Both sides now
Organizations know that cloud computing can increase flexibility and lower costs. But major benefits can be realized on the project level, too.
BY KELLEY HUNSBERGER | PHOTOS BY YORAY LIBERMAN
Avner Algom, Israeli Association of Grid Technologies (IGT), Hertzelia, Israel
CLOUD COMPUTING is being hailed as an enterprise money-saver that offers users flexibility and a competitive advantage.
“Cloud computing is rapid. What used to take months now takes minutes,” says John Pritchard, cloud computing enterprise architect with technology giant IBM in Boulder, Colorado, USA.
Less time, money and labor is spent on administering, troubleshooting and updating technologies in the cloud environment, he adds.
For project managers, cloud computing offers a whole new level of collaboration and information access. But is the technology really ready for mass consumption?
PROJECTS IN A CLOUDY ENVIRONMENT
Organizations around the world have already jumped on the cloud bandwagon. Seventy-five percent of global chief information officers (CIOs) and chief technology officers (CTOs) currently use enterprise-grade cloud computing solutions for improved IT services or plan to do so over the next five years, according to a December 2010 report by IT solutions provider Savvis. Sixty-nine percent of the survey's respondents say cloud computing will help them reach their goal of increased flexibility, and more than half say the technology offers a competitive advantage as well as a vehicle for innovation.
Before project professionals take to the cloud though, “all of us need to ask, ‘How does the new reality of cloud computing affect me?,’” says Avner Algom, CEO of Israeli Association of Grid Technologies (IGT), a not-for-profit organization in Hertzelia, Israel focused on knowledge sharing and networking for developing cloud computing and SaaS (software as a service), virtualization and smart-grid solutions.
The teams most likely to see the biggest change in their day-to-day activities are those in the IT realm. For example, CIOs and their staffs will be able to hone in on the business or mission-critical needs without having to focus on infrastructure and IT operations all of the time, says Chris Knepper, PMP, leader of the cloud computing consulting practice for federal and public sector projects and partner with the Federal Consulting Practice at CSC, a business IT solutions company in Washington, D.C., USA.
A VISION OF THE FUTURE
When it comes to cloud computing, “what we have seen is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Chris Knepper, CSC, Washington, D.C., USA. “At present, much of the focus in cloud computing has been in the areas of software as a service (SaaS), as well as virtualization.”
So what lies ahead?
“The next big step is to see organizations build their own capabilities and applications on platform as a service (PaaS), enabling organizations to host applications on cloud computing infrastructure,” Mr. Knepper says. Cloud computing will continue to lead to greener initiatives through optimizing data center utilization, he adds.
Technology experts and stakeholders say they will “live mostly in the cloud” and not on a computer desktop by 2020, working through mostly web-based applications accessed by network devices, according to a Pew Research Center study, The Future of Cloud Computing.
The 895 IT stakeholders surveyed also responded that cloud computing will continue to expand and eventually dominate information transactions “because it offers many advantages, allowing users to have easy, instant and individualized access to tools and information they need wherever they are, locatable from any networked device.”
Avner Algom, Israeli Association of Grid Technologies (IGT), Hertzelia, Israel
“It will be a dramatic change for IT staff,” says Wayne Newitts, marketing director for Dexter + Chaney, a construction management software company based in Seattle, Washington, USA. “IT will become what many of us would like IT to become.”
Instead of installing, upgrading and maintaining multiple licenses for a particular piece of software or upgrading hardware, IT project team members will have time to make sure their colleagues understand the software, to implement best practices, to deal with security and to train, Mr. Newitts says. That will free up their schedules to lend their expertise to projects, presentations and client issues. “It's a shift in concerns,” he says.
For project managers and their teams across the board, collaboration and access are two of the biggest boons cloud computing offers.
The cloud is more secure than most internal data centers. Cloud providers invest much more on security, and it is much more difficult to allocate data in the virtualized cloud.
For instance, take a project manager who needs to be on the project site while the rest of his or her team remains at an office. Cloud computing will allow everyone to access information and applications with just an Internet connection and a browser.
“You don't need any third-party customized software,” Mr. Newitts says. Project managers won't need to be set up with a remote desktop or create customized groups to work with team members, he adds.
Document management will also be simplified.
