What enterprise IT departments can learn from cloud companies

The success of cloud companies hinges on their ability to create an efficient infrastructure, and enterprise IT can learn from this approach.

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Public cloud providers represent a unique subset of IT. Unlike traditional enterprise IT departments that are often seen as an expense or even a drain on the business' bottom line, cloud companies rely on their server infrastructure and applications to make money. So, it's not surprising that cloud providers take every step to eliminate waste and design for efficiency. While there's no doubt that a public cloud and enterprise IT comparison is apples to oranges, there are some important lessons enterprise admins can learn from the way cloud companies build their infrastructure.

Customers buy fixed configurations from a catalogue

When you purchase a VM from a public cloud provider, you often have very few choices when it comes to customization. Public cloud customers sacrifice flexibility to keep costs low -- the same should be true of your private cloud offerings. Decide on a limited number of VM templates that you can easily deliver to end users instead of a customized solution for their exact needs. Invest in delivering these VMs more efficiently with templates and automation so that you can have consistent VMs and keep support costs low.

Designing for failure

Hardware failure is never good, but cloud companies handle it very differently from enterprise IT. When an enterprise server fails, restoring or replacing the server is often a high priority. When a server fails in a cloud environment, business continues as usual, because cloud companies' applications are designed to cope with hardware failure and automatically distribute the workload to other hosts. It may not be an ideal solution for every application, but rethinking service levels for in-house workloads can also save enterprises a lot of money.

Design for operational efficiency

Cloud providers often take what may seem to be trivial steps in increasing efficiency, but those small time- and money-savers add up for large-scale deployments. While most enterprise shops don't have to fret many of the small details that cloud companies consider, simple automation of repetitive tasks can make a big difference. It may also be time to reconsider the project-driven nature of IT departments. Decisions that improve efficiency and reduce server lifecycle costs -- like delaying or scheduling maintenance -- are too often seen as hurdles to the next project.

Cloud providers don't buy software off the rack

For the most part, large public cloud providers build and support their own applications. Enterprise IT, on the other hand, usually finds commercial software more cost effective -- but often forgets the ongoing support costs. If your organization isn't large enough to build your own applications, budget for in-house modifications and lifetime support costs.

Know what not to implement the cloud way

Cloud computing offers a lot of efficiencies, but a public or private cloud doesn't suit every workload. Test and development systems are obvious choices for a public or private cloud, but other applications or infrastructure services are best left on traditional in-house servers. When deciding when and when not to take a cloud approach, consider network requirements and who will use the application.

This was first published in September 2013

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