Some tell you that virtualizing an environment gives you a cloud. I fully disagree with that statement. Yes, virtualization is one of the technologies you usually find in cloud environments, but on its own, it does not provide you a cloud. Let’s go back to the definition of cloud to highlight why. The NiST definition reads: "cloud computing is a model for enabling convenient on-demand network access to a shared pool of configurable computing resources that can be rapidly provisioned or released with minimal effort or service provider interaction." As far as I know, that's not what virtualization does, right?
Although my colleague Michael Procopio wrote a blog entry pointing out that virtualization is not needed for cloud, I would argue the technology adds value. Indeed, it removes the dependency between hardware and applications, allowing the upload in memory of pre-defined images. This speeds up the provisioning of services, which is particularly interesting in environments lacking the full standardization of the infrastructure. But you should not just rely on virtualization because a number of applications, databases and middleware are not supported in the popular virtual environments.
Today VMWare is the dominant virtualization software, but others are increasing their market share quickly. As most public cloud services do not run on VMWare, and as the integration of public cloud and private cloud environments increases in popularity, it is critical to keep an open mind as to which virtualization software to use. For that reason, do not choose a cloud software stack that only supports one virtualization technique. You might end-up in a straight jacket.
Virtualization may be a good first step
IT departments wanting to embark on a route to cloud may start by virtualizing some applications. In doing so they should ask themselves what value they gain from virtualization and from putting the application in the cloud. If that question cannot be answered positively, it's probably not worth the effort. But virtualization will only get you so far. To really take full advantage of cloud, it should be complemented with automation, standardization and self-provisioning. This however implies the application can be presented as a set of services that can be called upon by the user. That's often not the case requiring the transformation of the application. I'll write a separate blog entry on that one.
IT departments often start by trying out cloud. They typically set up a cloud-based development and testing environment to speed-up the development of new applications and services, while understanding what cloud will mean for them and their users.
As cloud is all about delivering services to users, it's important, in parallel with understanding how cloud will affect IT operations to also set up service governance between business and IT. This body should define what services need to be developed and managed in their lifecycle.
Cloud must include automation, standardization and self-provisioning
When everything is in place to move some of the IT environment to cloud, a service portal with appropriate service catalog (should we call it an app store?) is installed and the automatic provisioning of the services is taken in operations. At a later stage, external services might also be provisioned through the portal. At HP, we call that aggregation.
I started this discussion by pointing out the importance of reviewing whether cloud adds something to existing applications and that is most often how people start. It however does not need to be that way. Cloud should not just be looked at as a new mean to deliver existing functionality. It allows the provisioning of brand new services not thought of previously. In that sense cloud can be an effective innovation mechanism. I’m a strong believer that cloud can effectively be used to create new product/service combinations, to establish new business models and develop new customer experiences. This aspect is often forgotten by IT departments when they implement cloud. They mainly look at the existing environment and how it should be changed.
So, are you ready to move some of your activity to cloud? Take a deep breath to start. If you do not provide the required functionality to the business users, they will get it from somewhere else, and that can be dangerous from a security and compliance point of view. I call it "shadow IT."