A roadmap to the cloud… Where should I focus on?

Cloud is here to stay!
A lot of questions about “THE Cloud” have risen the last years. In the beginning, the most responses included that it was a hype or that it was a rebranded solution from the past (“ASP“). Though at this point in time, it is safe to say that “Cloud Services” are here to stay and that there is no point back but to embrace them as an IT department. My personal sentiment is that the current market leaders “Amazon” & “Microsoft” will continue to grow and eventually dominate this market. As google has enough cashflow, I suspect that they will join in this battle. So the current conundrum is ; how to move your current landscape from an “on premise” way of working towards the cloud…?

Cloud Maturity Model
For organisations who are stuck with this question, I would like to point out to a fine document (“Cloud Maturity Model“) of the Open Data Center Alliance. It describes the different stages, even from different perspectives, that you will traverse in your journey.

Quote about the cloud maturity model ;

2014-12-02 10_59_04-Cloud_Maturity_Model_Rev_2.0.pdf - Adobe Reader

Progression through the various maturity levels is based on the evolution of a number of parallel capabilities, as described in the following figures.
The result is represented by an inferred resulting maturity, roughly mapped as follows:

  • CMM 1. (Initial / Ad Hoc) The existing environment is analyzed and documented for initial cloud potential. Pockets of virtualized systems exist, for limited
    systems, without automation tooling, operated under the traditional IT and procurement processes. Most of the landscape still runs on physical
    infrastructure. The focus is on the private cloud, although the public cloud is used for niche applications.
  • CMM 2. (Repeatable / Opportunistic) IT and procurement processes and controls are updated specifically to deal with cloud and who may order services and service
    elements and how. Private cloud is fully embraced with physical-to-virtual movement of apps and the emergence of cloud-aware apps.
  • CMM 3. (Defined / Systematic) Tooling is introduced and updated to facilitate the ordering, control, and management of cloud services. Risk and governance controls
    are integrated into this control layer, ensuring adherence to corporate and country requirements. Complementary service management
    interfaces are operational. More sophisticated use of SaaS is evident, and private PaaS emerges.
  • CMM 4. (Measured / Measurable) Online controls exist to manage federated system landscapes, distributed data and data movement, federated and distributed
    application transactions, and the cross-boundary transitions and interactions. Defined partners and integration exist, enabling dynamic
    movement of systems and data, with supporting tool layer integration (for example, service desk, alerting, commercial systems, governances).
    Cloud-aware apps are the norm and PaaS is pervasive. Hybrid apps develop across cloud delivery models.
  • CMM 5. (Optimized) All service and application deployments are automated, with orchestration systems automatically locating data and applications in the
    appropriate cloud location and migrating them according to business requirements, transparently (for example, to take advantage of carbon
    targets, cost opportunities, quality, or functionality).

So far, so good… yeah? I know, this all still sounds a bit “fluffy“. The basics to remember is that there are various stages involved so you can keep track of where you are. Though for me there are three focus points that every organisation should embrace in order to be ready for the future with cloud services.

  • IAAS has become commodity
  • Federation is the new black
  • Interoperability is mandatory

IAAS has become commodity
I do NOT believe in on-premise virtualisation farms anymore… for the majority of organisations. I must concur that there are use cases that would still require this, though for the majority of organization this is not the case. I can see you pondering “But we are special!”, and I must disappoint you, most organisations are not. Internal IT should focus on the things that deliver real value to an organisation. An Infrastructure-as-a-Service layer has become a basic commodity in the market and you should embrace it. The time you spend in maintaining the lowest layers is better invested in real business value. I, yet again, concur that this will imply a shift of skills needed…

“When the winds of change blow, some people build walls and others build windmills.” -Chinese Proverb

Federation is the new black
Let’s start with a quote from the maturity model ;

Federation refers to the ability of identity and access management software to be able to securely share user identities and
profiles. This ability allows users within a specific organization to utilize resources located in multiple clouds without having to generate
separate credentials in each cloud individually. IT is able to manage one set of identities, authorizations, and set of security review processes.
From the user perspective, this enables seamless integration with systems and applications.

