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The Transition to the Cloud

An exclusive Q&A with Eric Hanselman, Chief Analyst at 451 Research

"I'm careful in using terms like Big Data, because it can mean so many things to different people," explained Eric Hanselman, Chief Analyst at 451 Research, in this exclusive Q&A with Cloud Expo Conference Chair Jeremy Geelan. "There is huge value in analytics that companies can use to pull intelligence from a collection of data sources that are available in their businesses. The inexpensive storage that cloud services can offer make a great environment to pull together siloed data."

Cloud Computing Journal: The move to cloud isn't about saving money, it is about saving time - agree or disagree?

Eric Hanselman: Time or money shouldn't be the driving motivations for a jump to any cloud. Cloudy capabilities offer the opportunity to change the way IT services are delivered to an organization. Improving deployment capabilities, making application designs more resilient, and optimizing access to data are far more important goals. Yes, costs and implementation times can be reduced, with clouds, but simply doing the same things with the same processes and procedures misses the largest advantages.

Cloud Computing Journal: How should organizations tackle their regulatory and compliance concerns in the cloud? Who should they be asking/trusting for advice?

Hanselman: The abstractions that cloud deployments offer can strain the GRC tasks of any enterprise that hasn't developed mature controls. In theory, a cloud deployment shouldn't be different from any new platform rollout. Practice, though, can be truly different, as both auditors and cloud providers can offer challenges. The first step that any organization should take is to look internally at how the users of any application expect to use cloud resources. Some uses can be low risk and make for good first steps. Organizations should also talk to their auditors. That will help them to sort out concerns in advance of platform selection and prepare for provider discussions. Cloud deployments can meet GRC requirements when reasonable controls are implemented, but it has to be part of a complete approach. Enterprises can look to organizations such as the Cloud Security Alliance and traditional security associations like ISACA for guidance and perspective.

Cloud Computing Journal: What does the emergence of Open Source clouds mean for the cloud ecosystem? How does the existence of OpenStack, CloudStack, OpenNebula, Eucalyptus and so on affect your own company?

Hanselman: The cloud market space is still in its infancy and options that increase transparency are always welcome. While the growth of the market has been impressive, it's still small when compared with hosted and managed services. Open source options provide an adoption path for those who want the control and visibility they can offer. At our company, we use both open source and proprietary platforms, based on our requirements for application support, performance, and operational needs.

Cloud Computing Journal: With SMBs, the two primary challenges they face moving to the cloud are always stated as being cost and trust: where is the industry on satisfying SMBs on both points simultaneously - further along than in 2011-12, or...?

Hanselman: We're a lot further along than in previous years. That comes from both the maturity of various offerings, as well as better understanding in the SMB community. Keep in mind that a big component of trust is understanding from both sides of the relationship. It's hard for an enterprise to trust what it doesn't comprehend and companies are increasing their level of knowledge on what cloud capabilities can and can't do for them. I'd also point out that an additional challenge for most companies is operational readiness. In the SMB market, that's an area where partners have ramped up capabilities and can be of great value in managing the transition to the cloud. Low risk shifts for functions like disaster recovery and backup can be first steps that most SMB's can take today.

Cloud Computing Journal: 2013 seems to be turning into a breakthrough year for Big Data. How much does the success of cloud computing have to do with that?

Hanselman: I'm careful in using terms like Big Data, because it can mean so many things to different people. There is huge value in analytics that companies can use to pull intelligence from a collection of data sources that are available in their businesses. The inexpensive storage that cloud services can offer make a great environment to pull together siloed data. We've seen great work with tools like Splunk for operational awareness and using SaaS platforms for CRM like SalesForce and Sugar can take organizations to much greater levels of visibility. The key to success in any of these pursuits is understanding a pragmatic set of goals for any analytic project. Just chucking at lot of data into a Hadoop cluster is going to be a waste of time and money.

Cloud Computing Journal: What about the role of social: aside from the acronym itself SMAC (for Social, Mobile, Analytics, Cloud) are you seeing and/or anticipating major traction in this area?

Hanselman: The potential for social media to improve business operations is large. Like any major initiative, to be effective it can't be a knee jerk reaction. Firing up a Twitter feed alone just won't cut it. To be successful, enterprises have to work to understand the whole process of customer and end-user interaction. The feedback that social media can give to an organization about the state of products and services can be tremendously valuable, but the enterprise has to be ready to deal with it. It requires an understanding of the complete digital infrastructure of the company. Are applications built and located to give decent performance to mobile users? Are analytical tools in place to measure customer response? How will an organization's different groups get access to the information that is generated?

We already see leading companies building social media interaction into the core of their operations. It can be an excellent way to deepen the connections between the organization and its customers and employees. Where a company's digital infrastructure can support it, it can reduce the friction and increase the richness of every interaction that it has. It has to be a conscious step to be successful.

Cloud Computing Journal: To finish, just as real estate is always said to be about "location, location, location", what one word, repeated three times, would you say Cloud Computing is all about?

Hanselman: Efficiency, efficiency, efficiency!

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