I was chatting with a CIO the other day about his goals and vision for the organization. Highlights: supporting 2x revenue growth over the next several years. Delivering a differentiated customer experience. Mobile apps. Empowering his teams in the field.

Pretty good list, right?

We went on to discuss how cloud services could help his company achieve all of the above. But there was another pressing project on his mind: retiring his on-premises data center, in favor of the public cloud. Why was this “data center transformation” project a high priority for him?

  • Risk due to location. Office buildings, no matter how secure, can’t compare to the facilities offered by most data center providers. Environmental factors come in to play as well – the threat of natural disasters and even shoddy HVAC systems keep execs up at night.
  • Inordinate amounts of human time and effort. Administering servers, running procurement, fiddling with cabling, monitoring power and cooling - it's time consuming. And there’s just no upside to it. Best case? Your team keeps things running on par with what an outsourced provider can deliver…only without the price drops and new features. Think of all the other things these folks could be doing instead!
  • On-prem data centers require capital. Buying and amortizing equipment is a drag on the balance sheet.

But most importantly, he saw the data center as a barrier that needed to be removed before moving on to the initiatives he really wanted to do.

Data center transformations are a common priority. But it’s not discussed in the press nearly as often as cloud-native apps. To help fill the gap, here are a few ideas to help you figure out how to select a good infrastructure partner once you’ve decided to get out of the data center business.

Be OSSM (pronounced: “awesome”)

This simple acronym separates the cloud contenders from the pretenders (hat tip: Dave Nielsen) . The target cloud for your apps needs to be:

  • On-Demand – get resources in minutes
  • Self-Service – don’t talk to a human to get resources
  • Scalable – elastic, scale up & down as needed
  • Metered – incremental billing, hourly or by the minute

Go beyond basic virtualization with OSSM capabilities, and your deployment will deliver the control and agility.

Think 'Public' as the Flagship Cloud Service

There’s a tendency to think “on-prem VMs should go to private cloud.” Private today, private tomorrow, right? This should rarely be the case. Consider private only when working with extreme regulatory constraints, sensitive data, or application architectures that don’t work well in a multi-tenant environment. Otherwise, public cloud offers far more advantages: like elasticity, pay as you go flexibility, new features, frequent price drops, and greater automation.

Hypervisor Compatibility Can Help

While it shouldn’t be the main criteria, there are some advantages to using a cloud based on the current hypervisor you have in place today. Migrating apps is easier, thanks to an ecosystem of tools. And there are some fundamental platform attributes that will look-and-feel consistent to administrators in the new environment.

Location, Location, Location

Nothing beats on-premises for proximity. Public cloud, by definition, is an off-prem resource pool. Does this matter? Not really. But a cloud site near users – especially when coupled with colocation and other deployments - will deliver better performance in some cases. Make sure to weigh this, though, with geographic redundancy for disaster recovery scenarios. The best choice might be a primary location near users with a secondary site that’s several hundred miles away. This ease of multi-site deployments is another benefit of public cloud.

Make Cloud an Extension of Your Enterprise…

IT values the control, visibility, and transparency offered by on-prem systems. In contrast, the world of cloud can seem a lot like the Wild West. But it doesn’t have to be lawless! Administrators and end-users can co-exist like never before if your transformation project includes support for:

  • Integration with existing identity management. Don’t give users another set of credentials to manage; integrate your cloud with Active Directory or similar service that supports SAML. This “funnels” employee access through an approved channel. Users like it because there’s no extra password to remember, while you retain the control and oversight you are accustomed to.
  • Roles & permissions. Each employee should have a certain level of access to resources, and cloud doesn’t change that. Make sure your cloud can support role-based access controls (RBAC) that supports common usage patterns in your organization.
  • Governance. You wouldn’t let an entry-level employee buy thousands of dollars in physical gear – your procurement system would prohibit it. Cloud systems can be governed in similar ways. Compute and storage resources can be “capped” so they don’t exceed a given level, ensuring employees don’t go over a certain allocation.
  • Intuitive billing. Pricing in cloud can be a mystery. Low hourly prices make it an easy decision to “swipe and go” on the corporate AmEx. But costs can quickly spiral out of control if they are not prominent in the cloud management tool. Make sure to offer users real-time and projected monthly cost totals.
  • Data sovereignty. The most popular public clouds have global reach. But many businesses are required to keep data within certain boundaries, in-country, in-region, and so on.
  • Custom branding. Encourage adoption with a management portal that looks and feels like your “official” enterprise cloud. Custom branding color schemes, logos, and a unique login URL can all reduce risk from shadow IT deployments that might occur during the move away from on-premises.

…But Don’t Sacrifice Self-Service

The market is flooded with “enterprise clouds” that are heavy on the “command & control” angle. Many of these options are immediately rejected by developers because they lack the OSSM characteristics noted above. You can have control and agility in one, but make sure to vet each provider in this area carefully.

Augment with Colocation & Other Infrastructure as Needed

Data centers tend to accumulate all kinds of apps over the years. Many of these aren’t virtualized, or can’t be virtualized at all. Other apps are monolithic, and can’t be easily broken apart in a cloud-friendly way. Licensing issues may prohibit other apps from running in a multi-tenant environment as well. To fully transition away from your current data center, you may need other products, like colocation or hosting to accommodate these deployments. There are many networking options to securely integrate these investments with the public cloud.

Attack this Final Act of “Undifferentiated Heavy Lifting”

Data center transformations are a thankless task. You don’t get a shiny new app at the end. No Hadoop implementation to offer new insights. Yet everyone breathes a deep sigh of relief when systems are safely hosted in a world-class facility. And this should indeed be a joyous occasion. Why?

Once you’ve shed the burden of on-prem deployments, it's far easier to realize a sustained competitive advantage from IT.

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Need to understand what it really costs to manage your own data center? Use this online tool to evaluate your total cost of ownership.