For most organisations, start with setting up a federation service… Active Directory Federations Services, or a SAML provider, pick something that best fits your current technology stack. Though be aware that federation is a key, if not THE key, component of a succesful cloud roadmap!

Interoperability is mandatory
And, yet again, let’s start with a quote ;

There are two key concepts of interoperability: (1) The ability to connect two systems that are concurrently running in cloud
environments, and (2) the ability to easily port a system from one cloud to another. Both involve the use of standard mechanisms for service
orchestration and management, enabling elastic operation and flexibility for dynamic business models, while minimizing vendor lock-in.

Your high level architecture should consist of “islands”, which are linked together via APIs and/or abstraction layers and where authentication is done via federation mechanisms.

In addition, keep in mind that you will move systems around. So interoperability towards migrating systems is a key requirement and should always be a focal point in your decision-making. For instance; Think about exit scenarios with a specific cloud provider. How will you handle this?

Conclusion (TL;DR)

  • Cloud is here to stay. In a few years, it will be the defacto standard.
  • Infrastructure-as-a-Service has become commodity. In a few years, this segment will be dominated by Amazon, Microsoft & Google.
  • Federation is the new black. If you haven’t set up a federation system… DO IT NOW!
  • Interoperability is mandatory. Always keep in mind that systems should be portable islands which are built for data interaction.
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Insight on “Gartner 2013 : Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends”

Source : Gartner Identifies the Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends for 2013

Gartner released their Top 10 Strategic Technology Trends of 2013. Here’s my insight on the relation / impact towards the Benelux market.

Mobile Device Battles
This battle will continue! Where it used to be Apple versus Google… We now see Microsoft coming up with a competitive offering. Here my opinion is that the true battle for the Benelux enterprise market lies between Apple and Microsoft.

Mobile Applications and HTML5
When one takes a look at the “App Stores”, “App Markets”, etc… You’ll notice that most “apps” are mostly frameworks to connect to back-end web services. This way the providers can reuse a lot of their logic for different clients. So I totally follow the vision of Gartner that web interfaces with a low technology impact on the client will be the way of the future.

Personal Cloud
Not sure about this one… People are still very reluctant to bearing costs. Yet the cloud needs to get financed. So where the need is there, I don’t think the wallet will follow.

Enterprise App Stores
Before we get here… I would hope that companies get thinking about a service catalog. That way they would not blindly follow technology, and get things aligned between IT and business.

The Internet of Things
Everything connected! Every device is getting some kind of connectivity towards the network. So I totally follow this vision from Gartner.

Hybrid IT and Cloud Computing
Next year (2013) will be a very harsh year for a lot of companies within the Benelux. Many vendors are repeating (and repeating) the “Cloud”-mantra to a lot of customers/prospects. Time and time again they say that “THE cloud” will reduce the costs of the IT organization. Yet the reality is far from it! Cloud service have a lot of benefits, yet reducing costs is mostly not one of them. Adding functionality is more the thing, yet reducing costs can only be done by reducing services/functionality. In my honest opinion, the only way organizations can reduce costs it to identify (and catalog!) their services. This list can become an argumentation internally in order to justify the IT costs and become a possible starting point to discussed (un)needed services.

Strategic Big Data
I think this is valid for the “Fortune 500”, yet the Benelux market is far too small for this. Some niche players may have a specific need for this (telecom, banking, … marketing agencies), yet most industry / service companies can surely do without.

Actionable Analytics
Analytics is the way to go if you want to optimize your business! Whether it’s an internal department looking to optimize its costs, or the general business looking to go “lean & mean”… How can one optimize, if one does not know how things are running? You cannot compare things without having a monitoring system.

In Memory Computing
This sounds too much like the “noSQL”-movement from last year. Whilst it sounds very nice, most Belgian companies are way too traditional for such technologies. This is mostly due to the fact that no transactional state can be guaranteed…

Integrated Ecosystems
Many companies are noticing that the cloud solutions they have engaged in are islands on their own. Identity management and federation services will move towards this need… Such systems will be able to integrate several islands into one logical system for the user. This as the 5+ passwords to remember are getting a bit too much.