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Choosing a Cloud Strategy? Here's what you need to know... Part-1: Introduction... (Why)

These days, the buzz in many companies, especially IT departments of medium and large companies, is building or moving applications to the Cloud. And with a large array of applications and platform available at SalesForce.com, and with Google announcing the App Marketplace (in addition to the AppEngine), I am sure Microsoft is not far behind with their own.

Now, you might say that Microsoft already has an offering - and you are right... with Azure, Microsoft has made a foray into the Cloud App Platform. But given that they just announced it last year, its fair to say they are at least a couple of quarters (if not a year) behind in coming up with a viable "marketplace" where other partners can provide applications and services... Gartner, for instance, does not even list Microsoft in their App Platform vendors directory.

Anyway, coming back to the central question: Why should companies look at the Cloud? Well, the answer is quite simply scalability and cost.

There are other considerations of course, such as speed of development / faster time to market, multi-tenancy, etc., but all of them boil down to the 2 factors listed above: scalability and cost.

The recession of the past year has put a lot of downward pressure on IT departments to support their business growth with less capital investment while providing reliability and high service levels (QoS). So, investment in IT solutions and resources has steadily decreased over the past several quarters across the board, and yet the growth in service usage has not...

That, along with availability of cheap and highly scalable alternatives such as AWS, Force.com and Google along with other solution providers catering to different niches have prompted the selective migration to the Cloud. The solution models available to IT users (not developers) is quite uniform... while costs vary, they all charge by usage which appeals to the cost-conscious CIO.

So how do you go about doing it? First, get your requirements and business needs listed down... Why is this important? Because there are different approaches to implementing solutions in the Cloud - there are good apps out there, but many are limited in functionality and some don't even make the cut. Many a time, a company starts an implementation and a few thousand dollars later realizes that the solution won't work (if this sounds familiar, that's because it is very common). I like Abraham Lincoln's quote (which fits the situation): "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe".

So, prior due diligence about the total cost of ownership, platform options, scalability, application solutions available, data security and service availability is very important before jumping in the waters, however warm and inviting the sales pitch may sound.

The other consideration which every company must make is that of data lock-in... getting out of a data-center or monolithic application mind-set into a Cloud architecture means that the company is now going to have to put all its data in the database of some vendor in the Cloud. If after a year or two, the company decides to migrate to a different Cloud platform, say from Force.com to Google, then they need to seamlessly be able to migrate their data as well.

Choosing the right Cloud partner and the right solution strategy is key to achieving low total cost of ownership and high levels of scalability.

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Arun Rao is a seasoned technology executive based in the SF Bay Area.