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10 tips for CIOs contemplating a move to the cloud

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Before I joined IBM, I was chief information officer and chief technology officer at a large state agency where I drove a number of early cloud and cloud-like efforts. All my prior work had been with commercial companies and I brought a commercial, forward-thinking attitude to the job. During ten years in various management roles, my overriding goals were to simplify the information technology (IT), self-enable our stakeholders and lower IT costs.

Cloud efforts played a key part in meeting those goals, and I want to pass along tips that could help you better succeed in your own cloud efforts:

1. Stop being religious
Cloud is about making things “fast, anywhere, now” (I call this FAN), while saving costs and simplifying IT. It is not about particular hardware and software. If you persist in being a Microsoft or Linux or Apple devotee, you will limit your ability to get the best overall cloud solution. Of course, you have to keep in mind your existing architecture and IT goals, but cloud should help you broaden, not narrow, your horizons.

2. Pay careful attention to total cost of ownership
It is relatively easy to find cheap cloud solutions. Unfortunately it is not easy to find cheap solutions that are secure, well maintained and meet peak capacity needs. Make sure you compare your current real costs (staff, equipment, software licensing, cost of security risks and others) with the cloud options. Make conscious choices about any compromises.

3. Security should be at the center
Your data, your transactions and your accounts are your property. For many, they are the key intellectual property for the company. Going to cloud to save money can become an exercise in futility if you lose a class action lawsuit due to data breaches.

4. Start small
You don’t have to take your whole data center to the cloud and in the beginning, you probably can’t. Start by moving only a few things that make sense. It could be your public web site, a small application with few security requirements or perhaps your office automation tools.

5. Find the low-hanging fruit
There is likely some work you can put on the cloud easily and for a low cost. It should not be the biggest part of your work, it should be low risk and it should be something you can pull back as needed. Try something simple that does not require a lot of security or technical IT support.

6. Choose your friends carefully
Be careful how you choose a cloud vendor, regardless of public, private or hybrid, infrastructure, platform or software as a service options. If you walk down a one-way street with a willful or undependable partner, you may find yourself in a risky dead-end alley when you try to scale or expand.

7. Educate your business users
Typical business clients (and even some IT clients) have a combination of high interest and little knowledge about cloud. Your CEO may actually know little about the complexities of getting your company to the cloud, but firmly believe that cloud “always” means lower cost, simpler management and less staff. It is up to you to educate business users so that they understand when and where cloud is a good choice and when it is not.

8. Be sure you understand the “pay by the drink” pricing model and service level agreements
Most cloud suppliers have a use-based charging model. This means that you may be charged for how much processing and storage (and sometimes bandwidth) you use. That is a very different model than purchasing and owning the hardware and software. It is also somewhat different than traditional outsourcing. If you think you will have a fast growing user community or a lot of data growth, you had better get a handle on “pay by the drink.” Also pay attention to service level agreements (SLAs) for cloud, which can differ from traditional SLAs, especially with regard to outages. See this post for some ideas of what to look out for in SLAs.

9. Compare oranges to oranges
When you are looking at cloud vendors and their offerings, make sure you are comparing equivalent offerings and equivalent pricing models.

10. Get champions in the business area
Making a decision to move to cloud is as much a business decision as anything else. You will need knowledgeable support from the business area. Otherwise you are likely to be standing alone in the crossfire as you work your way toward a cloud decision and implementation.

Keep these tips in mind and you will likely have a much smoother, lower risk transition toward cloud solutions. Please leave a comment below or reach out to me on Twitter to share tips of your own, or any war stories about situations where these tips might have helped.

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