Easier administration, and the lower operating expenses that go along with it, are among the top benefits of replacing locally hosted solutions with cloud-based ones. There’s a big difference, however, between “easier” administration and none at all.
“Sometimes customers go in believing that when they move to a cloud solution, the role of IT in management goes away,” says Mike Schutz, general manager for cloud platform marketing at Microsoft. “The truth is, they’re still responsible for a lot.” Knowing in advance what those responsibilities are and how to tackle them makes cloud management obligations significantly easier.
Different Clouds, Different Duties
IT management duties in the cloud vary based on the kind of service you’re utilizing. Users of infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) solutions, for example, don’t have to worry about hardware maintenance but remain on the hook for pretty much everything else. “You still have to manage the underlying operating system and the applications on top of it,” Schutz says. That can be difficult, he notes, if your IaaS provider doesn’t support the management tools you use to administer on-premises systems.
Administrative tools can also be an issue with platform-as-a-service (PaaS) solutions, which take operating system management off of your hands but still leave you responsible for application support. “If you don’t have the right tools, there’s no way to monitor and manage performance, so you can’t be sure what kind of experience your users are having in the different regions you serve,” Schutz notes.
Software-as-a-service (SaaS) solutions free administrators from both OS and application oversight, but can pose thorny identity management challenges. “Every time someone leaves the organization, they take their access credentials with them,” Schutz says. This puts the burden to find and disable what could be dozens of accounts across all of the SaaS products your company uses squarely on the IT staff’s shoulders.
Rules to Manage By
Businesses can simplify their role in managing whatever cloud services they deploy by following a few basic guidelines:
Pick cloud solutions that support existing tools.
Whenever possible, look for cloud services that you can administer with the same tools you use to manage the rest of your infrastructure. “Otherwise you have to learn and potentially buy new systems, which can be disruptive and expensive,” observes Schutz. Companies familiar with Microsoft’s System Center management suite, for example, can use that product to administer both their in-house and Microsoft-based cloud solutions.
Budget some time for staff training.
Managing cloud solutions isn’t more difficult than managing on-premises solutions – it’s just different. “Implementation plans should include time for learning about those differences,” says Frank Johnson-Suglia, a managing partner at cloud services provider Strategic SaaS LLC. “There’s plenty of information out there,” he says. “You’ve got to dedicate the time and institutionalize the knowledge transfer.”
Asking your cloud partners for tips early in the implementation process can give you a head start on that process. “Figure out from your software vendor what other customers have had challenges with, and make sure you plan ahead for all of those things,” suggests Alex Bakker, research director at Saugatuck Technology Inc., an IT research and advisory firm.
Deploy a good identity and access management (IAM) system.
Solutions such as Microsoft’s Azure Active Directory service give technicians centralized control over SaaS application user accounts so, for example, you can cancel all of an ex-employee’s privileges quickly and easily.
Furthermore, at a time when the challenges of jumping back and forth among multiple SaaS systems is becoming an increasingly common and painful headache for end users, IAM systems empower IT managers to improve user experience and productivity by providing single sign-on access to every SaaS system they run.
Step up from IaaS to PaaS.
On-premises applications usually run fine without modification in an IaaS solution but may require some recoding before you can use them in a PaaS environment. As a result, companies often rely on IaaS initially when migrating existing systems into the cloud. Unfortunately, that decision puts them on point for administering operating systems as well as applications.
“Infrastructure as a service provides an easy on-ramp to the cloud, but it does come with more management overhead,” Schutz notes. Gradually modifying IaaS applications as needed and moving them into a PaaS environment will lighten your administrative load. According to Schutz, selecting a cloud vendor with integrated IaaS and PaaS solutions will make that migration process significantly simpler.
That’s just one more example of why advance planning plays such a critical role in cloud management. “There’s really no excuse for not knowing what you’re getting into ahead of time,” Bakker says. Doing your administrative homework before journeying into the cloud will position you to collect cloud computing’s significant management savings sooner and in larger amounts. It will also enable you to move your precious IT resources up the value chain to more strategic areas of focus, like how to empower an increasingly mobile workforce to access, share, analyze, and act upon the explosion of data that comes with the shift to the cloud.