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Related Topics: Cloud Computing, IT Strategy

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What IT Managers Should Learn from Public Clouds

Changing the Role of Corporate IT Departments

Corporate computing is going through a fundamental shift — moving to a world that’s largely cloud-based, self-service, and highly virtual with shared resources. Rather than go through their IT departments like they have for decades, users will simply specify how many cloud servers they need and for how long, and provision their own resources with a few mouse clicks. I recently read an interesting post by Rodrigo Flores, observing that the growing acceptance of public clouds is also changing the role of corporate IT departments, and they’ll have to either adapt or die. I’d like to make a few suggestions about how they can adapt.

First of all, they need to face reality. IT is driven by the need for agility, elasticity and cost-efficiency, and that can be provided most effectively in the public cloud. A year or two ago, most pundits were saying that large-scale adoption was inevitable — now the transition is well underway. Individual users and departments are already making inroads into the cloud to take advantage of agility not available internally. In many cases they’re not waiting for permission or help from corporate IT— they’re moving ahead on their own.

The growing emergence of public clouds creates an alternative to the traditional data center, while lowering the costs of infrastructure services. As cloud computing takes hold, the impact can prove unsettling for corporate IT departments that find themselves increasingly evaluated against the fast service and flexibility provided by public clouds. How will corporate IT departments fit in? How can they maintain their relevance when users can simply go to the cloud and get the servers they need immediately, often with better service than is available internally?

Rather than viewing public clouds as a competitive threat, corporate IT should embrace cloud computing and recognize their new role — serving as a trusted broker for the resources that users need, whether in a public cloud or internally depending on where the application belongs. Corporate IT becomes a much more agile organization, leveraging public clouds and internal clouds within an integrated framework, and IT professionals providing the front-facing infrastructure and support services that make it work.

But corporate IT still has much to learn about how to design and support this new environment, with virtualization being only the first step. To gain this expertise, they need to look to the public cloud — Amazon, Terremark, Savvis, Rackspace, Microsoft, etc. The infrastructure and processes that cloud providers have created at tremendous effort and cost can provide a guide for how corporate IT departments are going to operate in the very near future. It’s an idea that hasn’t yet received much attention from industry observers, but we’ve been hearing it a lot lately from our customers, particularly those thinking strategically about the cloud.

Thus, corporate IT has another incentive (in case they needed one) to take the lead in moving their companies to public clouds. As they plan their own agile environments for internal users, public clouds are where they’ll learn the best practices needed to make it work:

  • Building the self-service portal: Corporate IT will need to make self-service for computing resources as simple and robust as it is in the public clouds.
  • Managing a multi-tenant environment: Cloud providers deliver rapid provisioning at low cost by supporting large numbers of users on a shared infrastructure. Corporate IT will need to replicate this environment, while providing mechanisms that allow applications to be moved out to a public cloud or back again.
  • Scaling efficiently: Cloud providers use several different scaling techniques and policies to keep up with growing demands, and corporate IT can learn a great deal from them about how to make trade-offs and automate wherever possible.

To sum up, corporate IT should look to public clouds as their most valuable resource — often far more agile, elastic, and cost-effective than internal resources. They’re where many enterprise applications (perhaps the majority) will soon run. In addition to their inherent advantages, public clouds also have much to teach. The lessons will come in handy as IT departments discover their new strategic role as champions of a more agile corporate computing environment. CloudSwitch technology makes that new world much easier to build and manage, so corporate IT can drive innovation without losing the security and control they need.

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More Stories By Ellen Rubin

Ellen Rubin is the CEO and co-founder of ClearSky Data, an enterprise storage company that recently raised $27 million in a Series B investment round. She is an experienced entrepreneur with a record in leading strategy, market positioning and go-to- market efforts for fast-growing companies. Most recently, she was co-founder of CloudSwitch, a cloud enablement software company, acquired by Verizon in 2011. Prior to founding CloudSwitch, Ellen was the vice president of marketing at Netezza, where as a member of the early management team, she helped grow the company to more than $130 million in revenues and a successful IPO in 2007. Ellen holds an MBA from Harvard Business School and an undergraduate degree magna cum laude from Harvard University.