Is Your Head in the Clouds? It Might Be the Right Place to Be

Companies grappling with rocky economic times often react by slashing budgets to fend off the effects of weakening demand. While the fiscal prudence that accompanies a business downturn is right and necessary, prolonged spending cuts can leave organizations too weak to capitalize on their opportunities when market conditions improve. The best managers address this challenge by tightly controlling expenses while simultaneously positioning their business for growth. For CIOs and IT managers charged with stretching their data center dollars, cloud computing may be just the way to combine budgetary discretion with forward thinking.

Like server virtualization two to three years ago, and the Internet ten years ago, cloud computing has moved from a conceptual stage to something that IT decision makers are actively engaged in. In a September 2009 study by Avanade, a business technology services provider, 500 senior executives and IT decision makers surveyed in 17 countries reported a 320 percent increase in the testing and planned implementation of cloud computing compared to just nine months earlier.

Cloud computing promises to automate, transform, and optimize IT resources given its ability to host businesses processes in virtually any geography using any IT architecture. As business conditions improve, the portability, availability and scalability of cloud computing will give companies that invest in the cloud nearly instant access to additional bandwidth and data storage without the need for risky capital investments.

My recommendation for CIOs considering cloud computing is to embrace it. The questions regarding the movement of data, workloads and business processes beyond your four walls, while challenging and scary, really do speak to the future direction of IT.

IT is no longer going to be about islands separated by big walls within many separate physical locations. Cloud computing represents a more transparent, automated way of optimizing IT resources and delivering business processes to the right place and with the right characteristics, costs, and uptime. Less successful companies will be those that hold on to the way things are, by building walls and barriers around their critical applications and data.

While tearing down the walls around IT infrastructure can be daunting, that does not need to be the first step. The best approach for many organizations interested in adopting cloud computing is to dip a toe into it by incorporating a business process that is not critical to day-to-day operations. Learn how to use the cloud for a front office process, a small transaction, a distribution of code, or for an application such as disaster recovery.

One way to accelerate the learning curve is to team with a third-party provider with core competencies in data centers and essential skills like recoverability to help you navigate through cloud computing adoption. This approach can help navigate through a cloud computing technology landscape that changes quickly.

Of course, as companies become more comfortable with the cloud environment they will find that the benefits also require changes to internal operations. Investing in the cloud requires retraining for IT staff to develop new skills and a commitment to a new computing architecture.

Change means disruption, and for many companies current economic conditions are a powerful disincentive to challenging the status quo. For those companies with at least a small appetite for risk, however, there has rarely been a better opportunity to optimize your IT operations. With a move to cloud computing, companies can begin replacing their capital-intensive approach with a new, more flexible model that will reap economic and operational efficiencies in business processes that IT supports.

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