Cloud Outages

How to recover after a cloud computing misstep

Early adopters share their lessons learned on ramping up, scaling back and avoiding disasters in the cloud.

Man busting out of suit into superman among clouds
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DreamWorks Animation knows the magic of the cloud. Since 2003, the famed studio has held its product development, design and manufacturing functions in a hybrid cloud environment, long before the storage option was even called "cloud."

The cloud gives the Los Angeles-based company "massive flexibility in both human and digital capital," says DreamWorks CTO Lincoln Wallen, adding that it gives "any artist access to any movie from any site, anywhere, on any project... instantly." It also allowed DreamWorks to move from producing one movie every 18 months to three movies a year.

A blockbuster solution, no doubt. But things proved trickier when cloud options were weighed for corporate and back-office functions.

In 2012, DreamWorks switched email systems from Microsoft Exchange to Gmail on the Google Apps platform to create a uniform framework for its 2,600 employees, half of whom used Linux for creating animation and the other half Microsoft tools for corporate functions.

While the Google suite's functionality is "amazing" for email and calendar sharing across the studio's global ecosystem, Wallen says, some significant "downsides" have emerged. "One is you're not in control of the user experience," he explains. "The cloud provider's business model is built on delivering common functionality to many customers, so they roll out changes to everybody," ready or not. "The other challenge with cloud services is that there are multiple suppliers," he adds. "So when you start wanting to build workflows and processes across those [hosted] services, you're seriously hindered."

From that plot twist, Wallen learned a valuable lesson. "In the new, loosely coupled world of consumerized IT, we must take control of the user experience ourselves as an enterprise, since cloud services or SaaS providers are increasingly unable to achieve the desired enterprisewide experience," he says.

Many early adopters of cloud computing have survived and even thrived after climbing the initial learning curve. Like DreamWorks, many have stuck with providers of hosted services and are working with them to improve their experience. But other cloud users have bowed out in some capacity, or plan to do so.

In 2012, Gartner analyst Jarod Greene predicted that 30% of the organizations then using software as a service for IT software management, or the "guts of IT," would revert back to on-premises solutions by 2014 because of poor service levels driven by more complex IT solutions, faster change cycles, shorter development timelines and budget cuts.

Turns out, the situation isn't as dire as predicted, but "we're halfway there," Greene says, noting that, in a survey conducted last fall, 15% of enterprise users of SaaS-based tools said they wouldn't re-sign contracts with their providers in 2014. "We expect that to increase based on bad total cost of ownership," he adds. "They haven't gotten better on the tool, or a single provider may not do everything they need it to do well enough."

In general, however, use of cloud computing is growing, and by 2016 cloud-based systems will account for the bulk of new IT spending, according to Gartner. In fact, the research firm expects 2016 to be a "defining year" for the cloud, as private cloud setups begin to give way to hybrid systems. By the end of 2017, Gartner predicts, nearly half of large enterprises will have hybrid cloud deployments.

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