Microsoft CIO Tony Scott: How to Avoid “Cloud Paralysis”

Originally published on The Official Microsoft Blog

I spend about one-third of my time speaking to chief information officers from a variety of industries and regions of the world on a myriad of issues, but the topic they most often want to discuss is cloud computing. On Monday, I had the privilege to attend a Forbes and Microsoft CIO network event in New York and, along with Forbes publisher Rich Karlgaard, offered some advice to CIOs on how to avoid what I’ll call ‘cloud paralysis’ and start realizing the benefits of this technology opportunity.

CIOs have heard about cloud computing and know the benefits, yet they remain uncertain on how and where to begin to bring their business into the cloud. As Microsoft CIO, my top priority is to transform our IT organization to meet the company’s ever-evolving business and technical needs. This vision brings agility to our IT services while lowering the cost structure of delivering IT services to the more than 150,000 people our organization serves each day around the world. Cloud computing is one of the most important tools on this journey.

As an early test environment for both Office 365 and Windows Azure, we’ve had good experience deploying cloud computing at the company and have learned lessons along the way.

1. Moving to the cloud is both a business and technical decision. When making the decision to migrate to the cloud,both the business and technical vectors need to be balanced. At the core of every cloud computing decision should be the business problem that your organization is trying to solve. Ask your CEO, "What's the most important system in the company and what do you care about?" For us, this was our volume licensing platform.

2. One size doesn’t fit all. It is up to each individual organization to choose where to start and how to grow cloud services. Your approach will vary based on your business needs. For instance, a few years back we right-sized and optimized our companywide lab environment because capacity was growing rapidly, server utilization was decreasing and support costs were rising. We deployed a private cloud environment, and Microsoft IT was able to reduce support costs by 35 percent, enhance the SLAs with the product teams and improve customer satisfaction.

Microsoft uses a decision framework, taking into account questions that every organization should ask:

a. What are the capabilities in our offerings? What’s our roadmap?

b. Which of our applications can be moved most easily? Which are already state-separated? Which can be virtualized? Which are not worth moving to the cloud?

c. What’s the business impact of moving each application to the cloud?

3. Take advantage of the opportunity to re-architect: When it comes to line of business applications,many IT professionals have historically lived by the doctrine “if it’s not broken don't fix it.” With the introduction of cloud, IT now has the opportunity to dramatically change the cost profile of older applications and move them onto a platform that's more scalable. One of our first projects in the cloud was moving our internal ‘Giving Campaign' auction tool to Windows Azure because it’s only used once a year for a month, and the final 48 hours always see a large spike in use. By rebuilding the tool, we reduced the cost of running it while gaining a more reliability.

4. Look upstream for cost savings. Behind every production environment, there are several upstream environments, such as test environments, that often times go unused and underutilized. Cloud provides capacity for these environments at the push of a button, decreasing underutilized IT resources. That’s instant cost savings in a place that most CIOs don’t even look.

5. The role of the CIO will change as the cloud takes hold and organizations change. CIOs need to prepare themselves for the evolution of the CIO role. As more and more business becomes digital and we move away from analog, the CIO should organize around business processes as opposed to organizational boundaries.

The bottom line when it comes to cloud computing is that CIOs should get started. That's the hardest part. However, once they get in there and experience a cloud platform, it will boost their enthusiasm and willingness to move forward. Once you dip your toe in the water, the learning process begins.