3 Tips for Using Cloud Services to Extend Your Data Center

How to assess needs and goals, set application strategy and identify challenges to making effective use of cloud computing.

By Jim Buchanan
Mon, February 27, 2012

CIO — Cloud technology is emerging as a viable option for companies that want to cut costs, increase agility or augment their own IT resources without building out new infrastructure — or all of the above. But deciding which type of service is the best fit for your specific needs and ensuring the new cloud offerings play nice with your existing application mix is a challenge, to say the least.

More companies are running head-on into these challenges nonetheless. A study published last year by PricewaterhouseCoopers found that 41 percent of security and IT respondents said their organizations have already implemented cloud computing, most going with SaaS offerings.

To plot your cloud strategy, analysts and other experts say you should start by looking at your own needs, then work outward to see how cloud platforms, products and vendors can help. Pay heed to fundamentals — the why, what, and how of your own situation — by following a 3-step process:

  • Assess your needs and goals

  • Set your application strategy

  • Identify challenges

Then you'll be better prepared to see how well today's industry offerings match up.

Assess Needs and Goals

Why do you want to make a move? Cutting or conserving costs is an obvious starting point.

"Probably the biggest challenge for CIOs is the facilities side of our business, all the switches and servers and routers and storage for the data centers; the thickness of all that within our own facilities, and the cascading costs that go along," says Mike Lucas, CIO for Hogan Lovells law firm. "There are opportunities to do this differently and benefit, especially now that we have greater market penetration by providers and the economies of scale start taking effect."

The Betty Mills Company, an online retailer of office supplies and janitorial products, decided to move to the cloud rather than spend more than $100,000 for a data center upgrade. IT director Vlad Shalit said the fully redundant, 20-plus server configuration was designed to run at about 60 percent capacity, leaving headroom for unexpected spikes, such as when the swine flu epidemic hit.

The company's Linux-based applications were all developed in-house, so the transition, which will require some re-writing of code, will be gradual.

"We're not in a hurry because everything is working well today, and we're well ahead of the curve," says Shalit. "We expect to have some cloud apps operational in the next three to four months, and we'll run those side-by-side with our in-house apps, and move our users over a few at a time."

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