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HP Software's community for IT leaders // January 2013
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Finding quality in the cloud

A top HP cloud consultant says mobility and user experience demand new service capabilities.      
 
With 2013 comes new criteria for choosing cloud service providers, says Marc Wilkinson, chief technologist in HP Services. According to Wilkinson, it’s no longer strictly about how much service you get for your dollar. Rather, it’s the qualitative aspects of the service that are key, and chief among them is the end user’s mobile experience.  
 
“A service’s cost-to-performance ratio is still important, but with IT services increasingly sourced in the cloud and accessed from mobile devices, you need to focus on a new set of service features and capabilities,” Wilkinson says. “Usability becomes key.”   
 
Wilkinson helps CIOs and IT ops leaders move to multi-supplier, hybrid IT service environments in which externally sourced IT services are blended with internally hosted applications. He says IT leaders are increasingly choosing this route, but too few of them are adjusting how they choose cloud providers.
 
His advice: examine how the service performs in the context of your business requirements, the cloud, and mobility.
 
Wilkinson emphasizes careful consideration of four key attributes:

  • The mobile experience
  • Service integration
  • Information portability
  • Visibility into service and change management

The mobile user experience

You can’t seriously consider a service today without factoring in mobility. “If a service’s mobile experience is clunky and inconvenient, users will go around it and use an alternate service,” Wilkinson says. A logical question to start with, then, is whether a service has a mobile app.
 
Think how easy it is to use cloud storage service Dropbox. Its mobile app automatically syncs with your account to provide the kind of seamless mobile experience users expect.

Service integration

As you aggregate cloud services and build out a multi-supplier IT environment, first look at consolidating user information across multiple services. “Be sure to give end users a single sign-in capability for all your services,” Wilkinson says. “And make sure you focus on the user experience.”
 
One method: enable laptops and smartphones to authenticate the user, and then broker logins to various services.
 
Secondly, look at the integration of the operational management of those services. Make sure you can integrate governance and management activities across all your services—both internal and external. That demands a framework for managing service performance, incident and problem management, coordinated change management, etc.

Information portability

There’s a perception that it’s easy to spin cloud services up and down. Perhaps—if you can easily port your information in and out of different cloud services, which generally isn’t the case.
 
“Handing over your enterprise’s information to a cloud service provider is difficult,” Wilkinson says. “You need to think it through carefully.”
 
If you’re required to port information out of a system without disrupting the business, make sure your service provider can do this. For example, transferring a 10-terabyte database at 100 megabits per second, which is not out of the ordinary, would take approximately 10 days. Add clauses to your service contract that guarantee that this can be done fast, without taking your system offline.

Service and change management visibility

Isolating a service problem is hard enough when you have direct access to all the hardware and software. Pinpointing a problem in the cloud is far more complicated. Is the issue with your network, or one of your providers? Is it in the outsourced infrastructure-as-a-service, or a vendor’s software?
 
Wilkinson suggests applying existing business service management know-how. “We’ve gotten really good at service-level monitoring of composite applications hosted within our own environments,” he says. “We now need to bring that same capability to external service providers, hopefully gaining the same visibility we have with internal services.”
 
But Wilkinson admits this will be difficult with the public cloud. If you can’t get visibility into a cloud service, stick with a managed service and negotiate this capability into your contract.          
 
Similarly, you want visibility into change management plans and processes for your cloud services. To avoid change management problems, demand visibility into all planned changes to your service or request the ability to influence the change management policies themselves.

Where to begin

Wilkinson says to start by getting close to the business. Applying Silicon Valley consultant Geoffrey Moore’s “core vs. context” concept to IT, Wilkinson urges CIOs and IT ops leaders to work closely with the business to understand which IT services are core and enable competitive differentiation, and which are context and not strategically important.
 
“Getting a clear understanding of your business’s needs gives you a starting point for selecting the right cloud service providers,” Wilkinson says. It allows you to match a service provider’s strengths and weaknesses with your business needs. This counts toward understanding mobile user requirements, as well as any specific service features and business continuity guarantees you need for the business.
 
For more information on how to select and manage cloud service providers in a multi-supplier environment, explore HP’s Service Integration and Management (SIAM) resources. Or email Wilkinson directly at marc.wilkinson@hp.com.


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