Cloud: From the cubicle to the board room, courtesy of the data

By Anil Chakravarthy, EVP & CPO, Informatica

Anil Chakravarthy, EVP & CPO, Informatica

Despite all the metaphors of cloud computing being a lofty topic, the reality is that in many organizations, cloud solutions have been hidden in the bowels of IT or pursued quietly by various business functions, such as sales or HR. And generally, the bulk of enterprise cloud discussions to date have fallen into two categories: cloud computing platforms (the darling of IT operations and data center geeks) and cloud applications (beloved by business users, rogue or otherwise).

However, there is a third aspect to cloud computing that is zooming to prominence: cloud data. Data has now elevated cloud computing to a boardroom discussion. Why? Companies are chasing data like never before, looking to wield it to outsmart their competitors through approaches including big data and predictive analytics. But, the proliferation of cloud data has become overwhelming, yielding the data equivalent of "water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink."

Cloud computing has certainly changed the economics of IT. Many IT groups have delighted in the ability to migrate their data centers to the cloud via Platform as a Service (PaaS) capabilities offered by companies, such as Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure. But, while this made many IT groups far more efficient and cost-effective, few business executives really cared. Now, PaaS vendors are extending beyond basic compute platforms to massively disrupt the data processing market, with offerings such as AWS Redshift and the recently announced Aurora.

This shift goes hand-in-hand with the rise of cloud analytics. Only nine months ago, cloud analytics was a niche segment, with any person who was serious about "big data" focused on building massive Hadoop/NoSQL clusters and hiring a bunch of data scientists. Given that most enterprise data still resided on-premise, it just didn't seem practical to move all that data into the cloud for analytics.
The tipping point is now here.

. First, the center of gravity of enterprise data is inexorably shifting toward the cloud due to increasing adoption of cloud applications and cloud computing.
. Second, Salesforce's entree into the analytics space with Wave will greatly accelerate the segment's maturation by sheer force of their market power.
. Third, cloud application (aka SaaS) vendors are coming under increasing pressure from their business users to embed sophisticated (yet easy-to-use) analytics into their applications directly.

HR managers want to look at employee retention trends, sales managers want to inspect their pipeline across product lines and territories, and marketing managers want to deep dive into campaign conversion rates and ROI.

So the question of cloud analytics is not if, but how quickly. And, as both the PaaS and SaaS vendors
deepen their foray into the data and analytics world, several important changes are imminent.

1. The rise of cloud data wrangling (aka cloud data integration). Cloud computing and applications have done many good things, but one of the big negatives is the re-fragmentation of data. Because cloud is so easy to adopt, data which was somewhat under control on-premise has now scattered to the winds. Enterprises must invest in a cloud data integration platform to get control over their data, to ensure seamless business processes, enable analytics and manage security (more on this in the next bullet).

2. Data-centric security. U.S. President Obama headlined the Cybersecurity Summit in February, which shows how security has come to be a top priority not only for businesses but also for governments. But, the notion of securing the perimeter has become meaningless in a cloud computing world where there are no real borders. The only way to protect what is most precious-the data-is to fundamentally re-architect security approaches to be data-centric. Security has to travel with the data, no matter where it goes.

3. Board-level scrutiny.C-level executives and board members are going to start caring a lot more about the cloud because they care a lot more about the data. First, security risks will keep them up at night and they will be pressuring their CISOs to fundamentally rethink data security. Second, data is what drives key business decisions and analytics and insight are the key to competitive differentiation. The company that understands customer behavior and markets trends better than its competitors wins. As data and analytics increasingly shift to the cloud, the board will start inspecting this area closely.

The question that companies need to ask themselves is, are we "Cloud Ready"? This means "ready" from a computing platform perspective, from a security perspective, from a data perspective, from an apps perspective, and from an executive engagement perspective. If the answer is no, it's time to take a step back from all the corners where cloud has been tucked away and ensure you're looking at all the angles. Make sure that when executives ask you about your cloud strategy, you are absolutely ready.

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