At CSC, Mr. Knepper's project team uses cloud computing for collaboration tools, as well as revision control and version management. When someone makes a change to a document, the entire team sees it. “You can imagine the major savings this offers teams,” he says. “This approach eliminates the need to exchange documents via e-mail.”
IT'S CHEAPER IN THE CLOUD
The biggest benefit of cloud computing remains cost savings, according to Mr. Knepper. It allows for flexibility with the project budget.
“Most organizations plan out what their technology needs will be ahead of time—that's a capital expense,” Mr. Pritchard says. “Cloud computing is more of an operating expense, a pay-per-use model.”
Other advantages include the ability to test out new features rapidly and deploy new capabilities without having to do a major ramp-up, Mr. Knepper says.
Using cloud solutions frees up project managers to focus on the business logic, the information exchange between a database and a user interface.
“The cloud allows project leaders to remove dependency on infrastructure and scalability, providing a unique opportunity for short-lived pilot projects to get instant capacity,” Mr. Algom says. “A project could be deployed to the cloud and scratched as often as needed without too much burden on the project budget.”
Cloud computing also gives project teams the ability to rapidly stand up a prototype of a system, for instance, and get feedback from users. “You can pilot new systems or capabilities using cloud computing, get feedback very quickly and ensure a prototype addresses all of the requirements very early in the project cycle,” Mr. Knepper says.
THE UNITED STATES’ CLOUDY FORECAST
The clouds are rolling into Washington D.C., USA, with federal agencies embracing U.S. CIO Vivek Kundra's push to adopt “light” technology and shared solutions.
NASA, the U.S. National Aeronautics and Space Administration, plans to make its private cloud, Nebula, available to other federal agencies, and the U.S. Department of the Treasury announced a plan to migrate four existing websites to Amazon's cloud computing infrastructure.
Even the security-fixated Department of Defense (DoD) is looking into virtualization.
“We believe that initiatives such as the federal CIO's plan to reform federal IT are accelerating the DoD toward cloud computing and shared enterprise service,” Dave Mihelcic, CTO of the Defense Information Systems Agency, told Defense Systems.
And it will happen despite concerns about sensitive data migrating to an off-site server.
“It's an illusion to think data is less safe because there aren't two Army guys sitting there with it. We have to prove successes so that people saying, ‘You can't do this,’ can understand and get on board and no longer be barriers,” Mr. Mihelcic told the magazine. “Success breeds success.”
The U.S. Army Program Executive Office for Enterprise Information Systems is preparing to issue solicitations for a private cloud program designed to facilitate noncommercial enterprise application hosting.
The U.S. Army is also in the second year of a two-year pilot project to use a customized version of a cloud-based customer relationship management tool to manage recruiting efforts. The solution integrates directly with e-mail and Facebook, allowing recruiters to connect with participants after they leave the recruitment office.
“Using the cloud-based solution, the Army was able to have fewer recruiters handle the same workload as the five traditional recruiting centers the Army Experience Center replaced,” Mr. Kundra wrote in a May 2010 report on the state of cloud computing. “The cloud application has resulted in faster application upgrades, dramatically reduced hardware and IT staff costs, and significantly increased staff productivity.” —Sarah Fister Gale
These advantages may help innovative projects that never had a chance to get off the ground.
“Often it takes millions of dollars of investments and many months of deployment of the necessary IT infrastructure to get innovative projects started—making many ideas born dead,” says Khazret Sapenov, CTO of Cloudcor Inc., Toronto, Ontario, Canada. “Cloud computing provides very affordable capacity on demand that allows innovators to create next-generation products and services in days—considerably reducing a product's time to market and leaving competitors behind.”
REACHING FOR THE SKIES
Cloud computing, like every IT decision, needs to be part of the business decision-making process, Mr. Sapenov adds.
Treat the selection of a cloud computing solution as you would any project. Start by defining the requirements for what you need in a cloud platform.
Next, do your research. That means looking into the product, provider and transition process of any cloud computing platform you are considering:
- Is the company stable?
- Has it experienced many data outages?
- Can the transition occur during your set timetable?
“Compare the cost and performance parameters between the cloud providers, including the geographic location of the cloud, and the service level agreement and any legal issues concerning the service level they require,” Mr. Algom says.
