time flying

Avoid these Top Ten Mistakes when Transitioning to the Cloud

Time and again, organizations erode potential benefits of a cloud transition. More thought on the front end can help you achieve a shorter time to value.

  1. Not thinking through your SLA requirements.  Your SLA needs should be part of your RFP or RFI, based on your internal business priorities. Many companies, when taking their first steps into the cloud, accept the SLA’s offered by the vendor in the first contract draft.
  2. Failing to model total cost of cloud and on-premise options:  Apples to apples comparisons are hard to find in the cloud world.
  3. Failing to ask potential vendors (and the references you will be checking) how long it takes to:
    • Get contract redlines turned around
    • Get from a handshake to implementation-boots-on-the-ground
  4. Not thinking through support processes, roles and responsibilities. As more assets are moved into the hands of multiple cloud vendors, it’s important to document crystal clarity of responsibilities, accountabilities, and notification/approval policies. The best way to do this is to construct a RACI matrix.
  5. Under preparation for testing:  Do you have a formal QA methodology? Do you have a body of test scripts prepared for the deployment?  What about performance testing and integration testing?  Don’t let test planning and preparation impose a drag on the implementation timeline. Look before you leap, or you may be disappointed by poor performance or failing interfaces down the road.
  6. Under thinking security: What are the liabilities? Did you stipulate access for annual security testing in the contract?
  7. Rushing forward without an enterprise cloud strategy: Proliferation of departmental cloud applications has taken much of the decision-making out of IT’s hands. A cloud approach that grows up organically can result in compromised information security and lack of critical integration between applications.
  8. Failing to manage end user expectations: Have you documented and communicated the changes adequately?
  9. Overestimating your in-house IT skills:
    • Does your team really have the systems integration knowledge and experience with the cloud to take your critical business apps through the transition?
    • Overestimating your in-house skillset
  10. Underestimating bandwidth requirements: Your “big pipe” locations are one issue, but do you understand how much work really gets done by remote workers? Will they see adequate performance from the cloud? How will additional bandwidth affect your cost model?

Why Office 365 over Google Apps?

Competitive companies have CIOs who are interested in solving business problems – not focused on day-to-day IT tasks. Technology is business and if you don’t master it, your competition will. In order to focus on the business as a CIO, you need to rely on products that will essentially take care of themselves. This is, I believe, the critical benefit of  Microsoft Office 365, and what is really clearly explained in Microsoft’s new white paper, Top 10 Reasons for Choosing Office 365 over Google Apps.

There are dozens of product comparisons out there, but the decision points in this white paper can really be boiled down to 3 reasons:

1Privacy Matters

Microsoft hits this concern first. Why should we believe our information will be safe? Well, Microsoft touts its $9 billion network of data centers, which may or may not be impressive to you.

Google is an advertising company. Why would I trust a company whose business model relies on ad revenue? It creates a motive for selling personal information. While Microsoft’s Bing does sell ads, it is an ancillary rather than primary revenue generator for the Microsoft Corporation, representing less than 8% of Q4 FY2014 total revenue. Google on the other hand generated 91% of their revenue from advertising in 2013 according to their 10k. For more information on Google’s latest run-in with personal information privacy issues, here is a recent Reuters article.

2Allow Users Access to their Content Anytime, Anywhere

Duh. This one is a no brainer. Employees have an increased desire to work from home, have flexible hours, work seamlessly while traveling, and be connected to everything they need 24/7. Because of this growing demand, mobile functionality is becoming more and more critical to today’s workforce.  Office 365 works well online and offline (even email), which is certainly important for business users who travel.

Google apps offer limited offline functionality for email. Google is “committed” to mobility, but what about when you don’t have internet? I find it useful to have access to my information whether I am connected to internet or not.

3Less Training Required

Find me someone who has been in the workforce and hasn’t used the Microsoft Office applications. This means that training is minimal and your employees will likely feel relatively comfortable with the change. Microsoft worked hard to create an online platform that mirrors what employees are already doing with their on-premise versions. It could be a costly nightmare to switch to Google Apps and train employees on an enterprise level because the interface is completely different than Office. And, conversion of desktop versions of documents to Google Apps isn’t always accurate.

These are, as an end-user and mobile employee, the most important reasons that Microsoft cites in their recent white paper. Honestly though, I would pick Office 365 on the first point alone.

Have you had to make this choice? What was the tipping point for you?

5 Highlights from SharePoint Conference 2014

SharePoint Conference 2014 wrapped up last week. Microsoft used the big stage to announce some exciting new capabilities and paint a clear picture as to how they see the future of SharePoint.

