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How to foster cloud adoption at your company

LAS VEGAS -- The task of selling the concept of cloud computing isn't just for the marketers and executives at major tech companies. A little selling can also help rank-and-file IT employees and business users get the cloud tools they need without running afoul of company brass.

Shadow IT, which refers to the use of hardware or software -- often cloud software -- without the official permission of the IT department, is potentially harmful, according to Adobe Senior Cloud Engineer Tim Prendergast. Speaking at the Amazon Web Services re:Invent show, Prendergast outlined the best ways to garner support for cloud applications within a company without getting into trouble.

"Cloud blockers are everywhere," he said. "They're analysts, they're CEOs, they're engineers, they're finance people. Sometimes they're yourself."

Prendergast believes that IT people who want cloud services need to educate the rest of their organization so they can get what they want. He also thinks the cloud-obsessed need to educate themselves as to what types of cloud applications might make the business nervous.

Cloud adoption: Getting finance to give cloud the green

Cloud providers frequently make the financial case to prospective clients, telling them that spinning up a few instances is a lot cheaper than buying servers. But finance departments depend on budgets and forecasts, things that aren't always delivered predictably with on-demand cloud services.

"Sometimes it’s easy to forget about these resources that you can create so easily," Prendergast said, offering the anecdote of a developer who leaves his application running in test mode while going off on vacation, costing the company tens of thousands of dollars in wasted Amazon Web Services fees.

Prendergast thinks the job of IT is to explain to finance how the cloud model works, and to find a reasonable management solution to keep cloud costs down.

"Your job is to teach [finance] the cloud model, really make sure they understand it so they can make intelligent decisions and represent it correctly when they're talking to other people," he said. "You don't want people who don't understand [the] cloud repeating what they heard on the Internet."

How to not get jailed by legal

Prendergast offered one simple reason for why evangelizing the cloud to the legal department is crucial.

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"They're probably the most important of anyone you will talk to, because they'll keep you out of jail," he said.

Making sure legal understands what sort of data will be in the cloud, whether that data is governed by compliance rules like HIPAA or FISMA, and what data won’t be put in the cloud is vital. Laws about cloud computing have yet to be clearly defined in the U.S., and are only beginning to be formed in the European Union, creating a time of uncertainty for many.

"It's a scary time for a lot of companies to adopt the cloud because they don't have any precedent," Prendergast said.

Prendergast added that having a plan to freeze computer systems in the event of a legal issue is critical. He said not having a plan in place to take snapshots of data and computer processes could cause major problems if a company is ever served with a subpoena, which comes with deadlines and hefty fines for missing them.

What if IT isn't on board?

Prendergast divided IT departments into three groups -- progressives, conservatives and mixed.

The only thing that progressive types need to get their cloud projects moving forward is the ability to test them out. They'll also want to garner internal support in an effort to spread the word virally.

For conservative IT shops, Prendergast recommended figuring out where the "cloud blocking" is coming from. Oftentimes, such neigh saying flows from the top of the organization on down, he said.

The best way to fight the cloud blockers is to take a bottoms-up approach and build support for cloud services among lower-level employees.

Not a universal problem

Not all IT professionals have problems selling cloud to the rest of their organization. Dan Pritts, senior systems architect at the University of Michigan, said that in his case, the push to move to the cloud is actually coming from the top down.

"My boss [said] 'get rid of all the hardware, I don't ever want to see it again,'" he said.

Pritts doesn't think they'll ever get rid of all the hardware -- some of their data is restricted and has specific compliance rules -- but he said there is still plenty of room for his organization to move to the cloud.


This was first published in November 2012

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