When it went about analyzing its own cloud adoption, IBM spent months analyzing how everything would be affected, from its corporate intranet to employee e-mail.
In that process, the company learned that certain systems have an affinity for the cloud and some don't: “For example, we had large, highly transactional systems that were custom-built before virtualization was even invented,” Mr. Pritchard says. Those systems don't benefit from the economy of scale that clouds bring to the table.
HOW SAFE IS IT UP THERE?
The security of cloud computing keeps many project managers up at night—and that makes securing executive buy-in all the more challenging. Just 21 percent of respondents in the Savvis report think current cloud computing solutions incorporate security features to “a great extent.”
“Security is still an issue due to multiple factors, ranging from governance and compliance requirements to trivial fears that are getting solved little by little,” Mr. Sapenov says.
Trust, more than technology, however, may be the biggest security issue of all when it comes to accepting the cloud, Mr. Pritchard says. A project manager's company might not want its teams sharing the same virtual space with its competitors.
But Mr. Algom believes many of these fears are overblown. “The cloud is more secure than most internal data centers,” he says. “Cloud providers invest much more on security, and it is much more difficult to allocate data in the virtualized cloud.”
Cloud computing vendors are also continuing to move forward with their investments in security by complying with a number of different standards and certifications.
The portion of global CIOs and top IT managers who currently use enterprise-grade cloud computing solutions or plan to do so over the next five years
of respondents say that cloud computing solutions can help increase flexibility
say it's extremely or very challenging to find the “right” cloud computing solution for their companies
believe cloud computing solutions incorporate security features “to a great extent”
Source: Enterprise-Grade Cloud Computing Adoption: Trends and Purchase Requirements Report, Savvis, December 2010.
THE PROS AND CONS OF CLOUDS
In his blog post “Online Software to Replace Inhouse? Get Your Head out of the Cloud!”, Nick Matteucci writes, “The first problem is who do you call for SaaS (software as a service) support when you have multiple service providers in the mix? Will the vendor have any pull with the cloud computing company? Probably not. Furthermore, there is little flexibility in fine-tuning a cloud. Many SaaS applications require diligent memory pool management, customized cache requirements, application business rules and load balancing.”
Join this and other discussions in the PMI Information Systems Community of Practice at is.vc.PMI.org.
A major concern for project teams working in the cloud is data outages. Even the biggest providers have had to deal with them. Google Mail, for example, which operates in the cloud, faced a high-profile outage last November.
Such glitches can occur as the technology matures and shouldn't scare project managers from taking advantage of what cloud computing has to offer, Mr. Pritchard says.
Global CIOs rate cloud computing as their number-one tech priority this year.
The amount of global CIOs who currently have the majority of their IT running in the cloud or on SaaS (software as a service) technologies
Source: Reimagining IT: The 2011 CIO Agenda, Gartner
THE “FAKE” CLOUD
According to the Savvis report, 60 percent of CIOs and CTOs say it's extremely or very challenging to find the solution that's best for their project teams.
“We are in about a four-year period of churn where cloud computing will be talked about,” Mr. Newitts says. “Right now, it's more buzzword than reality, although some real cloud solutions do exist and are thriving. Project managers are aware of it. They're starting to really understand the benefits of it—but they're frustrated with it because there aren't a lot of true cloud computing solutions out there.”
At its most basic level, virtualization is the creation of a virtual version of an IT operating system, server, storage device or network resource, where a single framework hosts multiple resources within one physical environment. Increasingly, virtualization comes in the form of virtual desktops or file-sharing sites such as Dropbox and Box.net.
“Virtualization is the fake cloud, or ‘fog,’ if you will,” Mr. Newitts says. “That being said, it's still a great intermediate—but it requires a lot of planning.”
True cloud computing will not be reached, he argues, until the Internet is used as the complete computing platform—with applications ranging from Microsoft Excel and Word to any project management software being accessible on that platform.
“The cloud is about being able to launch a browser and access what you need, when you need it,” Mr. Newitts says.
That won't happen, though, until software companies are ready to shift their business models from selling a product to offering a service.
“The good news is, they know they have to change their business models,” he says. “It's just more efficient for everyone. Moving to the cloud is the biggest no-brainer in the history of technology because of the efficiencies.” PM
PM NETWORK MAY 2011 WWW.PMI.ORG