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Stop squabbling and build a private cloud already

In order to build a private cloud that can help companies drive innovation, business management and IT must first learn to work together.

Businesses are in a constant struggle to evolve quickly to meet customer demand and fight back competition. This requires the rapid implementation of fast and flexible technology to support applications and services to the customer. For most businesses, this daily struggle is hampered by the lack of solid technology management and business maturity. The private cloud, and the businesses' inability to comprehend its benefits, is an example of the immaturity that exists.

The slow pace -- or outright failing -- of most business attempts to build a private cloud revolves around two groups of people who seem more concerned with ignoring each other than working together: business management and IT. Let me explain before both groups start yelling at me in the comments. This is a problem that can be solved when both groups work together.

Placing the blame

You know this story progresses: The business complains that IT is too slow to deliver; developers take too long to write and test code; IT takes too long to deploy application and service updates.  To borrow a line from Crosby, Stills and Nash, "Everyone's talking and no one is listening."

All of these complaints and more, which are being fired in both directions,  are accurate. The problem is that no single group can solve the problem without the other. It's not "us versus them." Instead, "we" are responsible for correcting these problems.  The private cloud is the latest victim to this old and immature rationale, and this is harming the future of entire businesses. Repairing the relationships and building real solutions on both sides is not an easy task. Take a quick read of the excellent book, The Phoenix Project, by Gene Kim, Kevin Behr and George Spafford, to get a sense of the complexity. But now is the time to build a private cloud to help drive the business forward.

Below are a series of questions regarding the private cloud that are addressed to both the business gurus and the IT pros. Notice the questions are the same, but the commentary is different. The idea is to get both groups to start thinking about the problem and start communicating with each other to create solutions, rather than placing blame.

Questions for business management

I know you have been blanketed with cloud marketing. Everyone tells you to build a private cloud, but no one has really sat down and explained to you how it will improve your business. Instead, you're just told to do it. You may not have been able to rely on advice from your IT department.  In fact, some companies that relied on IT to guide the way found out that what they were told was that a private cloud is actually just a nice virtualization environment (which is not the same). So, how do you get a handle on this? Take a critical approach to the following questions and ask yourself how you would answer them.

  • Is IT capable of supporting the evolving needs of the business? In other words, how do you measure your IT department's performance and what critical management skills are mandatory for your IT staff? Can they automate solutions? Do they understand change management? Do you have skilled managers that understand DevOps?
  • Do you know and understand the benefits that a private cloud can deliver to your company's needs? Many of the cloud companies provide C-level discussions and papers on how private cloud directly benefits a company with more than just a direct cost savings. Have you located and researched these?
  • Do you know the criteria that define a private cloud and why they are important? Private Cloud is not a new strategy; it's been around for decades and in place with the largest companies. There are specific criteria that must be adhered to in order for the entire strategy to work, such as measured resources and the concept of chargeback. IT can't implement this without your help and guidance. Are you willing and able to help them?
  • Do you know how to implement and verify the criteria for a private cloud? Even if you had a list of the criteria for a private cloud, could you verify that your company has successfully implemented them? There are many processes and controls that need to be in place, along with verification. IT can't perform these operations without you.

Questions for the IT pros

I know you have also been blanketed with cloud marketing, but no one has really sat down and explained to you how it will directly improve your management of the network, the demands of your users or maintain existing and legacy applications -- you're told to build a private cloud. So, how do you start to get a handle on this? Take a critical approach to the following questions and ask yourself how you would answer them.

  • Is IT rapidly capable of supporting the evolving needs of the business? You are a critical part of the success of the business. Agility is not just a fancy word; it's a lifestyle choice in IT. Increasing this means automating the mundane, putting change control and solid management processes in place to lower the constant state of "fires" and allow preventative maintenance and planning to occur.
  • Do you know and understand the benefits that a private cloud can deliver? There are many technical papers, examples and buildable test environments available for different cloud vendors. How many have you researched and tried? If you're not diving into the technology and understanding it from both a technical and business level, how can you help the business be successful?  I hear, "It's not that easy," from people all the time. You're right, but building and maintaining a professional level of IT has never been easy.
  • Do you know the criteria that define a private cloud and why they are important? Many of the criteria require a change to many processes inside your company. If you understand these criteria, you can assist the business leaders in creating and maintaining those processes. As an example, a simple chargeback system can alleviate the vast number of meaningless VM requests you receive and reduce hardware and maintenance costs. You won't be able to implement this without the help of the business leaders.
  • Do you know how to implement and verify the criteria for a private cloud? Private cloud is not a well-run virtualization environment. In fact, it's much more. You should know the difference and how this was designed to benefit both the business and IT.

Finding the answers is up to you

I didn't directly answer the questions -- I simply offered additional guidance on some research points.  The reason is simple. There is nothing I can say -- or want to say -- to sell you on the private cloud. I want to help guide you to discovering if it is in your business' interest to do so, and that requires you (business gurus and IT pros) to research this together to determine how it fits your business needs. The exact implementation, specific vendors, process modeling and verifiable results can only be discovered by you. Why not use this as a way to break down the old barriers and create a new approach for the business going forward?

This was last published in October 2014

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