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Cloud Implementation, Part 1: Planning for Success

By Erika Morphy
Apr 3, 2009 4:00 AM PT

The Pinup Shoes Web site is moving to the cloud. The decision was a no-brainer for Jim Keough, e-commerce manager for the company.

Cloud Implementation, Part 1: Planning for Success

"We are talking about cutting costs by 500 percent on the server with this move and getting, in exchange, a higher-performance environment," he told CRM Buyer.

Currently, the Pinup Shoes site runs on AspDotNetStoreFront, which is compatible with Mosso by Rackspace Hosting.

"Since my e-commerce platform is compatible, it won't take much work at all to migrate," he said -- no different, in fact, than migrating to any type of hosting. "Simply move the files and database, and point the domain to the right DNS server."

Pinup Shoes' online footprint, though, is admittedly small. E-commerce sites -- or any site, for that matter -- with a number of applications and a complex IT environment should probably put more thought into the matter, Keough acknowledged.

Indeed, planning an implementation for the cloud environment is in many ways very similar to any IT endeavor: Much depends on the scale of your operation and project. It's important to define the goals for the application as minutely as possible. Determine how it will fit into the company's larger IT backbone, and set metrics for success.

Process mapping, for instance, is key for both packaged applications and cloud computing, Brad Cowdrey, a principal with Clear Peak, told CRM Buyer.

"Once completed, internal processes can be compared to the software vendor's application in a fit gap analysis," he explained.

Cloud Considerations

As with any new technology, though, there are special considerations that must be taken into account when deciding how or whether to implement a cloud-based application.

These are early days for cloud computing, which means the planning process must move off auto-pilot. Companies planning for a cloud implementation should consider the following advice.

Choose a Developer Carefully

Many cloud-based applications are not designed for implementation with a line-of-business manager or end-user in mind. For instance, Salesforce.com has been configured so it is easy to make changes without an extensive IT background. Other cloud-based applications, though, require a developer not only to implement them, but also to tweak them when they're up and running.

So, selecting a developer is a decision akin to selecting a systems integrator for a big-bang on-premise implementation -- although not at the same price point, of course. Unless there are in-house staff with the experience to customize the code, the implementing company will have to go back to the developer for changes or tweaks to the system, Rebecca Wettemann, vice president of research at Nucleus Research, told CRM Buyer.

"Thoroughly investigate who will be building your custom app -- because you will be chained to him or her for life," said Wettemann. That includes investigating the person's or firm's references and reputation -- and formalizing what the ongoing relationship will be after the system is in place.

Weigh Hidden Costs

While cloud computing is generally cheaper, it may not be as cheap as one originally expects, Lori MacVittie, technical marketing manager for F5 Networks, told CRM Buyer.

A careful analysis of the size and type of data being exchanged is essential in controlling the overall cost of a cloud application, MacVittie said. Some vendors may charge for bandwidth in -- and out -- of the application. Storage costs may be extra, as may be the ability to access an IP address externally.

"While developers and architects are familiar with profiling applications to understand CPU and memory utilization, they often ignore how much bandwidth is being used bidirectionally and, in fact, often use code-generating tools that are inefficient in their generation of HTML and related code," she said.

Consider the Risks

Moving any IT function into the cloud means some loss of control. For enterprises where data is currency, outages or slowdowns can bring business to a halt, Patti Dock, COO of DataMotion, a provider of data governance services, told CRM Buyer.

"When deploying to the cloud, make sure the hosting company is stable and that they can answer these questions: How is the information processed? How is information transported? Where does the data reside? What visibility do you have into what's happening? Is the process transparent?

Security issues in the cloud must also be given special attention. For instance, what if there is a data breach in the cloud?

"[Would] you have the right to have one of your staff members on site at the partner site with full access to all information about the breach of your data?" asked Andrew Storms, director of security operations for nCircle.

"In the event of a breach," he continued, "how will you prove you are compliant and drive the trust necessary to protect your brand?"

Another question to pose -- both internally and to the prospective cloud provider -- is what procedures would govern the deletion of data, Storms told CRM Buyer.

"Most companies automatically cover backup and recovery in third-party contracts," he noted, "but what about when your data should die? If you terminate your relationship with a cloud vendor, do you need them to remove your data from backup tapes and systems? Are there compliance regulations that determine how long customer data can be retained?"

Consider the Tech Challenges

Cloud computing is not exactly a plug-and-play proposition. There are tech challenges that a company must consider as part of the planning process, Gabriel Torok, CEO of PreEmptive Solutions, told CRM Buyer.

These include migration tools -- such as those that move Java and .Net applications and their databases -- that are not yet ready for prime time.

Vendor lock-in is another issue that may catch some companies off guard, he added. "Once you've built your application for a provider's cloud, it might be difficult to move it."

Indeed, there is already a movement by some providers to propel cloud computing on an open standards trajectory. Companies that invest in cloud-based applications should be following this debate as part of the planning process.

Test First

No enterprise should jump into the water without testing it first, Ian Knox, director of product management at Skytap, told CRM Buyer. The nature of cloud computing -- cheap and flexible -- makes this an easy step to incorporate in the planning process.

Many organizations opt to transition to dynamic IT lab environments as a first step, he said. "These environments provide a low-risk adoption path, as well as the highest [return on investment] as their usage significantly fluctuates."

Cloud Implementation, Part 2: Cutting a Path to Customization

Cloud Implementation, Part 3: Training for the Task


NICE inContact February 12 webinar
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NICE inContact February 12 webinar