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5/20/2009
11:18 AM
John Foley
John Foley
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Microsoft's Beginner's Guide To Cloud Computing

Microsoft VP and its former CIO Ron Markezich is participating in a panel discussion on cloud computing today at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's CIO Symposium. Markezich will share five tips on how to get started in the cloud, based on the experiences of Microsoft's early cloud customers.

Microsoft VP and its former CIO Ron Markezich is participating in a panel discussion on cloud computing today at Massachusetts Institute of Technology's CIO Symposium. Markezich will share five tips on how to get started in the cloud, based on the experiences of Microsoft's early cloud customers.Microsoft's own cloud services--Windows Azure and the Azure Services Platform--aren't yet available, but CEO Steve Ballmer has said Microsoft will deliver the first of those services later this year. In the meantime, demand for Microsoft's business productivity suite offered as a service--the "Online" versions of Exchange, SharePoint, Office Communications, and Live Meeting--is strong, Markezich says. A few weeks ago, Microsoft expanded availability of those online apps to 20 countries.

In its early going with software as a service, Microsoft has learned a few things about how customers need to adapt. Following are five points that Markezich says CIOs need to keep in mind as they move in this direction.

1. Know where and how cloud services fit into your company's IT architecture. This is important as IT departments subscribe to their first cloud services, and even more so as they sign on to services from multiple providers.

2. Prepare your company for the changes associated with cloud services. That goes beyond end user readiness to include the company's procurement and legal teams. Cloud services are different from traditional outsourcing services. For example, cloud service options tend to be standardized for all customers; there's less customization.

3. Attend to your identity management system. User access, security, and integration with on-premises systems and applications require a "clean," up-to-date identity management system. For Microsoft customers, this means time spent preparing Active Directory.

4. Choose the right apps. Most companies will move into the cloud gradually, so it's a matter of deciding where to get started. Markezich says SharePoint Online is very popular as a standalone service, given SharePoint's collaboration capabilities.

5. Select the right cloud service provider. "There are a lot of little guys out there today," says Markezich. "You have to ask yourself, 'Are they going to be in it for the long run? Do they have enterprise credibility? Breadth of options?' " All good questions, though it's only fair to point out that Microsoft's own track record in the cloud remains largely unproven.

Markezich's five-point checklist isn't a bad starting point for IT pros looking to get into cloud services, though my own due diligence list would be twice that long. Other areas of inquiry I recommend include an evaluation of the true costs of cloud computing when you factor in all the tools and services needed; an assessment of service providers' data center operations, including locations and security certifications; and attention to what I consider the sweet spot of the market, hybrid clouds that span both the corporate data center and public cloud services.

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