It starts with their view of the future of work. Not farm labor but information work of course. That future is networked. It consists of individuals and groups collaborating using documents, discussions, chat and video in a fluid setting. People may be working from their office, home, on the road or all of the above and using a variety of devices. They need access and an ability to interact. They need to be productive.

I have to subscribe to this vision as this is exactly how we work at Edgewater today. The future is here.

Microsoft’s vision for the technology that should empower this future of work is a natural extension of their mission of supporting information workers, and with Office 365 it all comes together rather nicely. Your office apps and files, email, chat, video, meetings, groups, calendars, people, social interactions all available and integrated. Available from anywhere and on any device.

It’s not all there yet and as I mentioned in an earlier post, there are quite a few gaps to fill but they are rapidly working on closing it and the speed of cloud deployments will allow them to make it a reality pretty quickly. Unless they find a way to derail things again.

A few things that were introduced this week build on and extend these concepts.

officegraphThe Office Graph: Not a new concept in social networks and a core capability of Yammer, extended to the full Office 365 suite, this is at once exciting and scary. All my activities, connections, interactions are tracked and put into a graph format that allows applications to use this data for a more relevant and personalized experience. It has some great potential applications, some we’ll talk about next with the Oslo interface. On the other hand, not that there is any real privacy in the workplace but any semblance of it will be officially gone. “Did you read my memo from last week”? well, no more white lies as your manager can easily get a report of who exactly read the memo.

OsloOslo: a new tool / interface concept from the FAST search team combines search and the social graph to give you a FlipBoard like experience, bubbling up things you should know. If your close colleagues are all reading the same document, maybe you should too? If a specific blog post is generating a lot of comments, what discussions are very active? Natural language search across multiple data sources. Can definitely be very useful.

GroupsGroups: yes, interesting to think of groups as a new concept. In this incarnation (lovers of public folders rejoice) groups are a cross application construct for discussions. Integrated across Yammer, SharePoint, Outlook and office, the idea is that in many instances, group discussions are a better way to interact than email. The only concern I would have is the proliferation of groups. It may be good for people who are only part of a handful of groups and teams but many of us are part of dozens if not more groups and teams and the interface I’ve seen only included about 6. I hope it scales.

inlinesocialInline social experiences: in short, this recreates a way to have a Yammer conversation on files and other Office, SharePoint and even Dynamics entities. I love this feature. It is such a natural way to interact instead of emailing and allows all people with access to see the discussion.

Cloud Only? Finally, I think the big question on everyone’s mind was what will happen to the on-premise version of SharePoint. With so much focus on the integrative aspect of Office 365 and rolling new features on a weekly basis, will the local server be phased out? The official answer is that the on prem version will continue to be important and get a new version in 2015 and beyond. With such a huge existing installed base they have to. But the future is clear and it is definitely in the cloud.

Why Cloud?

Why CloudIT leaders:

It’s time to take an honest look at the business and business goals of your organization. How does IT drive BUSINESS objectives? Can you honestly say that your IT infrastructure contributes to your company’s bottom line? Or are you still a “cost center?” What you will find is that there are big areas of opportunities to enhance business strategy, free up real dollars in hard savings, and free up soft costs. Although out-of-pocket savings is the current focus of the benefits of the Cloud, it’s the soft costs that may provide the biggest business impact.

Freeing up “facilities”

Moving systems to the Cloud will allow key essential resources to focus on those projects that directly impact the business. Your IT group will better serve the organization as a whole by providing the foundation to grow and expand. So what do I mean by facilities? Think on a broader scale. I am not talking about a couple of racks, I’m talking ALL of your physical facilities. Just think of the benefits of not being tied to a physical space:

  • Production and/or Disaster Recovery: you don’t have to house the majority of your hardware onsite. The Cloud can potentially house both primary production AND disaster recovery. Two different locations in the Cloud, nothing in your building.
  • Utilities: Electricity, phone, wireless connectivity, every square foot has associated costs, and much of it can be Cloud based. No more need for the long term contracts and responsibilities a company’s physical space carries. Your utilities don’t have to change when your address does.

