Q: What are the biggest challenges companies face when implementing a comprehensive cloud strategy?
A couple come to mind, and neither is technical. The first is the evolution of skills. IT teams have been managing their data centers in pretty much the same way for 20 years. Some of these skills may not be applicable to a world where you deliver IT services in a cloud model, whether it be private, public or more likely, a hybrid model. CIOs and IT Directors need to assess the skills of their team and plan on applicable training.

Second is the issue of governance. Current data shows that Line of Business leaders are involved in the majority of cloud purchasing decisions, mostly Software as a Service (SaaS). This explosion of new services in the enterprise can cause a governance issue, much like the explosion of client/server did in the 1990s. The CIO needs to evolve his/her role to be one of cloud service aggregator, essentially taking responsibility for these cloud services and providing the know-how to integrate them seamlessly into the companies business processes and governance processes.

Q: How should companies approach implementing a cloud strategy? What should their initial steps be?
A: Step One is the realization that this is not a scenario where today you are "not cloud" and tomorrow you are "cloud."  Cloud is part of an IT transformation strategy, which should be used only where it makes sense. Step Two is figuring out where it does make sense. This usually requires an internal workload and application analysis to figure out what makes financial and technical sense to move to the public cloud, a private cloud, or to replace altogether with a SaaS-provided solution. Step Three is to develop a way to get to cloud computing.

Q: How can a company's cloud strategy benefit employees?
A: There are a number of ways, but my favorite is "self-service."  When we launched our first private cloud for researchers, we didn't make it mandatory to use. Folks could order new storage and servers the traditional way, or they could go to the cloud portal and provision virtual servers themselves. It wasn't long before the majority of researchers were getting their IT needs from the private cloud. Why? They wanted to control things and the cloud was completely self-service and the rest of the process was automated.

Q: How do you see cloud computing affecting the way we do business in the long run?
Five years from now we won't be talking about cloud computing, just as we no longer talk about "client/server" computing or "distributed" computing. Cloud computing will be the new norm for business applications, as will mobile.  The typical future organizational application will be built for mobile devicess, such as smartphones or tablets and will be delivered via a cloud.

Q: What factors should companies focus on when deciding what type of cloud platform to use?
A: I think the most important criterion is to use a cloud that is based upon open standards and open source. No one knows today where exactly technology is going. Today the best answer may be a private cloud, but tomorrow you may want to move it all to a public cloud. Building on open standards provides flexibility for the future.

Q: Beyond business, what other fields can benefit from innovations in cloud computing?
Any field that uses IT. Governments can benefit from the usage-based nature of cloud. Schools can benefit from the centralized storage nature of cloud, so every school does not need to keep a server on its premises. With increasing amounts of data being gathered from sensors and machines, clouds could store the larges amounts of Big Data for analytics of the data.

Q: How do you sum up the real value of cloud computing?
A: Instant access to IT in order to drive a faster return on investment for services delivered, which provides opportunities for rapid creation capabilities that differentiate an organization from its competitors.