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Five top tips for the journey to cloud

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Malcolm Herbert, Director of Infrastructure Consulting, EMEA, at Red Hat shares his insight into the opportunities that open source software creates when adopting a cloud computing strategy and offers 5 top tips for a successful journey to cloud

A comparison between enterprise IT and public cloud computing dramatically highlights the benefits of moving to cloud.

Application deployment times can shrink from weeks in the traditional data centre to minutes in a cloud data centre; new application development time accelerates from years to weeks (or months at most); cost per virtual machine plummets from dollars to cents;  server administrator ratios can explode from 20:1 to 300:1; while efficiency increases, with resource utilisation soaring from 20 to 75 percent.

With measurable benefits like these, it's no wonder that IDC expects that by 2015 the majority of the enterprise market will require integrated hybrid cloud management capabilities (Source: IDC Cloud Management Study, 2011 Survey).

Cloud computing requires new architectures at the infrastructure and application levels to benefit from all the value that it offers, such as agility and scalability of IT services. Therefore, the discussion on cloud computing provides a compelling reason to look at an open source strategy and the opportunities it brings.

Despite the tangible advantages of cloud computing, it's difficult to predict direction and trends precisely. However, while it can be fun to go on 'a magical mystery tour' with no clear direction, you still need a sense of purpose. The journey will also involve assessing and potentially discarding some of your IT baggage, but it should also be about including and reusing some elements.

I've outlined here 5 top tips that will help to define this sense of purpose.

Top Tip #1 - Know your destination 

What do you ultimately want to achieve from cloud? Cloud must meet your business goals and fit with the way you work. Moving to cloud must enable you to react with greater agility and speed to new requirements. The best place to start is to look at one of the key services you offer and see if it could exist in the cloud, as infrastructure/platform/software-as-a-service.

I met last year with a senior architect for a financial services IT provider, whose CEO was pushing him to develop a cloud strategy, as he saw the market and competitors going in this direction. 

A quick discussion revealed that the company's main application development was with transactional data and messaging. The need for deterministic and predictable behaviour meant that it was not an obvious candidate to move to cloud (hybrid or public).

The point is you need to identify a workload that will actually perform in the cloud. This particular business had other applications and services they ran for customers that were more orientated to data processing. 

The Service Level Agreements they have in place for their customers meant that a cloud solution was more attractive for these applications and services.

Therefore, bear in mind that it’s not just about potential cost-savings. You need to look at whether an application will perform well, cover the needs of customers and be manageable within your existing processes and organisational structure. You cannot take these factors for granted.

Top Tip #2 - Know your starting point

But wait a moment: if you don’t know where you are today, you can’t begin to plan the journey to the cloud, if you do decide to take that route. Back in the day when I hitched around rural Wales, it was also good to know my location (even if I couldn't pronounce the name of the town or village), so I could be sure that any lift I was offered would take me in the right direction.

So when looking at the road to cloud, it's good know if you already have assets, processes and skills in place that could give you a head start. 

Doing an assessment of your existing in-house infrastructure is crucial to finding the best way to adopt cloud as an emerging technology. Don't believe some vendors and analysts who advocate a ‘slash and burn’ policy: what could you recycle and reuse?

In addition, there is little point investing time and energy in transferring imperfect solutions and processes into the cloud. It’s well worth reviewing existing systems and planning a migration to a common or standard operating environment (SOE). 

This helps to eradicate the complexity of configuration variance, where one-off configurations and siloed systems have sprung up across the estate.

In fact, without first standardising your platforms and processes, it's pretty difficult to add the further functions that make up a fully operational cloud deployment.

Top Tip  #3 - Don't travel alone

When it comes to cloud, there is no need to do everything yourself and work in not-so-splendid isolation.

One of the strengths of open source software is that it is built on collaboration - it’s made for sharing. Red Hat actively contributes to software development incubation and facilitates relationships, with the aim of encouraging code, solution and support improvements. 

Red Hat knows what’s ‘out there’ in the community and in enterprise products, and is able to share best practice and to help user organisations create thriving open source development communities.

