Cloud CIO: How IT Can Become a Cloud Service Provider

Operating as a cloud service provider (CSP) requires acting like a business, not a cost center, and marrying infrastructure agility with operational capability. Here, CIO.com's Virtualization and Cloud Advisor Bernard Golden outlines the core competencies CIOs need in their IT departments to function as CSPs.

By Bernard Golden
Fri, May 20, 2011

CIO — One of the aspects of cloud computing I find most fascinating is the fact that much, if not most, of the discussion about it focuses on how it affects infrastructure. Boiled down, most people spend their time thinking about what hypervisor should underpin their cloud, what server form factor should host their cloud, what storage device should persist their virtual machines, and so on.

While there's no question cloud computing represents a big change in infrastructure, that approach overlooks the fact that cloud computing is comprised of an agile infrastructure married to automated operation. If you install the former without implementing the latter, your revolution is only half-completed. The second half of the revolution is about bringing automation to daily operations and ensuring that one's cloud offers on-demand resource access, application scalability and elasticity, and a generalized resource pool available as needed.

Implementing a cloud environment means that resource consumers and resource providers must interact across a service interface—an automated set of services that can be called with no need for human interaction: no phone calls, no request tickets, no meetings.

In other words, one needs to become a cloud service provider (CSP), with all that implies.

Looking at what the public cloud providers offer, and how they operate, is instructive and serves as a model for the CIO as CSP. What are the core competencies that need to be in place to operate as a CSP?

Well, first there are the basics:

Consumer self-service. The first element of the NIST cloud computing definition is that consumers of IT resources must be able to self-service, with no need to interact with another human as part of the resource request. To achieve this, some kind of web interface, typically with a service catalog of pre-packaged resources, is used. This definitely does not mean sending an email off to a help desk requesting that a virtual machine be created on the requester's behalf.

Application abstraction from specific infrastructure. CSPs offer computing capability, not specific hardware resources. To put it another way, the virtual machine provided via self-service may migrate around the cloud infrastructure, with no implied promise that it will reside on specific hardware. In the recent book "Visible Ops, Private Cloud," the authors referred to this virtual machine migration as "lift and shift."

Infrastructure funding separate from applications. Many CIOs "play the game" of getting funding for necessary infrastructure spending by tying it to specific application initiatives. Being a CSP means having a generalized pool of resources that applications use but are not tied to; therefore, funding for the infrastructure must be handled separately from application initiatives. To a certain extent, this is a bookkeeping distinction. However, in organizations in which infrastructure funding is a low-priority and tying it to applications is the only way to make it possible, one can foresee that culture and organization change is necessary. Beyond this, one might observe that the overall level of infrastructure spend is likely to increase significantly. Even though every computing platform shift (e.g., mainframes to minicomputers) has led to predictions that overall IT spend will shrink, lower costs have always in fact led to vastly increased use and growth in overall IT spend. Cloud computing will be no different.

Beyond the basics, what does it mean to take on the mantle of being a CSP? The next set of implications are far more revolutionary and challenging for an IT organization, but getting them wrong will result in a failed initiative and a forced march to an external cloud provider.

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