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Two to three years ago, consultants and solution providers specializing in cloud spent much of their time educating clients on the technology and its benefits. Today, businesses understand, for the most part, why they should be in the cloud. The challenge is in understanding how to get there. Cloud consultancy and solution providers help pave the way by performing a needs assessment to determine a client's suitability and readiness for cloud services.
While the nuances of a cloud readiness assessment differ from provider to provider, the process is generally the same. It consists of three components -- technology, people and process -- and operates off the principle that any application can run in the cloud.
"I go into the conversation with the theory that everything moves into the cloud and we work our way backwards to say what would not be well advised to move into the cloud," explained Alex Brown, CEO of 10th Magnitude, a Chicago-based cloud consultancy and solution provider. "Most typical workloads are quite comfortable in the cloud, but there may be a few that are too hard or have a few quirks that make them difficult to move."
Terry Hedden, founder and CEO of Marketopia, a St. Petersburg, Fla.-based sales empowerment and demand generation firm for managed IT service firms, advises providers to have a "cloud first" mentality. "Assess everything and assume that the logical step is cloud for a lot of things," he said.
John Treadwayvice president, Cloud Technology Partners
The technical portion of a cloud readiness assessment involves understanding the client's existing infrastructure and technical requirements. 10th Magnitude uses the Microsoft Assessment and Planning Toolkit to evaluate a client's existing infrastructure and workloads. "We essentially gather data on usage patterns over about a week to understand what kind of resource usage [the client would] see in the cloud and to build up a cost model," Brown said.
10th Magnitude then uses a combination of quantitative analysis (taking into account the cost, length of time and difficulty of moving a workload) and qualitative analysis (the benefits of being in the cloud) to determine which workloads to move first.
"We start with the things that are the easiest technically so that [clients] can more easily get their arms around the operating differences. It's not often technically difficult to move things, but the operating characteristics do change, and it may take longer to develop that muscle memory than [clients] initially anticipate," Brown said.
John Treadway, vice president of Boston-based consultancy firm Cloud Technology Partners, agreed. "What we tend to find is that there's a significant gap between the engineering of a new infrastructure -- engineering the private cloud or the architecture of an application for deployment into Amazon -- and having a full operational capability for running the application in the cloud at production scale," he said.
That's where the larger challenge lies. "What we've determined is that by using these tools we can pretty quickly help build a solid and technically quantifiable roadmap for how companies should think about understanding a migration to the cloud," Brown said. "It's not as technically complex as organizations think, but organizations underestimate the impact to their core day-to-day team and operations. It is different, and it does require some thought."
All three providers we spoke to emphasized the need to assess a client's cloud readiness in terms of operational processes, business processes and willingness to change. In terms of assessing processes, Hedden advised asking whether a client's process would allow the use of cloud technologies or whether cloud technologies improve their process. "You're trying to understand the impact of cloud in terms of how [the client does] their business. The cloud requires process changes a lot of times, so you need to look at how people do business and the impact of cloud and assess whether that's an improvement or a negative, and you want to know that going in."
Hedden acknowledged that assessing people is difficult, "but you have to ask open-ended questions to determine whether or not people will embrace change," he said. "Often times, moving to the cloud results in changing the way you do business. In the grand scheme it's almost always for the better, but if a client lacks executive sponsorship to make a change like that, you will face a lot of resistance."
Failure to understand the client's business and operational processes, as well as their appetite for change, can make or break a cloud migration. "A large, hairy, audacious goal of moving significant workloads to a public cloud is fantastic, but if you try to push too hard on it, something will break and it tends to be the people. So getting the people, the operations and processes in place is critical," Treadway said.
He continued: "Organizational readiness has a number of components. What needs to be understood is that we're looking at a fairly large change management exercise: A change in process, a change in skills, which ideally means reskilling and retooling the technical [and business teams you have in place] to be able to operate in this environment," he said.
Treadway said IT operations people tend not to be paid to take risks, but to reduce risk. However, moving to the cloud may involve re-creating processes from scratch, which looks risky. The key is to identify people at the early stages of a project who are willing to change and involve them to establish some success.
Hedden agreed. "You have to take into account people and change management and process when you're making a big change like this. The vast majority of the time, technical change is possible, but adoption is not based on whether or not technology works. It has to work for the client in their environment."
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