2 years ago a colleague of mine and I were tweaking a slide deck in preparation to give a “Leveraging the Cloud” overview presentation to a client. My colleague had added a slide that simply had the following question and answer on it:

What is the cloud? The cloud is anything you want it to be in the context of what you are trying to use it for.

If your reaction was like mine, you may be scratching your head a bit – I sure was. But through some follow on dialogue I could understand my colleague’s sentiment. Given our experience with working with numerous clients on their definition of cloud enablement, many of our discussions and experiences covered both broad and specific territory. The cloud – Software as a Service (SaaS), Platform as a Service (PaaS), Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), Microsoft Azure, Amazon Web Services (AWS), and Google – it was hard in these discussions to clearly define where “The Cloud” began and where it ended. But if we could center those discussions on what the organization was trying to accomplish from either a business or IT perspective, we could rally around those topics that mattered the most. Easy/Peazy, right?

Well, those “Cloud Enablement” discussions covered a lot of ground. Twists, turns, U-Turns, detours and on and on. What I have learned from my experiences working with the cloud over the last couple of years is there are a couple common questions I hear over and over (usually once an initial strategy or proof of concept (POC) in the cloud was identified):

1) How can I minimize my implementation risk and re-work after getting started in the cloud?

2) What should I be thinking about today to ensure I “future proof” my cloud (Hybrid or otherwise) architecture(s)?

While there is not a “one size fits all” answer to either of those questions, in general my answers usually center on what I have termed “Core Cloud Infrastructure”. With any of the cloud computing models, it’s easy to punch in your credit card number and start spinning up services and resources. This is how many of us have in fact started exploring the cloud, however, often this initial exploration was without a plan or strategy in place. Here are the areas I suggest to consider as a first step related to Core Cloud Infrastructure before diving neck deep into the cloud.


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Security

If you are reading this and considering what to build in or with the cloud, I bet security considerations make the top of the list. As you are probably aware, there are many services and resources that can be leveraged in the public or hybrid cloud. In my experience it has been well worth the time to plan and discuss how you plan on securing the cloud. This covers everything from cleaning up and extending your existing corporate identities in the cloud, planning architectures that fit regulatory compliance requirements, and discussing your organization’s strategy around data loss prevention. You may have already covered all of this in your on premise data center, but it is worth the time and effort to revisit these requirements in the context of how you plan to use the cloud.

Network

More times than not, when I work with organizations they are not ready to bite off “going all in” to the public cloud. The reality is Hybrid Cloud is the most common use of the cloud that I see with clients today. As such, network connectivity between your data center and public cloud data centers should be a priority. How will you extend your existing network topology to connect to a public cloud data center such as Azure? How will you meet security and bandwidth requirements for hybrid applications? Is now the right time to reconfigure your network topology to take advantage of some new technologies such as software automation? There are a myriad of solutions and answers to these questions including software, services, and appliances. I won’t go into that in this particular blog entry. The point here is extending your network should be at the forefront of your long term hybrid cloud strategy.

Identified “POC” Workload

OK, I want in on this cloud thing. So where do I get started? Again, this is a hard question to answer. Often the best way is to engage your team on a planning exercise. Put your business objectives at the top of the list – innovate, save money, new business models, smooth processes etc. etc. From there explore the technical options that can meet your business goals. And lastly, pick some “low hanging fruit” that will not disrupt your business, and will show some immediate benefits. One of the typical workloads I have seen many clients settle in on with relation to a “first step” in the cloud is cloud based Disaster Recovery and Backup. There are several reasons for this:

  • Business Continuity is very important, but it is not “user facing” – DR & Backup happens behind the scenes in the IT infrastructure. There is not as much a chance that end users would experience any disruption.
  • The Economics are very favorable – storage is extremely cheap in the cloud. In addition, many of the things our IT departments work so hard for such as redundancy, durability, and tiered storage come as packages services on public clouds such as Microsoft Azure.
  • It’s a PITA – if you have worked or managed in the world of backup, for example, there are probably a million other things you (or your staff) would rather be doing. The classic example of backing up to disk, moving to DR site, and then backing up to tape is complex, expensive, and just not all that fun!

I hope after reading this you will think about security, network, hybrid cloud, and POC’s as a recipe for success in either getting started or continuing your cloud enablement strategy. I enjoy working with clients on putting the right “Core Cloud Infrastructure” in place to enable success and minimize risk. For more considerations around “Core Cloud Infrastructure” check out our Cloud Firm Foundation program here at Catapult Systems.