'The cloud' isn't always government's best choice

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Oh, the cloud, everyone is talking about it! “Why aren’t we in the cloud?”

“cloud” is simply a different way to provision your hardware — no more, no less. It can be financially beneficial or it might cost substantially more. Like all technology, I recommend using the cloud when it makes sense for your business and not because marketing fodder has enticed leadership to mandate its use.

As a CIO, I scan technology headlines on a regular basis and recently found an article entitled “Does the cloud still make sense when the economy is good?” The subhead reads: “Bad economic times gave the cloud its initial enterprise push for cost savings, but good times should mean the cloud now becomes strategic.” Only now does the cloud become strategic? Shouldn’t the cloud always be strategic? Doesn’t this sound like a terrible case of “shiny object syndrome?”

This is a major issue because people who do not work in technology with the same level of involvement that CIOs do catch a headline and can then mandate a statewide “cloud strategy,” as one governor recently did. That is short-sighted and bad business strategy. The cloud should be viewed as a resource, and nothing more.

When the recession hit in 2009, I had just become the CIO for the City of Wichita. I did not look to the cloud for savings. I looked strategically at our operations to determine which systems were costing us most, regardless of where they were physically located. This is a basic premise I work by today and recommend others to do the same.

I have read where IT departments are being forced by either CIOs, city managers, mayors or governors to look to the cloud for all system deployments. While it’s great for tech companies that sell cloud systems, it leads to exceptionally poor decision-making processes by those entities following this strategy.

I am all for the cloud and the potential it can provide in some scenarios. For commodity technologies that change quickly, which are usually small and medium-sized systems or software, the cloud makes sense. Or if you want to outsource your transactional data to relieve your staff from some (it is never all) of the security and PCI-DSS compliance issues, the cloud makes sense. When redundancy is critical and cost effective or the nature of the software/hardware lends itself to the cloud (as is the case for many web-based systems), then by all means, use the cloud.

What I have a real challenge with is a blanket statement that a cloud strategy is the most effective in all cases. That is simply not true.

For a given system, the cloud might be effective, or it might not be. Instead of always putting cloud first, I prefer to have a business strategy. I will place the technology where it makes the most sense, whether that be a private cloud, a public cloud, a hybrid, on premise or as a service. Where the technology should be located depends on what is most cost effective, considering total cost of ownership, and where it provides the least amount of security strain and allocation of human resources.

Another headline and subhead: “Key Considerations When Migrating Workloads to the Public Cloud. Public cloud services have become central to IT strategy. The potential cost savings and agility are simply too compelling to ignore. And as more enterprises move to a hybrid IT environment and service providers continue to enhance their offerings, public cloud services will likely gain in popularity in the coming years.

More marketing fodder. My experience suggests that often it is much more expensive to move to the cloud than to stay on premise. I do agree with the agility aspect but since our budgets are determined a year in advance, how agile do I really need to be? While agility is certainly a value of cloud computing, it is not one that is beneficial to the city I serve.

CIOs need to push back on blanket statements like “we will move everything to the cloud by 2020.”

Use common sense, purchase and place your technology where it makes sense for your business strategy. I came through the IT ranks, so this is not about a “business guy” talking to you about how to provision technology. I have been in IT for most of my career, and getting caught up in the marketing of technology as you scan your inbox is easy — I get it. But understanding that others, like governors, do the same thing is important to ensure that you have a response ready when you are eventually asked about “cloud strategies.”

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