What CIOs want from the cloud

28 Dec 2009

Cloud computing is not just about freeing up enterprise data management, it is also breathing new life into the role of the CIO.

Cloud computing is not just a way of moving some or all of your data management and services onto the internet, it also brings about a paradigm shift in how the CIO is viewed within any business organisation – more as a manager of strategic assets than ever before – says Gerry Murray, public-sector territory manager, EMC Ireland.

To understand the shifting role of the CIO when cloud computing is undertaken by any organisation, we must understand the different definitions of cloud computing and the varying levels of data control instilled in the CIO and the organisation as a whole.

“You don’t move to cloud computing without having gone through a few steps, and virtualisation would be one of those steps,” explains Murray.

“If you look at maturity models from organisations like Gartner they are all quite similar: it runs from basic IT infrastructure, where IT is really a cost, right through to a dynamic, fully automated infrastructure where IT is seen as a strategic business asset.”

For most organisations, while they may have ‘pockets’ further up the maturity model most would accept that across the board they are down towards the more standardised, basic IT infrastructure, according to Murray.

“It is not suddenly about adopting cloud computing today or tomorrow, it is about seeing where this is going and adopting a policy gradually. It is important for any CIO to have a cloud strategy and one that encompasses virtualisation and green IT because they are interlinked.”

However, there are different definitions of ‘the cloud’ depending on the offering and the needs of an individual company.

“When EMC talks about the cloud we talk about the private cloud, but there are, of course, public cloud offerings such as Google and Amazon’s cloud services. A number of these are appropriate for certain functions within the business but not for others because of various issues, including security, sensitivity, and the need to have definitive service-level agreements and response times.

“Our vision is of a private cloud that is effectively a mix between what you have internally but with all the benefits of cloud. You still have it on a dynamic virtualised infrastructure that is automated and managed, but, where appropriate, you take external functional-ity from the cloud,” says Murray.

It will get to the point where this can be dynamic as regards how you are moving around your processing and information. So, if you take the information infrastructure, EMC offers a solution where you have production data – Tier 1 or 0 data that is internal – and as things go out of date and are no longer needed to the same extent or perhaps do not require the same level of resilience, security or performance, you can move this away from Tier 1 or 0 to an external offlink.

“Security is imperative throughout all of this. If a cloud service is free but not secure, the cost benefit is of no consequence. From EMC’s point of view if it’s not secure it’s not going to happen,” adds Murray.

“Until you can demonstrate that cloud computing will give all the benefits of internal systems, including security, but with the freedom of the cloud, most enterprise customers won’t go there.

“Aside from this, the benefits of the cloud are that it is dynamic, it is on tap, it is pay-as-you-use, and you can turn it on and off as you need. All of these benefits are realisable within internal data centres as well so it’s about getting that mix and match of what you need.”

EMC’s vision of the cloud, explains Murray, is about demonstrating that you can have it all and move towards a good mix of internal and external data management.

Moving on up into the cloud and finding the right mix for your organisation, therefore, becomes a strategic management decision and the IT department evolves from simply handling technology to looking at service management.

The industry-accepted maturity model generally means that for CIOs the closer you are to the bottom of the scale, the less agile and less aligned to business you are. The CIO will be seen less as a strategic asset and more as a cost centre.

“CIOs running IT departments within those levels are more likely to be outsourced, so this is one aspect that I think people can sometimes miss about cloud computing – it is not just about technology, you are actually changing how your organisation operates.

“The role of the CIO becomes less hands-on as the IT department becomes more automated. You are simplifying, reducing and putting more servers and services on a less physical infrastructure, so you have to be cleverer about how you manage those.”

This gives the CIO a greater opportunity to be more dynamic but it means you have to have more intelligence around your environment to monitor and respond to it, thus changing the CIO’s day-to-day role.

“One Dublin-based CIO that I was talking to recently said that he absolutely accepts the evolution towards the cloud but this means he will have more service managers going forward than technical architects,” explains Murray.

“The CIO becomes the manager of the strategic asset to business that IT should be, rather than a manager of the infrastructure.”