Jumping Into the Cloud – Advice for CIOs
May 20, 2009
Q&A: Ron Markezich, Corporate Vice President of Microsoft Online, discusses the challenges and benefits of cloud computing in the enterprise, and offers pragmatic considerations for CIOs who are evaluating cloud services.

Editor’s note – May 20, 2009 – see Markezich’s Five Considerations for CIOs Considering Cloud Computing at the end of this article.

REDMOND, Wash. – May 20, 2009 – Cloud computing is much discussed in today’s technology circles. But despite the attention it receives, adoption has been slow. For one thing, chief information officers are uncertain how to fashion a roadmap that brings “cloud services” into their IT architecture. They also have questions about security, reliability, and control of their data.

Today in Boston, Chief Information Officers (CIOs) from across the country have gathered at the MIT Sloan CIO Symposium to discuss just those issues, along with other topics that they grapple with in today’s fast-changing technological world. Among the speakers at the symposium is Ron Markezich, corporate vice president of Microsoft Online and Microsoft’s former CIO. Markezich is responsible for the service delivery of Microsoft Online Services, which are enterprise cloud applications hosted by Microsoft and sold with partners. He will talk with CIOs about the promises and challenges of cloud computing, and some of the steps CIOs should consider on the path to adoption.

A few days before the symposium, PressPass sat down with Markezich to ask him about cloud computing and some of the things CIOs need to know to begin a move toward adopting it.

PressPass: Tell us how Microsoft Online got its beginnings.

Ron Markezich: Some time back, while I was CIO at Microsoft, Steve Ballmer and Bill Gates called a meeting to bring myself and key engineering leaders from across the company together to discuss their vision for delivering Microsoft’s software as services over the Internet. In that meeting, they said the future of our business is a future which embraces cloud computing.

Bill and Steve chose this group because they wanted to take the expertise that we had in the IT organization for operations and couple that with the expertise we had in engineering, and bring us together to build and deliver these services to our business and public sector customers.

And so back then we actually kicked off what today we call Microsoft Online by signing up our first customer, Energizer, to run Energizer's e-mail, calendaring, collaboration, communications and desktop management services. We still run these services for Energizer to this day, but that was the beginning for us to understand where we needed to improve our software and our operational processes to provide these online services broadly and at scale, which is what we do today through Microsoft Online.

PressPass: In your various IT roles, you’ve spent a lot of time with customers talking about cloud computing and Microsoft Online specifically. What are customers most concerned about as it relates to cloud computing?

Markezich: When I talk to CIOs about cloud computing, one of the biggest things that holds them back is control – control of their data, control of their policies and procedures. There is real concern that moving to cloud services means giving up control.

Another important area CIOs grapple with concerns the security and privacy of their data. Cloud computing is a nascent technology in the enterprise, and the industry has a lot of ground to cover to truly deliver end-to-end trust on the Internet, and this is a concern for CIOs.

Finally, CIOs are concerned about the degree of flexibility they will have as they adopt cloud computing. Clearly companies are not going to move to the cloud overnight, and so being able to run some applications in the cloud – but keep some applications in their datacenter without driving up costs – is an important requirement.

PressPass: What advice do you have for customers around these concerns?

Markezich: The most important thing for an organization to do is to think through their business requirements and how cloud computing might better address those. If cost savings is the driver, cloud computing might be able to help with that. If the requirement is to meet stringent government-mandated compliance requirements, cloud computing might not be the answer in that particular scenario.

Secondly, think through how cloud computing might fit into an IT architecture. In all likelihood, customers will use a mix of cloud computing and on-premise environments, and seamless coexistence is extremely important.

Then I’d say selecting the right provider is the best way to alleviate concerns. Customers want to make sure that their provider has a proven track record delivering services, have expertise working with enterprises, are open and transparent about their privacy and security practices, and that customer data will be protected and not misused. I’d add that a broad and capable partner network is critical to help with customers move from one environment to another.

PressPass: Microsoft already has thousands of customers on Microsoft Online. What are some of the things you’ve seen that make for successful deployments?

Markezich: When companies start down the path of cloud computing, they will in all likelihood be running a hybrid environment – a mix of cloud and on-premise services. Take for example the example of migrating e-mail to Exchange Online. When a user on the old system sends a calendar appointment to a user on the new system, the meeting needs to still take place. Preparing ahead for this co-existence is important for success.

Secondly, planning an identity management system which supports this hybrid environment is important. Federated identity allows the organization to support a single sign-on interface for users, which in turn drives up adoption and user satisfaction.

Finally, companies that have migrated quickly are able to realize the benefits across their organization right away.

PressPass: What does the future look like for companies that adopt cloud computing today?

Markezich: Today, cloud computing presents an opportunity for customers to lower costs as new business models emerge. In the future, businesses will become more agile. IT organizations will expand (or shrink) their IT capacity seamlessly at the click of a mouse, allowing them to focus resources on driving innovation to improve their core business. And they’ll deliver a connected experience to their users, where the cloud serves as a hub, making data available wherever and whenever it is needed.

But the cloud computing paradigm is nascent, and the industry has many challenges to solve before the benefits of cloud computing can truly be realized.

PressPass: What are the unique strengths Microsoft has in this space?

Markezich: We think cloud computing provides significant opportunities for our customers to take advantage of new ways to business, but this is a marathon and not a sprint. It will take time for customers to truly embrace the cloud in a big way. Because Microsoft sees a hybrid world of software-plus-services, we will be ready for customers to adopt cloud computing at the pace that is right for them.

From the Video: Five Considerations for CIOs Considering Cloud Computing

Ron Markezich offers practical guidelines for CIOs considering cloud computing for their organizations.

  • Cloud computing should integrate into your existing IT architecture in such a way that you can benefit from both traditional and cloud environments. Use cloud services for applications that don’t offer competitive advantage.

  • Prepare your organization and ecosystem for the changes and benefits cloud computing will bring.

  • Plan carefully for identity management so that integration with any cloud service is seamless.

  • Choose which applications to start with. Try to keep risk and implementation workload low but at the same time drive excitement for the new services. SharePoint Online is a product that achieves both of those objectives.

  • Spend time finding a provider who you can bet your business on. You’ll want to look for experience delivering cloud services to enterprises as well as a strong partner ecosystem to help with your specific needs. Also make sure that the provider you choose has the appropriate security and privacy controls and procedures in place to deliver reliable and trusted services.

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