Cloud computing strategy guide (Part 1)

Cloud may speed the construction of new capabilities and services, but Australian IT leaders may well be building castles in the sky

Like most new technology trends, Cloud computing has been pitched to enterprises as offering nothing less than a total business transformation, the cure for the common cold, and a raison d’etre for IT executives struggling for meaning now that they’ve virtualized their entire technology infrastructures. Yet far beyond the hype, many IT leaders have already been building their castles in the Cloud — and they’re now picking out furniture as they turn to leverage their investments into competitive advantage.

This article is part one of a two-part series on Cloud computing.

Gavin Tomlins is among those that have already seen the Cloud in action, having recently completed a months-long effort to bring Queensland healthcare provider Sundale Aged Care onto a private Cloud scenario that leverages Telstra-hosted communications services and a virtualization infrastructure that enables rapid commissioning of new services as necessary.

With 700 employees and 1200 residents across seven sites, Tomlins services a substantial user community and was struggling to get the organisation’s legacy Citrix desktop environment to perform at anything more than a crawl. Printing a document could take up to three minutes, replication of data between primary and backup data centres was taking over 15 hours a day.

The addition of mobile devices — 220 of them — had only made things worse, with high bandwidth utilisation that Tomlins eventually addressed with a Riverbed Technology bandwidth optimiser. Pairing better communications-link efficiency with the hosted server and communications capabilities meant Sundale can now add the capacity it needs, when and where it needs — while keeping control of its internal IT infrastructure. Site-to-site replication has been cut to 2.5 hours, printing takes just five seconds, and Tomlins estimates the project is saving the company $250,000 annually.

However, the biggest benefit of the Cloud move came when Sundale launched a multipartite joint venture and needed to quickly set up 50 employees in a satellite office. Tomlins was able to get those employees quickly outfitted with the necessary communications handsets — 30 of them — and all data and application access. “It was beautiful to watch it come to fruition,” he says.

“In our industry we’re undergoing a dynamic growth period, and from a Cloud perspective it was good to be able to grow. We could scale our particular architecture and information systems to accommodate this particular unit. It would have taken us a while to do in the past, but now it was literally done in a day: We’ve got capacity and visibility we just didn’t have before.”

Inside looking out

Stories like Sundale’s are becoming increasingly common as businesses of all sizes step back from their recent laser focus on server virtualization and data centre optimisation, and look for ways that investment can be leveraged into new business advantage. Indeed, in a market where companies are dealing with wildly variable input prices and consumer buying malaise, the speed-to-action that a Cloud implementation provides is rapidly being recognised as a way to not only keep up with, but also to get ahead of market trends.

A recent Gartner survey of users across eight countries found Cloud adoption was a ‘top three’ priority for a quarter of enterprises, with key drivers including business agility, capex savings, and using Cloud as a part of overall data centre transformation strategies.

Recognising the growing momentum behind Cloud paradigms, vendors are slapping ‘Cloud’ labels on everything they do — often with dubious or tenuous associations to more mainstream Cloud models.

Yet regardless of the marketing, businesses that have been most proactive in pursuing private Cloud models, justified and executed from within, are finding real benefits. Banks, in particular, have been particularly proactive when it comes to private Cloud initiatives, setting up centralised clusters of hosted services that are available to their myriad business units on relatively short notice.

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Westpac, for example, recently noted that its IT division is able to provision new testing environments — a process that used to take up to two weeks — in just four hours. And ANZ Wealth Management, with a 500-strong IT team, is running three applications in the Cloud. Such private Cloud architectures may be based heavily on virtualization and centralised hosting, but the equally revolutionary part of their genesis is their ability to match those technologies with real business objectives.

No longer do IT executives need to nail down business leaders on fine details of elaborate infrastructure and systems; Cloud flexibility means new capabilities can be added almost at whim, explored, built upon, changed and decommissioned as business goals evolve.

Yet while the private Cloud architecture has won many strong advocates, discussions around channelling this enthusiasm to public Cloud services is drawing a different kind of reception.

Organisations of many types have explored Cloud services for years through well-known software-as-a-service (SaaS) Cloud players, such as customer relationship management vendor and human capital management provider Success Factors, whose models offer ease of access and intrinsic support for increasingly mobile employees that have quickly moved them from renegade technology to IT must-have.

Read 'Cloud computing strategy guide' (part 2)

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