5 Ways IT Outsourcing Customers Can Test Cloud Computing

Traditional IT outsourcing customers have hesitated to jump into cloud computing because of the security and control risks. But the risk of not trying out cloud computing may be even greater. Here are five low-risk ways IT outsourcing customers can test out the cloud.

By Stephanie Overby
Thu, April 15, 2010

CIO — Aspects of cloud computing have been available to—and rejected by—IT outsourcing customers for years, from hosted applications to on-demand hardware support. But as the breadth of the cloud has expanded to include a growing number of software-, platforms- and infrastructure-as-a-service offerings that can be quickly deployed as needed with low management overhead and little vendor interaction, the temptation to move away from traditional IT services provisioning is mounting.

On the other hand, having your IT services in the cloud involves a host of risks, from data control issues to lack of transparency to the financial stability of new providers. Prospective cloud service customers must take into account a number of unique issues associated with cloud delivery in conjunction with the criticality of the software, data and services they're considering transitioning from a traditional IT services model, says Dan Masur, a partner in the Washington, D.C. office of law firm Mayer Brown.

"Maturing cloud-enabled services present powerful tools for scalability, flexibility, lower cost, or even better security, but 'the cloud' is not a set of magic bullets," says Phil Fersht, founder of outsourcing consultancy Horses for Sources. "There are lots of terrific cloud service innovations being developed right now all over the world. This is great news for IT customers, but the service provider landscape is going to be tougher to navigate for quite some time."

The beauty of cloud computing, however, is that it's not an all-or-nothing proposition for outsourcing customers. "The real debate shouldn't be 'cloud' versus 'not-cloud,'" says Fersht. "Many next-generation solutions will certainly leverage cloud services, but critical decisions facing CIOs are less about delivery methods and more about how technology solutions can deliver disruptive levels of value over the longer term."

Customers of traditional IT services can take the following five low-risk steps to evaluate whether cloud computing services are right for their organizations.

1. Start Playing in the Sandbox. The cloud is perfect for trying out new technologies beyond the core services the IT organization and its existing service providers deliver to the business, says Doug Plotkin, head of U.S. sourcing for PA Consulting Group.

"These can be turned on for a period of time, and tested, then turned off if they do not prove useful," he says.

What's more, using the cloud as a test environment keeps costs down. If it doesn't work, the expense is off the books.

2. Send less-critical services to the cloud. Find some less vital functionality in your organization—storage, email, business continuity—and try it out in the cloud. Traditional IT services customers are toying with a host of new software-as-a-service products in this way, says Fersht. "[They] learn about cloud services by trying them out. This generates some near-term value and builds the foundation for the truly innovative business solutions that should come next."

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