This is a question that I hear almost daily from potential customers. But the question is really an indication that the person asking the question doesn’t understand the paradigm shift that is occurring in IT today. By that I mean that cloud is just another way of delivering a service that meets a set of business requirements. It is one of the many options that IT needs to evaluate based on the requirements of the business or organizational unit, the promised SLA’s of the service, and the costs of that service.
This is how it is supposed to work:
A business or organizational unit desires a service. After meeting with the business unit managers, IT agrees to a set of requirements for the service. IT then goes back and evaluates how to best deliver that service and where cloud (or rather one of the many types of cloud) is an option to be considered.
Let me give you an example. At GTSI, we use salesforce.com for our CRM system and it’s a great system; one of the best that I have seen out there. But assume for a second that we had nothing. The sales management team decides that we need something to keep track of our customers and their related information, leads, quotes, and orders. If we could be a fly on the wall for the meeting between IT and sales management, I believe the conversation would go something like this:
IT: “Are there any other requirements?”
Sales: “Well sure. We would like some reporting capability so we can track how well an individual sales rep is doing, how many times they are meeting with their customer, etc. Oh, and we would like the sales reps to be able to input data from wherever they happen to be at the moment, be that at a desk at corporate headquarters, at their home, or even at a coffee shop down the street.”
IT: “OK. What else?”
Sales: “How about a nice way to tie all of our quotes to a given customer record? And maybe even a way to send emails featuring this month’s specials to our customers?”
IT: “Great. We think we have a few ways to accomplish what you are looking for. We’ll go back and figure out something.”
Now IT huddles. One idea is a simple spreadsheet which would meet most of the requirements but not all, and some not even very well. Someone in IT proposes ACT or some other contact management tool that runs on a laptop. It meets pretty much all of the requirements, and it’s inexpensively priced. They also consider hosting an open source CRM tool, like say Sugar CRM, in our datacenter. They figure the costs and look at the SLA’s that they believe they can meet. They look at the requirements and judge how well this solution works. They also evaluate the same open source solution hosted in a public IaaS cloud. It meets the requirements and the SLA’s of the cloud vendor are good, but IT would then have something additional to patch and update, etc. Finally they look at SaaS cloud and determine among the many vendors that salesforce.com best meets the requirements, meets or exceeds the required SLA’s, and is priced attractively. Which one do they choose? That is really immaterial to our example.
The point here is that cloud is just one of the many ways to deliver a service to the business or organization. And it should be evaluated along with all of the other options to see which best meets the needs of the business unit. But it is done so at the service level, not the organization level. So we should stop asking the question, “Which cloud is right for me?” and instead start asking the question, “What is the best way for me to deliver this service to my organization?” In cloud there is no “one right answer”.