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Hail the new business architecture-led organization of the cloud era

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By Steve Wallace and Serkan Sahin

The growth of cloud computing in recent years has raised a number of interesting questions about how businesses will have to reinvent and reorganize themselves to gain the greatest possible competitive advantage. In particular, the future role of the chief information officer (CIO) has been scrutinized and questioned. In many cases, organizations are no longer asking “What is cloud computing?” This is now well understood! The question is now about understanding how the practicalities associated with public cloud implementation and rollout affect the internal structure of the new cloud-facing IT department. How should we reorganize internally and redeploy our resources to best interface with new public cloud hosting partners and drive our business development?

IBM CloudThe lines of demarcation for roles in a typical business have become blurred. The cloud service provider’s (CSP) service level agreement (SLA) replaces many of the problems associated with meeting the nonfunctional requirements of traditional on-premises infrastructure architecture. This leaves an organization to reinvent itself and focus on improving its application architecture and providing its clients with the best possible customer journey and experience.

Headaches associated with designing, implementing and managing disaster recovery, backup and recovery, high availability and scalability are now significantly reduced in an infrastructure as a service (IaaS) public cloud model. Many organizations will see this benefit alone as a good reason for moving to the cloud. However, we can only take the CSP’s SLA at face value—risk may well be reduced but not eliminated. The SLA provided will still be dependent on good cloud-based application architecture methods being understood and implemented. Some less-trusting organizations, or those with the most to lose, may wish to still have an input, or at least a view of the architectural decisions made within the CSP’s area of control.

With this newly regained capacity, we are witnessing the rise of the business architecture-led enterprise. The chief marketing officer (CMO) now has a bunch of new friends; the chief financial officer (CFO) and chief executive officer (CEO) suddenly have more time and money to offer!  Of course, IT colleagues and their boss, the CIO, still exist and need to collaborate with their newly empowered business colleagues, but they will have to cope with losing many of their much-loved systems of record and get used with dealing with their new remote, non-tangible systems of engagement. However, it is not all doom and gloom for the IT infrastructure department. Their new roles may become more about ensuring data availability rather than infrastructure availability and shift to helping the business obtain useful insights from the data collected.

As a result of this shift, the new business architecture-led organization will be able to make better business decisions, creating competitive differentiation by focusing on driving business innovation at the point of interface between their organizations and the consumer—the app!

Application architecture

As control of many infrastructure architecture elements will clearly be passed over to the CSP, these elements will become more and more commoditized over time.  The real value to organizations will therefore come from the ability to develop, deploy and, if necessary, relocate applications.

Organizations themselves will need to ensure that applications are designed with deployment to the cloud in mind. Among many other concerns, this will probably involve designing web applications to be stateless (no user information being stored between iterations) at the front end to handle the inevitable failures that will occur on the commodity hardware used to host the application, and to enable horizontal scaling of the application within the cloud. If state has to exist, applications should look to re-sync by reloading messages from queues after failure.  In short, service-oriented architecture (SOA) design principles apply when running applications in the cloud: the more loosely coupled the components of the system, the bigger and better it scales.

Openness

The adoption of open standards will also be a key factor for many when it comes to choosing the CSP to host their applications. Open standards will allow an organization to get started on the cloud rapidly and to grow in the future, while avoiding vendor lock-in for those who wish to later port their applications to another cloud provider or bring the applications back in line with their private cloud models. The cloud provider should not dictate where an organization’s application can run, and proprietary cloud providers will come under pressure to show they are not the inhibitor of mobility or a preventer of unit cost reduction over the long term in the cloud industry. While OpenStack is still in its infancy, organizations may decide to align themselves with a CSP that has a stated direction to embrace the project. This will ensure greater choice and stability if the OpenStack project fulfills its promise to deliver universal, open-platform cloud standards, ultimately providing the customer with more options.

The cloud era is upon us. It is changing the lives of citizens, clients, employees, parents, students, sports fans and more.

It can change so many aspects of our lives. An organization that is first to market in reorganizing itself so the internal structure can meet its business strategy in the cloud era stands a real chance of achieving a significant, long-term competitive advantage. It’s no longer a question of if cloud computing can help your organization. It’s now a question of when you will embrace the new model and realign yourselves socially, and ultimately more closely, to your customers. What are you waiting for?

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