Planning Your Hybrid Cloud Strategy

Planning a hybrid cloud strategy in a cloud computing environment is a journey, not a simple set of steps. The right planning strategy is imperative to getting your plan operational. You need to look at the technical components, the business strategy, and the organizational plan.

An overall cloud computing strategy is like any other business strategy — it must be planned within the context of your business goals and objectives. So, before you begin your journey to the hybrid cloud, you may want to take the five steps, outlined as stages, described in the following sections.

Stage One: Assess your current IT strategy

Your first step is to assess the current state of your IT strategy and how well it serves the business. IT organizations have typically grown in a relatively unplanned fashion. Although they likely began as well-orchestrated sets of hardware and software, over time they have grown into a collection of various computing silos.

Today, your IT infrastructure might still be a well-planned and well-orchestrated environment, but it more likely resembles a packed, disorganized garage. Does it provide the type of flexibility and manageability that supports new initiatives and business change? Or is it an assortment of different servers, different software products, and a variety of disconnected tools? Most likely your environment is somewhere in between these two extremes.

Your first step is taking an honest assessment — as a joint effort between the business and IT — of your current stage so that you have a good understanding of what works and what doesn’t. You should look at what systems are critical to the operations of the business and which applications no longer support changing business needs. You need to consider the flexibility of your existing infrastructure. What happens when the business requires a change in processes? How does the IT organization support partnership initiatives?

Stage Two: Imagine the future

This is the stage where IT has to really spend time not only understanding how the business looks today but also how it might evolve in the next three to five years. Ask yourself these questions:

  • What does the future of your business look like?

  • Are you part of an industry that is experiencing dramatic shifts in how you collaborate with suppliers, business partners, and customers?

  • Are there technological approaches that your emerging competitors are starting to implement that you will have to embrace?

  • Are there opportunities to offer new business strategies that are driven by emerging technologies?

It may be that your industry is changing, and without new technology approaches you will not be able to sustain a competitive advantage.

This process will also have some unanticipated benefits. It prepares IT to have a deeper understanding of business change and the opportunities that are unfolding. Small and mid-sized companies have extraordinary opportunities to leverage a hybrid cloud environment and some of the new services in the market to gain a level of sophistication that, in the past, were available to only the largest corporations. Also, the largest companies can leverage a hybrid cloud strategy to improve their agility and flexibility to respond to new innovations and new business opportunities.

Stage Three: Explore what’s out there

Armed with the knowledge of the current state of your business and the supporting IT infrastructure and where it is headed, now is the time to learn and experiment with cloud computing options. Although plenty of organizations will be happy to do all the work for you, it’s important that you spend the time understanding the landscape of best practices, as well as different cloud computing options that can help the business.

Spend time with your peers and see what type of cloud strategy they have adopted and the type of dividends it’s paying. Here are some questions to ask:

  • What are the best practices that have worked well for companies in your industry or of your size?

  • What innovations are coming to market from young companies?

  • How can you offer a new approach to business that will allow you to effectively compete with much larger companies in your market?

The wonderful thing about cloud computing capabilities and offerings is that you are free to experiment. Almost every company in the cloud market offers free trials of their technology. Many open source offerings will give you the opportunity to test out for free whether different options will serve your business now or in the long run. This education process is critical so that you know what questions to ask. Even if you turn to a service provider for help, you will be able to make better decisions about how you approach your cloud strategy.

Stage Four: Create a hybrid cloud strategy plan

At this stage, you’re ready to start creating the actual plan. Again, this should be based on a joint effort between the business and IT.

Always start from the knowledge and expertise already in your company. It’s also a good idea to get your most strategic partners involved in the process. Your best partners, suppliers, and customers will help you better understand how they want to collaborate with you in the future. Use all this as the foundation for your hybrid cloud strategy.

At the same time, you need to take into account the security, privacy, and governance policies that your company needs to adhere to. These issues need to become part of how you approach cloud computing in your company. For example, different industries and countries have different regulations that you will have to conform to.

Stage Five: Plan for implementation

It isn't practical to try to do everything at once. Most companies will need a staged implementation of a hybrid cloud strategy in which they deploy parts of the overall plan in phases.

The first phase might be to provide controlled access to a public cloud service for developers prototyping a new application to support an experimental business initiative. Or an initial stage may involve implementing a SaaS (Software as a Service) application, such as customer relationship management, that will help streamline the way the sales and marketing teams operate.

Whatever you do, think of your hybrid cloud strategy as a multi-year effort that will include everything from a set of private cloud services to support emerging internal development and deployment needs to a way to leverage public services in conjunction with your data center.

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