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The 5 P’s of Cloud Computing

This week is Cisco Partner Summit. A week in which we roll out new products, new technology, new vision and new strategies for the 1000s of Cisco partners that help us deliver great IT solutions to companies around the world. One of the areas that we’re discussing this week is Cloud Computing and ways to help partners prepare to take their customers on the journey to transform their business.

While reading an excellent post this morning from Chuck Hollis at EMC, I started thinking about previous guidance that I’ve given to leaders, partners and customers about how to deal with the transitions within IT and how to align these to their new business needs. As Chuck also points out, while there is a technology component of this, often times the biggest areas of change come on the people side of the equation.

I call this framework “The 5 Ps of Cloud Computing (from the non-technical perspective). It’s not tied to any companies, products or industries, but rather it’s a model that I’ve used in the past to help guide companies that are looking to solve some of their IT challenges with a Cloud Computing strategy.

Let’s take a look at the various pieces and how they interact within the model. [Note the color-coding of each section as it will help to remember the concepts]

People -- As you can see, “People” is not only the foundation, but also touches every other element within the model. I represent it this way because Cloud Computing is fundamentally about change, and the element most impacted (and influenced) by those changes are people. People that have technical backgrounds (IT Departments, Service Providers, Application Developers, etc.) as well as business needs. But for many people “change” is a word that invokes fear or concern, so being able to successfully embrace a strategy that includes Cloud Computing means that people are going to need to adapt from their existing ways. And the way they adapt and change will impact each of the other Ps in the framework, either for the better or worse. This is why I reference work by people such as John Kotter or Dan and Chip Heath. Understanding how to create change, shape new behaviors and create new people-centric foundations is as critical for any company embracing Cloud Computing as the technology itself. Color = Navy Blue -- Conservative.

Planning -- When you think or operate in terms of “silos” (vertical organizations; vertical work-functions), the planning required to provide services to your customers is not a difficult process. Take requests, apply them to existing resources, and deliver an output. Cloud Computing creates a model where massive amounts of computing resources are virtualized, and then allocated to customers (business units, end-users, consumer customers or business partners, etc.) on an as-needed basis. Efficiently matching requested-demand with delivered-service-output is the end result of these shared resources. But when those resources start to become shared across organizations or work-functions, the planning process may or may not become more difficult. If your planning model is still based on vertical silos, then the result of the planning could be much more difficult to get right. But if the planning model recognizes the improved efficiency from these shared resources, then those “customers” can start taking a page out of the playbook of the Operations Groups of the 1980s and 1990s that implemented those Just In Time (JIT) models to build physical products faster and more cost efficiently. Color = Sky Blue -- Looking at the big picture, possibilities.

Politics - Yep, even with all the cool technology that goes along with Cloud Computing, Politics will still exist in both the decision-making process and the execution/operations of the strategy. Not only is Cloud Computing about “change”, but it’s also about “shifting control”. That control might be which people (or sub-groups of people) are making decisions, or it might be about how partners are now being integrated into the strategy. And anytime you’re potentially shifting control, people get protective and politics come to the forefront. Again, just like with Planning, this could create a better or worse environment. If you can understand the motivations, fears and goals of both the Riders and the Elephants, there are great win-win opportunities for both the technical and business stakeholders. If you only stay focused on the technologies or spreadsheet ROI models, then the move to a Cloud Computing strategy could move at a glacial pace (if at all). Color = Red -- Danger! Proceed with Caution.

Process -- This is the easier and hardest P in the framework. It’s the easiest because you can immediately show somebody (technical or business focused) how to setup an account on Gmail or Facebook or WebEx and say, “wouldn’t it be great if all your computing services were that easy to setup?”. It’s the hardest because the uber-magic technical stuff that goes on behind the scenes of a Public Cloud service, especially in terms of automation and process, can be extremely hard to explain. But regardless of the complexity, business-focused people are going to understand the simplicity and speed at which those services were made available to them and want the same experience for their needs. This is where the game radically changes, because your customer just saw the promise of the future, and the possibilities that are available today. That experience is now the benchmark that you’re going to be measured against. My suggestion -- understand that “uber-magic technical stuff” I mentioned before and work backwards from that to start defining the new models you’ll use to align IT process with business needs. Don’t go in the other direction! You can’t give someone a rotary phone after they’ve seen the iPhone, just because it’s easier for you.
Color = Grey -- Boring, behind the scenes (but wishing it were a sexy black color)

Payback -- Let’s face it, this is really the only portion of Cloud Computing that the business-focused leader cares about. While IT can be considered a cost-center or a strategic-enabler, it’s still only there to drive a return for the products and services of the business. And it comes at a cost. But Cloud Computing offers the ability to more efficiently align the costs of delivery to the demands of the business. It allows the shift from a CAPEX-centric model to a more OPEX-centric model of operations. It allows Payback (or “Showback”) to be aligned with the value-add from those products and services of the business, rather than only CAPEX chunks on the Balance Sheet every 3-5 years. This is where the IT professional needs to step outside of their comfort zone and understand the basics of ROITCO and the other acronyms they teach in MBA programs. If you can bring the right skills, the right technology and the right processes with this new Cloud Computing model to the business, we begin to reach that stage where IT can become part of the strategy instead of part of the problem (or so they say). Color = Green -- Show me the money!!

I’ll go into all of these concepts and their interdependency in more detail in later posts, but I first wanted to get the framework out there to spur discussions. It’s not the sexy technologies that grabs all the tech-press headlines, but rather it’s some of the squishy stuff that effects the success or failure of bringing Cloud Computing to solve business problems. And as I stated at the outset, this framework is all about People and their interaction with change.

UPDATE: My friend and Clouderati member Christian Reilly one-upped me by adding “An additional 5Ps of Cloud Computing” on his blog, based on his hands-on experience with a very large Private Cloud.

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6 Comments.


  1. Brian!

    Nice framework — very simple and elegant. I like it.

    And, BTW, thanks for the shout-out!

    – Chuck

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  2. role out = roll out?

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  3. Brian Gracely

    @Chuck – thank you for the feedback. all too easy to piggyback on your posts some days :)

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  4. Brian Gracely

    @Ton – embarrassed that I missed that typo in the very first paragraph. thanks for catching it. fixed now.

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  5. very useful article. thx!

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  6. Looking forward to future posts. If management isn’t ready and willing to accept transformation at all levels of the org, then it’s not truly ready to take the Cloud journey.

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