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IT budget planning in the face of an eventual cloud migration

While cloud computing offers cost savings and business agility, cloud migration is a highly disruptive change with issues along the way. Without a well-considered cloud migration strategy, IT budget planning

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will ignore current needs.

Senior-level management's cloud wishes can be much brighter than what's currently available in terms of cloud technologies or their organization's readiness to adopt these technologies. Until wish lists and IT capabilities align, the IT team still needs to get sign-off on major purchases that will be redundant after their -- eventual -- cloud migration.

IT teams often find their capital expenditures for hardware on hold, since "everything is moving to the cloud." One business reports its storage-area network (SAN) replacement project was cancelled, even though the existing SAN is at the end of maintenance and hopelessly short of capacity. There is no concrete plan or timeline for when the move to the cloud will occur, but while the idea is around, budgets disappeared for longer-term asset purchases that don't directly support the cloud move. This is preventing noncloud tactical solutions, even though there is no tactical cloud solution that can satisfy the business requirement. To reinstate the SAN replacement project, the IT team has to quantify the risk inherent in not replacing the SAN and help define the timeline for the cloud migration.

Cloud computing's appeal is clear to business managers. IT is a capital-intensive business unit that often requires expenditures months or years before there is a benefit. Cloud promises an operating expense model where you only pay when you receive some benefit. You only pay for IT resources as they are generating value in the organization, allowing you to cut off the supply and cost at any time. Scale up as business demands and scale down when it doesn't. What's not to love?

The reality is that most organizations that are past the startup phase cannot simply move to "the cloud" instantaneously, or even within a year. To get the desired agility and cost savings, the business's applications must be re-architected and rewritten as cloud applications. The cloud migration process will take years; in the meantime, IT needs to maintain its existing infrastructure and applications.

Even moving your existing virtual machines (VMs) from your own data center to a cloud provider's data center isn't as simple as the marketing slides suggest. Cloud providers don't give you the same access to the virtualization platform as in-house IT. If you are used to selecting your own data stores based on the VM workload, or fine tuning the advanced settings on the VM or virtualization host, you'll likely be disappointed after a cloud migration.

How to set IT budget planning on the right course

To get IT budget plans back in line with reality, help your business management understand what they want to migrate to the cloud and how long it will take. At first, executives advocating for the move will have no idea what should go on the cloud and when. Cloud computing's sales message is strong and clear, but how the business will get the change done is not well understood. You will need to bring the dose of reality.

How the data center changes with cloud

Assessing and planning for cloud

Adapting network, storage and other aspects

What the CIO should know about cloud

Nuts and bolts questions to ask before your cloud migration:

  • How many VMs will we need?
  • What networking and how much storage will we need?
  • What will we use for connectivity to the cloud?

Concrete details are essential to get an idea of the cost of your cloud migration and its timeline for completion. In this process, you may realize that planned IT upgrades are unnecessary if the migration proceeds, and that the best thing for budgets and infrastructure is to accelerate the change. On the other hand, sales promises and actual delivery can be very different. If the migration doesn't stack up to expectations, early information is critical.

On-premises IT and cloud migrations aren't alone when it comes to budget disconnects. Major strategic changes pose an impediment to tactical business-as-usual decisions. It takes a while to turn the ocean liner that is enterprise IT. While it's turning, the engine needs to keep running. Since that engine is the IT team's responsibility, take the time to communicate what your spending and activities do. The people up in the wheelhouse are usually reasonable when they know the real facts; the challenge can be getting the message all the way to the top.

This was first published in April 2013

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