A DIY, not-invented-here attitude could mean you set off down the wrong track or end up taking 'the scenic route'. Be ready to admit that someone else might have already done work that you can leverage, and quite possibly have done it better, too. 

Furthermore, the days of showing off the flashing lights and robotic tape drives in your data centre are gone for ever. Kudos goes to those who can point to a web page showing their current capacity and potential capability. Even more kudos if you can do this while sunning yourself on a beach!

Of course, in a collaborative world, you do have to prepare to share. You may be the passenger today, but could be the driver giving someone else a lift tomorrow. Open source has never been more relevant; it's changed the face of the operating system market and will have the same impact in cloud.

Some of Red Hat's adopters of cloud technology (such as OpenShift and CloudForms) are already providing the functionality and tooling they've developed upstream into the community.

Also great community work is happening around OpenStack, where Red Hat is the third largest contributor for the current 'Essex' release, working together with vendors and customer communities. Using an open source implementation of an open standard for cloud means you'll experience tangible benefit from reuse.

I've always been aware of the skills and abilities of customers, partners and the community when it comes to extending and enhancing products into solutions; with cloud that's going to be even more significant. Whether it is portals, management tools, or billing or monitoring scripts, someone is likely to be working on something you want as part of your cloud solution.

Top Tip #4 -  Don't take a one-way street.

Many CIOs are, understandably, comfortable with the status quo. If we’re honest, the traditional model of capital expenditure, hardware budgets and data centres brings its own rewards. There can be a natural reluctance to let go. Furthermore, handing over to a cloud services provider can feel like an abrogation of responsibility.

If you want to fully grasp the benefits of cloud-like agility over private and public providers and want to link this to economic benefits for your company, you will no doubt realise that a new software architecture is needed. Open source can be the pathway to that new architecture, and offers a two-fold benefit...

You're able to run management toolkits that protect you from getting locked into a proprietary silo. At the same time, you avoid being locked out of the technical and commercial advantages that arise from cloud technology.

Having a broad open source strategy and a software stack that underpins this lowers your cost and strengthens your independence from software vendors.

Taking an open source route for cloud is also a good way of introducing a different approach and methodology into an organisation's IT strategy. 

It can bring significant benefits, and introduce welcome change to the organisation's processes and working practices. It's not just about hardware cost reduction, or lowering the cost of software, it's also about providing a thriving environment for staff and customers.

For some projects, change doesn’t have to be dramatic to be effective. If you have concerns about introducing risk, why not start small-er, by storing your web services, email, intranet projects, data collection or social media in the cloud?

Top Tip #5 - Don't run when you can walk

There is no rush to adopt cloud computing; it should be evolution not revolution. Any cloud projects should be at a steady pace that feels comfortable to the adopting organisation. The flexibility inherent within open source solutions is ideal for this organic approach.

There is plenty of time to lay a firm groundwork for cloud, and fortune may well favour the more cautious adopter: as often happens with new technology, we are seeing the costs of cloud come down.

Keep a watching brief for now and don’t feel compelled to embark on cloud computing if the time is not right for your business. Don’t be swept along by the hype and start ripping out your hardware infrastructure!

It's a truism that travelling can be as rewarding as reaching your ultimate destination. Make the most of your journey to cloud and look at the processes and organisation you have as you go.

The open road

The decisions you make on cloud computing today will directly affect your competitiveness over the next few years. You need a cloud strategy that can adapt to changing business requirements.

Also cloud is still in its infancy relatively speaking, with innovations yet to come. Open Source like KVM and OpenStack are rapidly gaining momentum. Public cloud will be become more consumable over time. 

Your architecture should be prepared for change.
Choosing the open (source) road will ensure that you do not get locked into a single cloud solutions provider. Open source solutions offer the ultimate future-proofing, giving you the freedom to switch to another provider, without incurring high exit costs.

Open source also provides an adaptable platform, ready to assimilate future advances in terms of capturing, storing and accessing enterprise data. It leaves organisations free to adopt emerging technology to fulfil new business requirements and to integrate new applications, while protecting their previous infrastructure investments.

Posted by Malcolm Herbert, Director of Infrastructure Consulting at Red Hat in EMEA
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