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In Pursuit of “One Cloud” – Two Part Series – Part One: Cloud Sprawl

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November 4, 2014
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Reining in cloud sprawl is like herding cats.

What is cloud sprawl? Unlike many technology terms, cloud sprawl is exactly what it sounds like … the unplanned, uncontrolled spreading of applications and services into the cloud. In other words, it’s “as a service” run amok.

Increased acceptance of the consumerization of IT in the workplace has contributed to the growth of both shadow IT and cloud sprawl over the past few years. This is a significant problem for the CIO – these cloud services may not be suitable for enterprise use, are often managed by individuals without the proper authority, and are rarely integrated into the workplace correctly.

Individuals, departments or entire lines of business within a company will simply by-pass IT and purchase services to meet a business need, eschewing corporate strategy, data security concerns, interoperability, risk of compliance violations … it’s a long list. Some will blame IT for not being responsive enough to the needs of the business. For others, it’s just the allure of instant gratification or convenience.  Without the rigors of securing capital expense spending approval, it’s as easy as swiping a credit card.

As we posited in Part 1 of this blog series, cloud sprawl and cloud governance are seriously at odds, pushing organizations dangerously (yes, dangerously) away from the notion of “One Cloud.”
Without an enforced IT governance decision-making framework and processes, there will be a proliferation of disparate technologies, applications and implementations that are unmanaged, don’t integrate well, duplicate functionality, open organizations to cyber attack, result in overall larger costs and, ultimately, undermine the organization’s strategic plans.

The onus may eventually fall on IT to support all these disparate systems and get them to play nice with each other, which of course only worsens the perception that IT is out of the loop and insensitive to the needs of the organization. It also saps IT resources that should be directed toward business creation and revenue generation, in the process making their jobs more complex.

IT organizations need to get in front of this problem and be seen as an enabler and partner with the departments, working with them to find a solution. This can short-circuit one of the motivating factors behind a “shadow IT” mentality.

Beginning with IT/cloud governance as your touchstone, here are some steps that can help bring sprawl to a crawl. Fundamentally, communication is the core requirement.

  • Develop and communicate a user-oriented cloud strategy. Despite their use of cloud solutions, not all employees are tech-savvy, especially from a company-wide perspective.
  • Discuss and define the cloud strategy among the stakeholders – involve management and employees in formulating cloud strategies.
  • If sprawl is already an issue, cloud rationalization can help identify areas of concern as well as solutions to keep the sprawl from overwhelming IT and the company.
  • Create a cloud migration roadmap. Letting everybody know what’s going on will reduce second-guessing and positively position IT as being on top of matters.

The key to this approach is to bring cloud services under a governed system, the structure of which is owned by the CIO. Many CIOs need to learn to communicate better and more often, and be more in tune with the wants and needs of the wider business. There is often a gap between IT and the business, with few people in between who speak a common language – it’s up to the CIO to bridge that gap. With proper planning, management and leadership, these challenges can be addressed so that businesses capitalize on the advantages available to them from the new technologies, working in concert with the IT organization so that everyone is successful.

What About the Cloud Providers?

Some cloud service providers (CSPs) exacerbate the problem of sprawl.  They concentrate on selling rather than identifying redundancies or pointing out inefficiencies with clients’ current systems, and then collaborating on solutions to fix these.

CSPs can play a big part in slowing cloud sprawl by encouraging cloud-readiness assessments, checking to determine if businesses are ready for certain products and offering alternatives if they aren’t. Presenting a selection of services a company could use, then working together to pick only the most relevant would act almost as a cloud sprawl assessment, and could go a long way towards solving the problem before it gets too out of control.

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