To successfully travel into the cloud, throw out that legacy mindset

Listen to the entire interview with Reuven Cohen.

On this Friday, Fed Cloud Blog talks with Reuven Cohen, founder & Chief Technologist for Toronto-based Enomaly, Inc.

Not only does he work in and blog regularly about the cloud, he helped the U.S. federal government to define its strategy for cloud computing — and collaborates with other governments, as well.

FCB asked him about the meaning of the term ‘cloud computing’ to start off our interview, mainly because we’ve found that different people think of the cloud in different ways.

Reuven Cohen: There’s two basic terms when looking at cloud computing. First of all, there’s the aspect of the cloud, which is a metaphor for the internet. Then there’s cloud computing, which, again, is also a metaphor, but it’s more of an analogy in that sense. It’s Internet-centric computing. It represents a shift from sort of the traditional desktop-centric approach to computing, to one that’s a little bit more network- or Internet-centric. So, it’s the Internet as an operational environment.

Fed Cloud Blog: What are some of the advantages of operating on the Web versus having everyone load software on their PC?

RC: One of the big benefits is in terms of capital expenditure. When you’re using someone else’s infrastructure — one that’s remote rather than your own — there’s no big, up front costs. You sort of move from a cap-ex to an op-ex — an operational expense — which is a little easier to manage and much, much more flexible. So, rather than buying a server that may sit under-utilized, you utilize the capacity if and when you need it. It’s a more flexible approach to the aspects of computing.

FCB: Since we are the ‘federal Cloud Blog’, we deal with a lot of federal agencies and federal employees. The biggest concerns we’ve found while doing interviews with people in the federal sphere is that they recognize that there’s cost savings that could be realized through moving to the cloud . . . but everybody also brings up the [issue of security].

RC: The aspects of movement to the cloud is already happening. From the government’s point of view, the Internet has become a crucial conduit for communications, regardless of whether you want to admit that or not. So, by saying cloud computing isn’t going to happen or isn’t happening is just basically sticking your head in the sand.

[W]hat’s good about the current administration is they’re embracing the idea of the Internet as being sort of that evolution of computing — and saying it isn’t perfect. It certainly far from being perfect, but it certainly does solve a lot of problems in terms of broad communications and collaboration.

I think the answer is that it’s not a one-size-fits-all solution. There are certainly areas that are better suited to cloud computing — the kind of low-hanging fruit — and there’s other areas where it it may not be as good a solution. So, it’s picking and choosing the areas that make sense while keeping an open mind.

FCB: [How can one] convince either a supervisor or agency head — “Hey, Software-as-a-Service is great! Or, we should maybe look at Infrastructure-as-a-Service!” Any advice in that area?

RC: Here’s the dilemma that you face — and this is as big an issue with an enterprise as it is in a large organization like the government in terms of the adoption of cloud computing. You’ve got these two basic groups.

In a business context, you’ve got a business group — and they’re seeing the cloud as a way that they can go out and do something quickly and easily without a lot of friction. You know, I can go to Salesforce or Amazon or Google, get my application deployed, built and sent out with relative ease.

On the other side of the spectrum, you’ve got the IT groups that are saying — “Hey now, I want that level of control that we’ve always had,” from the point of view of security and auditability and compliance and all those sorts of things.

So, you get this kind of tug-of-war between these two groups within these organizations: the ones that want control and to maintain the status quo and the other groups that want to do something quick and easy. The two don’t typically go hand-in-hand.

What needs to happen is there needs to be this opportunity to sort of bridge the issue. So the pitch, in a sense, is the efficiencies that allow you to go out and use things that are relatively easy to access from a cloud point of view — I can go get an application that’s built, ready to go without a whole lot of friction — or, from the point of view of compute capacity — I now have the ability to go to an Infrastructure-as-a-Service provider and get access to a thousand servers per hour to get a job done that otherwise I probably would have never been able to do before.

So, it’s the idea of opportunity. It’s the idea of doing something that was never possible before. With that instant access to capacity or services, you know, [it] opens up a whole new variety of opportunities that were never possible.

FCB: Any advice on changing that mindset and helping IT managers to feel better about cloud computing, if they have a problem with it?

RC: The idea of control is one that assumes you’re not going to ignore that the shift is happening. So, if you embrace it, you have the ability to help define it. That’s important. By saying — cloud computing just doesn’t work for us — means you’re ignoring the fact that it’s probably going to happen anyway.

So, by saying it is happening, and there is the opportunity to do things with this type of technology, you can put the procedures in place that help shift how this technology is going to be adopted, rather than just saying — it’s not going to work for us.

I think the opportunities, from an IT group, is to embrace the concept and put those strategies in place to say, if a user’s going to use this type of technology, here’s how we recommend you do it. This is mostly around the idea of best practices, procedures, and — possibly — standards that are in place that help in that regard, rather than just ignoring the fact.

FCB: Different agencies are in different places when it comes to moving into the cloud. . . . What advice do you have for federal agencies that are looking at the cloud but are still unsure?

RC: One of the things I would suggest is not to look at it from a legacy point of view. It isn’t a matter of taking what we’ve done in the past and shoe-horning it into the cloud. That doesn’t make any sense.

The opportunities are things that you haven’t been able to do in the past. It’s looking forward. It’s the things that the cloud enables us to do. The things that we could never do before. It’s those opportunities that you should be looking at — not saying, “Well here’s how we’ve always done it and that doesn’t work in the cloud”. That’s the wrong way to look at it.

I think that you should look at it [like] the glass is half full. It’s the bigger opportunities to do things that were not possible.

Read Reuven’s blog and follow him on Twitter: @ruv. We do!

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