Three Steps to Defining a Cloud-First Strategy

By Matt Brown, IT Customer Engagement - NetApp on NetApp, NetApp IT


This is the fourth blog in a series on NetApp IT and the hybrid cloud. To read previous blogs, click on these links:

As NetApp’s business goals evolve, so must IT. We constantly look at ways to streamline IT processes to become more efficient in terms of cost and agility. When we looked to the cloud as a possible solution, we discovered the real conversation has evolved from ‘to cloud or not to cloud?’ but ‘how to cloud and why.’


Inside NetApp IT we previously looked at the cloud as a static end state where apps were placed in the cloud on an individual basis. We then realized that we could leverage the cloud in a far more dynamic way. A dynamic strategy enables us to move apps in, out, and within clouds; adjust our course as workloads and risk factors change; and continually evaluate what apps are in the cloud and why. Our strategy is based on a blend of private and public clouds (which includes SaaS providers) and aims to eliminate the legacy data center concept.


One of the biggest mistakes an IT shop can make is to manage the cloud as if it were a project with an end date. IT organizations must acknowledge that they need the cloud as part of their new operating model. Adopting this new model requires thoughtful planning in terms of agility, scalability, and supportability. Below we offer an approach to starting your own cloud journey.


Next Stop: Cloud

Many CIOs I talk with ask me why NetApp IT decided to move to the cloud. My response is that all enterprises need to go to the cloud, whether it is private, public/SaaS or, most likely, a blend of all three. NetApp IT sees the cloud as enabling the agility to maximize technology investments, deliver business capabilities more rapidly, ensure greater supportability, and enhance the ability to leverage future technologies and IT services.


With the goal that all applications will end up in a cloud, we needed a framework to guide those decisions. A cloud decision framework is how we incorporated the cloud into the evolution of our daily operations. NetApp IT seeks to maintain flexibility in the cloud without vendor lock-in to meet the every-changing needs of the business and maintain a competitive advantage. The framework addresses cloud placement for new apps and the evolution of legacy apps to the cloud.


In part one of this blog series, we will discuss the development of our cloud decision framework to transition IT from a traditional operating model to one that is cloud-centered. In future blogs, we will explore the other phases of implementing a cloud-first strategy, including policies, governance, and execution. We start with our first step:


Recognize that you’re already in the cloud and learn from it.

Many IT organizations see the cloud as new technology when the reality is that they are already leveraging cloud-based SaaS business services, such as payroll, HR benefits, lead generation, and the help desk, which have been common cloud services for decades. It is also likely your business is using the cloud without IT involvement. Examples can be found in marketing, finance, and sales.


 NetApp IT Cloud Decision Framework


The goal here is to learn why your organization chose to use SaaS, validate that criteria, and then apply it to the rest of your application environment. More than likely you’ve chosen SaaS because the apps/services were not core to your company’s competencies. Core competency becomes the foundation of your cloud decision framework.


Develop your cloud decision framework.

You will need a cloud decision framework to standardize and bring consistency to your delivery and operational process for the cloud. We recognized that core competency was an output of the first assessment. Now let’s table that for a moment to ensure we can apply that criteria in the most meaningful way possible to your entire application portfolio.


In our environment, we were already using the Gartner Pace Layering methodology for IT governance to prioritize technology investments. We recognized it could also help us define our cloud decision framework and prioritize the order of cloud adoption. This methodology offers a structured approach based on roles that the applications play in the business, based on three categories. We added a fourth category called Commodity that captures common-use desktop- or service-based applications throughout the corporation. These categories are:


  • Systems of Record These apps are the single source of truth for data sets of information. Examples include payroll, revenue recognition, installed base, etc.
  • Systems of Differentiation— These apps are critical to the company’s competitive advantage in the marketplace. One example is NetApp AutoSupport™ (ASUP™), our proprietary customer support system.
  • Systems of Innovation— These apps are developed to exploit new opportunities in the market or improve internal efficiencies and require a fail-fast, proof-of-concept approach for testing new capabilities. The objective is to decide about investing in them as fast as possible.
  • Commodity Systems — Any software that is used corporatewide. This includes email, help desk, collaboration, office tools, and web conferencing.


Place your apps into categories.

Now that you understand the classifications, the next step is to place your IT-supported apps into one of the four categories. This process should be simple and take only a couple of hours. This is a not a detailed exercise. The goal here is to identify the first categories of focus in the simplest way possible.


For NetApp IT, the first logical focus was on our commodity systems and systems of innovation. Commodity systems are not a core competency and should already be in the cloud. NetApp IT is taking a very aggressive approach to making this a reality.


As you move commodity and innovation systems to the cloud, you will recognize that systems of record and differentiation are more complex to analyze. This is because these systems are legacy systems for most companies. These systems are usually highly customized and highly integrated, with very specific proprietary features. They should be part of your private cloud strategy.


Many of the applications categorized as systems of record are not a core competency and should be evaluated against all your working business requirements to make a final determination for placement. As you go through this exercise, you will discover many of these systems will be candidates for SaaS-based solutions.


Now that you have these categories, you can start developing your policies, such as requiring that all new apps be cloud-ready, with no proprietary constraints or customizations. In our next blog, we will explore developing policies for both new and legacy applications, including the importance of maintaining control of our data regardless of which cloud an application resides in.


Supporting Business Agility

In this blog, we described how NetApp IT developed a cloud decision framework, including developing criteria based on our current cloud presence and applying a structured approach to categorizing apps based on their cloud fitness and business requirements. The framework is an effective tool for IT to standardize its approach for supporting core vs. non-core systems and utilizing the cloud as part of a dynamic hybrid cloud strategy. Just as importantly, the framework is a solid foundation for NetApp IT to evolve from a technology provider to a broker of services.


Stay tuned for the next blogs in this series, which present the drivers of a cloud-first policy as well as its governance and execution within your IT operations.


The NetApp-on-NetApp blog series features advice from subject matter experts from NetApp IT who share their real-world experiences using NetApp’s industry-leading storage solutions to support business goals. Want to learn more about the program? Visit