A comparison between enterprise IT and public cloud computing dramatically highlights the benefits of moving to cloud.
Application deployment times can shrink from weeks in the traditional data centre to minutes in a cloud data centre; new application development time accelerates from years to weeks (or months at most); cost per virtual machine plummets from dollars to cents; server administrator ratios can explode from 20:1 to 300:1; while efficiency increases, with resource utilisation soaring from 20% to 75%.
With measurable benefits like these, it's no wonder that IDC expects that by 2015 the majority of the enterprise market will require integrated hybrid cloud management capabilities (Source: IDC Cloud Management Study, 2011 Survey).
Malcolm Herbert, Director of Infrastructure Consulting, EMEA, at Red Hat  says that cloud computing requires new architectures at the infrastructure and application levels to benefit from all the value that it offers, such as agility and scalability of IT services. Therefore, the discussion on cloud computing provides a compelling reason to look at an open source strategy and the opportunities it brings.
Despite the tangible advantages of cloud computing, it's difficult to predict direction and trends precisely. However, while it can be fun to go on 'a magical mystery tour' with no clear direction, companies still need a sense of purpose. The journey will also involve assessing and potentially discarding some IT baggage, but it should also be about including and reusing some elements.
Below are 5 top tips that will help companies define this sense of purpose.
Top Tip #1 – Know your destination
What do you ultimately want to achieve from cloud? Cloud must meet your business goals and fit with the way you work. Moving to cloud must enable you to react with greater agility and speed to new requirements. The best place to start is to look at one of the key services you offer and see if it could exist in the cloud, as infrastructure/platform/software-as-a-service.
The point is you need to identify a workload that will actually perform in the cloud. This particular business had other applications and services they ran for customers that were more orientated to data processing. The Service Level Agreements they have in place for their customers meant that a cloud solution was more attractive for these applications and services.
Therefore, bear in mind that it’s not just about potential cost-savings. You need to look at whether an application will perform well, cover the needs of customers and be manageable within your existing processes and organisational structure. You cannot take these factors for granted.
Top Tip #2 – Know your starting point
But wait a moment: if you don’t know where you are today, you can’t begin to plan the journey to the cloud, if you do decide to take that route.
So when looking at the road to cloud, it's good know if you already have assets, processes and skills in place that could give you a head start. Doing an assessment of your existing in-house infrastructure is crucial to finding the best way to adopt cloud as an emerging technology. Don't believe some vendors and analysts who advocate a ‘slash and burn’ policy: what could you recycle and reuse?
In addition, there is little point investing time and energy in transferring imperfect solutions and processes into the cloud. It’s well worth reviewing existing systems and planning a migration to a common or standard operating environment (SOE). This helps to eradicate the complexity of configuration variance, where one-off configurations and siloed systems have sprung up across the estate.
In fact, without first standardising your platforms and processes, it's pretty difficult to add the further functions that make up a fully operational cloud deployment.
Top Tip #3 – Don't travel alone
When it comes to cloud, there is no need to do everything yourself and work in not-so-splendid isolation.
One of the strengths of open source software is that it is built on collaboration – it’s made for sharing.
A DIY, not-invented-here attitude could mean you set off down the wrong track or end up taking 'the scenic route'. Be ready to admit that someone else might have already done work that you can leverage, and quite possibly have done it better, too.
In a collaborative world, you do have to prepare to share. You may be the passenger today, but could be the driver giving someone else a lift tomorrow. Open source has never been more relevant; it's changed the face of the operating system market and will have the same impact in cloud.
I've always been aware of the skills and abilities of customers, partners and the community when it comes to extending and enhancing products into solutions; with cloud that's going to be even more significant. Whether it is portals, management tools, or billing or monitoring scripts, someone is likely to be working on something you want as part of your cloud solution.
Top Tip #4 – Don't take a one-way street.
Many CIOs are, understandably, comfortable with the status quo. If we’re honest, the traditional model of capital expenditure, hardware budgets and data centres brings its own rewards. There can be a natural reluctance to let go. Furthermore, handing over to a cloud services provider can feel like an abrogation of responsibility.
If you want to fully grasp the benefits of cloud-like agility over private and public providers and want to link this to economic benefits for your company, you will no doubt realise that a new software architecture is needed. Open source can be the pathway to that new architecture, and offers a two-fold benefit...
You're able to run management toolkits that protect you from getting locked into a proprietary silo. At the same time, you avoid being locked out of the technical and commercial advantages that arise from cloud technology.
Having a broad open source strategy and a software stack that underpins this lowers your cost and strengthens your independence from software vendors.
Taking an open source route for cloud is also a good way of introducing a different approach and methodology into an organisation's IT strategy. It can bring significant benefits, and introduce welcome change to the organisation's processes and working practices. It's not just about hardware cost reduction, or lowering the cost of software, it's also about providing a thriving environment for staff and customers.
Top Tip #5 – Don't run when you can walk
There is no rush to adopt cloud computing; it should be evolution not revolution. Any cloud projects should be at a steady pace that feels comfortable to the adopting organisation. The flexibility inherent within open source solutions is ideal for this organic approach.
There is plenty of time to lay a firm groundwork for cloud, and fortune may well favour the more cautious adopter: as often happens with new technology, we are seeing the costs of cloud come down.
Keep a watching brief for now and don’t feel compelled to embark on cloud computing if the time is not right for your business. Don’t be swept along by the hype and start ripping out your hardware infrastructure!
The decisions you make on cloud computing today will directly affect your competitiveness over the next few years. You need a cloud strategy that can adapt to changing business requirements.