Executive Corner: Don’t settle for the check mark

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Note: Through the end of the year, we’ll be posting one blog per day from our top 10 “greatest hits” from Thoughts on Cloud since we launched in September. This post is #10 and was originally published on Nov. 28.

Embrace cloud strategically, not tactically

I have been hearing the same story for a while now.  A CIO is ready to embrace the cloud computing delivery model, and so puts the pressure on the IT team to embrace it.  IT directors scramble to put their cloud story together to mollify the boss and get their cloud “check mark” in the next IT strategy.  Usually what results is something like “we are piloting Salesforce for our sales team, we are leveraging Amazon in one of our development teams, and we have VMware vCenter for our private cloud.”  Check.  Move on to the next to-do.

This type of simple, reactive approach to cloud will not move your business forward.  What smart IT leaders are doing is using this sea change in IT to rethink the way they do business and are developing a holistic and proactive strategy for cloud.  This all starts with a top-level view of where you want to be in five years and then the roadmap to get there.

Despite a couple years of people saying cloud is “just the latest IT fad,” it is now clear that IT will never be the same.   By 2016, no one will be using the term cloud.  This isn’t because it is a fad that will fade, but because it will actually be the new normal.  IT services will be primarily self-service, dynamically provisioned, highly-elastic, usage-metered and delivered from a multi-use pool of resources.  You won’t know or care if the service is coming from inside a corporate firewall or from an outside service provider – it will have this same set of properties.  In other words, almost all IT will be cloud-delivered.

If you believe that this is the world you will be living in five years from now, what is the roadmap to get there?  What are the steps that move you in the right direction?  Having a strategy and roadmap provides the acid test for the decisions you are making today – are these tactics leading me somewhere, or just getting me a check mark and forestalling any real strategy?

Don’t settle for the check mark.  Start working your strategy now and then start with baby steps in the right direction.  For example, in IBM we believe there are three key elements to a cloud infrastructure – we call them SmartCloud Foundation, SmartCloud Services, and SmartCloud Solutions.

Let’s start with Foundation.  Most enterprises start with a private cloud implementation.  This allows the IT team and business units to understand and experiment with the cloud delivery model in a relatively safe environment.  Building the private cloud on the right foundation is critical.  This is why IBM has developed a robust cloud reference architecture that backs its SmartCloud Foundation – the hardware and software required to build a scalable and reliable private cloud.

Foundation is also the basis of the IBM “public” cloud, known as SmartCloud Services.  Having a public cloud infrastructure that links in a “hybrid” model with your private cloud is another key step in a cloud roadmap.  A reliable public cloud provides the elasticity of resources when required, and gives the options for different capex versus opex decisions.   The integration features of SmartCloud Services allows for seamless synchronization of processes and data. Most importantly, bringing a highly-scalable public cloud into an IT strategy opens new possibilities for the services you can provide to drive business value for your company.

Ultimately, you will decide you no longer want or need to provide all IT services from your data center.  This is where SmartCloud Solutions comes in.  SmartCloud Solutions is a set of software as a service (SaaS) capabilities that are delivered from IBM in a pay-as-you-go model.  The portfolio is ever expanding, but capabilities like collaboration-in-the-cloud using Lotus Live is one of many examples of how to leverage SaaS applications in your cloud roadmap.

Take the time to think strategically.  Understand where the industry is going and where you want to be in five years.  Then, begin taking a coordinated set of steps to start moving in that direction.  Start simple, move fast, and enjoy the journey!

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