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Tread carefully: Private cloud challenges abound

Recent reports have shown that the vast majority of businesses are struggling to overcome private cloud challenges. Why is it so difficult and is it worth the trouble?

Every IT department that's made the transition knows that moving to a private cloud is difficult. Now, thanks to a recent Gartner blog, we can see how difficult it really is. According to the report, 95% of private cloud deployments encountered some sort of serious problem.

On some levels this isn't terribly surprising (private clouds challenges are common), but 95% is huge -- especially when it comes to self-reporting problems. What's behind this striking level of failure? And if building a private cloud is so wrought with problems, is it really the right solution? This month we're asking our Advisory Board members what they make of the report and what type of private cloud challenges they've encountered.

Brian Kirsch, Milwaukee Area Technical College

The cloud is one of the great mysteries in the IT world. Few know what it is and even fewer know how to get to it. However, everyone wants what it promises.

Many companies spend tremendous resources in looking at cloud strategies and buying tools to be first to the cloud. The interesting part is few know what the cloud really means for them as a business function and how it will fit in -- they just know they need it. In many businesses, the process of requesting servers, applications or other IT resources is a complex process that requires justification of need, approval of management and control of delivery. That process does not exist simply to exist, it is a set of checks and balances that companies follow because IT resources cost money. If users and application owners are left to their own devices, who knows how many resources could be consumed?

With all of those rules in place to prevent over consumption, let's take a look at what deploying a cloud really means. The cloud is a model for elastic computer resources that can be provisioned rapidly through a self-service portal or with minimal management interaction. The very foundation of a cloud goes against the procedures that many companies have in place, and yet, companies are rushing toward this solution. It really makes you wonder why they would seek a solution that goes against what organizations have today and have shown no signs of moving away from. One argument is it's a course of change or growth, but in all reality, this is not true. It could be the buzzword, as many people like to be at the leading edge of technology or keep up with the neighbors. That would be a bit more likely, but this all can't be blamed on management this time, IT has its share of blame in the cloud journey as well. With all of the cloud hype, IT personnel, managers and executives have not done due diligence in asking the business, "Do we really need it?"

An internal cloud deployment should not be an IT initiative. If it is, it will most likely fail. Moving to the cloud has to be a business decision that uses IT and the cloud as tools to help make that journey. Transition to an internal cloud is about internal process change rather than new technology. The business needs to take ownership of this journey; otherwise the internal cloud becomes a solution searching for a problem.

Jim O'Reilly, Volanto

Having run a software as a service company and also been involved in several IT suite replacement programs, the emphasis on business process failures, as reported by Gartner, isn't a surprise. Though, the total percentage of implementers suffering pain really raised my eyebrows! Many IT migrations fail to focus on the business process changes needed to succeed. Trying to mold the software to existing processes is almost always a failure in my experience, but this lesson appears to get lost somewhere in each IT application cycle.

Moving to the cloud is a massive change in mindset for IT, especially if it's coupled with a shift away from legacy systems and software. The move from careful planning followed by rigid implementation that is the norm for legacy is a long way from the standardization and app free-for-all that occurs in the cloud. Change cycles in the cloud are tremendously compressed and that's the flip side of agility.

Is this fixable? CIOs need to be much more holistic with change to the cloud. Almost half the failures in the Gartner chart are due to "failure to change," and we are here mostly talking about changes within IT to become a service organization with a very fast, positive response to requests for change.

The first thing to do is to create a solid vision of the target -- what that private cloud is, will do and what it won't handle. The next step is to get buy-in across the company. Then IT has to plan the transition, including changing apps, building out processes, and training all the stake holders on the new age of IT. This isn't a small effort, and there will be resistance to change from the departments -- that's natural, so be patient (and make sure the CEO has bought in).

In some ways, this is the same issue that has slowed the migration from mainframes and minicomputers for years. We still have 400 billion lines of COBOL in use, after all! The transition to a cloud model is a huge switch in mindset, but the risk of not executing such a change is that the departments will transfer their loyalty to inexpensive "shadow IT," costing much more money in the long run, while creating short-term security and compliance problems.

Maish Saidel-Keesing, Cisco Video Technologies Israel

It is not uncommon to hear that "Company A" is doing amazing things with their infrastructure, auto scaling their applications and can deploy a whole data center with the launch of a script. And how is all of this done? By using a cloud. Netflix is one example of these pioneers.

And of course, we cannot help but envy such companies that are able to do this, but now, management also expects the same thing from their IT department.

But there is a fundamental difference between companies like Netflix and your traditional IT shop. The applications and technologies used by these cloud companies were built and designed for the cloud from the bottom up. This is not necessarily the case for your traditional IT department.

You cannot expect that your line of business applications will work the same way in a cloud environment as they do in your traditional data center.

That is why many cloud deployments fail. Consuming a cloud, designing applications for a cloud and designing a cloud will never be the same as traditional IT.

The second aspect is that we expect the cloud to be infinite -- a pool of never-ending resources. But when building a cloud for your own consumption, we all know that everything costs money and someone has to foot the bill to cover the infinite amount of resources you want to provide.

With regards to the article from Gartner, I think it would be better to say that 95% of the private cloud deployments do not meet the expectations, either because the expectations are incorrect or the organization is not ready to embrace the changes needed to move to a cloud model. I would disagree that these private cloud challenges are failures, because going through the process is actually a success on its own. It is a learning process that you will learn from and enable you to succeed down the road.

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