The goal of the Cloud is to provide efficiencies to the businesses, both from a cost and support prospective. So why wouldn’t you want:

  • Quicker turns on IT projects
  • Stability across the application base
  • More efficient use of skilled resources
  • Mobility

Shifting applications and functions only makes sense. Consider Microsoft Office 365 as a starting point. Even if you only use Outlook and not the other applications included – SharePoint, CRM, SkyDrive — consider what you WON’T have to worry about:

  • Licensing
  • Version control
  • Hardware life cycles
  • Facility space and costs

And look at the benefits:

  • Ease of access regardless of location
  • Plays right into  Disaster Recovery and Business Continuity plans
  • Latest and greatest versioning / functionality

The bottom line is that the Cloud does provide significant benefits to any business.  It’s time to take a hard look at how your IT footprint can contribute to your company’s success.

Cloud 101: Understand the Plan

cloud plan

Cloud questions

Moving to the Cloud is a good move in most cases HOWEVER – It’s not as easy as most service providers want you to believe. If the analysis isn’t done properly up front it can lead to poor performance, interruptions in business, and, what I am currently seeing, costs getting out of control quickly.

CIO’s and CFO’s are rightly asking:

Why are our IT Budgets significantly higher?

Wasn’t the Cloud supposed to save us money?

The Reality – The Cloud is not for everything and everybody!

You need 2 things from your service provider:

  1. First and most important – Due diligence
    Your service provider should understand your business and make that the priority 1. For example: Recently I have seen two companies, one an engineering firm and the other in the Insurance industry, that have very dynamic IT needs. These needs were clearly not understood and documented in the detail that was needed to ensure a successful cloud endeavor. Both company’s need to spin up and down environments for pre-determined times. So who’s managing this?
  2. Which leads to my second point – Education
    During the discovery phase, service providers need to make sure that whoever manages the cloud provider/vendor is made aware of the pricing model and supported content to manage the environment properly, what to expect and what controls need to be implemented to ensure environments are managed correctly.

The bottom line is: Many providers are on the bandwagon to sell Cloud. A lot of them don’t have preferred hosting partners and focus only on the transitional services. So clients must understand:

  • whether discovery or due diligence services are provided
  • whether that report includes recommendations regarding which applications should move to the Cloud and which should stay on premise
  • what hosting partner or Cloud service is recommended
  • estimated ROI

Cloud strategy is critical to Cloud success, even if clients have to enter these unchartered waters on their own.

The Cloud Has No Clothes!

Emperor's New ClothesEverybody remembers the classic fairy tale where an emperor and his people are conned in to believing he was attired in a fantastically beautiful set of clothes, when in fact he was in the buff.  No one was willing to admit they did not have the refined taste and intelligence to see the spectacular cloth and splendid robes. It took the strength of innocence in a child to point out the truth. I am about as far from an innocent child as one can get, but it appears to me the cloud is parading about naked.

Every vendor has a cloud offering, every pundit “agrees” the cloud is the future, investors value every cloud company with a premium, every data center operator is “born again” as a cloud player. Every CIO has a cloud initiative and budget line. Really, I have seen this movie plot before, and it does not end well, especially for the Emperor (and the con-men vendors too).

We have worked internally on projects as well as externally with clients to implement aspects of the “cloud”. Results have been mixed and in the process gathered some hard won experience which I will condense here (while protecting both the clothed and the naked).

First, Software as a Service (SaaS) will work if adopted with minimal software modification and maximum adoption of it’s native business process. It is very cost effective if it precludes investment in internal IT infrastructure and personnel, not bad if it slows the growth of same. Outsourcing well-defined rote functions to the SaaS route works well (such as Email).  Adopting SaaS for new non-strategic functions tends to be successful where there are few users and a high degree of specialization. Data backup into the cloud is an excellent example regarding highly specialized solutions that take advantage of economies of scale provided in hardware.

SaaS fails in terms of cost or functionality when it is subject to customization and extension. Service costs tend to swamp the effort from initial modification through long-term maintenance (humans=$$$$). Costs will especially spiral when you combine many users and many customizations.  Remember the “Keep It Simple, Stupid” (KISS) principle saves money and points to success.

Buying virtual machines in the cloud works well if the configuration is simple; few software products, few users, straightforward integration. Development and early deployment is particularly attractive, as is usage by start-up companies and software proofs, tests, and trials. Again, the KISS principle reigns supreme. Remember hardware continues to drop in price and increase in capacity.  Package software costs are stable. Understand the billing algorithms of the key “clouds”. Each has its cost advantages and drawbacks, and they change rapidly under increasing competition and hype. Always benchmark medium to long-term cloud virtual machines against native hardware virtual machine implementations, the results may surprise you (I have been surprised over and over).

