8 questions that will dominate enterprise cloud adoption

SANTA CLARA - Enterprises have spent the past few years considering if they'll embrace cloud computing. For the many that have made the move, their attention has now turned to managing the cloud and getting business value from it, says IDC Chief Cloud Analyst Frank Gens.

As IT transitions from the "if" to the "how" phase, enterprises are wrestling with a slew of fresh questions. On the infrastructure side, will a public or private cloud be used? Which vendors are best to work with -- legacy IT players or emerging cloud companies? Which mobile device operating systems should be used to enable access to cloud software and what platforms should be used to build next-generation cloud applications?

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Those questions were the focus of discussion Wednesday morning at the Cloud Leadership Forum, a three-day event in Santa Clara sponsored by IDC and IDG Enterprise (Network World is an IDGE company).

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Enterprises are undoubtedly moving to the cloud. One data point: 75% of respondents to a survey by CIO Magazine say they plan to significantly increase spending on the cloud in the next year. Half of those respondents say they have a "cloud-first" strategy for applications and infrastructure. Still, major questions remain about how the cloud will be managed to create real value for businesses. Gens and IDGE Chief Content Officer John Gallant ran through the top eight questions that will dominate top-level IT cloud discussions in the next year:

1) What is the right perspective?

A starting point for developing a cloud strategy is determining what your enterprise can and should use the cloud for. "Cloud is most interesting when it's not just about how the CTO can make it happen, but it's about what can make the CEO excited about what it can do for the business," Gens says. The cloud can be an entire service architecture that can change IT staffing, cost structures and business processes, for the better or worse depending on how it's implemented.

The emergence of cloud, Gens says, marks an evolution in IT platforms. The first platform in the early days of enterprise computing was around the mainframe and terminal model. A second platform embraced the Internet and a client-server model, which was dominated by the PC.

"Right now we're in the middle of the forming of a third platform," Gens says, with the cloud at the back end of it. Meanwhile, the front end is moving beyond the PC by enabling mobile devices to be the main access point to the cloud.

2) What's the right pace for cloud adoption?

Many organizations question exactly how aggressively they should adopt the cloud. The key, Gens says, is to put that question in a market context as to where peer companies are in the process. Is your industry an early adopter, is it in the early or late majority, or is it a lagging industry for the cloud? "Folks are pushing hard on cloud, and I believe we're at the front of the early majority in most markets," he says. It's important to make sure your enterprise is working at a pace that's relevant to your industry sector.

3) What's the right model for cloud adoption?

There are fundamental questions that the highest levels of an enterprise executive team must consider if they're moving to the cloud, Gens says. One of the major differentiating factors is to embrace a public or private cloud model, with the difference being who is managing the cloud. In a private cloud the IT user still has control over cloud management, whereas in a public cloud, it is managed by the provider. Gens says an increasingly common structure is a managed private cloud, which is dedicated, single-tenant cloud infrastructure in a public cloud environment. A variety of players offer such services, including Terremark, a Verizon company, and Amazon Web Services and Rackspace. As connections to public clouds continue to improve through VPNs and direct Ethernet links, those managed private clouds become an attractive option that allows for the security of a private cloud while leveraging the economies of scale of a public cloud.

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