry standards such as IT Information Library (ITIL) for example.

The above are based on years of experience, benchmarked results, strong and proven methodologies and considerably investment in technology development.

If one, therefore, considers the above organisations should ask the

following: have I really done my homework and is my service provider upfront about these challenges?  Moreover, are they partnering with the right service provider?

The market is flooded with companies that offer hosting, virtualisation and outsourcing services.  It takes a lot of time, years actually, to perfect cloud computing methodologies and technologies. Organisations need to select a company with a proven track record and benchmarked results. Cloud might be relatively new in South Africa but it has been used in countries such as Germany for quite some time. Make sure you can leverage that kind of experience.

Beware of companies that place too much emphasis on virtualisation as the goal rather than an enabling technology. Virtualisation is not cloud computing.

So what should be on an organisation’s checklist when considering the cloud?

A service provider that offers: experience; international recognition; and certification and standards credentials.

For example, in the case of certification it is crucial for the infrastructure to be certified when moving SAP systems to the cloud.

Deploying SAP applications on an uncertified cloud environment could mean you will lose your support from SAP.

Research organisations such Gartner, for example, offer a rating system for the various cloud computing providers – this will no doubt be useful when looking for the right partner.

The important thing when embarking on this next phase of the cloud computing that organisation lay a strong foundation built on sound decision-making.

One, are you a cloud computing candidate, two do you understand what systems are eligible, and three have you chosen the right cloud computing service provider?

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