The Emperor’s story is an old one and so is the cloud concept in principle; remember its first turn on the karmic wheel of optimizing the highest cost component was time-sharing. This strategy optimized the high cost of proprietary hardware/software (remember IBM and the Seven Dwarfs, but I digress into another fairy tale). As minicomputers (Digital, Data General, Wang) dropped the price of hardware through competition with IBM, software packages became the gating factor. Workstations continued the trend by another factor of 10 reduction in cost of hardware and package software (human service costs are rising).  Wintel and the Internet have driven the marginal cost of raw computing to almost zero compared to the service component. As hardware has followed Moore’s law and software package economies of scale moved to millions of copies, the human costs have skyrocketed in both relational and absolute terms.

If we can keep history as our lens and focus on our cost pressure points, we can maintain our child-like innocence and see others prancing naked while we keep our kilts and heads about us.

Cloud 2012 Redux

Ready for Cloud-01

You shouldn’t have to commit everything at once

This year will be remembered as the year the cloud moved beyond the realm of “Back to Time-Sharing” or a curio for greenfields and start-ups.  While Software as a Service (SaaS) is interesting, it can not be a center piece of your IT infrastructure or strategy due to its limited scope and cost/scalability metrics.  By the same token, every IT system is not a greenfield opportunity, and most require a steady evolutionary response incorporating the existing infrastructure’s DNA and standards.

Just illustrating a “private cloud” with a “public cloud” next to it does not cut it.  What does that really mean?  Ever wonder what is really in that cloud(s)?  Better yet, in safe understandable steps, explain it; cost benefit 3-5-7 year projections, organizational impact for IT and business process, procedural impact for disaster recovery, etc.  Sorry, “Just buy my product because it is what I have to sell!” does not work; I need a tested time-phased architectural plan, with contingencies, before I commit my company and job.

For the first time in the continuing cloud saga, we have been able to put together and test a “non-aligned” approach, which allows an organization to keep IT infrastructural best practice and not “sign-in-blood” to any individual vendor’s ecosystem.  With the proper design, virtual machines (VMs), can be run on multiple vendors’ platforms (Microsoft®, Amazon.com®, etc.) and on-premise, optimized to cost, performance, and security. This effectively puts control of cost and performance in the hands of the CIO and the consuming company.

In addition, credible capabilities exist in the cloud to handle disaster recovery and business continuity, regardless of whether the supporting VMs are provisioned on premise or in the cloud. Certain discreet capabilities, like email and Microsoft Office™ Automation, can be “outsourced” to the cloud and integration to consuming application systems can be maintained in the same manner many organizations have historically outsourced functions like payroll.

The greatest benefit of cloud 2012 is the ability to phase it in over time as existing servers are fully amortised and software licences roll-off and require renewal.  Now we can start to put our plans together and start to take advantage of the coming margin-cutting wars of the Cloud Titans in 2013 and beyond.

Are you Paralyzed by a Hoard of Big Data?

Lured by the promise of big data benefits, many organizations are leveraging cheap storage to hoard vast amounts of structured and unstructured data. Without a clear framework for big data governance and use, businesses run the risk of becoming paralyzed under an unorganized jumble of data, much of which has become stale and past its expiration date. Stale data is toxic to your business – it could lead you into taking the wrong action based on data that is no longer relevant.

You know there’s valuable stuff in there, but the thought of wading through all THAT to find it stops you dead in your tracks.  There goes your goal of business process improvement, which according to a recent Informatica survey, most businesses cite as their number one Big Data Initiative goal.

Just as the individual hoarder often requires a professional organizer to help them pare the hoard and institute acquisition and retention rules for preventing hoard-induced paralysis in the future, organizations should seek outside help when they find themselves unable to turn their data hoard into actionable information.

An effective big data strategy needs to include the following components:

  1. An appropriate toolset for analyzing big data and making it actionable by the right people. Avoid building an ivory tower big data bureaucracy, and remember, insight has to turn into action.
  2. A clear and flexible framework, such as social master data management, for integrating big data with enterprise applications, one that can quickly leverage new sources of information about your customers and your market.
  3. Information lifecycle management rules and practices, so that insight and action will be taken based on relevant, as opposed to stale  information.
  4. Consideration of how the enterprise application portfolio might need to be refined to maximize the availability and relevance of big data. In today’s world, that will involve grappling with the flow of information between cloud and internally hosted applications as well.
  5. Comprehensive data security framework that defines who is entitled to use the data, change the data and delete the data, as well as encryption requirements as well as any required upgrades in network security.

Get the picture? Your big data strategy isn’t just a data strategy. It has to be a comprehensive technology-process-people strategy.

All of these elements, should of course, be considered when building your big data business case, and estimating return on investment.