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Best practices for successful cloud deployment, and pitfalls to avoid E-mail

May 10, 2011

By John Ginovsky

http://www.ababj.com/images/constantcontact/41911_cloud.jpgThe cloud is coming to business, and while it has a distinct silver lining, it also has ominous portents as well. Like anything, it can be implemented well or come crashing down in disaster. How you approach it makes all the difference in the world.

A survey of large businesses across the country, with those in the financial services leading the polled industries, found that 33% viewed the cloud as essential, up 5% from last year. Another 32% said the cloud was important, up 12%. In reporting on their experience with using cloud services to date, those who said they were completely satisfied were up 8% to 37%, while those who said they were somewhat satisfied were flat at 54%.

“The thing to remember is that the cloud is an enabler. It’s not an endpoint in spite of all the vendors trying to sell you infrastructure,” said Dennis Drogseth, vice-president of research, Enterprise Management Associates, which conducted the survey. He and Richard Stone, cloud solutions manager, Compuware Inc., recently conducted a webinar about the best ways to implement cloud systems.

Stone was in charge of a case study in which Compuware engaged the Gomez Load Testing Network to simulate the effects of hundreds of thousands of concurrent users on a trial system. Compuware wanted to load-test the system’s performance in periods of peak and slack usage.

From information gained through the survey and the load test, Drogseth and Stone described these five best practices for successful cloud deployments:

1. Know why you’re going to the cloud in the first place and get agreement on your top objectives.
Drogseth gave a laundry list of potential benefits, but also a strong caution. The benefits include: capital and operational expense savings, faster time to deploy and create services, and reduced IT management complexity.

However, he said, “If you assume you’re going to get all of these benefits right away, magically, you’re probably wrong.” Ideally, the implementer would be someone at an executive level or who reflects a cross-domain services group in some way. “The cloud is fundamentally a cross-domain phenomenon,” said Drogseth. “The importance of communications is imperative.”

More specifically, in Stone’s load-stress test, he found that pricing in the cloud is extremely variable. Vendors may charge by CPU hour, RAM hour or both, and by bandwidth. “Only the developer really knows how the application works and what types of resources it requires,” said Stone.  “The key thing we found was, it was absolutely imperative to include application architects in your plans. The application architects can impact your bottom line.”

2. Manage the actual service levels, not just the specific service-level agreements that are in the service provider contract.
“Contracts are written by and for lawyers and are designed to protect the service provider first and foremost,” said Drogseth. “Service-level agreements are too often defined by what’s easily measureable and controlled and internal to the service provided, not what’s relevant to business.”

Part of Stone’s test was to chart the response time of five service providers. “We found that there was a wide variation. That’s what customers experience. But service-level agreements measure simple availability,” said Stone. “They don’t give you a feel for what’s actually happening in terms of the end user.”

Drogseth said the most useful metrics to monitor include: cloud service utilization; system or application availability; overall application response time; network infrastructure performance; and security, risk, compliance, and data integrity measurement.

3. User experience management accelerates value from the cloud.
“The typical user today is accustomed to Google, iTunes, YouTube, and Facebook. That’s their experience in the cloud. That becomes what they expect everything to be like,” said Stone. “Today’s users are impatient, unencumbered with antiquated notions of brand loyalty, and they expect things to just work.”

His load stress test found that the longer it takes for a given page to load, the more likely the end user will simply click off and abandon it. Drogseth’s survey indicated active and effective management of the end user’s experience expands revenue channels, increases infrastructure flexibility, accelerates deployment of services, and reduces operational costs.

4. The closer your service provider is to where your major customers are, the better.
Similarly, no matter how good or capable a particular service provider is, if it takes too long—six seconds or more—for a customer to call up a page, the customer will go elsewhere. Load time is directly related to the physical distance between the provider and the user. “Geographical expanses are riddled with difficult and inconsistent service provider performance,” said Drogseth.

Stone actually measured this. Using a tool called Global Provider View, he tracked the performance of a cloud service provider located on the West Coast. While the availability of the service was uniform at sites across the country, the load times lengthened the further away the site was from the provider. “Keep in mind, if your service provider is in Hong Kong but your customers are in Chicago, you’ll probably have problems,” Stone said.

5. Understand the unique challenges of optimizing your ecosystem.
Stone and Drogseth define an ecosystem in this sense as any grouping of separate businesses and organizations that are closely interdependent in terms of delivering a set of services. This could include data centers, third-party cloud services, internet service providers, browsers, content delivery networks, mobile carriers, user devices, and more.

“In between the customer and the cloud service are all kinds of third parties. You’re not delivering just one page of data, you’re delivering data that’s been gathered from all around your partner network,” said Stone. “Complexity means lots of things can go wrong.”

“This is the real key,” added Drogseth. “How do you create a consistent set of processes and workflows, and how should the information be shared across these organizations? This is an emerging field.”

Access a recording of the webinar at http://www.gomez.com/resources/webinars/5-best-practices-for-successful-cloud-deployments/.
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