Is cloud transformation in the cards?

As companies seek to move business functions to the cloud, IT services firms may shift some of their efforts to enable cloud transformation.

IT services firms may shift some of their traditional efforts as customers seek to move business functions to cloud computing platforms. Such IT services firms, which provide outsourcing of data center functions, and often consulting services as well, could bring better understanding to cloud transformation projects, according to an industry viewer.

While migrating an application to the cloud might not be difficult in itself, challenges may await you, said Forrester Vice President and Principal Analyst James Staten. Cloud services are often difficult to square with current business requirements, environments and legacy applications.

Moreover, establishing a solid cloud transformation strategy requires knowledge that evades many new cloud adopters. A lack of understanding about how the cloud works is a main source of problems for many organizations, according to Staten.

"The biggest mistake we see is that companies go into cloud services thinking they're just like any other outsourcing option," he said. This can have a domino effect, leading to unsuccessful negotiations with cloud vendors, poor application performance and, ultimately, losses in cost savings.

In a way, cloud services are encountering IT services. Today, some IT services and outsourcing firms have created practices to help businesses navigate the cloud services market. In turn, transformational services -- an update on well-established application modernization efforts -- work to determine cloud strategy by assessing customers' infrastructure, collaboration, IT process and enterprise application needs.

"The transformational approach [involves] understanding what customers' current business requirements are, and what their current environment is, in order to determine which cloud services make sense," said Vinod Muthuswamy, vice president of managed and cloud services at NEC Corporation of America (NEC), a provider of IT, communications and managed services.

Proponents of the approach claim it can rescue companies that are moving functions to the cloud for the wrong reasons -- for example, merely to lower costs.

"Just saying, 'I want to go to the cloud because it's cheaper,' is a recipe for disaster," Staten said. "These [transformational] services help you understand what is actually going to happen here, and what it is actually going to take to achieve your goals."

Transforming business to the cloud

As more workloads and applications move from traditional data centers to the cloud, business transformation is increasingly important. "Now [organizations] have a whole bunch of legacy applications that are sitting in the enterprise, which probably don't work so well in the new environment," said Muthuswamy, noting that cloud services are gaining traction within the enterprise.

Cloud as an infrastructure and as a method of application integration will gain more budget in the next two years, according to a slight (54%) majority of SearchSOA.com readers polled in the SearchSOA.com Reader Challenges & Priorities 2011-2012 survey. The same survey found application migration projects were driven by needs to gain development and integration flexibility (56 %), better performance (53%), reduce maintenance costs (42%) and gain a competitive advantage (38%).

To ensure applications run smoothly in these new cloud environments, companies must configure them properly or redesign them so they can survive component failure, explained Staten. That's because most enterprise applications that run inside of data centers depend on a highly reliable and highly available infrastructure -- something absent from the cloud.

The task of transforming applications to the cloud is one that can go hand-in-hand with transformational services. "If you're going to move an application to the cloud, it makes sense to coincide with a modernization exercise," Staten said. "Those are ideal times to learn about the cloud and then design appropriately."

Cloud computing holds a certain promise of standardization -- more than was expected just a few years ago, according to Sunil Bhargava, global portfolio executive for Cloud and Hosting Services at CSC, a provider of technology-enabled business solutions and services.

"[When they go to the cloud,] companies that had previously outsourced change [their expectations] of their service provider because the service provider will make more use of standardization and provide them with agility and pay-as-you-go [terms]," Bhargava said. "The rest of the needs remain the same in terms of data migration, process redesign, reintegration, process integration and system integration.

"The largest companies have always used service providers due to the complex nature of their multi-geography deployments," he continued. "The fact that those deployments are now going on cloud simply changes underlying infrastructure. All the rest really stays the same."

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