Amidst the overwhelming buzz of cloud computing, IT decision-makers must sort the reality from the hype to determine where cloud might provide business value for their organisations. Cloud is an important development in the landscape of computing options, to the point that most organisations will one day use cloud or cloud-like offerings, but there's no guarantee that cloud is right for your organisation right now.

For example, many of the most-talked-about usage scenarios for infrastructure-as-a-service (IaaS) entail specialised situations that few enterprises can relate to. On the other hand, there is real value, and your business may be able to achieve substantial benefit from cloud computing.

When any wave of industry hype gets fevered and loud, CIOs often ask architects to create a strategy for the new industry darling, in this case, cloud. The problem with creating a "cloud strategy" is that, by placing your strategy focus on the technology rather than on your business, it's easy to lose focus and assume that adopting cloud-based offerings is a sure path to business benefit.

In reality, there are numerous tradeoffs between cloud options and traditional computing options. Nearly every cloud solution has a functionally equivalent non-cloud alternative, so to maintain focus on your business, it is best to build your strategy around the business decisions to which each type of cloud offering is directed. This approach fosters more level-headed consideration and comparison of cloud and non-cloud options, and it establishes a stronger foundation for a long-term evolution toward cloud and cloud-like options as they mature.

The three major categories of cloud computing-IaaS, platform-as-a-service (PaaS), and software-as-a-service (SaaS)-correspond to three major business decisions addressed by an organisation's architecture strategies:

  1. On what computing resources will I run my business? Computing infrastructure strategy / IaaS

  2. With what tools will I build and run custom solutions? Application platform strategy / PaaS

  3. How should I mix custom and off-the-shelf solutions? Solution portfolio management / SaaS

Rather than developing a siloed strategy for cloud, a business approach will integrate analysis of cloud and cloud-like options into each of these three strategies. Rather than asking architects to create a cloud strategy, CIOs should direct them to enhance existing strategies. This will include the development, within each strategy, of plans for evolving over the long-term as cloud offerings mature.

This reframing away from cloud strategy is much more than semantics. By centering analysis and strategy on business problems and decisions, it appropriately:

  1. Frames the full range of business criteria by which to compare cloud and non-cloud options.

  2. Moves analysis away from theoretical definitions of what is and isn't "pure cloud," allowing more cogent analysis of cloud-like, hybrid, transitional, and traditional computing options.

  3. Allows clearer matching between the economic and risk profiles of a wide range of computing options and the business and financial dynamics of different business scenarios.

To appropriately position cloud offerings as part of your existing technology strategies, recent research from Forrester offers the following advice:

1. Integrate IaaS into your infrastructure strategy

At the infrastructure level, the business problem is to cost effectively provision infrastructure to run your business. IaaS becomes the right answer when, for a given business scenario, it provides the most effective computing infrastructure based on financing, flexibility, reliability, security, and other factors important to that specific business scenario. Evaluate IaaS options alongside on-premise data centres, private cloud, hosted cloud, traditional outsourcing and managed hosting.

2. Integrate PaaS into your application platform strategy

For application platforms, the objective is to provide effective tooling to allow your solution delivery teams to build and maintain a coherent portfolio of business solutions and, where appropriate, to do specialised development for individual applications within the portfolio.

PaaS is right for your business when its combined solution development and runtime environment compares favorably against other application platform options on cost, flexibility, developer skills management, and solution life-cycle management either for your entire portfolio or for individual applications viewed as part of your overall portfolio. In other words, the absolute best platform for a single isolated app is not always the best platform when that app is considered within a coherent application platform strategy.

3. Integrate SaaS into your business solution portfolio and road map

When buying or building a portfolio of solutions to run your business, the business problem is to achieve effective, competitive business operations. SaaS is the right option when the portfolio fit, cost, risk, functionality, operational robustness, and integratability of a (small or large) SaaS-based solution allows it to provide the best combination of business effectiveness and cohesive fit into your application road map and strategy.

An application that provides the perfect fit for a given set of business needs may or may not fit well into your solution portfolio. If it doesn't, there's the risk it will create upfront and ongoing integration and operational hassles both for IT and for your business process.