By Sramana Mitra and guest author Shaloo Shalini
SM: I now have a fair picture of what you are trying to do with cloud computing. We have talked mostly about your infrastructure, about security and privileges. What about other services? What about other business functions that a lot of people are moving to the cloud, such as CRM, talent management, and all sorts of SaaS applications? Are those in your cloud strategy as well?
MS: In terms of cloud applications, we have talked about Microsoft Exchange, which is a no-brainer. Lots of people are hosting the exchange today. The problem that you find is – and this is the problem we find with most cloud offerings today – most of the cloud-based service providers will say, This is what we do for Microsoft Exchange, and we say, Okay, that is great! Now, if I say, ‘Listen, what if I need you to restore and merge information from a user who deleted it a month ago? Say he needs to pull it up and he didn’t realize he deleted it. So, a month later, if we need to pull it off a backup and merge it back into the database, can we do it? And can we do that within an hour?’ The cloud vendors will say, ‘No, we really can’t, but we will keep your data base up and we will keep your operational all the time, and we will manage it.’ Well, all that is great, but what if I need this thing done? What I hear from vendors is, ‘Oh, we can’t do that. That is not what we normally do. Maybe we can work out a deal where we can get it done in 36–48 hours, but right now we can’t just drop everything and do it.’
In case of Microsoft SharePoint, it is a good thing to host. But what if I need this change to be made to our SharePoint setup; can we do this within the next hour and half? I ask. What I hear is ‘No, our typical window for that is four hours.’
Where I am going with all this is, we need to have certain amounts of flexibility that are not necessarily built into the current cloud-based solution systems. We also don’t want to be in the data center business. So, we have come up with this path whereby we keep a replication or copy of everything that is going on our servers. With such a setup, if we ever need to do those special tasks, or if we need to pull any piece of data from backup from a month ago and merge it into the database, we can’t. If we need to make a major change to the way SharePoint operates, we can’t. But at the same time, we are not relying upon one copy to as the be-all and end-all, and we are not managing this entire infrastructure at the same time. So, this is where we see the hybrid solution.
In terms of applications that we see going on the Web or going in the cloud, they would be Exchange, SQL, Web applications, and file shares. File shares are a no-brainer, SharePoint, instant messaging, voicemail or modular messaging as it is called now, terminal services in RDP, and of course HR applications. Where we don’t see services going to the cloud are LDAP [lightweight directory access protocol] services, print services, network infrastructures, and certain ERP [enterprise resource planning] functions just because our ERP systems will not lend themselves to a cloud environment.
SM: I see. When did you start moving to the cloud, by the way?
MS: We started in baby steps, and we actually started this entire thing probably about two and a half years ago. We had heard about cloud computing. Interestingly enough, two and a half years ago, if you asked five different people what cloud computing was, you would get five different answers.
SM: Well, it is very much still the same. You still get five different answers!
MS: Right! But we understood even then that what you are talking about is a market driven opportunity. 10 years ago, people talked about software as a service and it didn’t come to fruition because the technology wasn’t right. But people saw it as a way to make money and a way to offer services, and it has always been our experience that you are always going to get to a level of maturity in these services. So, don’t worry about it, don’t build it, just start thinking about how you want it to be and what you need to do to get there. That is exactly what we did about two and a half years ago.
SM: In that two-and-a-half year span, what has your decision done to the cost structure of your IT organization?
MS: The cost structure hasn’t really changed because we are not really up in the cloud yet. We have done all the groundwork. Certainly, to a degree, we are in a cloud environment, but where we want to be is not where we are spinning up the hardware anymore. Where we want to be is at a point where we are not responsible for any of the infrastructure anymore and we are buying it completely as a service, as you would electricity. I think electricity is the ultimate example; I can either go buy my generator and operate it, or I can just have electricity brought in. The fact is that where I live in New Jersey, I have the generator sitting there ready to go on because the power has gone out several times.
SM: Let me rephrase the question. What are you expecting in terms of your cost structure adjustment as your cloud strategy fully ramps up?
MS: I think my cost structure is going to go down significantly
SM: By how much?
MS: By at least 35%–40%.
SM: That is significant, that is very significant.