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Dustin Amrhein

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Different Roads to Cloud Adoption

How companies are adopting cloud and why it matters

I find that it is interesting and sometimes even helpful to sit down and reflect on past experiences. That's true for life and it's true for work. In my last post, I reflected on some of the common challenges I have seen in the rollout of enterprise cloud projects. In this post, I want to shift gears a bit and take one giant step back if you will. Let's talk about the common patters for how organizations are adopting cloud in the first place.

I like to keep things as simple as possible. Remember, just because something is simple does not make it any less true! I like to boil down my characterization of cloud adoption strategy into just two camps: strategic and tactical. You may hear the same kind of thought referred to as bottom-up and top-down approaches. However, I believe those terms usually have a technical connotation, and I do not want to pigeon hole cloud adoption strategy as only a technical discussion -- it has far broader reaches than that.

The strategic approach to cloud adoption is usually pretty easy to spot. Organizations going down this road often start by forming a task force, formally or informally, to define what cloud means to the company. The output is usually some sort of cloud steering document or organizational cloud plan that the rest of the company can leverage to guide their cloud usage. This document or plan enables other teams by defining things like acceptable cloud delivery models (public, private, hybrid), preferred service providers, security requirements, characteristics of high value projects, and more. Regardless of what the steering asset contains, the key to identifying this approach is simple. When an organization takes the strategic adoption approach, cloud projects do not proceed until a well-defined, mutually agreed upon cloud blueprint is firmly in place

In sharp contrast to the strategic, measured approach, is the tactical approach. When organizations take the tactical approach, you may often hear that they are dipping their toes in the sea of cloud. This approach means that an organization is tackling one or two big pain points (maybe application development and test) with cloud services. The idea behind the tactical approach is that successful implementation/adoption of cloud services for a handful of high visibility projects can initiate the necessary momentum for enterprise-wide adoption. When taking this approach to cloud adoption, companies tend to pay a lot of attention to gathering value metrics from their initial projects. These metrics become ‘evidence' for the rest of the company, whether they are good or bad.

Like just about anything else, there is a little gray area here. Some organizations end up pursuing something of a blended approach. In parallel, they work on defining their cloud blueprint and validating it with a few select implementations. As you may surmise, there is no right or wrong way. I tend to observe that the more technically oriented a company is, the more likely they are to go the tactical route. In any case, so long as you are identifying if and where cloud can provide value to your organization, you are making meaningful progress.

So, why is all of this important anyway? Well, I think understanding the different approaches to cloud adoption can help to structure how we, as an industry, align ourselves to help with the movement.  These two approaches require two different types of help. Strategic adoption paths would really benefit from adoption roadmaps, case study data from other implementations, meaningful exploration of cloud delivery models, and more. Tactical approaches would benefit from technical accelerators in the form of services for integration, migration, translation, and more. I do not think you can argue the industry is where it should be in terms of being able to help with either of these adoption paths. It's time to start listening and observing so we can change that!

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Dustin Amrhein joined IBM as a member of the development team for WebSphere Application Server. While in that position, he worked on the development of Web services infrastructure and Web services programming models. In his current role, Dustin is a technical specialist for cloud, mobile, and data grid technology in IBM's WebSphere portfolio. He blogs at http://dustinamrhein.ulitzer.com. You can follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/damrhein.